Life through a lens

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately browsing round Flickr. I do just love looking at pictures other people have taken – from the professional to the snap shots.

I love pictures. Pictures tell stories, often stories that the photographer didn’t notice, or had no intention of telling.

But looking through one particular set of pictures tonight, I was struck with the desire to hand this guy a camera with just one roll of film. He takes good pictures, this chap. Some of his shots are truly beautiful and yet others are gleefully funny and irreverent. But the good ones are buried between the ok ones. There’s nothing wrong with the other pictures this guy takes but they kind of crowd out the great ones.

I can’t help feel if he sat back, thought for a little while before taking a picture, they’d all be brilliant.

The problem with digital cameras (and I am just as guilty of this as anyone else) is that it becomes too easy to keep snapping simply because you don’t have to worry about running out of film (or the development costs). I spent a while trying to think of a non-violent simile but failed, so guns will have to do. Machine guns will kill you just as dead as a single rifle shot, but the rifle takes more skill. Hunters don’t use automatic weapons for just that reason (that, and it’s harder to make a pretty trophy of the dead deer when it’s peppered with bullet holes).

It used to be you looked through someone’s photo album and there were maybe 36 odd photos from a holiday or event? Now you look at their Facebook or Flickr stream, and there are 360 to wade through.

I frequently find myself wandering around places and see a view or something and go “that would make a lovely photo”. Most of the time I don’t have my camera on me so I’m the only one who will ever get to see the ‘shot’, but somehow that’s okay to me. I can’t help thinking, a lot of the time, these people who photograph everything are missing out. They are so focused on looking through the lens, that they miss everything that’s going on around them.

One of my favourite John Mayer songs is 3×5. I think the lyrics say what I am trying to better:

I’m writing you to
catch you up on places I’ve been
You held this letter
probably got excited, but there’s nothing else inside it

didn’t have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m
in the mood to lose my way with words

Today skies are painted colors of a cowboy’s cliche’
And strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
are next to mountains anyway

Didn’t have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way
but let me say

You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
just no more 3×5’s

Guess you had to be there
Guess you had to be with me

Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to
lose my way but let me say

You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
no more 3×5’s
just no more 3×5’s

4 thoughts on “Life through a lens

  1. You make a good point and I’ve certainly been guilty of that as well before now (I recently took several hundred photos in the space of 3 days). Having said that I think it’s worth remembering that professional photographers don’t go around with one roll of film and come home with 36 good photos. They take lots and lots of photos and then pick out the best ones. If I may offer a quick quote:

    “Photography is generally a question of rigorous selection. Most photographers I know would be happy with one frame from four rolls of film – that is to the extent they would seriously think it is a decent picture.”

    I think there is a good case to be made that we should be selective and only upload our best images to Flikr (or wherever we may present them), but photography is a lot more subjective than hunting and in my view if you want to take good photos you have to accept you’re going to take quite a lot of bad ones as well. On the whole I think the advent of digital cameras and cheap storage really no bad thing, it would just be good if people edited more.

    This is all assuming that taking good pictures is a priority. You’re quite right that some people can be too focussed on taking pictures, when perhaps they should spend more time just taking in the world and enjoying their holiday (or whatever).

  2. Shooting guns is an excellent simile for taking pictures, even the terminology is interchangeable.

    Having been on a “trip of a lifetime” recently I found myself taking more and more pictures with my digital camera, more so than I normally would. I am not particularly snap happy but I was forcing myself to take lots of pictures as I knew I would be unlikely to be back in the same place again.

  3. I was going to say it’s not about taking less pictures, it’s about being more selective about the ones you keep and/or display. But Spooky got there first 🙂
    I take a lot more photos with my digital camera than I ever did with my film one. I’ve a very poor photographer – the more pictures I take the better the chance of getting a good one. I don’t inflict all the duds on other people though. Often they get deleted straight from the camera without even gettng downloaded.

    I used to live in York and would see lots of tourists with video cameras glued to their eyes, filming old buildings (were they expecting them to move?). I always thought it was shame they couldn’t just enjoy the city.

  4. OK, this is a lesson in not posting any random thing you bolted together from three different posts, just because you had committed to a post that day!

    You are all right (as usual), and get to the points I was trying to make nice and succinctly:
    1) take lots of pictures if you want to, but don’t subject everyone to everything.
    2) take the time to look around you as well as through the lens! (I know exactly what you mean about the tourists Moose – it seems like every time I look out the office window, another set are taking pictures. It’s not even a nice bit of the building, just a wall of glass with a tree in front!.

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