Photography: going for retro

I have mentioned this before in this blog: one of my relatively few hobbies is photography. I should say right away that I lay no claim to excellence. I suppose that for me it was the same as for most people, we take a camera and we click it at something, the purpose usually being that we want to remember the scene, or the people, or the object. If lighting is not good, we use a flash (thereby creating the harsh light and exaggerated shadows that will ruin any photo). We spend no time at all composing the photo, we just point and click.

But then one day I decided to do some close-up nature shots, and I began to realise that photography, particularly when accompanied by a reasonable camera (and more importantly, a good lens) can be more ambitious and more artistic. A few months later, and I had bought a good digital SLR camera and two or three good lenses, and I was able to explore the possibilities a lot more. Some of the output can be seen here. There are by the way two camps in the world of digital photography, Nikon users and Canon users: I joined the Canon crowd.

More recently, I started going backwards in time – I purchased an old East German Praktica camera, bought some rolls of film and started shooting. I now vary my photography between digital and traditional, though in film I only use black and white (preferably Ilford XP2 film).

I have not yet been doing this long enough to offer advice to anyone. But three quarters of good photography lies in the composition of the image. A good photograph needs something to interest the viewer – an expression, unusual shapes,  interesting lighting conditions. These days, many other flaws in an image can be corrected with software. But a boring photo is still boring even after it has been edited.

A good photo should engage the emotions, not just the capacity for visual recognition. When it does that, it is one of the most powerful artistic devices.  But most modern compact cameras are just too easy to operate, and as a result encourage people to point at something and go. My Praktica, which has precisely zero automated functions, and which has a nasty habit of tearing the film as it is rolled thorough, still produces quite wonderful images. 

There isn’t a ‘right’ way of participating in photography, but there are good reasons for encouraging young people to take it up, and to use it to articulate a vision, and not just record a scene. But there is everything to be said for experimentation and originality, and for the idea that art need not be for the elite; it can be everywhere.

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4 Comments on “Photography: going for retro”

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Photography: going for retro […]

  2. ultan Says:

    I would agree. “Pre-visualization” is key to a good image. And it’s fun to use a combination of technologies, how ever you define that (manual, AE, autofocus, digital) for photography.

    It’s very satisfying using the older cameras – I think the real issue there now (other than spare parts) is the processing of the output – space for a darkroom, time to brew up chemicals and work away with lots of photographic paper, and so on. Even scanning old negatives for digital display can be a slow process.

    A lot of young people are tending towards mobile phone cameras and uploading of images and videos to photo and video sharing sites though the dynamic there seems to be a lot different – in most cases – than making a personal, reflective statement. Still, the real beauty of the whole process is to look back on what you’ve done years later and to remember the time, place, and emotions of the time evoked from what you’ve captured.

  3. […] – Ferdinand von Prondzynski, President of Dublin City university on photography. […]

  4. davide Says:

    Praktica is in fact a great camera! With these fully manual cameras you must think before shot, and you can try some combinations on time/aperture before shooting. I use an old Praktica LB, very solid and reliable, bought used in the ’90 and still 100% working

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