The Obsession with Self - Paris 2022

July 15, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

A lot has changed since I was in Paris over a decade ago. Not in a physical sense, but more in human terms, specifically the growing obsession with self.

Being an observer of life and a documenter of the surroundings I find myself in, I am always curious about human nature, in particular how people act in public spaces and the trends they follow. 

One of the big trends since the invention of social media like Snapchat and Instagram has been the selfie. The selfie is nothing new, it has been around since the 15th c if you consider self-portraits painted by artists selfies. Fast forward to the mid 19th c with the invention of the camera and the development of the 35mm system in the early 20th c, capturing a perfect likeness of ones-self became a lot more accessible. In recent times digital cameras especially camera phones have made it even easier, with dedicated lenses at the front of the phone for selfies. 

As a child my mother owned a twin lens reflex camera, which I believe she got a present of in the 60’s. All our childhood photos were taken on this camera, the usual family snaps on our holidays and family events. Never once was the camera turned on the person holding the camera for a quick selfie. On one hand, this would be very difficult given the viewing mechanism on this type of camera; it wouldn’t have been impossible, but the notion would never have entered our heads at the time. Fast froward to today with the proliferation of cameras, especially smart phones, everyone takes selfies, some more than others.

Selfie with the Mona Lisa, The Louvre, ParisSelfie with the Mona Lisa, The Louvre, Paris

In the early 1960s Andy Warhol was an early exponent of the selfie. Warhol took a vast number of self-portraits, including photographs, silkscreen prints and  Polaroid prints. In early 2014, Huffington Post reported that Andy Warhol is “The Original King of Selfies.” Warhol was well aware of the vehicle that drives celebrity, that being the photographic image. While living and working in New York, he began a series of portraits of celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy. Warhol took images of these celebrities from magazines, newspapers, or directly from publicity photographs. This meant he could reproduce images already in the public eye, such as publicity shots or tabloid photographs. The technique also allowed him to easily produce multiple versions and variations of the prints. 

Warhol was one of the first artist to draw attention to what fame is. Warhol said,"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Never has this statement been so true than today. Social media has provided us with a platform for that 15 minutes of fame, an easy vehicle to distribute the selfie in a number of poses and locations. Warhol was well aware what makes people famous, taking pre-existing photos of celebrities, enlarging and multiplying them and altering their colour, he not only made unique art form out of them, but he also attributed to the act of celebrity. 

Posing with the Eiffel Tower, Paris, FrancePosing with the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

The very nature of celebrity has changes has changed since I was a young man growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Before the advent of the smartphones and the social media, celebrity was primarily the domain of the entertainment and sport industry. To become a celebrity you had to have a skills as an actor or a sport star for instance. In today’s media saturated society the act of creating celebrity is much more accessible for everyone. Young people especially have coped-on to the fact that fame can be attained without any talent or skill; all they have to do is present themselves in environments and situations that promote the idea that they are leading an exciting glamourise life, just like the influencers they follow on social media. That 15mins of fame that Warhol predicted is now more than every attainable for anyone with a smartphone. 

I first really started to notice the selfie in 2015 on a trip to Brussels. There, I say my first selfie stick in operation in the Grand Place with two tourists taking photos of themselves with the backdrop of some impressive Gothic and Baroque buildings. Since that time I have taken an interest in the selfie culture and have often taken photos of selfie takers in the streets around Europe and further afield. On my recent trip to Paris I saw the selfie go from a casual snapshot of oneself on location, to a considered and much more purposeful activity. The act of posing among young girls and not so young , not just once, but multiple times, with a backdrop of importance both visually and contextually seemed the norm. Around the usual tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, etc.,  I witnesses a plethora of girls, dressed to the nines getting their photo taken with these impressive structures. Nothing new about this, but some of these girls had a series of outfit and a range of accessories for their ‘fashion shoot’. I also came across several young girl, no older than 16 being photographed by their mothers, some more scantily dressed than others.

Selfie with the Mona Lisa, the Louvre, parisSelfie with the Mona Lisa, the Louvre, paris

Even the galleries did not escape the act of selfie taking. In The Louvre, Musée d'Orsayand the Pompidou I witnessed the act of selfie. One particular woman in her 40’s accompanied by a young man with blue hair whisked around from painting to painting without actually looking at the work, or knowing who the artist was to take selfies of the woman with the painting as the backdrop. I observed her for a while and noticed that she must have taken a selfie with every know artwork in the gallery. It was ridiculous to watch and highlighted the absurdity of the selfie culture. Having paid the price of admission surely you would invest time in looking at the artworks and trying to learn something about the artists. All this didn’t seem to matter to this woman, all she wanted was an interesting background for her ‘duck face’ selfies. 

It seems like the experience of the tangible physical world doesn’t seem to be as important to some people anymore. Our lives have become more and more digitised and we are at the mercy of likes, comments and emojis.  What happens outside the realm of Instagram, Facebook and YouTube doesn’t matter as much as having a million followers and an online presence. The selfie will always have its place in society, but hopefully too does the real life self!




Italy 2019

August 19, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Italy August 2019 - Ten days three Cities

Rome, Florence and Pisa, three cities with a lot to offer a photographer. 

My journey started in Rome where I stayed for five nights, followed by Florence for three night and Pisa for two night. 

My daily routine started with a hearty breakfast at my hotel. Usually I was on the road by 8.30-9am, so I could visit the attractions before the mid-day sun. While I was there the hottest temperature got up to 38, so it was essential to get out early to avoid the extreme midday sun. In the afternoon I would return to the hotel, have some lunch and take a rest. By 5-6pm, I would be raring to go again. 

All three cities are beautiful with their own character and energy. Rome is vast with such attractions as the Colesseum, the Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps to name but a few attractions. Florence is a lot smaller, but very beautiful with so much to offer in terms of Renaissance art and architecture. Pisa, the smallest city of the three has its obvious attraction, the Leaning Tower, a really attractive building with the added attraction of its 40º + lean. 

All three cities are great for photographers, and offer so much in terms of the built environment and street life. 


The Colosseum, Rome, ItalyThe Colosseum, Rome, Italy


Camera Gear

On this trip I took my 5DIII, a Tampon 24-70 f/2.8 lens, a Canon 17-40 f/4 lens, a Canon 70-200 f/4 lens, a Loewpro sling bag, a Benro travel tripod, a 7-Stopper ND circular filter, a remote shutter release, and that it!

Camera Settings

Street Photography: Armed with my 5DIII and my Tamron 24-70mm lens, I start by setting my exposure mode to Aperture Priority. I set my aperture to f/8, ISO to 400 and keep an eye on the shutter speed depending on the lighting conditions. This is just a starting point for me, and I constantly adjust the aperture and ISO depending on the look I want and the brightness of where I am photographing. If I am photographing in bright light, I will reduce the ISO to 100, and if photographing in darker areas, I will increase the ISO to whatever value gives me the desired shutter speed to freeze the action. Outdoors, I went up to 800 ISO on occasions, especially in dark alleyways. With the aperture setting, I usually try to get sharp detail throughout the image, so I would shoot at f/8 to f/11. These apertures record light using the best part of the lens glass, and offer the sharpest results. 


Nuns, Pisa, ItalyNuns, Pisa, Italy


Night Photography/Long Exposures: All the long exposures were taken in the blue hour, that period of twilight before it get dark. I would have a set location where I wanted to photograph, and know the best time to hit that location to get the best results. Equipment wise I only used my Benro tripod, my Canon 5DIII, a remote shutter release and my Tamron 24-70 F/2.8, or Canon 17-40 f/4 lens. My camera exposure mode was set to manual, aperture was usually set to between f/8 and f/11, ISO to 50-100, and the shutter speed varied depending on the light. 


Street Photography: With my street photos I am looking for things that interest me visually and intellectually. Humour is a big part of my photography, so I am constantly on the lookout for quirky humorous happenings around me. I have no real plan when taking street photos apart for the route I'm taking. Things just happen around you, and you have to be quick off the mark to capture them. Sometimes, I may approach a person of interest to photography them, but this is rare. For me, the great thing about street photography is the randomness of it. You just have to get out and walk around and open your eyes to the possibilities. That said, it always takes me a few hours to get back in the groove. Photographing complete strangers in public, often up close, takes a bit of nerve and savvy, and if you are not doing it everyday it take a while to get back into it. 

Night Photography/Long Exposures: Every city I go to, I usually have a few locations lined-up for special attention. I will have done my homework long before I arrive on location. This usually comprises of notes on possible viewpoints, equipment required, time to be there and how to get there. I usually aim for only of one or two an evening, because of the fleeting light restrictions.




If you haven't been to any of these three magnificent cities you are missing out. All three offer so much for a photographer and are easy to get around. When you do decide to go, just remember to bring good walking shoes. Rome in particular is rough underfoot with cobbled streets in places. In the time I was there, I covered 110km on foot, so I was glad I had comfortable shoes on. Overall, I am happy with the work I did there and the experiences I had. Until next time, arrivederci amici miei!





Brussels, Belgium - July/Aug 2015

August 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I recently made a short trip to Brussels with no expectations of what to find there bar a few landmark buildings. I didn't do a lot of research for this trip and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Brussels is a beautiful city with a mix of old and new buildings, wide pedestrian streets, lots of parks and great food and drink. It is a city that is rich in cultural diversity and a city that has great photographic potential.


Over the three days there I took total of 966 photos, mostly while walking around the city, with a few photos shot on a tripod. 966 photos seems like a lot in three days, but the number is testament to the rich variety of photography subjects there and my trigger-happy sensibility. I generally shoot a lot anyway when in a new location and a city like Brussels offer so much for the street photographer that it is hard to put the camera down.


Skybridge, Rue Belliard / Belliardstraat, Brussels, BelgiumSkybridge, Rue Belliard / Belliardstraat, Brussels, Belgium


I am relatively new to street photography and have grown to love it over the last couple of years. I love the experience of that it has to offer; the thrill of capturing a moment on the street that will never be repeated again. The main skill in street photography is anticipation. You have to be alert to possible photographic situations and position yourself at the right angle to get the shot. You also have to be primed and ready with your camera. In street photography you have to shoot at high shutter speeds to freeze the action in front of the lens. In bright mid-day light shooting at high shutter speeds is not a problem, it's when the light drops that the problem’s arise. Normally during the day I have my ISO set between 200-400; aperture on average is f/8, and I like my shutter speeds not to drop below 1/500's. As it gets darker it's a compromise between image quality and shutter speed. If I was to leave my aperture set to f/8 and my ISO set between 200-400, my shutter speed would drop as the light dropped. To counteract this I may open the lens a couple of stops and up the ISO to 800 and if necessary to 1000 or more. The downside of increasing the ISO is loss of image quality, but its best to get a sharp grainy image than a blurry less grainy one.



Ping Pong, Brussels, BelgiumPing Pong, Brussels, BelgiumPing Pong, Brussels, Belgium



Primed and ready with my 5D III, I hit the streets of Brussels ready to shoot anything that caught my eye. Walking along Boulevard Adolphe Max towards the city, I entered the new pedestrian zone in the city centre. This development has only been implemented since June, so my timing was good to visit the city. The area covers 50 hectares and is one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe. It was designed to encourage kid's and adults to spend more time outdoors doing activities. They have ping-pong tables, giant chess sets, boules pits, a skateboarding park, badminton nets and many more recreation activities for the public. They also have large pallet assemblages for people to climb and to sit on. The great thing about a public area like this is that it attracts all kinds of people and they all in one place. I spent some time in this area photographing the various activities and people of interest. I was even treated to some beautiful gospel singing from a group of young black people. Apart from their impressive singing, they were beautifully dressed and made great subjects for me to photograph.



Gospel Singer's, Boulevard Anspach, Brussels, BelgiumGospel Singer's, Boulevard Anspach, Brussels, BelgiumGospel Singer's, Boulevard Anspach, Brussels, Belgium



Grand Place in the centre of Brussels is also an excellent place for street and architecture photography. It was packed each day I was there with tourists from all over the world. The selfie stick was out in force with a lot of the tourists, a phenomenon that has really taken hold in the last year or so. The square itself is surrounded by beautiful Gothic and Baroque buildings dating from the 17th c. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a site that is steeped in history. I was particularly struck by the Breadhouse building, currently the Museum of the City of Brussels, with its eerie looking facade. The building itself holds the history and folklore of the city and it also holds all the costumes for the Mannekin Pis, the famous little statue of a boy going for a pee in Brussels. 



Grand Place, Brussels, BelgiumGrand Place, Brussels, BelgiumGrand Place, Brussels, Belgium



On my final day in Brussels I visited the Atomium. The Atomium was built for the 1958 World Fair. It was designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, and  it stands 102 m tall. This architectural marvel is like no other I have seen. With its nine intersecting reflective sphere, it looks more like a spaceship than a building. The day I visited the Automium it was particularly nice and sunny, which added to the reflective nature of the spheres, and made for great photography.



Atomium, Brussels, BelgiumAtomium, Brussels, BelgiumAtomium, Brussels, Belgium



This was my first visit to Brussels and I must admit I enjoyed the experience. The city itself is beautiful and pedestrian friendly and it is a joy to walk around in. If you are into street and architecture photography you are in for a treat, with a great mix of cultures and a good mix of old and new architecture of merit.





Finally I would like to recommend the MaxHotel on boulevard Adolphe Max where I stayed for three days. This is a self-service hotel that doesn't have a front desk or a breakfast room, but it is in a great location and is very comfortable and cheap. For three nights board I payed €153 including the city tax. So if you want a no frills place to stay, thats is centrally located and comfortable, well then this is the place for you. 










#brussels #belgium #streetphotography #architecturephotography #atomium #photography



Trip to New York, June 2015

July 05, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

New York City, the Big Apple, the home of the Empire States, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and so on. It's a city we all are familiar with even if we never have been there. Television shows such as Taxi, Cagney & Lacey, Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, Friends, Sex and the City, along with films such as Taxi Driver, Saturday Night Fever, Manhattan, Wall Street and Goodfellas to name but a few, have all added to our familiarity of one of the greatest cities in the world. Now finally I got my chance to experience the city in real-time and boy was I not disappointed.


As usual, before the trip I made a shortlist of the landmarks I wanted to photograph. These included the Chrysler Building, the Empire States Building, Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and Central Park, Chinatown, SoHo and many more. Along with those landmarks I panned to shoot a lot of street photography, to capture the most important part of the city, its people. 


I started my trip with two days in Long Island before heading in to Manhattan where I was based for five days. The two days in Long Island were a nice way to easy myself into American culture before the hustle and bustle of New York City. 


Model T Ford, Long Island, New YorkModel T Ford, Long Island, New York




Manhattan Day One


Located on east 55th Street, between 2nd and 3rd avenue, we rented a nice apartment on the 5th floor that was a perfect location to explore the city.


On my first night in New York I went to the observation deck at the Rockefeller Centre to photograph the Empire State Building. I got there around 7:30 and didn't get up to the observation deck until an hour later. Luckily it was still in the blue hour and I managed to get off a few good shots of the Empire State and Downtown Manhattan before it got dark. The Top of the Rock is one of the best places to view New York City from above. Looking south you have great views of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan; looking north you have a great view of Central Park and beyond. 


Empire State Building, Manhattan, New York CityEmpire State Building, Manhattan, New York City




Manhattan Day Two


On day two I explored the Midtown area, starting with a walk down 3rd Avenue heading towards Brynt Park. On the way I was afforded a wonderful view of the Chrysler building from the intersection of 42nd and 3rd Avenue. I stopped there for a while and backed myself into a corner, put on my wide-angle lens, framed the shot and waited for some foreground action in the form of human activity. The great thing New York City is that you don’t have to wait long before someone or something of interest comes along for you to shoot.


Khaki Fiend, Manhattan, New York CityKhaki Fiend, Manhattan, New York City


On reaching Brynt Park, a small park between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan, I was immediately captured with how beautiful the park is. Nestles under towering buildings, the park with its perfectly manicured law as its centre piece, is a great place to chill-out, have a bite to eat and people-watch. The park is popular with visitors and locals alike and a perfect place to capture all manner of people, from business professionals to people living on the street.


After spending some time there, I wondered over to Grand Central Terminal to photograph the Main Concourse from a central point on the stairs. Following this I made my way over to Time Square to see what all the fuss was about. 


Time Square reminded me of when I was in China for National Day in 2013; It was jointed. There was multitudes of Elmo’s, Sponge Bob’s, Spider Mans, Batman’s and all manner of characters there, along with hoards of tourists that made that place a bit too hectic for my liking. I couldn’t make sense of it really, I think that fact that it was sweltering hot day didn’t help either. So my first experience of Time Square wasn’t good and I didn’t get any shots of note apart from catching a bunch of cartoon characters off guard on the intersection of 45th and 7th Avenue. 


Mickey and Friends taking a Break, W 42st & BroadwayMickey and Friends taking a Break, W 42st & Broadway


After spending as little time as possible in Time Square I made my way to the lobby of the Chrysler building for a gander. I have always loved this building for it Art Deco beauty, and getting to see it in reality didn’t disappoint. The lobby is beautifully ornate with marble walls, a sienna-coloured floor and a mural on the ceiling dedicated to the construction process of the building itself. The upper parts of the building are off limits considering that this is a working building, which is a shame considering that when the building was first built opened in 1930, there was an observation deck on the 71st floor.


Manhattan Day Three


Day three started with a visit to MOMA to have a look at their impressive collection of modern art. The collection is well worth the entrance fee of $25, with famous works by artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Salvador Dali, Jackson  Pollock, William de Kooning, Andy Warhol and many more. There was also had a temporary photographic exhibition on display there when I visited. It was an exhibition of the associated Bauhaus photographers Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola. I knew nothing of these two modernist photographers, but I was glad I got to experience their impressive work especially the work of Grete Stern. Stern photomontages and portraits were truly inspirational and a class above anything I have seen in a while. 


The second part of that day was spent Downtown, firstly in Chinatown, then Little Italy, followed by SoHo and finally a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Downtown has a distinct different feel to it than the rest of Manhattan. Neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, the Financial District all have their own unique atmosphere and style. I was particularly impressed with SoHo, taking particular interest in the cast-iron building’s there. I even got a history lesson on their construction and restoration of the buildings from a man on the street who saw me photographing them. Who says New Yorkers aren’t friendly! 


SoHo, Manhattan, New YorkSoHo, Manhattan, New York




Next up was the Brooklyn Bridge. I had planned to walk to the other side and take photos under the bridge, but I left it too late and had to settle for what I could photograph on the bridge itself. To be honest you can get some great shots on the bridge itself. There are great views of Lower Manhattan, the Bay area, the Manhattan Bridge and of the skyline in Midtown Manhattan. You can also get good shots of the structure of the bridge and the intricate cable web system that helps support it. Apart from photographing the structure of the bridge, there was a lot of human activity on the bridge as I crossed. All manner of people cross the bridge from commuters, tourists, joggers, cyclists and of course photographers. As I crossed there was a mock wedding shoot by an Asian photographers that I crashed. The bride happily posed for me as I shot of a few frames while the photographer was changing his lens. As I made my past her I thanked her for her cooperation and gave her a nice smile. 


Chillin, Central Park, New YorkChillin, Central Park, New York






On my final full day in New York City, a particularly hot one, I decided to head to Central Park for the day. Central Park is a beautiful park in the central part of the borough of Manhattan. It is a beautiful spot to get away from the rush of city life and has a lot to offer in terms of activities and scenic beauty. Entering the park on the South side at the intersection of 59th Street and 5th Avenue, I meandered my way through the park on my way to Strawberry Fields, an area dedicated the memory of the  John Lennon. Located directly across from where Lennon lived for the latter part of his life until his death in 1980 (west 72nd Street), this memorial site has a focal point of a circular mosaic with the words ‘imagine’ inlaid in stone taken from his famous 1971 single release of the same name. 


Like all attractions in New York it was busy with tourists. When I was there the mosaic was encircled with hoards of people taking turns to get their photo taken next to the ‘imagine’ inscription. It was near impossible to capture the mosaic without someone standing on it, so I decided to photograph visitors to the site from behind as they stood on the mosaic. As I was standing there with my camera settings dialled in, a beautiful blonde woman entered the circular mosaic and started to twirl around for a film crew. Luckily I was in the right spot at the right time to get off a number of shots of this attractive woman as she span. You know the old phrase that’ good things come to those who wait,' well in this case it rang true.


Tourists, Central Park, New York CityTourists, Central Park, New York City


After that stroke of luck I headed to the lake area of the park where I photographed activities on the lake, people of interest around the area and I gatecrashed another wedding, this time a real one. The couple getting hitched were having their ceremony in the Ladies Pavilion next to the lake, a nice spot for a small ceremony such as this. The pavilion is a popular spot with wedding ceremonies and an ideal location for wedding photography. Having taking a couple of frames with my camera set to silent shooting I headed off again towards the South entrance, finally stopping off at a volleyball match that took my interest for the sheer athleticism of the players.


That evening I headed out with friends for a few drinks and got talking to a local about the phenomenon of ‘Manhattan Henge’. Also ferreted to as the ‘Manhattan Solstice,’ it is a natural event happening around the summer solstice, where the setting sun aligns east-west street grid of Manhattan. After some discussion on the event, my friends and I decided to see it we could experience ‘Manhattan Gate’ for ourselves. From where we were on 3rd Avenue we headed east on 42nd street to the intersection of 1st Avenue. There we met a photographer who told us we missed this natural phenomena by about ten minutes. Naturally we were a bit disappointed but after a few more drinks all was forgotten. It would have been a bonus to capture such an event while I was in town, but I was happy with what I had captured over the few days to not beat myself up too much about missing this opportunity. 


New York City left wanting for more, I loved everything about it. The impressive skyline, the hustle and bustle of the streets, the food, the mix of cultures and most of all the opportunity for great photography. I’ll be back in the near future without a doubt. New York City has made such a good impression on me that it will be hard top pop. Until next time, ‘have nice day!’



Equipment used on this Trip


On this trip I travelled light carrying only one camera, my Canon 5D III and three lenses. 


Most of the photos I took on the trip were with my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 walk-around-lens. I also used my Canon 17-40mm lens for shots where I needed a wider angle lens than my Tamron.


For the trip I purposely bought a Lowepro sling bag that I carried my spare lenses in and a gorilla tripod that proved totally inadequate for my hefty DSLR. I highly recommend the sling bag for street photography, even though it was a bit small for my 5D. It would be ideal for a smaller DSLR or a mirrorless camera. Nice zip pouch inside for holding a wallet or other valuables. It also has a handy water bottle pouch that has easy access on the outside. 


I also brought my Benro tripod travel tripod with me for longer exposure shots and night photography. I had read before travelling that tripods were prohibited in a lot of areas around the city unless you had a permit for use. From my experience after my first trip there, I know this not to be entirely true. I personally witnessed photographers use tripods in Grand Central Station, the Bottom of the Rockefeller Centre and Brooklyn Bridge without any hassle. That said, I recommend that you still bring a mini tripod with you that can support your camera adequately. The gorfillapod tripod I used proved inadequate at the ‘top of the Rock’ with the wind that we experienced there. These type of tripods will work fine when there is no wind, but when the wind catches a large DSLR on top of one of these flimsy tripods there’s ‘a whole lot of shaking going on!’


Word on Street Photographic Technique


When doing street photography a good starting point for me regrading camera settings would be:


Mode: Aperture Priority

Aperture: f/8

ISO: 400

Shutter Speed: Above 1/125 s


As you well know what shutter speed we can shoot with is determined by the aperture setting and the ISO setting, so depending on the light I constantly monitoring what shutter speeds the camera is recorded when I have dialled in my aperture and ISO. If it falls below 1/125 s I will either open the aperture or boost the ISO depending on what type of shot I want. 


Most of the street shot I took on this trip were shot between ISO 400 and ISO 800. The aperture varied depending on the subject and distance to subject, and as I said I tried to keep my shutter speed high to avoid blur.

Digital Distraction!

November 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Canon AV-1



Of late, I have been thinking a lot about how I create images and the tools I use to do so.


Currently I shoot digitally with a Canon 5D III. This is a great camera that allows me to shoot successfully in a variety of conditions and photographic situations. Prior to this I was the proud owner of a Canon AV-1 film camera, that I still have today.


Now before I get into crux of this blog post, I just want to say that I think the 5D III is an excellent camera, one that provides superb image quality and works great in low light conditions. My gripe is not with a particular digital camera model, it is with digital photography itself.


At this point I want to go back in time to the mid to late 90’s. In 1995 I bought my first SLR camera the Canon AV-1. The AV-1 is a single-lens reflex camera introduced into the market by Canon in 1979. This particular model is not capable of fully manual exposure. It is an aperture priority camera, which allows the user to set the aperture setting and the camera automatically set the shutter speed. I used this camera right through Art school, and I’m happy to note that I still have it today with the three lenses I used back then; a 50mm, a 28mm and a 135mm lens.


As I mentioned, my AV-1 camera is an aperture priority camera; you set the desired aperture, you looked through the viewfinder, you manually focused the lens, and when you were ready you take the picture. There is little distraction with this camera, it was designed to be simple. It allowed the photographer to control the amount of depth-of-field in the shot and the camera would do the rest.


This brings me on to the main point of this blog. In my experience this simple SLR camera has less distraction when taking photographs than my current digital SLR cameras. I can say with certainty, that when I used this camera, I was far more concentrated as a photographer than I am with my current DSLR. One of the greatest distractions I find with digital cameras is the ability to instantly review photos after they have been taken. Looking at the back of the camera every time you take a photo often lead to missed photographic opportunities. When I shot with film that distraction wasn’t there. You took the photo, wound the film, and when the film ran out you then either changed the film or sent it off to the lab for processing. 


Canon 5D III & Canon AV-1Canon 5D III & Canon AV-1


Shooting with a film camera I believe was a more precise art. One wasn’t firing off photo after photo in the hope that one image would turn out ok. Instead the photographer waited for the decisive moment when all the elements were right to get the ‘perfect shot’. Of course the film photographer had to know his/her craft to get the perfect shot. But once the required knowledge of the workings of the camera was attained, the photographer was freed up to concentrate on the most important aspect of photography, the photographic image itself.


When I teach photography I always tell my students that it is not the camera that distinguishes a good or bad photographer, it is what the photographer does with the camera that is important. A prime example of this can be seen in the work of the Japanese Street photographer Daido Moriyama. Moriyama takes amazing photos with just a simple point-and-shoot pocket camera. He prefers to work with a smaller unobtrusive camera because he can get more natural street images without drawing attention to the fact that he is a photographer. When I was student I can’t remember having any conservation with my tutors about the type of camera I used. When a tutor talked to me about my work they would only refer to the images I had up in my studio space and what I was trying to say as a photographer. They didn’t give a damn whether I was using large format, medium format, 35mm, Canon, Nikon , etc. All that mattered was that I was producing images with a clear intention, images that spoke visually and intellectually.


To finish I’d like to say that I’m not advocating that everyone throws away their digital camera and get a film camera, or bins their DSLR for a compact camera. What I’m trying to say in a round about fashion, is that photography should first and foremost be about the image and the camera should be a secondary consideration. Having the latest DSLR camera won’t make you a better photographer. In fact the complexity of such a camera can often distract from the real purpose of photography, which is to create photographs. If you want to learn to be a good photographer your time would be best served looking the work of the great photographers. Photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Brassai, Ernst Hass, Ansel Adams, Steve McCurry, Michael Kenna to name but a few. Study the compositional techniques they use, the type of light they shoot in, the subject matter they choose to shoot. Learn by looking, and don't let the camera get in the way of improving you photography.


“I like to look at pictures, all kinds. And all those things you absorb come out subconsciously one way or another. You’ll be taking photographs and suddenly know that you have resources from having looked at a lot of them before. There is no way you can avoid this. But this kind of subconscious influence is good, and it certainly can work for one. In fact, the more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer.”


– Robert Mapplethorpe 





You can find some of the photographers I admire here:


DigitalRev Cheap Camera Challenges with photojournalist Alex Ogle - Proof that you don't need a fancy camera to take good images!





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