Photography

My father was a professional photographer in the Washington, D.C. area. Some of my earliest memories are of hundreds of childhood hours in his home black and white darkroom, hearing him explain as he loaded film in complete darkness, watching him compose prints under the red safelight, wondering how his burning and dodging could possibly come out the same on multiple prints of the same image, breathing hypo, trying to stay out of the way, and fascinated by the whole process. But by the time I was ready to handle the tasks on my own, I had picked up another hobby, amateur radio. I got Dad interested and that was the avocation we shared almost to the end of his life. My brother, on the other hand, privy to the same mentoring, stuck with photography and became quite the accomplished amateur, with multiple one-man shows to his credit. He has even sold a few.

I dabbled with photography after college (MIT EE/CS 1970), reading the Nikon F/Nikkormat Handbook of Photography (dull, as I recall), a musty classic from Kodak called How to Take Good Pictures, and lots of articles in the late, great Peterson's Photographic magazine. I made a few interesting images with my Nikkormat and, after it was stolen, another low-end Nikon whose model name I’ve forgotten. But my efforts were always in the shadow of my father and brother. Even my son picked up the family passion and became a talented photo artist, amateur like his uncle but showing a very good eye. With three really good photographers in the family, I stuck mainly to my (too many) other hobbies.

Another part of the problem was luggage in the era of squeezed airline travel. Although I remembered with horror my Dad’s back-breaking case full of 4x5 film holders, “compact” Speed Graphics, gallons of flash bulbs giving way to strobes with ten-pound, lead-acid batteries, and, later, his and my brother’s Hasselblads and Rollei’s with their 220 roll film and big backpacks, even a 35mm SLR kit was more than I really wanted to lug around. By the time film began to fade and digital took over, I had pretty much lost interest in photography except for recording my travels with a pocket point-and-shoot (occasionally clamping it into an underwater housing on dive trips). I missed creative control but didn’t want to break my back or sacrifice career, competitive amateur radio (another story), skiing, diving, flying a light plane, and raising a family, in pursuit of what I considered to be a lost cause. But then, about two years ago, my son added Micro Four Thirds to his DSLR fleet. Now, here was a format where the gear was substantially smaller and lighter than DSLR without sacrificing control or user interface quality! Yes, the signal-to-noise ratio is lower, but for all practical purposes (read “amateur, projected images, Web pages, small prints”), it was just fine. I bought a Canon OM-D EM-10 and some inexpensive lenses and discovered, to my delight, that I could carry a pretty flexible kit in a very small, lightweight sling pack. Even a large coat pocket would do if I stuck to one small, fast, prime lens.

I started tinkering. I read Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure as a refresher course, and began a reincarnated life as a wannabe photographer. It helped that by then I was retired from the software industry, my kids were grown and sort of gone, and I had finally achieved a few of my competitive ham radio goals. (That’s a euphemism for getting tired of losing sleep and whole weekends dedicated to the sport.) I bought some more lenses, progressively desensitizing myself to the escalating expense of each layer of quality. I bought a copy of Lightroom and started learning how to simulate my father’s darkroom magic, now in living color, faster, and with much more precision. For the first time in my life, I actually began organizing images!

One evening, while I was documenting a party at my home, two of my guests decided that toting a modest EM-10 must mean that I was far more serious than I had realized and they invited me to join their local camera club. On the evening of the next meeting, my Real Photographer brother happened to be visiting from Boston and said “Sure, I’ll join you. I’ve never been to a camera club meeting!” Me neither. We enjoyed it, Steve went home, and I began attending as often as my bicameral existence allowed. (I spend a lot of time at a second home in Truckee.) I’ve enjoyed the meetings tremendously and learn something each time. 

It took about six months before I screwed up the courage to submit an image to a club competition. I had seen some awfully good work on display, quite humbling, and each great image rendered the prospect of submitting my own that much more intimidating. But I appreciated the anonymity provided by the competition structure and had managed a few reasonable shots on recent trips, so I jumped in ... and scored a category First Place (albeit among other less-experienced submitters) with my first submitted image! I still wonder whether club management compromised anonymity by directing the judge to encourage a newcomer (just kidding). 

I tried again and got a Third Place. I was hooked! As much as I learn by listening to criticism of other people’s photos, hearing knowledgable comments on my own is even more enlightening. This is fun and I am now squeezing in more time behind the lens and in front of photo-finishing computer apps. Just what I need - another hobby!









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