When I started photography, I was an ignorant 17-year-old who had just fired a photographer on the school newspaper. I was the editor and I knew I wasn’t getting the photos I wanted, so I picked up a camera — for the first time in my life — and started taking photos myself.
The school paper had a cheap Yashika camera that was fully manual. We had nothing but a 50mm lens. I had nobody to teach me. My early pictures were lousy, but I slowly got better.
By the time I was working at a small daily newspaper as a part-time reporter/photographer during college, I was pretty decent. My new camera was mostly manual by today’s standards. It was a Minolta XG-7 which had a light meter and some primitive program modes, but I had to manually set everything. Focus was manual, of course.
The only lens I had was a normal 50mm lens. But I still managed to get some of the best shots of my life, especially after I discovered I had a talent for shooting basketball games.
Lately, I’ve been pushing myself to return to fundamentals of photography (and of some other art forms).
For the last few weeks, I’ve put away my zoom lens (24-240mm) and shot everything with just a standard 50mm lens. I’ve returned to manual focus. I’m not always going fully manual on exposure, but most of what I’m doing is aperture priority. I’m not using anything fully automatic.
And you know what? It’s liberating. I’m doing better work.
This is a photo I just took of Lucy in the back yard right after I got home from dinner. A camera on automatic mode wouldn’t have gotten this picture, because the camera can’t read my mind.
The camera’s auto-focus would have focused lower on her face. Her eyes would have been just a bit blurry. And if I had accepted the camera’s automatic exposure settings, it would have had a greater depth of field. Do you see the way her eyes are in focus and everything else has a creamy blur? That’s from using a narrow depth of field with an aperture of f/1.8 and manually focusing on her eyes.
Because I’m getting back to fundamentals, I got a photo that made me happier, because it feels like a more intimate connection with Lucy — and it helps to portray the joy that makes me call her the World’s Happiest Dog®.
A photo of a dog’s face — even a beautiful dog such as my Lucy — doesn’t mean that much to most people, but it means something to me. It’s not just about her, though. It’s also about me.
It says that I didn’t take shortcuts. It says I am putting in extra work to get the extra 5 percent of quality that most people will never notice. But it’s that tiny bit extra that separates talented people from those who work hard to really use their talent to its fullest.
There’s nothing remarkable here, but it’s just helping me to remember that in order to be the very best at the things I want to do, I have to return to fundamentals. I can’t take shortcuts. I have to put in the extra work. Sometimes, I have to do things the hard way.
For now, it’s just making my heart happier. In time, doing things the right way might make my work good enough that people are willing to pay for it.
I had gotten into a rut and my photos weren’t getting much better. I was basically doing the same things over and over. Suddenly, I’m getting better. I’m working harder. My work isn’t as good as it ought to be. But it’s better.
Whatever you do and wherever you are in life, maybe the same lesson might apply for you. If you’re in a rut or if you’re not growing anymore, maybe you need to get back to the fundamentals of your life.
Break out of your easy patterns. Do things the hard way. Force yourself to give up tricks you might use as shortcuts.
Everything in life has a set of fundamentals — including how we love and live. Breaking out of your mundane habits just might be what you need. It’s working for me.
And isn’t Lucy a beautiful and loving soul? But I’m biased.