It’s geek to me

Autumn Leaf, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite

Autumn Leaf, Bridalveil Creek, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
20 seconds
ISO 100
168 mm

While it would be silly to pretend that digital photography hasn’t changed my photographic life, at heart I’m simply a film shooter with a digital camera. If you read my writings or have attended my workshops, you’ve no doubt heard me say that photography, at any level, must be a source of pleasure. How each of us derives our pleasure varies greatly, from what we shoot, to how we shoot, to what we do with (to) our images after we shoot them. From what I’ve observed, many photographers relish their time at the computer, scrutinizing corner sharpness, high ISO shadow noise, and working Photoshop magic to take their images to the next level. I’ve always been so much happier outside, simply enjoying, and making pictures of, the things I love—the computer, while necessary, always feels too much like work.

That’s probably because I came to photography as a career after twenty-plus years in the high-tech industry. During those twenty years my time with my camera was pure pleasure, a creative escape from the technical geek-speak of my everyday life—what would be the point of leaving a good job with a great company (Intel) only to turn my joy into just another job? So when I decided to take the full-time photography plunge, it was with the very conscious personal commitment that I’d only photograph what I want to photograph, the way I want to photograph it. For me that means the natural light, color landscapes that I’d been photographing since the first shutter click of my Olympus OM-2, over thirty years ago: no people, no wildlife—basically, nothing that moves.

Ensuring my photographic pleasure also means doing things the way I’ve always done them: in addition to all natural light (I’m probably the only pro photographer alive who doesn’t own a flash), I choose to do no multi-image (HDR, manual blending, stitching) captures. I also rarely deviate from the 35mm 2/3 aspect ratio I was weaned on. But that’s just me. And just because I don’t do it, doesn’t mean I don’t marvel at other photographers’ monochrome, HDR, and artificial light wizardry.

I’ve also grown to become a huge fan of Photoshop, and the control it gives me: After all those years envying black and white shooters for their darkroom magic, it’s nice to see the playing field leveled a bit for us color shooters. In fact, many of my most successful images wouldn’t have been possible with the color transparencies I shot in my OM-2 days. But ultimately, despite Photoshop’s power, I still want my creativity to be in my camera, not my computer. On the other hand, I have no problem with photographers who use Photoshop creatively (as long as they do it honestly).

What I do have a problem with is the people who have so thoroughly embraced photography’s technical side that not only have they lost their joy, they seem bent on sapping the joy from anyone with a different idea or approach. These are the blog posters and forum contributors who will go to the mat for Canon vs. Nikon, Nik Dfine vs. Noise Ninja, or whatever their technical pulpit might be (I once witnessed a heated online debate about how to sign a print). So here’s a tip: If you find yourself arguing with somebody about some piece of photographic minutia, step away from the computer (these things rarely happen face-to-face), grab your camera, and go take some pictures. In other words, turn off your inner geek and connect with your creative side—the world (yours and mine) will be a better place for it, I promise.

I had no illusions of making money when I snapped the autumn leaf in this post. Nor was I wringing my hands about about shadow noise or corner sharpness. I was simply doing what I love, in this case scrambling on creekside rocks in the forest beneath Bridalveil Fall on a crisp autumn morning. Completely alone among rocks, leaves, and gentle cascades, I knew I was surrounded by far more images than I’d ever be able to find. The emotion I feel at these times is closer to the pure joy of a childhood Easter-egg hunt than anything else I experience in my adult life, and it’s no different from the feeling I used to experience when I was out with my Olympus. I never want to lose that.

Yosemite Photo Workshops

Autumn in Yosemite

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14 Comments on “It’s geek to me

  1. Gary,
    Thanks for putting it so well – I had the same feeling even longer ago with my Olympus OM-1 which is still sitting in my closet because I could never part with it. Unfortunately age took away my ability to focus manually so I finally entered the digital world. It does allow a lot more versatility but the memories with my OM-1 are priceless.

  2. I totally agree with you Gary ! Though my images rarely match yours in quality, I’m sure the thrill of being outside searching for the next great shot is equal in both our journeys. I can hardly wait from one trip until the next….. I may never make a living in photography but I will make a life out of it….. Thanks for your great posts and sharing your wisdom and wonderful images !

  3. Great post! I am right there with you!!! Would rather be outside shooting rather than indoors in front of the computer !!!

  4. This writeup is truly inspiring to an amateur photographer lik me…one should truly love their effort spent rather than the amount of time they spend post to get them make feel others good…truly amazing click nd writeup…

  5. Thank you, thank you for these comments. I too have experienced having the JOY sucked our of photography by those who are in over there heads with technical STUFF. After 40 years of enjoying the pure pleasure to SNAPPING a shot, I am coming back to the basic joy of SEARCHING for photos.

  6. Right on Gary! Your awesome photos and your incredible insight into the world of photography is why I follow your posts. I have also taken a workshop with you and Don Smith which was equally awesome.

  7. I love your comments and agree with everything, but how did you ever find yourself alone at the base of Bridalveil Falls? I have never found myself alone at that location. If true, you were a very lucky guy. Very lovely photo of the leaf and the falls. Enjoyed.

    • Thanks, Doug. Actually, I rarely encounter people along the creek beneath the fall, especially upstream from the third bridge—I can spend hours there without seeing another person. One factor may be that photographers’ conditions are usually different from tourists’ conditions, and Bridalveil is no exception: never summer, usually early in the morning, cloudy when possible.

    • No ND filter for this image. I used a polarizer to reduce glare, f25 to maximize depth-of-field at 168 mm, and 100 ISO because any ISO fast enough to freeze the water (the difference between 2 seconds and 20 seconds is minimal) would have introduced too much noise. This is an early morning shot, in an extremely shady area, beneath overcast skies.

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