Light & Black & Color.

Can photography be simplified?

About 40 years ago, I read in a photography magazine or book; I don’t remember the publication but I remember the lesson: Photography is but light and shadow. I was already enamored with the technology of the SLR at that time. Single-lens reflex camera. I was also enamored with the sound of the shutter while the camera is taking a shot: Ka-chak! I still am.

In the marvelous TV series CSI, Vegas or Miami or New York, they are still using the old SLRs, not digital cameras. You wonder why? Ownership of one of the manual SLRs (Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon, Asahi Pentax) was a status symbol up at to the 1990s. Today, you look absolutely sexy, whether male or female, holding one of those big cameras and clicking. There’s drama in the bigness and sound of the camera because the camera has always been associated with high quality.

In 1975, I became Chief Information Officer (not the title) of FORI (Forest Research Institute) in Los Baños and we had a monthly newsletter (Canopy), a quarterly technical journal (Sylvatrop) and a quarterly color magazine (Habitat) that all required photographs and all sorts of images. All those publications I founded and edited and wrote for and shot for. The still camera was what we had; Asahi Pentax was what we had at the office (we could rent a Nikon once in a while), with all those lenses: close-up, telephoto, wide-angle, normal; and all those filters (UV, close-up; my favorite was the polarizing filter). I read on photography on my own and two of the early lessons I have never forgotten were: (1) The best time to shoot is the early hours of the day, when the colors are soft and the air is clean. A lesson from the User’s Manual most probably. (2) Bracketing: Always take insurance shots, at least 2 extra shots, one with a different opening, another with a different speed. A lesson from National Geographic.

I remember Mao Chanco himself, Editor of Orient, gave us one embarrassing lesson for which I thanked him. I became a friend when we found out we had the same interests, such as writing and photography and appropriate technology. Small is beautiful, remember? Ernest F Schumacher, after whom I named one of my sons. When I told Mao we were taking insurance shots and varying our openings and speeds, he admonished us that we were in fact wasting film, because what we had was essentially the same shot. His advice? ‘Same scene, different angles.’ Right! We were not so intelligent. (I’ve written about this in ‘My Digital World,’,)

I also asked questions from the boys, but especially from Pat Laforteza, who had gone to Germany just to study photography. (I forgot under which scholarship it was.) He knew all the parts of the camera and could dismantle and bring all those parts together again; he knew how to take good care of cameras and accessories; he knew all about lighting; he would go to great lengths to get the right lighting of a scene. No, he didn’t exactly say so, but he didn’t like shadows. I always went for shadows. I never liked scenes that were set up, or posed. Especially firing-squad shots. I always liked candid shots, un-posed.

24 October this year, early morning, at home, I saw the rising sun peeking through the open glass jalousie and striking the backrest of my black executive chair at an angle (it’s not leather). It reminded me of that lesson of long ago. So I took this shot.

I did not edit the image; it’s exactly as I took it, except that I cropped the original and reduced the resolution from 2816 x 2112 pixels to 1696 x 1696 pixels. The background is the wall of the room where I’m holed in; this is the chair I use when I’m employed with the desktop PC, which is most of the time, at least 10 hours a day. I write essays for my blogs, and I need photographs; I have to rely on my own shots.

I now have my own digital camera, a Canon PowerShot A540 shooting at 6 megapixels. And yes, I do consider my Canon a God-send: It sets the aperture for me, the speed, the lighting. It never runs out of film – there is no film. I use a 2 GB memory card so I can take hundreds of photographs, or until my fingers hurt, in 1 outing. All I bring are extra pairs of AA batteries, industrial-strength. I don’t delete any shot. On my PC, I can have a slideshow of all the images and enjoy watching them or watch and select which one to use in my blog post. I can print out my own ‘contact’ prints with my Epson Stylus TX100, or print bigger and more beautiful photos.

What’s that? Photography Simplified.

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