If I knew then what I know now…

(I’m about to write an entire blog post about poor photography.)

I’ve been making pictures on and off since I was a kid.  My computer contains 54,155 images in 1,071 folders.  Several years ago I scanned in 7,000 slides that had accumulated over the years.  And, of course, I’ve saved the images I made since digital came along.  All nicely categorized and indexed:  Country, date, key words, captions.

Good work.  Except that…I like VERY FEW of them.

Have you seen a more poorly composed picture?  It was taken 50 years ago with a pre-war Contax.  I sat the camera on a post and ran to get into the picture.

Have you seen a more poorly composed picture? It was taken 50 years ago with a pre-war Contax. I sat the camera on a post and ran to get into the picture.

What was I thinking?  Actually, there is an answer to that question.  I was thinking “Let’s take a picture in front of this fountain.”  Or maybe it was “Look this way so the sun is on your face.  Don’t squint.”  Or maybe The Bride said, “Take a picture — we may never be here again.”

Here is what I wasn’t thinking: 

          “Big aperture will blur that busy background.”

          “Where’s my tripod?”

          “Get closer.”

          “Get creative.”

I just didn’t know. 

And, as a result of not thinking those thoughts, most of my older pictures are poorly composed, busy, common, and suffer from soft focus.    I’m abusive to myself for wasting so many photo opportunities by making less than good photographs.  The Bride was right:  We’ll never go back to most of those wonderful places.

But there is a positive side.  Several, actually.  For starters, most other people are not as tough on me as I am.

Secondly, I have learned from those mistakes.  Admittedly, it has taken many years — and I’m still learning!

And last, all of those old images are (to me and The Bride) a source of history and fond recollection.  Being able to travel through the pictures made on our honeymoon and while our children were small is priceless — even if the images don’t pass my own quality tests. 

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Barbara Johns - John,
That is where the word “Memories” comes into play. If you did not take this photo, you and your bride would not have been able to tell everyone, we were here 50 years ago. Great place, fond memories and now your children and grandchildren can look back at these photos and say WOW! Dad, you had hair!
Each one is special in its own way. Remember them fondly and learn technique after the smile leaves your face. Move on to the new adventure and remember spontaneity is what keeps that “smile” on your face and gives you the ultimate “Hey Skeeter, I remember when we took this shot!

skeeter - Barbara Johns, the philosopher in you comes out. Thanks for the comment.

Colin Donoghue - Having been interested/engaged in photography for more than 60 years, I too have some older BW images that are, effectively, snapshots, like your fountain shot there.
There is a program called Focus Magic, written right here in new Zealand, which started as a forensic program to sharpen out-of-focus images, but which is very successful in sharpening ordinary snapshots, much better than Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask function, available from the website – google Focus Magic.
I think your posts about your travels are great, interesting reading, and I have learned a lot about things pertaining to photography. The nuts and bolts of taking images I well understand, but what to take (in both senses, what to carry and what to shoot), where to go, I struggle with at times.
Thank you for your letters, John.

skeeter - Thanks for the kind words, Colin. I shall check into Focus Magic — sounds too good to be true but, since it was developed for forensics, it must work to some degree. Incidentally, you live in what I consider to be the mecca for landscape photography — right up there with the up country of Norway and Scotland.

Art Vaughan - You’re probably being a bit overcritical regarding your “poorly composed” image. It’s more CASUALLY composed, and, unless you could have had some bystander shoot the pic for you… after clearing away the extraneous people present, you got just about the only kind of image possible. A photo like this, for me anyway, is a curiosity. It was probably taken in your spring or summer, which means we here in New England were probably hip deep in snow. There was a good stiff breeze blowing… the flag on the staff telling me that. I can’t quite read the white letters over the building entrance. A few minutes spent “tweaking” the image in Photoshop revealed nothing legible. And… I can’t help wondering what the message on the bronze plaque in the lower right has to say. If I “Google Earthed” a “street view”, and turned the camera around to face in the opposite direction… what would I see?
I just received the link to your blog this morning and will enjoy spending more time browsing through the posts. Thanks for sending it along.

skeeter - Art, you have caused me all kinds of grief. In researching the details of this photo I have found that I made it in 1964 (so it isn’t quite 50 years old as I had stated in my post). Further more, I thought I made it in Quebec. The flag is the one used by Canada until they changed it in 1965. But the text on the building makes me think that I may have made it at the NY Worlds Fair — which we visited that year. The text reads: “Communications Exhibit…” and, below that, “catalogues a…..mation imper…”. The only problem is that the building looks nothing like the photos I can find of the Canadian Pavilion in the ’64 New York World’s Fair.

Anyhow, thanks for the challenge. (I also noticed that I was a lot skinnier then!)

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