Making and taking pictures
Photography of people and places, for work and for myself.
I came to photography by chance, initially I wanted to make videos. I was always fascinated by the special features of DVDs, where they showed the behind-the-scenes of big movie productions and the magical deconstruction of VFX shots. People like GMUNK have sparked my imagination and desire to create work like that as well. I followed fxphd religiously, did some courses in VFX production and spent an eternity in after effects, editing shots. It never came out as good or polished as the work from my idols, so over time I realized that me working in VFX is probably not going to happen. Just like the web development world, the VFX rabbit hole goes deeper than you ever imagined.
Shooting for a living
I bought a Canon 7D in 2010 to make my own shots and edit in set extensions and other VFX. I tried that for a while, recording empty street corners to track and place virtual assets on them. Replacing the sky for a more dramatic one. I never got the tracking exactly right and my lack of understanding color matching was very obvious. I liked taking photos more than filming and so I continued to do that instead.
During the carnival here in cologne I took a snap of a reveler. When I reviewed that shot on my computer I was amazed. How did I make him look so nice? Nailed the focus, lighting, setting, expression and gesture. I went out again and shot for hours on the streets of cologne. It was before the GDPR ruling, which has made street photography a legal gamble since. My camera followed me everywhere, every little walk I did with my wife, every family visit, every holiday I took picures, even at a funeral once. Soon I was shooting commisions at work, for my friends, got my first side gigs shooting weddings and built up my own brand. The photo bug bit me, and ever since I devour everything about the world of photography.
My small side career as a photographer was ended by Covid 19 and is now just a hobby again. On top of that there is so much more in my life now that takes priority over more work for myself. Shooting commercially is great fun, but takes a huge amount of effort to do it justice.
Growing up my thinking
I was chasing the "look" for the longest time. The look of 35mm film. The look of a 50mm lens at f1.2. Medium format look. Kodachrome. Portra. I made beautiful pictures looking like old film stock of absolutely nothing. For years I craved a bigger sensor camera, the latest version of a lens, more ways to take a picture. I spent hours on flickr gear groups and clicked through countless photos of nothing, taken with the latest and greatest gear.
Over the years I upgraded to full frame and a bag full of toys. Slowly I collected all the lenses that would finally allow me to shoot the look I was after. The holy trinity of 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200, all f2.8 in their latest versions. 14mm, 35mm, 50mm f1.4 and f1.2, 85mm, 135mm f2. Thousands invested in gear. Finally when I got my 1DX Mark II camera, I completed the collection. What followed was emptiness, I achieved and at the same time, lost my dream.
What actually was it that I was after?
Ironically, not the pictures of the great photographers is what made me see, but the interviews. Having them setting the scenes, telling stories about their pictures, the thoughts in their heads, the reasoning... all so very intelligent and deep. They also mention gear, but always following a reason, thinking about the picture first and then selecting the gear to use. At the time of writing, I have sold all my gear for a smaller kit.
I wasn't after the look after all, but what the look gives to a scene. That is why I never got the pictures I was after. My thought process was something like "I saw a beautiful picture of a bride shot with a 35mm at f2, so I will do that and get a similarly beautiful shot". While the shot was technically good, it was a shot of "a" bride, not of that person at that moment, in that setting. I stopped staging my shots and switched to a more candid, documentary style, being invisible and shooting covertly.
12 years in I still learn how to take pictures. I'm grateful it is a hobby again and I can spend time exploring it whenever I wish, without pressure to deliver.
Interviews that influenced me
Here is a playlist of many perspectives on photography, good and bad ones. You decide which is which.
Collecting photo books
I discovered the world of photo books after I discovered the interviews. These people all have books published, so naturally I dove head first into collecting every book that seemed interesting to me. What a treasure trove these books are. To see a lifetime of work, the change of technique and motifs, to learn what they experienced and how it influenced their life.
My collection has grown to well over 100 books. When you study all the great photographers, you learn about their thought processes and philosophical approach to taking pictures. I always reflect their thoughts on my own images, what qualities are there, what do I have to work on more? Learning and reflecting helped me to change my thinking from technical to emotional.
Nowadays I only take pictures that I like and try to avoid the ones others like but I feel obliged to take. There is no objectivity in art. I photograph more than some professionals recommend and only keep images that spark joy for me. What is art anyway?
Maybe trago has the answer.