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Archive for February 3rd, 2022

I’ve always been a photographer, at least since I was ten years old — my grandmother gave me a black-and-white Brownie camera that took 126-speed film — and even then my photos often looked like picture postcards. It was difficult to do enough chores to pay for film and developing. For those too young to remember, “developing” was the process of getting the photo from film shot in your camera to photo paper and it cost money for each print.

My photos spoke for themselves and I eventually knew that it was a skill I possessed. In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone to school and become a photojournalist as soon as I could manage it. Getting married and having kids at a young age effectively prevented any further thoughts of pursuing that career.

hat being said, I’ve truly enjoyed this pursuit as a semi-professional over the decades with various 35mm cameras, first with film and then digital, when it was available, and I estimate that I have taken about a quarter-million snapshots in my life. My current collection of higher-resolution photographs consists of over 50,000 pics, or about 2,500 photos per year for the last twenty years. There is no better feeling of snapping a pic of an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event, and then inspecting the result.

However, all is not sunny and roses for a true photographer, with downsides that are all-too-common for most of us. Here are a few of those drawbacks.

No “off” switch

I take my cameras with me nearly everywhere I go, ready for the spur-of-the-moment or once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. But, since I’m married, I recognize that wearing my harness with both my Sony digital cameras (one has a long telephoto lens) doesn’t always make me socially present. She’s a real trooper about it but I feel guilty monopolizing our outings, so I’ll sometimes leave the gear at home in our fifth-wheel RV, or at least stowed away in the truck.

Two things often happen while I’m trying to enjoy scenery or a function sans my gear. One is that my attention is always focused on the possible shots all around me, never to be taken. I’ll see a flower or a bird and instead of just thinking about its beauty or uniqueness, I’m thinking that if I had my camera I might stoop down just so to get the correct angle or background, or move a little left to frame it between trees or buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I do think about its beauty or uniqueness, but that is short-lived.

Second is that an awe-inspiring scene, person, critter or event appears before me and all I have is a smart-phone, which isn’t even in camera mode when I want it. Wildlife photos, in particular, can be fleeting when you aren’t ready for them.

Equipment envy

No matter what I have invested in equipment, someone else has better, especially authentic professionals. I see photos published all the time that make me think about how I couldn’t get that shot with what I have.

You’ve seen the pros (or the wealthy wanna-be pros) walking among us with the telephoto lenses that are white (instead of black), two feet long, six inches wide. Some pros even mount their cams on anti-vibration, anti-shake gizmos that seem to hover in front of their faces. I estimate that the last pro I saw had equipment that cost over $50K, and that was just what they had with them. I’ll always envy that.

Dangerous situations

Always on the lookout for a shot can get you into trouble, like the time I passed a photo opportunity in the Colorado mountains and slowly backed up on a cliffside road, nearly driving off the edge. I stopped in time, one wheel having dropped off the road, and my four-wheel drive pulled me back onto the dirt road. I was shaken, but this highlights what can happen.

On average, two to three deaths per year in the Grand Canyon are from falls over the rim, and similar accidents happen all over the country from photographers, pros and amateurs. It’s so simple to lose sight of where you are, how precarious your position, with your focus firmly on the subject at hand.

Then there is the public, which may not want you taking photos nearby. I was shot at by a rural resident with a shotgun once, even though I wasn’t on their land or shooting in their direction. Fortunately, they were too far away to actually hit me with buckshot, but it shocked me. Photojournalists have to be incredibly aware in some situations, depending on their subject matter.

Bad timing

I can’t tell you how many times traffic on country or farm roads has prevented what looked like great shots. Once, in Georgia, I slowed down when I saw a picture-perfect ranch house at the end of an incredibly long driveway. Unfortunately, like much of the South and Midwest, there was no shoulder to pull off onto. The six cars behind me weren’t exactly thrilled that I slowed, let alone stop. I continued down the narrow road and looked for a place to turn around. After about five miles, I ended up giving up on the shot, convinced that I would have an opportunity for a similar pic on my drive. That didn’t happen.

Likewise, I had to pass on a stunning farmhouse that had crumbled to the ground in Alabama and a century-old ranch entrance sign in Texas. Wildlife isn’t usually cooperative, either, and I often miss by mere fractions of a second near-perfect views of birds, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, wolves and others, but especially birds, which can be frustratingly quick and skittish.

When I miss those opportune moments, they sometimes haunt me.

Photography doesn’t pay

Everyone with a smartphone is a photographer these days. Teach a monkey to shoot an iPhone 12 and look through its camera shots at the end of the day — you’ll probably find at least one really good photo. Likewise people who turn their phones briefly away from their selfies in time to get a great pic, then plaster it all over social media like they’ve been doing it all their lives. Sorry, do I sound bitter? I’m not.

Professional and experienced amateur photographers have a difficult time selling their work. Writers are experiencing the same issue, with over a million titles being self-published every year from authors of various skill levels. It’s difficult to complete with the sheer volume of it all.

At one time an average person seeing a splendid landscape print would consider buying it to frame and hang in their homes. I have bought many prints in my lifetime, even though I consider myself an accomplished photographer. Now, that person may well be convinced that they can take one for themselves, taking note of the aspects of the shot so they can try to duplicate them in the future. Of course, average people haven’t invested the same money in equipment and haven’t spent long hours, sometimes hundreds of hours, trying to be in the right place at the right time. But, somehow, they believe they can easily take a shot to hang on their walls.

Photographers that make a living from their passion are fortunate indeed, and those few career positions are scarce. I’m jealous of my granddaughter, who just became a photojournalist for the new US Space Force. Many popular magazines and websites, such as nature, science, news, fashion, leisure, travel and entertainment periodicals, use in-house photographers but do accept outside work. However, there are just too few opportunities for the number of talented shutterbugs, let alone the masses with smartphones.

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