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Progressive obsession

Let’s wind back the clock. It is November 2007 and I am in Austin, Texas on holiday visiting our friends Trevor and Amiel Romain.

We are sitting at the glass table in their dining room having a chat over a cup of tea – one of Trevor’s favourite drinks. The discussion moves to my blog and my photographs.

“The time has come for you to progress from a point and shoot to a ‘grown up’ camera,” says Trevor.

“What’s a point and shoot?” was my immediate response.

I quickly discover that Trevor was referring to my trusty Fuji camera that lives in my handbag – I never go anywhere without it these days. It is small, easy to use, and delivers great photos.

“You won’t believe the difference in the quality of your photos,” he continued. “You’ll love it!”

Trevor definitely had my attention. I began to feel really excited.

As soon as I could get online I began my research into ‘grown up’ cameras or as they are more commonly known SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras. Off course I wanted a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) rather than a film camera. I set out to find myself a great entry level model which was affordable and would give me the opportunity to extend my photography skills. This felt like serious stuff. Even though these cameras are much cheaper than they once used to be they are still expensive. This was not an everyday purchase and I needed to be certain about what I was choosing.

DSLR cameras became my obsession. I started to see them everywhere. I asked questions. I read about them. I held them. I tried them out. I knew I wanted one and I wanted it now.

I finally decided which camera it was that I wanted: a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (referred to as the 400D in New Zealand). The next step was to find the best deal possible and I was certainly in the right place at the right time for this.

“This is going to happen,” was the message I kept telling myself.

Eventually I placed an online order with RitzCamera.com for a package deal which included the camera body and two lenses. From the moment I pressed submit on my order I became like a kid waiting for Christmas. I wanted to unwrap my present – my very own ‘grown up’ camera. I couldn’t wait to feel the camera in my hand and start taking pictures.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a week, the FedEx delivery van pulled up outside our friend’s house with my parcel. We were all outside in the garden collecting pecan nuts at the time.

Collecting pecan nuts

Pecan nuts we collected from the garden

The FedEx delivery van

The FedEx delivery man with my new camera

I felt overjoyed as the parcel was handed to me. I couldn’t wait to rip it open and check out my goodies.

I didn’t expect what happened next.

I sat there looking at all the different bits and pieces and thought “What the hell do I do now?” I had no idea. I had my new camera in my hands and yet it was as though I had never seen a camera before. It was so different to what I was used to. It looked scary. The instruction manual looked daunting and full of far too many words.

Becoming acquainted with my new camera

The learning began …

Pondering how my new camera works

Now all these months later I still feel I have barely scratched the surface on understanding my new camera. I have a tendency to still rely on my point and shoot rather than carry around my bigger new camera. It somehow seems pretentious and yet increasingly I keep wishing I had it with me.

I have been reading books and web sites about using DSLR cameras, and I have taken hundreds of photos as I continue to learn about the little powerhouse I hold in my hands. However I don’t feel as though I have progressed very far in improving my photo taking skills using this new camera. Then a few weeks ago I made the decision to take a night class to speed my learning up a bit. I am now completely confused as I try to come to grips with exposure, aperture, depth of field, ISO settings, lenses, and a host of other things. As the tutor was talking the other night about things that made absolutely no sense to me I decided to play with my camera instead. As I was taking photos of the woman sitting in front of me using the manual settings on my camera as opposed to the automatic ones I realised that my knowledge had increased slightly even though I didn’t think it had.

Learning to use a DSLR

Learning to use a DSLR

Photography is far more complex than I ever anticipated – there is the technical side and then there is the creative side. Getting everything to work as you want it to takes a great deal of skill.

I am reminded of the very first photograph ever taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1926.

Long before the first public announcements of photographic processes in 1839, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a scientifically-minded gentleman living on his country estate near Chalon-sur-Saône, France, began experimenting with photography. Fascinated with the craze for the newly-invented art of lithography which swept over France in 1813, he began his initial experiments by 1816. Unable to draw well, Niépce first placed engravings, made transparent, onto engraving stones or glass plates coated with a light-sensitive varnish of his own composition. These experiments, together with his application of the then-popular optical instrument, the camera obscura, would eventually lead him to the invention of the new medium.

In 1824 Niépce met with some degree of success in copying engravings, but it would be two years later before he had success utilizing pewter plates as the support medium for the process. By the summer of that year, 1826, Niépce was ready. In the window of his upper-story workroom at his Saint-Loup-de-Varennes country house, Le Gras, he set up a camera obscura, placed within it a polished pewter plate coated with bitumen of Judea (an asphalt derivative of petroleum), and uncapped the lens. After at least a day-long exposure of eight hours, the plate was removed and the latent image of the view from the window was rendered visible by washing it with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum which dissolved away the parts of the bitumen which had not been hardened by light. The result was the permanent direct positive picture you see here—a one-of-a-kind photograph on pewter. It renders a view of the outbuildings, courtyard, trees and landscape as seen from that upstairs window.

Source: The First Photograph, The Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

First photograpgh by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, 1926

I truly don’t know what I am complaining about. I’ve got it easy by comparison. I have the technology at my fingertips. My challenge is to learn to use it to take advantage of its full capability.

The learning and the practicing continues!

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

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One Response to “Progressive obsession”

  1. […] I need to carry both my cameras? After all the smaller point was all I had before I gifted myself the bigger and flasher Canon […]

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