I absolutely love photography. Along with cycling and cooking it’s one of my three main passions – but it doesn’t mean I am any good at it!
I love it because it allows you to freeze a moment in time forever, and in doing so provides the ability to look back in time and remember moments as if they happened only yesterday. Photos simultaneously capture moments and create memories. Photos can also evoke many emotions, and I believe that is a litmus test for whether a photo is ‘good’ or not – how much emotion it evokes in the viewer.
My first ‘real’ camera Mum purchased for me when we attended an auction in Ultimo probably around 15 years ago. Everything for auction went around in front of buyers on a type of conveyor belt system. I remember picking up the camera, looking through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter button and the camera FOCUSSED AUTOMATICALLY! That just blew my mind. “What kind of technology allowed it to do that?” I thought. Magical. I can’t remember what was paid for it, or what brand it was, but it was a big black plastic film SLR, something like this:
Ever since then I’ve been hooked.
I got my first digital camera 8 years ago for my 21st birthday as a gift from my cousins (hello Thomson clan!). I still have it today – it is a little 3.2MP Sony cybershot dsc-p72 which, I had to laugh, you can pick up new today on Amazon for $485! What the?
Whilst I enjoyed using the Sony, I was after greater control and really wanted to explore using different lenses, particularly wide-angle lenses for landscape photography. So within a couple of years I had acquired a Canon EOS 40D with two kit lenses. I was amazed at the image quality from the 10.1MP sensor and really enjoyed being able to move from fully automatic to fully manual or anywhere in between. I learned what focal lengths (read: lenses) I would need to acquire for my type of photography – at that stage predominantly landscape and architecture – and so I soon expanded my lens line up with the addition of the 17-40 f/4 L. This, along with a tripod and some patience allowed me to get some good pictures:
I acquired more lenses (50mm f/1.4, 70-200 f/2.8 L, 100mm macro), a different body (5D Mk II), some flashes (2x 580EX II speedlights) and a whole range of other stuff. I was in a whirlwind romance with photography and deeply overtaken by G.A.S (so-called gear acquisition syndrome!). In the end I needed a small separate suitcase just to lug all my gear around – it was ridiculous!
I took a number of photographic courses at the Australian Centre for Photography (which I highly recommend) and this helped me define my style of shooting and narrow my focus. It also helped because instead of just going out and shooting, many hours were spent viewing the work of other photographers and going into the philosophy of photography. In one of the classes we were asked to pick just one photograph that evoked the most emotion for us individually. I picked the falling man.
No other image really evokes as many emotions as this image does. The huge loss of life that day, the terror, the strength of the survivors, the helplessness, the courage. The picture itself is one of many different frames that were taken of the man as he fell. The apparently relaxed posture belies the fear that he must have felt standing at the window – was he forced to jump or did he choose to go out on his own terms? We will never know. His body in the image perfectly divides the twin towers and was taken by AP photographer Richard Drew. More information on the image is available here.
That seemingly simple exercise of picking one photo made me realise one important thing – the photos that mean the most to me personally all involve people. The first pictures I would grab if my house was burning down are family photos – often incredibly simple pictures taken on disposable or low-res cameras, but they contain the most important thing in our lives – our loved ones. This completely changed my focus on photography and moved me from landscape/architecture toward portraiture and photojournalism-type photography. I started taking photos that made me smile every time I looked at them:
Shortly after the above photo was taken I decided to sell all my photo gear and downsize. I realised that I used one lens (50mm) 95% of the time and it was a waste having everything else getting little to no use. I sold everything on eBay apart from my camera body, tripod and 50mm lens.
With this new found freedom I also decided that I would like to get back to basics in terms of technology. No more 8 frames per second, no more autofocus, no more big bulky SLRs. I wanted simplicity – the ability to just focus on actual photography.
I decided to move from Canon across to Leica. Leica, for those of you who don’t know, are a well-renowned German manufacturer who have been around since 1913. They make discreet, compact camera bodies and optically their lenses are unsurpassed. Quality unfortunately comes at a price. From the money that I had from selling my Canon gear, I acquired a Leica 35mm summilux lens and waited for the right Leica body to be available at a half-decent price. This happened yesterday when I managed to snap up the beautiful M9-P still under it’s original 12 month warranty for roughly 40% off retail. It’s going to take some time to learn how to focus manually using Leica’s rangefinder system, but I think I am going to be happy for many years to come and look forward to showing you the output from my simple, one body/one lens set up.
Look out for a cheap Canon body and lens on eBay in the next few days!
All up, after selling my Canon body, 4-5 lenses, 2 flashes and other photo accessories, this roughly equals the cost of one Leica body and one lens. Whether it is worth it will all depend on how many photos, like the above, I can produce with it that bring a smile to my face. 🙂
For those of you just getting in to digital photography, my advice would be this: start off simple – one body with one lens (either fixed or zoom). Use this for 1-2 years until you find the style of photography that you enjoy and try to identify early on what types of pictures make you happy. This is the key. Take photos that make you happy, not photos that you think other people will like. I don’t care whether you like any of the pictures above – but I love them. Take courses, be inspired by the work of other photographers, and most importantly – get out there and shoot!