Exploring the world through photography is a great way to re-interpret daily life. As we age, finding the new and original in a life that – for many current and aspiring retirees – might seem to be routine and predictable is something of an impossible dream.
Most of us think about re-imagining ourselves and our surroundings and the advent of digital photography has enabled us to do just that. Still, there’s more to photography than shooting selfies and snapshots – fun though they are to create and share.
The basics of becoming a photographer are incredibly easy – almost deceptively so. Buy a camera. Add some fancy lenses. Check out the basics from a multitude of free online photography courses. Practice.
One of the most recent and great innovations in photography comes from an unexpected source – the iPhone. It’s a device that increasing numbers of us carry around and the capabilities of its accessible camera feature are astonishing.
Take It From A Professional
A great friend of mine is the distinguished British photographer Jan Baldwin, whose prodigious range of work has been published in Architectural Digest, Country Living, Conde Nast Traveller, House & Garden, and Vogue as well as in innumerable books on home decor, interior design and food.
Many years ago, sometime in the ‘80s, I was commissioned by the then-editor of the Financial Post Magazine to write a story about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. As an afterthought, my editor said: “Oh, and take some photographs of the ascent while you’re about it.”
Now I’m a writer, not a photographer, so I was duly intimidated by the challenge to take “worthy travel photos,” but kept quiet about my complete lack of photographic credentials.
However, on my way to Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) I took a couple of days in London to discuss with Jan how to handle my “lack of photographic expertise” problem and buy a suitable camera.
Jan took me shopping and recommended an inexpensive Nikon with an autofocus device and instructed me how to use it. I asked her how much film I should buy. “As much as you can afford, just shoot and shoot and shoot,” she advised. “Anything and everything that takes your eye.”
“Photography is about seeing,” she added, “not technology.”
Composition & Seeing
And seeing is the clue – the fundamental clue – in how to elevate your everyday snaps into an original interpretation of the world around you. And though it helps, you don’t need to be trained at the Royal College of Art, as Ms. Baldwin was, to do just that.
One of my favourite quotes about photography is that good composition is “the strongest way of seeing.” Who said that? None other than Edward Weston, among the best photographers of all time and a master of photographic composition.
If you look at some of Mr. Weston’s most celebrated works, you’ll see that they consist of everyday items that you might have in your home right this second: lettuce, seashells, even a toilet. In fact, what is one of his most famous photographs is nothing more than a bell pepper.
How To Begin Your Odyssey
Begin your photographic odyssey – if you haven’t already embarked on it – by paying attention to the variety of textures to be found on a particular neighbourhood street, or how the changing seasons or the time of day alter the appearance of a single tree.
You’ll find that the effect is meditative. It will have a calming and grounding effect on you and enable you to establish a deeper connection with your immediate world. This is not hocus-pocus. It’s how professional photographers see their world.
6 Pieces of Practical Advice
Any camera is good enough: Photography is about observing and noticing. It’s not technical. The photographer’s greatest ally is light, not a Leica.
Change your perspective: An open minded perspective enables you to see street furniture – bus stops, waste bins, signage, park benches, an overgrown bush, lamp posts – as sculpture.
Wear comfy shoes: Tramping the streets and parks, stopping and taking visual note, is hard on the feet. Taking photographs is not about looking elegant. It’s about paying attention.
Befriend rain: Wet weather paints the world in a different light. The way that water interacts with light can bring unexpected surprises. Capture them.
Observe and experience first: Sometimes it’s time to put the camera down and just look. Choosing not to take a shot can be powerful. Remember: never take a picture of someone who appears to need help. Intervene, if you can, and offer it.
Click that shutter often: In the old days of film, shooting hundreds of images was expensive. Not anymore with the advent of the digital camera.
The best way to learn photography and get better results as you go along is to shoot and shoot and shoot again. Out of every hundred shots, probably only two will make the cut. Archive them, ditch the rest and keep on shooting.
Found a shot worth taking? Shoot it now. Don’t hesitate. Light, like clouds, changes constantly and the opportunity is gone in a flash!
And by the way, my Financial Post story, including my photographs entitled, “Climbing Kilimanjaro” was nominated for a Canadian National Magazine Award in the year it was published!