My relationship with photography seems to be developing in a strange way. The type of work that I aspire to most is the furthest away from what I actually produce; I find it the most difficult and challenging to do. The things that come easiest, I care less about. Perhaps this sentiment is obvious, applies to many people and could equally apply to all manner of hobbies, interests and professions which one has to work at to get better.
Perhaps, rather than whinging on, I can illustrate my feelings in some pictures that I’ve taken in the last three days…
This weekend I was lucky enough to have a little more time than usual to be able to get out with a camera. I took three separate trips whose main purpose was photography, but each very different.
On Friday night, there was an event where remembrance lanterns were floated down the river Fergus through our local town of Ennis. Don’t think of the dangerous paper fireballs that people send off into the sky. Instead, these were small plywood rafts containing a battery-powered tea-lights, inside a personalised lantern. Three hundred lanterns bobbed their way down the river, escorted in the water by Civil Defence and sub-aqua club volunteers, passing large, hushed crowds.
Given the time of year, it was pretty dark by the 7:30pm start and so taking pictures without a flash or tripod was difficult, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. The event gave an excuse for me to wander about and take pictures of people, and I found it easy to move through the crowd, shooting as I went. Photographing around an event leads to a difference between this ‘event reportage’ and regular street photography**, making things easier and giving me more confidence.
I took along one rangefinder body and a 50mm lens. On a couple of occasions, I bumped into a fellow amateur (I’m guessing) who was struggling around with two dSLRs, both with flash guns and big zooms, and a massive photobackpack. He seemed to be attempting to set some kind of record for the most frames shot in an hour. I wouldn’t fancy editing those thousands of frames of blown-out high-vis jackets reflecting back his flash.
Saturday and G was having a couple of friends over for a socially-distanced coffee. It was another chance for me to steal a couple of hours in the city, pretending to be a street photographer. After a visit to the excellent Steamboat Records, I wandered the streets, again with one camera and lens (this time 35mm) and no agenda.
I find Limerick a strange place to take pictures. There’s no central square or real pedestrianised area. There are very few tourists around and for a newcomer like me, it can feel a little difficult to warm to. In non-COVID times there’s an excellent market on Saturday mornings that has been a decent ‘hunting ground’ on previous visits, but in its absence, I’ve not really found a place to hang around to wait for interesting stuff to happen.
As usual, while I’m always really attracted by the idea of street photography**, the reality sees me shuffling about self-consciously, feeling like everyone has spotted the creepy guy with the camera. I see plenty of pictures, but execute very few. I know I will become more comfortable with practice, but this is my hobby, my free-time. I have enough stress at work, so why should I bring more upon myself in my free-time? But then what’s the alternative? Taking up golf might mean the same stress and frustration at not being better…
On Sunday, I sought and received a ‘pass out’ for the day and took off for Beara. The Beara Peninsula in south-western Ireland sits below the Dingle and Kerry peninsulas and has a very different feel to its more famous neighbours. I’d been once before (to buy a kayak), and the remainder of the day was a wash-out with torrential rain and very low clouds. On this occasion, the rain showers at least had breaks between them, giving clouds perfect for my gloomy version of landscape photography.
Behind the street and reportage genres**, landscape photography lies a distant third in my aspirations. While it can be just as difficult to get truly good results, it’s a pursuit that feels far more comfortable. I took a gentle drive around the spectacular landscape of exposed rock and pretty villages, stopping at will to take pictures. I could take my time (so long as I was between rain showers) and wait for the sunlight to fall across the landscape in interesting ways.
I took only one body, but had the luxury of carrying a few more lenses. I’m sure my camera and four lenses still weighed in at less than one the rigs the guy I’d met on Friday was carrying.
So as I look back at all 137 pictures that I shot over the weekend (about 15 seconds for my mate with the gear!) it adds to my feelings of frustration I explained earlier. The better pictures are probably the landscape shots from Beara, but there’s no narrative to them; no interest past the beauty of the scene.
The more I learn about photography, the more books that I read on the subject, the higher the bar to my satisfaction gets. I feel the need for them to be more than just pretty views – desktop or screensaver fodder for my PC. I want my pictures to tell stories, or at least make people look twice and to apply their own understanding and interpretation to what they see.
EDIT – I wrote this as an answer to a comment on this post, and it’s probably a better summary than the previous one:
This post came out of an unusual situation in that I’d got out to take pictures on three occasions in thre days – that’s usually a month’s worth. It felt to me like three very different outings that I enjoyed in different ways. Touring Beara was wonderful, with spectacular scenery, but the results I am less interested in. Walking around Limerick and trying to get pictures was stressful and much less enjoyable – getting successful pictures was more difficult as a result.
The summary may be that I like the countryside more than people, but prefer pictures of people to those of landscapes!
How about you? Are you satisfied with your own output or do you need more?
**While I’ve mention photographic genres here a couple of times, I do realise how daft it is to categorise what we do. We should be looking to do whatever makes us happy and not restrict ourselves because it doesn’t fit a particular look. These names are useful as a general description of a style, but nothing more.
Colour pictures taken with a Leica M262, black and white with a Leica M9 Monochrom. On Friday I used a Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/1.5, Saturday a 35mm Leica Summicron-M. On Sunday I added a Voigtlander Colour Skopar 21mm f/3.5.