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Author Topic: My Photography Changes as I Do  (Read 1301 times)

Michael Erlewine

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My Photography Changes as I Do
« on: July 30, 2017, 04:00:29 PM »

I remember the Virginia Slims cigarettes advertising slogan (I didn’t smoke them) “You’ve come a long way, baby” and I feel something similar goes with me and my photography. We can dispense with the “baby” part, because I’m all grown up and even old, like I’m 76.

But that doesn’t stop me from every once in a while looking back to see how far I’ve come from that summer of 1956 when my amateur photographer dad loaned me his Kodak Retina 2a, a light meter, close-up lenses, and a tripod, and I then went on a 3,000 mile bus ride across America, into Mexico, and through Canada with a bunch of kids my age. I was fourteen years old.

Anyway, my dad was shocked at how good my photos were when I returned, perhaps the only time I ever really impressed him. He was a businessman, a Republican, and very conservative, while I was a Democrat, a liberal, and only later in my life any kind of a businessman.

So, from 1956 onward, I was always interested in photography, but seldom could afford the film and developing expense. More discouraging yet for me was the inability to see what I was getting until days, weeks, or months later. That was a photo-killer for me.

Of course, when digital cameras came along, I was right there and had been doing digital movies for a while before that. But I had an early Nikon Coolpix and a D1X (at $5K a pop) when they first came out. Using the D1X, I photographed more than 30,000 rare rock concert-posters and had to build my own vacuum table for that.

But all of my early years, from around six-years old onward, I was a committed naturalist, with little better to do (until I discovered girls in my teens) than collect and document natural history. In fact, I became so interested (and skilled) in herpetology (especially frogs and salamanders) that I was given a little office-desk in the herpetology department, way back in the stack of preserved specimens at the University of Michigan Museums building.

In those years I captured, measured, and released thousands of specimens, mainly Michigan salamanders, in which I was interested. So, when I hear about photographers who brag about their hiking and roughing it, I have to chuckle, because I did that in spades, but in the Midwest and all across Texas, suffering everything from heatstroke (in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area) to being eaten alive by mosquitoes in Michigan and Florida swamps, and so on.

When I mention that I have taken many hundreds of thousands of nature photos, I’ve been called a liar, but I’m not. Photography can be a lonesome thing, in that my extended family might like to see perhaps 10 or so of my photos at a time, but after that their eyes start to roll. I have stopped asking if anyone wants to see what I’m doing photographically, unless it’s photos of my grandkids. That’s just the way it is. I am sure other serious photographers feel the same way. Not only is there not much of a market for photos, there is not even anything but a passing interest in looking at them for most people. LOL. That’s a little background and its leading up to the reason I am writing this account, which is:

I thought I would talk, not about my interest in photography per-se or techniques, but rather about how that interest has changed over the years, because I see all of the different phases I have gone through being echoed and acted out by various photographers on the online photo forums. And they don’t all get along, but I believe they will (if they live long enough) come to understand one another.

As mentioned, I was a naturalist, and a dedicated one at that. My life was filled with nature collecting, documenting, journals, measuring and, as I got older, photographing. I lived and breathed nature study and that for many years. Even after I discovered that women were as interesting as nature, I still did a lot of nature work and collecting. Did I hike? You bet and lots of it, carrying as little as I could, and going as far as I could.

As someone who was interested in bogs, there was not only carrying a tripod, camera, lenses, diffusers, and what-not, it was doing it in hip boots, and whatever protected me from the cold or sun. Bogs are also (or can be) dangerous places to be, dangers to our health due to sinking through them (not to mention poison oak, etc.), but dangerous always to the bogs themselves. Bogs are a very fragile environment.

And climbing, well I did my climbing during two trips to Tibet, so blisters I know. Living in the flatlands of Michigan, there is not much to climb, but plenty to muck around in, because it’s all wetlands. It’s the same with lower Florida and the Everglades, a place I have been to many times.

As for how my photography morphed, I am getting to that. Originally (and especially) I was interested in field-guide quality nature photos, perhaps at first as regards identification, but later I wanted field-guide quality photos that were good photographs technically, too. However, I did not want the artsy-fartsy, and in my photos, whatever so-called “attractive” compositions resulted from my work were more by accident than design. But this too changed.

As time went by, yes I wanted to “capture” that photo and for it to look good too, but over time I found that I also wanted the specimen to “be in context,” so I wanted more and more of the surrounding habitat to be in the photos too. Ultimately, this was just a back-door way to introduce composition and its art. It took me quite a while to admit to myself that I was starting to like not just the context of the photo, but for it to have perhaps a little mood too. And that, my friends, is a slippery slope for a naturalist.

I was getting arty, but something else happened that was even more “horrific,” and that was that I was losing my taste for hunting specimens, either critters or plants. Now this was a serious segue indeed, because it meant that instead of planning this or that nature trip to find this or that critter or plant, I was becoming more interested in what might be called “found” photos.

I never liked sneaking up on a lizard or frog all that much, but I did it with skill and consistency. I was good at it too. I was once told that I had contributed the largest collection ever given to the university museum I worked with. I have no way of knowing if that’s true, but it was large enough.

And now I was finding that I didn’t care for the “hunt” on principle. The whole idea of “gotcha” photographing was beginning to fade or to even become repulsive. That really turned me around from where I came from.

Instead, this whole idea of found photography (photographing what I found beautiful or moving) took up more and more of my time, until that is all the photographing I felt like doing. No longer did I chase a damselfly, a Giant Swallowtail, or a frog or lizard through the fields and swamps. I couldn’t do that to them, anymore than I would like to be hunted.

Instead of fielding a mini-expedition hundreds or even tens of miles away, I found myself circling ever more near where I live. Of course, I also was getting older and less happy carrying a backpack or a lot of gear. I had gotten my gear down to a 10” messenger bag in which I carried two diffusers, a tiny flowerpod tripod, various clips, polarizers and neutral filters, a shower-cap for rain, and any other lenses I wanted to have. I always (or usually) walked with my camera/lens fixed to my tripod head, which I know is supposedly a “no-no,” but I have never had a single problem in all these years, knock-on-wood.

My lens journey would take an article in itself, but suffice it to say that I had collected well over 100 really great lenses, but after a while I began to sell off lenses, those that were perhaps considered “legendary,” keeping those that were fast, sharp, and highly-corrected for the various aberrations, etc. And I found myself getting into more and more of the so-called “exotic” lenses, enlarger lenses, scanner lenses, large and medium format lenses, and so on.

And since for a good half of the year Michigan is too cold to do much outside, I began to do more over those months in a little studio I put together right in my house. I had a large studio about one block away but, although I loved the space in the large studio, I liked better to be able to slip away in a half-a-minute to my tiny studio and photograph, especially in winter.

And I found, to my surprise, that working in the studio, more slowly and carefully, did good things to my photos and was fun. I became increasingly interested in composition and before long photographers online were telling me that they could recognize one of my photos at a glance. I didn’t realize that I had a style, but upon thinking about it, obviously what I had been trying to arrive at myself was what other photographers were calling my style.

So, here I sit as the summer of 2017 begins to wane, looking toward winter and having to be inside. It is OK, since I seem to do more with a little than when I have a lot... of subjects. I have tried some serious hikes this summer, with boots, knee-pads, not to mention mosquitoes and horse flies. I have to say that I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to, forging through waist-high grass, shrubs, shaking off bugs galore, and the like. And my eyes for distant subjects are not what they used to be.

I now enjoy more carefully setting up and taking photos, either indoors in my tiny studio or outdoors along the edge of the wilds, cemeteries, gardens, parks, trails, and so forth. And I have found that my earlier hunt-for-the-right-specimen has telescoped down to finding totally attractive ways to photograph what is right around me at the time. Imagine that!

As you can see, not only cameras and lenses change, but we change over time. Of course, I can relate to nature photos, field-guide photos, compositions, and even abstracts. I have been there, done that, or am still doing that.

Here is a photo I took this morning. I went out in the fields and took some photos, but ended up back in my tiny studio photographing some Hibiscus flowers. To me, the moral of all this is to do what completes us, what makes us happy at the time and the heck with those who don’t like it or only like what they themselves do. For me, I can like many different kinds of photography (if it is good), not just my own, and I do. But of course, like all photographers, I like what I do, and to me that IS photography.


Photo with Nikon D810 and the El Nikkor 105 APO
« Last Edit: July 30, 2017, 04:51:51 PM by Michael Erlewine »
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Michael Erlewine
Founder: MacroStop.com, MichaelErlewine.com (articles), https://www.youtube.com/user/merlewine (video tutorials), AMG - All-Movie Guide, All-Music Guide, All-Game Guide, Matrix Software, Classic Posters, ClassicPosters.com, SpiritGrooves.net, and other sites.

Rob C

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2017, 04:37:43 PM »

Really enjoyed your piece; I find reading about photographers far more interesting than reading about their photographs. Photographs are for looking at, not for cutting into little bits of critique!

More power to your young elbow!

Rob C

GrahamBy

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2017, 06:01:55 PM »

To me, the moral of all this is to do what completes us, what makes us happy at the time and the heck with those who don’t like it or only like what they themselves do.

Your father would probably say you never got over Woodstock  ;)

Thanks, I enjoyed that
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2017, 06:20:40 PM »

Your father would probably say you never got over Woodstock  ;)

Thanks, I enjoyed that

I was never at Woodstock. I was busy helping to put on the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival at the time, the largest collection of electric blues artists ever assembled.
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Michael Erlewine
Founder: MacroStop.com, MichaelErlewine.com (articles), https://www.youtube.com/user/merlewine (video tutorials), AMG - All-Movie Guide, All-Music Guide, All-Game Guide, Matrix Software, Classic Posters, ClassicPosters.com, SpiritGrooves.net, and other sites.

JNB_Rare

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2017, 07:25:50 AM »

A very enjoyable read. Thank you for sharing your photographic "journey".

RSL

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #5 on: July 31, 2017, 09:40:49 AM »

Hi Michael,

Yours is an interesting journey, but since I'm 11 years older I'll act the big brother and tell you that the journey will continue, and as the journey continues your tastes will continue to change.

Over the years I've acquired plenty of equipment, but 100 lenses? I've learned from my own hardware over-acquisition to keep it simple. I have one camera for street -- a Pen-F with a Leica 25mm Summilux, a Nikon D750 for general work and easy carrying, and a D800 for serious stuff, usually off a tripod, and when I can afford the storage bloat. A few lenses for the Nikons, but only three in regular use.

I question your statement that for half the year Michigan is too cold to do much outside. I was born in Detroit, grew up in Ferndale with summers in Montmorency County (relatives all over the state), and departed U of M and Ann Arbor in early 1951 to go fly fighter-bombers in Korea. I used to do plenty of stuff outside in the winter.

I like the picture you posted. From your signature line I gather you've built a few webs. How about building one for your own pictures? I'd like to see more.

Michael Erlewine

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #6 on: July 31, 2017, 05:04:46 PM »


I like the picture you posted. From your signature line I gather you've built a few webs. How about building one for your own pictures? I'd like to see more.

I have quite a few free books, articles, videos on photography. Look through these:

Main Browsing Site:
http://SpiritGrooves.net/

Organized Article Archive:
http://MichaelErlewine.com/

YouTube Videos
https://www.youtube.com/user/merlewine
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Michael Erlewine
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Paulo Bizarro

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2017, 04:44:21 AM »

Nice piece.

JKoerner007

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2017, 09:47:55 PM »

I have the perception that a lot of this is an anecdote for me ... since we've butted heads in the past ... and yet share, in more ways than not, the same 'kindred spirit' interests and background  8)

I am, for the most part, the very "field guide" photographer you describe ... but that is a good thing. Field guide-type photography is as valid as any other form, and has its uses, like any other form.

As far as 'what is photography' goes, it's about as varied a question as 'what is a human being?'

If one man is a painter, and the other a carpenter, and still another a public speaker ... are they any less human?

If one man stacks shots of the intricate shapes, colors, and nuances of flowers ... and another wants to capture shots of wildlife in-situ ... while another seeks to capture an authentic expression of an old man working intently on a subject ... is any man here any less of a photographer than the other? I don't think so. Nor any less of a human being.

We're just all different. We think in different ways, grow in different ways.

I have read a lot of your articles, Michael, and I have profited from your lens experience, and I enjoy your photos.

I will probably also try to take more flower stacks, now that I have the Zeiss 135 Apo ;)

But I personally will never "mature away from" taking field guide shots.

I always get a rush capturing an authentic wildlife image ... while I am unseen, unknown to the subject ... but am able just to capture its presence 'in situ.' (Like street photography in nature.)

Unlike your description, I prefer to capture images with a long lens ... which allows me to get my images while they are comfortable basking in their authentic environment. With all of your lens experience, I am not sure you've ever shot at 600-900mm, but it offers a freedom that "short lenses" cannot duplicate. No longer do I "chase" butterflies ... I can get them from 10-15' away. Same with frogs, lizards, and birds (up to 100-200' away).

That said, I do pose certain arthropods, where necessary. It's hard to find a 6mm spider in a field of grass ... without first sweeping with a net. I try to get as many as I can, naturally, but sometimes I have to nab them and take them home.

Where you enjoy coming home to your studio, to stack flowers, I come home with my collected arthropods, pose them on the flora on which I found them (I will post photos of my home studio someday), and I stack these images.

We share a lot of common habits, you and I, with our own unique differences as well. And that's cool 8)

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Jack

Michael Erlewine

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2017, 10:19:56 PM »

I have the perception that a lot of this is an anecdote for me ... since we've butted heads in the past ... and yet share, in more ways than not, the same 'kindred spirit' interests and background  8)

It happens that I understand your interest in whatever you want to call it, field work, because for much of my life that is what I actually did. I respect that, probably more than you respect shooting in the studio. To me, both are valid because the passion for photography is valid. As mentioned, at 76 I am not as spry as I was at 40, and that is just a fact. As for change and changing, good luck! It is difficult to plot a trajectory into the future, when we most often fail to include the factor that, aside from age, WE change. Our orientation changes, which, at least for me, was something of a surprise. I am happy if you are happy in the course you are on. If you do find yourself changing, may you be as happy in those changes as I have been in mine.

I respect many of those who post on this site, although I'm probably not personally interested in doing photography the way they do and vice-versa. My entrance into serious photography may be a little different from most, because in my case the process of photographing has been more important than any results. If my results have improved, it is due to attention to the process, and so on.

I have directed a meditation center here in Big Rapids, where I live, since the mid-1980s. I am a true amateur, by choice. I love photographing or have so far. I post a little on photography forums like these, but mostly I post an essay a day (and a photo), mostly about the Dharma, on Facebook to some 7,000 or more folks. Photographers do not appear that interested in the spiritual aspects of photography, but I am totally interested.

And, like yourself, I have a great love for nature, as well as for the critters that are in it. I was for years part of a wildlife rescue operations, helping wounded animals heal and be released back into the wild. My backyard used to be filled with stainless-steel cages, etc.

Anyway, I'm glad we are done bumping heads and are being friendlier. As you say "We share a lot of common habits, you and I, with our own unique differences as well."

Here is another studio shot taken today with the El Nikkor APO 105mm, probably my most used lens.

And here is a field shot taken a few years ago with the CV-125 and the Nikon D800E

 
« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 10:27:24 PM by Michael Erlewine »
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Michael Erlewine
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JKoerner007

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2017, 12:09:26 AM »

It happens that I understand your interest in whatever you want to call it, field work, because for much of my life that is what I actually did. I respect that, probably more than you respect shooting in the studio. To me, both are valid because the passion for photography is valid. As mentioned, at 76 I am not as spry as I was at 40, and that is just a fact. As for change and changing, good luck! It is difficult to plot a trajectory into the future, when we most often fail to include the factor that, aside from age, WE change. Our orientation changes, which, at least for me, was something of a surprise. I am happy if you are happy in the course you are on. If you do find yourself changing, may you be as happy in those changes as I have been in mine.

Field work will always be my passion ... but (wait till you see my studio) I also respect studio work as well. Naturally, the cleanest tiny arthropod images come from studios :)

However, the most dramatic shots come from nature ... same as the most dramatic human shots come from street grabs (as opposed to the plastic expressions of 'models').

Nature (or street) contains the drama of life; the posed effects of the studio never will. Yet, studio shots will invariably produce the cleanest images, so it's a paradox.

For me, as a nature photographer, the surprise of snapping "a new species" (new to me, anyway) will always be my biggest thrill.

As for changes in my interests, I am sort of misanthropist. I seek solitude "away from it all," typically. However, concerning growth, I am planning on buying a Nikkor street trio (28mm f/1.4E, 50mm f/1.4E {when they make it}, and the 105 f/1.4E) to capture "the human condition" ... probably mostly during the nighttime ... so I am making a diligent effort to change/grow as a person & photographer as well.



I respect many of those who post on this site, although I'm probably not personally interested in doing photography the way they do and vice-versa. My entrance into serious photography may be a little different from most, because in my case the process of photographing has been more important than any results. If my results have improved, it is due to attention to the process, and so on.

Ditto.



I have directed a meditation center here in Big Rapids, where I live, since the mid-1980s. I am a true amateur, by choice. I love photographing or have so far. I post a little on photography forums like these, but mostly I post an essay a day (and a photo), mostly about the Dharma, on Facebook to some 7,000 or more folks. Photographers do not appear that interested in the spiritual aspects of photography, but I am totally interested.

I mostly investigate (and report on) tragic loss, crime, or fraud. That is my life; that is what I do, mostly.

I am always going out there, in the field (citylife, this time), conducting investigation, securing photos, recording interviews, taking measurements, conducting surveillance, searching public records, etc. ... and then I come home (I am fortunate to work out of my home) and draft reports, based on my investigation, for my clients. (I was out till 11:pm last night ... I was up at 5am this morning.)

I am typically only able to post online in-between reports, when I am working from home, to clear my head, or just to "do something else" before I go back to work. Sometimes, I stay home and have to draft reports for clients for 2-3 days in a row. So I will post here and there, 2-3 days in a row. But then I will be "out there," sometimes for days at a time.

I am a work-a-holic. If I am not working, I am hiking. If I am not drafting reports for clients, I am updating my websites ... or rambling on forums  :D

As far as spirituality goes, I have a BA degree in Philosophy, from UCLA, and I have studied most religions. In my heart, Nature is my Zen. It is where I go to find no trace of man ... their petty problems, the insanity of 'society,' the trivial concerns of TV soaps (lol). The less people in my visual field, the more 'spiritual' I become.



And, like yourself, I have a great love for nature, as well as for the critters that are in it. I was for years part of a wildlife rescue operations, helping wounded animals heal and be released back into the wild. My backyard used to be filled with stainless-steel cages, etc.

Good for you, that is wonderful. This woman photographer I met on FB, she is part of the California Condor rescue program, and I respect this kind of commitment of time/energy a lot. I have never had (or made) this kind time/effort myself, but I respect it immensely.



Anyway, I'm glad we are done bumping heads and are being friendlier. As you say "We share a lot of common habits, you and I, with our own unique differences as well."

Me too ... and cheers to that.



Here is another studio shot taken today with the El Nikkor APO 105mm, probably my most used lens.

Very nice.



And here is a field shot taken a few years ago with the CV-125 and the Nikon D800E

This is really ... really ... really nice. Just terrific.

Thanks for sharing :)

Michael Erlewine

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Re: My Photography Changes as I Do
« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2017, 03:44:26 AM »

Jack:

Since you like spiders, the orb weavers are some of my favorite spiders.

Nikon d810, Otus 55
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Michael Erlewine
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