Money to Take Their Photo: Trophy Hunter Photography

Indian women in the step well near Kheri Gate, Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. These are local women we met, asked them to pose and paid them. We spoke with them to great length and worked out the details for our group to shoot. Once it was over, they were happy and we were happy.

 

Recently PetaPixel posted an article that created a huge controversy among its readers. So much so that they actually took down the article, though you can still find the original article on the author’s site. The PetaPixel article was entitled, “How to Deal with Locals Who Ask You for Money to Take Their Photo” and created a stir because of its hugely ethnocentric bias. Now, let me stop here and give a caveat. Some of you might feel I have no “dog in this fight”, meaning, I have nothing to add because I myself am a middle (upper middle) aged, white male. Three strikes right there. But let me suggest that I might be able to add a little insight to this debacle as I have over 23 years of living in Asia under this expanding belt of mine.

How Did We Get Here?

First off, the article was written from the perspective of a Westerner rather than a global citizen. I don’t even know where to begin, when every paragraph is headed up with a photo of a white person having their picture taken with a local resident. It just felt creepy from the start. Then with statements like, “For instance, be aware that many middle-aged men who ask for money are planning to buy alcohol”  or “As you may know, developing countries are very money-orientated cultures.” Seriously?  Wow, they just lost any credibility they may have had in two sentences.

Dare I say, we are looking at this through the wrong lens. We are asking the wrong questions. The question isn’t, “Should we pay people for their photos?” The more interesting and maybe a more important question is “How did we get here?”

Before the advent of the ubiquitous digital camera, before the democratization of photography and travel – back when travel was rare and a kitted out SLR or rangefinder was unheard of – people traveled for a different reason. Sure, the uber rich took safaris to the “Dark Continent” to take home a trophy they bagged from the comfort of their Land Rover. Out of that horrible experience grew the rarer still photo safari. As yet, the photographic workshop was something of dreams.

Travel for Travel’s Sake

Back in the early ‘90s when I first moved to India we lead tours. Not photo tours – real honest-to-goodness tours, based in culture and education – my wife and I spend two years in language and culture acquisition before we hung out our shingle (so to speak).

It was during these two years that we learned less about how to say something and more about why Indians say something. It is taking time like this that you learn to view a different culture with an open mind. You learn never to say words like, “They always…” or “ They never…”. Because you learn that the truth is, there is always someone breaking the stereotype. In culture, there are no absolutes.

When people joined our tours, they came to learn and experience this vastly different culture of India, the camera was an afterthought for the most part. It was only there to take home memories, not make a trophy. Locals enjoyed having their photos made and the thought to ask for money for something like a photo was absurd. They would no sooner ask their friend to pay them for a photo then they would their new foreign guest. How rude would that be!

Trophy Hunter Travelers

But then around the turn of the century something happened. It is what sociologists call the democratisation of knowledge and technology. With the digital age and the internet came the ability to travel both virtually and physically and do it cheaply. Cameras became cheaper and more available to the masses. Everyone wanted to be Steve McCurry and photograph their “Afghan Girl.”

Without going into the debate about McCurry’s ethics of setting up photos, the big difference is McCurry was on assignment. He was one of the few and the elite that were charged with telling a story about a culture. The rest of us just dreamed about the opportunity. But now the masses were able to afford a DSLR and a 70-200mm lens and a cheap ticket to the Taj Mahal and now everyone can try be McCurry. And to be honest, with amazing results. Some amazing photos filtered up through the centillion of pixels burned over the years.

On our tours, we had a rule, that you could not take a photo until everyone in the group asked our hosts at least one question. Contrived – but it made sure people interacted with our hosts.

 

The Disillusioned Travel Photographer

But something happened. Everyone (yes, I am now generalizing) has started to become jaded. Both photographer and subject now feel things are due them, entitled. As a photographer, that leads photo workshops myself, I have seen participants lose patience in the exploration of culture and want to simply get the photo and move to the next one.

We are missing the travel experience. I venture to say there are too many photographers who visit a country or culture and never see it with their naked eye – they only view it with through their camera lens. They don’t stop and drink the tea, or to smoke the hookah. They don’t bother to explore. They don’t ask questions of their host. Heck, they don’t even have a host!

Locals have gone from being hosts to becoming makeshift models. I am not talking about professional or even semi-professional models. At the risk of starting another flame fest, my workshops are known to hire locals to work as a model, we pay them well for their time and their services. What I am talking about is the shopkeeper or tradesman that sits and does their daily routine.

The guest photographer (and that is what we are, a guest) walks up, sticks a camera up, takes a photo and walks away. Often without even an exchange of pleasantries and no knowledge of what is unfolding in front of them. In doing this we, the photographers have treated them as disposable models and so why would they not want to be paid? Photographers doing this do both a great disservice to themselves as well as the culture they visit. They are missing the “story” and they risk portraying a stereotype of the culture they are visiting. I am guilty of this, it is too easy to do. It is hard to take time, to slow down, to talk with someone that might not even speak your language.

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

This is a tension I have lived with for years. I find myself taking one step forward and two steps back. Clients, want a trophy photo, they want to feel their time is well spent. In other words, they are getting what they have paid for. I understand this. But there are bigger forces at play here. As a workshop leader, I need to curate my clients’ experience so they they get what they want and in doing so we respect the culture and society we are a guest in.

So what do we do about it? The genie is out of the bottle and there is no putting him back. We can’t change a cultural revolution or in this case a technological one or the side effects it has had on the world we live in. We can only change ourselves. We can only be responsible for who we are and how we react to the culture we are visiting.

I think we need to structure our workshops as experiences rather than events or hunts. In an experience we take time to participate and to enter into a shared time of discovery. Both by us as well as by the culture we are visiting. The experience is the end, the goal. On the contrary, a hunt is about one thing, the trophy. Whatever it takes to walk away with a trophy and damn the culture, full speed ahead.

Somehow, as a workshop leader, I need to make the experience and the discovery just as much a part of the trip (maybe more) as the trophy. By doing this we lessen the impact we have on our hosts, we educate and promote cross cultural understanding in a time where this is of the utmost importance. Maybe, just maybe, we can start a new revolution or awakening in travel photography.

 

Related links:

DEAR BEGINNER, YOU MAKE RIPPLES!
BE A CULTURAL INSIDER AND GET BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS. (PT.1)
BE A CULTURAL INSIDER AND GET BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS. (PT.2)

 

6 Ways to Improve your Photography Portfolio: The Goldilocks Principle


 

I call it the Goldilocks Principle in editing. Of course, you remember the story of Goldilocks. The little girl who stumbled into a cabin with three bowls of porridge and three beds. One bowl of porridge was too hot, one too cold and one was just right. In the same way, one bed was too hard, one too soft, but one was just right. Apparently, Goldilocks was a ruthless editor. She didn’t settle for anything but what she wanted. She didn’t settle for anything – she knew what she wanted. If Goldilocks were a photographer, she would have a killer portfolio.

Over this past week or so I have been working with a photographic mentee/student. The biggest issue out of the gate has been she has way too many photos in her portfolio. Many of which are not up to the standard of what she is capable of. I get it. Being ruthless to one of your children is hard. As photographers, we have to be disciplined and practice tough love on our portfolio. We want to allow viewers to leave wanting more. Here are six principles (questions) to help you do just that.

1. Is the image technically correct?

 

By “technically correct” I mean is it exposed correctly; is the subject, whatever that might be, in focus or is it soft? Did you push the ISO too far is it grainy?

I love intentionally blurry images. But if an image is blurry because of carelessness then, most of the time it needs to be tossed (there is that happy accident). Soft images are not artistic, they are…well, soft. If a photo is not your best work then it doesn’t need to be in your portfolio. As far as a soft image in your portfolio is concerned, there is one exception, and this brings us to the second point.

2. Does the image show emotion?

 

Emotion is a powerful force and can cover a multitude of technical sins.

There is a passage in the Bible that says, “…love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). In this case, we can broaden the emotion of love to almost any type of visible emotion; anger, sadness, laughter, really any emotion that can appear on a subject’s face can cover or shall we say, override many technical errors. We see this in photojournalism all the time. An image with powerful emotion trumps a technically flawless one without emotion. Some people might argue that John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway, kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller during the Kent State shootings was technically flawed. In the original photo, we see a pole that appears to be sticking up through Vecchio’s head. But the image is so profound and so full of emotion that this isn’t important. Emotion in a picture trumps almost any other compositional or technical aspect.

So all this to say, does your photo have emotion? If it does, then there is a good chance it’s a keeper.

3. Is the subject the subject?

 

Don’t be afraid to move in close to your subject.

Do your photos have clear subjects? Ok, so you have a photo of a village. Why? What’s in it? Is there a person that important? Maybe a building that is unique? Is there an unusual pattern or shadow at play? The viewer’s eyes need to be drawn to something. If we can’t see it pretty quick, then it’s pointless. It just isn’t interesting.

I often see images by students that are shot wide. I love shooting with a wide angle lens, but you have to make sure that in a wide image there is a clear subject for the viewer to focus on. When shooting a wide or ultra wide lens, think about putting the subject off-center, nearer the edge of the frame, this might add a slight amount of distortion, but this could help the subject be more dominant within the frame.

Always remember the famous quote by war photographer, Robert Capa “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

4. Is the image uniquely mine?

 

Look at your image and ask yourself, “Is this my image or am I trying to channel Steve McCurry?” It is ok to be influenced by other photographers or artist, but don’t try to be them. We already have a Steve McCurry or an Amy Vitale. What we need is a [insert your name here] image. If there is one thing I see the most on my workshops is participants trying to be Steve McCurry. Find your style. I have had many people tell me that they can always tell a Matt Brandon image. I am not sure that is entirely true, but it does tell me that I have created a unique style of my own and this is just what you want to achieve. How do you do this?

Honestly, it happens over time. You take influences from those significant photographers and you borrow a little of this and a bit of that. Everyone is influenced by a mentor. That’s kind of the point on a mentor. I doubt anyone’s style is 100% their own, certainly not from the start. But over time you mold it to what you like and who you are and it becomes your photography, your style.

 

5. Does the images have context?

 

This photo is rich with context. A Hindu priest leaves a temple that is adorned with the Indian imagery.

I like my images to tell a story and a good story needs context. Imagine I am telling you a story, but all I did was describe how the main character looked. I don’t say what country the story takes place. I don’t say anything about the weather or if the location is crowded or not (not to mention develop a plot). All I do is describe the person. That is no story. If all you ever make is tight portraits, then your portfolio is going show you are a portrait photographer. Maybe that’s all you want. But if you want to keep people’s interest, mix things up. Shoot wide, medium and close-up and include context. Mix up your lenses. I shoot primarily with a wide-angle, 10-24mm (16-35mm full frame). Why? It includes context.

Many, many years ago, (1985?) I had a National Geographic photographer do a short portfolio review for me. I had two images of two different little Nepali girls. Each image was a tight head and shoulders crop of a shirtless child in black and white. I thought they were stunning. His comment was, “I have no clue as to where this photo was taken; New York? In a studio? India? You need to pull out and give me context!” He was right. If you are taking “travel” imagery, then allow the viewer to travel through the image. Travel images need to transport people to the location of the photo. We do this through context.

Context can be communicated through anything from clothing like a turban or a ratty t-shirt to writing on a wall, or a statue. These give contextual clues to the location, timing, and environment of the photo.

6. Was the image premeditated?

 

 

What do I mean by that? So many photos I see in carelessly or quickly edited portfolios are images that were taken on the fly. Photo walks can be fun but in my opinion, rarely provide the photographer with images that are well thought through and executed. I can almost always pick out a photo that was “snapped” on the fly. These images feel like a stolen moment and often convey a sense of voyeurism. Your images need to be premeditated, thought through and executed. What angle will communicate the best context? Do I want the subject camera aware or not? What you leave out of the frame is just as important as what you put in, and if you are grabbing an image on the fly, then you are, in the words of Ansel Adams, not making a photograph, you are taking it.

In the image above I saw the yak butter lamps and the light and I knew I wanted to photograph them. But the lamps by themselves were not very interesting, at least not to me. I knew it needed more to make a story. So I waited for the human element; people lighting the lamps. I shot the photo with one hand lighting the candles. It was, OK. But, then another person entered the frame and added symmetry. This was the shot.

There are more points I can add to this list, but if you will just concentrate on these six points and not be satisfied with cold porridge and hard beds, you will have upped the quality of your portfolio several times over. Go be Goldilocks!

A Tribute to Phyllis Brandon, My Mother


 

My mother is what Christian’s refer to as a “Godly woman.” To take that out of Christianese and put it in plain English, would be, she was a woman that mirrored the teachings of Jesus Christ in her life. She loved things that were good; she hated that which was evil. She was concerned for the unfortunate and the downtrodden. She “lived in peace with all men in so far as it was possible” and more. She brought up her children with these morals and ethics as well.

This past week on March 21st, after a running battle with kidney disease she passed away. She went to be with her loving Lord and those of whom she love that went before her.

It was a struggle to be here. Not because I had other things to do – but, because I had to watch my mother die. She passed under the care of my sister Terry Brandon who lived with her for the past eight plus years. Terry devoted her life to Mom, and I am sure extended her life by many years. But in the end, after only eight months of dialysis Mom couldn’t take the pain and suffering of the treatment. So, on the 3rd of March, she stopped her treatment.

I was in India running my workshop knowing she was planning this decision. I prayed I would be able to make it back in time to see her before she slipped into a toxic sleep. In fact, Alou and I did, and Mom defied all odds and lasted for three weeks off dialysis.

In tribute to her, her life and what she meant to her family and friends I was asked to make a short video of her life. The video will be played at her memorial service today. This project has been an excellent way to grieve and process this time with my family. I even was able to interview Mom for the video before she lost the ability to speak near the end.

As you can imagine this has been a hugely personal project for me. I want to thank my sister Mindy Brandon Hamm for many of the photos and her creative collaboration.
Music by:

Song: Quiet City
Artist: Aaron Copland, London Symphony Orchestra & New Philharmonia Orchestra
Album: A Copland Celebration, Vol. I

Song: Nonet for Strings: Slow and Solemn
Artist: Aaron Copland, London Symphony Orchestra & New Philharmonia Orchestra
Album: A Copland Celebration, Vol. I

ADHD and How I cope with it.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia back somewhere close to 1974. In those days many phycologists and other said the same thing about dyslexia that people are saying today about ADHD, “It’s just an “American disease” or “only problem with that kid is the way he was raised.” Now, of course, we know this isn’t the case at all. We have fMRIs that show there is something different going on in the brain of someone with either dyslexia or ADD.

Photographers who are ADD, ADHD or dyslexics are faced with unique challenges that other creatives and business people don’t face. In this video, I look at ways to cope with these differences.

If you are ADD or dyslexia, I would love to hear how you have learned to cope and excel in a world that isn’t attuned to they way you function.

I mention that I would link my packing Pro list so folks can download it. You will find it linked below. I hope it helps. Just use it as a starting point and tailor it to your need.


I am not sure I will have a video next week as I am leading a workshop inIndia with my good friend and workshop partner Piet Van den Eynde. But check back soon for a report of the week’s events.

Two New ebooks by Damien Lovegrove

 

ipad-fuji

Digital photography is free so make the most of it. I shoot three times a week on average to maintain my edge; any less than that and I slip backwards. It doesn’t matter if you play tennis, play a musical instrument or take photographs, improvements come through continued practice and the application of good skills. It is important to have a camera that begs to be picked up and used. The Fujifilm X system saved my career 5 years ago because of this characteristic alone. -Damien Lovegrove, Portraits.

 

Book One: The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers

 

Damien Lovegrove is one of the most respected photographers I know when it comes to glamor and portraits. He is also one of the friendliest and prolific. To learn about Damien’s pedigree you should listen to the interview, I did with him on my podcast Depth of Field. In short, he worked for years with the BBC becoming an expert at lighting. Later when he started shooting weddings, he discovered he was a natural and people loved his style and images. He is now a Fujifilm U.K. X-Photographer and a Fujifilm U.K. brand ambassador.

 

cover_lovegrove

 

Damien shoots thousands of frames a week. And when you do that, you learn the ins and outs of your gear. You find its flaws, and its weaknesses. Of course, you also learn it’s strengths. Damien has taken the knowledge he has accrued over these years and filled two ebooks with it. It is these two ebooks, The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers and Portraits that I want to review for you here today.

The first book The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers is the simplest to describe. At its core, it is a primer on the X-Series cameras. A sort of, “What is the ________ and how does it work?” You fill in the blank with any x series camera and any x series lens that Fuji makes. If you shoot Fujifilm gear, then you would be doing well to read this ebook. This book tells you not only what camera is best for your style of shooting but is also filled with the details about why Damien uses a certain camera and lens over another.

 

“I prefer to work with the X-T cameras (X-T2 and X-T10) because I like having a large centrally placed viewfinder. Having said that, I tend to use the tilting LCD most of the time. I like avoiding having a camera stuck to my face when I’m making portraits as it alienates my subjects. Using the tilting LCD reminds me of shooting with waist level viewfinders on my medium cameras all those years ago.” -Damien Lovegrove, The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers

lovegrove-monochrome-013

But I would be misleading you and doing Damien a disservice if I left you thinking this book was only a catalog of Fujifilm gear. It is so much more than that. The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers is also a very personal look into how Damien Lovegrove uses his cameras. For instance little things like when he is speaking about the X-E2 he writes:

 

“It’s very easy to produce dull images when the camera is given the task of setting exposure so I find it best to work in manual mode with ‘exposure preview in manual mode’ switched on.”-Damien Lovegrove, The Fujifilm X System Guide for Portrait Photographers

 

To discussing things like focusing and recompose with a Fuji x system camera. Did you know that you don’t do this with a Fuji? Damien goes into detail as to why. And the reason why was one of the most forehead-slapping moments for me in this book. It’s what he calls, the flat field lens factor.

fuji_ebook_live_setting

Damien goes through his complete camera settings. In particular, his Q (Quick) menu setup in great detail. This alone is almost worth the purchase of his book.

I am going to be straight here and tell you, when I first saw this book I thought, it was nothing more a catalog of Fujifilm gear that Damien loves. I was wrong; it is much more than that. It is a technical look at how this amazing photographer sets up and uses his cameras and lenses. Between this book and the next book in the docket, you get a virtual internship with Lovegrove. Don’t walk away from either of these two ebooks.

Book Two: Portraits

 

portraits_1

Damien Lovegrove’s next ebook is simply titled, PORTRAITS. It is nothing short of amazing. 384 high-resolution photographs with all the exposure and lighting details used to create them. Over 50,000 words of creative exploration that took Damien over two years to write!

This book is filled with an entirely different style of portrait photography than I do. I mention this because though I am not a glamor photographer or a studio guy, I still appreciate and have learned from this book.

portraits_lovegrove_2

Speaking of massive, this ebook is unlike most out today. Frankly, it is less of an ebook and more of a PDF of a university textbook. By that, I mean at 356 pages this no mere ebook that some photographer popped out to sell for $5. It took Damien two years to write this book and a lifetime of experience and as a result more like a university textbook than an ebook. Frankly, it belongs in every photographer’s library. If Portraits were an ink and paper book, you’d be paying well over $100. (Have you priced textbooks lately?)

Damien goes into great detail about each photo in the book. Each photo has the EXIF data in the caption with a rather long explanation of how he made it. I like his candor. There are times when he is surprisingly honest and explains how he forgot to change the ISO from a previous shot (I hate it when that happens!) and how the camera handled it.

 

A look at the book’s index gives you an overview of the massive amount of information that is covered in this book. There are eleven sections in the book beginning with Portrait Foundations. In that section, Damien spends 47 pages on the details of how to set up a shoot – from explaining a narrative to how to create a relaxed pose. In the section Light Matters, he spends 53 pages covering the use of strobes, quality of light, one light set ups, multi-light setups, how to simulate sunlight and much more. After that the bulk of the sections in this book are detailed explanations of each type of portrait you might shoot; Urban, Hollywood (the kind of shots you’d see from of Lana Turner or Betty Davis), Boudoir, Nude and lastly the Figure in Landscape. The last four sections of the book are more technical. In these remaining sections, he discusses in great detail his lighting equipment, what makes a good studio, his workflow and more.

potrtaits_lovegrove4

I think the quote below attests to Damien’s sensitivity and professionalism as a photographer and gives the reader an insight into his workflow.

 

It helps me to take things calmly and respectfully, but at the same time shyness can put over a sense of flustered unprofessionalism so I rely on my experience and photographic ability to disguise things like a gracefully gliding swan frantically paddling away under the water. 

I place my prime lenses on a side table in the room I’m shooting in, I have no caps on them and any Pro Mist filters that are needed are already in place with lens hoods attached. It’s a bit like how a surgeon would lay out their tools on a trolly. I can then quickly swap the lens needed for each shot. Having to go in and out of bags for gear just takes too long and ruins the creative flow. -Damien Lovegrove, Portraits.

 

As I said at the beginning, these are more than 35-page ebooks of pretty pictures. These are books; that would be an investment into your photography. At £20 and £40 the old truism is applicable here, “You get what you pay for.” You would be remiss not to have these two books in your photographic library.

Buy one or both books here:lovegrove-ebook-buynow

 

 

A Photographic Growth Spurt

Someone once told me, a photographer, not to take a photo of them but a video instead. This statement was not to be taken literally; it was more of a metaphor for how we look at people and form opinions. The idea is we all change. What she was trying to say was she is not the same person she was ten years back as she is today, don’t view her by her past. Take a video, because we all change. If someone was to form an opinion of who she is, view her for who she is today, not a static image of her from 10 years ago. Continue reading

What camera should a beginner buy?

Stident on old collage chum George Neal had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he ugraded his camera to a X-T1. Here is George on the left with both camera next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

Student and old college chum, George Neill, had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he added an X-T1 to his kit. Here is George on the left with both cameras next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

One of the more frequent questions I get asked, is “What is the best camera I should buy if I am a beginner?” Honestly, these days there are so many choices, which can make it confusing and overwhelming. But the reality is it doesn’t have to be. I tell newbies to step back, take a breath and answer a quick question or two. Then I give them usually one, possibly two answers. They are almost always happy if they follow my advice. Continue reading

The Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

Bakarwal Gujjar 1989 - Photographed on slide film. I am guessing Ektachrome given the blues.

Bakarwal Gujjar 1989 – Photographed on slide film. I am guessing Ektachrome given the blues.

 

matt-brandon-gujjar-12.11-16.17.13-Edit

A Gujjar buffalo herdsman – 2012. Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III

 

There are two terms today that seem to categorize the world. Two terms that describe the entire world as we know it; they are digital native and digital immigrant. 1 In short, digital natives are those who never knew the world without the internet and digital immigrants are everyone else. Some of us immigrants speak “digital” like a native, while many of us are still trying to figure out Facebook. We may be fluent, but we are no natives.

As digital immigrants some of us are in a unique position to comment about both sides of the digital divide and how we see these changes affecting us. Some of us on the other hand are much like the frog in the proverbial pot of water, as the heat slowly increases we don’t see the change as it is so gradual. Mind you I am not trying to comment on what is good or what is bad with our current digital world, I’m just highlighting some of the changes this migration has seen.

I migrated to the digital world from the analog world along with all the other digital immigrants my age. If I had to identify one area that was the biggest barrier to my growth in photography I think it would simply be money, not technology. As a young photographer I struggled with the huge investment in camera gear, darkroom gear and the biggest cost of all film and processing unlike young photographers have to deal with today. Photographer Nevada Wier and I don’t see eye-to-eye as to whether the digital world is really cheaper or not. Check out my interview with her on the “Depth of Field podcast where we talk about this issue. (She takes issue with me on this point at 6:55 on the timeline.) I’ll stick to my guns on this. I still believe overall it is cheaper to get into photography today than ever before. Cameras and lenses are better and cheaper than ever. Yes, some software is pricy, but with options like the subscription model for Lightroom, you can get a month’s usage for less than two gallons of Milk (in America 😉 ).

Let’s think about this for a minute. The cost of chrome (slide) film and photo processing in 1976, the year when I graduated from high school, was somewhere around $15. A roll of 36 exposure Kodachrome would cost somewhere around $10 to $12. The processing was often only 2 or 3 dollars after that. So call it a total of $15. Today that same $15 is inflated2 to $63.46! Just buying and processing two rolls of Kodachrome is more costly than a year’s subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop today. Given that price, there was very little chance that a kid of my means would be able to experiment with frame after frame of trial and error to learn from my successes and failures. I got as good as I could through high school classes and later in university classes through a slow and costly process. But today, you can shoot as much as you want and waste as much digital data as you like at virtually (pun intended) no cost. By the way, that process of learning from your successes and failures took at the least a week or more as you waited for your slide film to be processed and returned. Today as we all know it is instant.

But here is a thought. As a photographer today I can shoot until I run out of memory, then delete and shoot some more. With this “digital excess”, if you will, are we really learning as much from it as we can or are we becoming sloppy and lazy. Reality is that creativity thrives under constraints.

“…the imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works

When we put limitations (intentionally or unintentionally) on ourselves like time and resources we unleash creative juices we never thought we had. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not for one instance saying that the digital revolution has stifled creativity as a whole. But I do think that it might work that way with some people. The amazing wealth of information can also serve to be overwhelming and distracting. Remember a few years ago the book that was making its rounds in the creative community? It was titled, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He talked about how so many things fight for our attention. At the top of this list has to be the internet —  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular. I am not alone in this observation; article after article is written about how the internet is stealing our time. With the ease of photographing and processing all your thousands or tens of thousands of images at home on your personal computer comes the risk of distraction or as Pressfield calls it “resistance.”

For me, being a digital immigrant has been a huge blessing.  I would never go back. Gear cost is less than ever. Photographers have been given complete control over over the creative process. I never would have been able to clone, dodge, burn with the detail I can do with Photoshop. If I choose I can leave my graduated filters at home and use Lightroom’s graduated filters and more. The digital era has made all this possible. Light, a company who uses new camera technology has a touch screen user interface that uses sophisticated depth-mapping technology. Meaning, you adjust focus and depth of field even after a photo is taken, all the way to f/1.2!

I love being able to look at the photo I just shot, critique it on the spot and shoot again. It has opened new doors for me to do the same with others in workshops across the globe. I would never want to return to the days of analog.

My migration continues as I have moved from shooting large heavy DSLRs like the Canon 5d MK III to lighter weight and stealthy cameras like the mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1. As tech continues to get smaller and lighter and more efficient, this movement to mirrorless cameras allows less attention to be drawn to the photographer as they are much less intrusive and nondescript.

Change is never easy. Every immigrant is uncomfortable for a period of time. But there is no going back, that boat has sailed. As a Digital Immigrant I can either complain and be a curmudgeon or learn to navigate in the digital world. As I do, I quickly uncover the treasures that await.