How Not to Be A Photographer


K-man got me a new toy for Christmas.  This is a Nikon J1. It is, apparently, an old model. The only thing I care about is that it was half price, down from eye-wateringly expensive to heart-racingly expensive, which means I could legitimately put it on my gift list. And make no mistake, it is a hell of a gift. I’ll be on best behaviour for a while.

Obviously a camera like this instantly transforms you into a professional-quality photographer who can take well-composed photographs with just the right exposure. I’m half-way through the manual, but hey! Who needs instructions, right?



This is what happened when I took the camera off the Do Everything For Me setting.  Really.

I availed myself of the instruction manual, the power of the internet, and several hours.  After a time, I was able to achieve a focused background and a blurred foreground.  And then, something clicked.  No, they’re not perfect, but there is progress:


It’s still slightly blurred in the foreground.  The rest of that blurring was intentional.  Seriously! Confusingly, the camera kit I got came with two lenses. I’m still learning their relative limitations. Also, I’d had wine, thought ‘art is great!‘  and it was late.  I imagined I was the Shakespeare of the photography world and for a brief moment, when I viewed this image on the camera’s LCD screen, my dream became reality. Once uploaded and viewed closer to full size on the Mac’s display, truth kicked beauty’s butt.


You can’t tell this from my advanced ability in selecting portrait backgrounds, but I am playing with the aperture size.  This background is blurred, I tell you.  Alfie looks furious; the power of his anger has evidently created an odd halo of light around him.  It couldn’t be anything I did.

The weather has been especially shitty lately, and today was no exception. But it was dry. I toddled out to the garden to see if I could use the many fast-moving creatures who live there to test my shutter-speed selection strategy.

The answer, folks, was not really.  In England, of course, daylight doesn’t always mean daylight.  Sometimes it means the sky looks like wet newspaper.  Since photography is all about light, woman, that means a fast shutter-speed doesn’t let enough light in. Aperture adjustments just weren’t cutting it. Or at least that’s what I think the problem was. I took about one hundred photographs, and what you see below is the best of the best, after they’ve been through image manipulation software.


This is an artichoke leaf at the back of the garden, in the shitty patch. See how the background is all blurred?  That, for me, is a major achievement.  I was taking this close-up with the telephoto lens, because I was too lazy to go back inside the house and get the smaller lens with other numbers written on it.


One of the evil sunflower-head-eating forces at work in our garden.  Here he is, in his domain high in the tree-tops. Normally he is leaping between the trees or stealing food from someone.  Just when I actually wanted him to be moving about so I could test the shutter-speed settings, he was stock still.



This is my favourite.  Quite obliging when it came to sitting for telephoto portraits, but still wouldn’t move so I could test my shutter-speed ideas.

I can see it is going to take some time for me to get the hang of this.  I must squash my lazy attitude, pony up the hours of manual-reading required, and spend serious time experimenting.

You know what really blows my mind about this?

This is the best I could manage after hours with a really good camera, plus computer aided image manipulation. The camera does 95% of the work for me. I set either shutter-speed or aperture size (I am scared of the fully manual setting at the moment), and it does the rest. I don’t have to worry about putting the wrong type of film in the camera, and I can fix small screw-ups using my computer.  I have to remember about four things. Next time, I will think about light metering and exposure compensation and other parts of the manual I haven’t read yet.

But actual real photographers (people like my friend Lane, who has inspired my new hobby to no small extent), they create images far far far better on their worst days than I could ever dream of on my best day.  And they do it with film cameras.  I find that simply mind-boggling for the sheer quantity of talent and dedication and outright skill it requires.


5 Responses to “How Not to Be A Photographer”

  1. 1 Ann in NJ January 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    In my experience, the choice of what part of the scene to photograph is as important as the settings on the camera. Look for some books or websites on composition – there are some simple techniques that will make a big difference. And practice, practice, practice. That’s the advantage of a digital camera, you don’t have to pay for developing a ton of lousy pictures to get the one good one. Even the most fabulous photogs take a ton of bad pictures. But they take lots of them, just to get the one good out of 100. Even Ansel Adams took probably 20 or more for every image he kept.

  2. 2 staciemarkcoop January 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    That is exactly why I have not attempted to crack the photography book I bought over a year ago. I continue to point and shoot and get mostly mediocre pictures, but I just don’t have the desire to put in the hours it takes to learn to take really good pictures. But I heartily admire those who do.

  3. 3 Cassi January 7, 2013 at 2:11 am

    I’m very impressed. Learning to use the manual settings on a camera is far beyond my skill level –heck, I have trouble remembering what all the dang buttons on my little digital point-&-shoot do :-) And such an obliging squirrel.

  4. 4 Gail January 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Well, as a photographer with only a point and shoot camera that does have lots of options, I think these photos are great. Will be wonderful to see how you develop as a “real” photographer.

  5. 5 Nic @ Life, Smudged. January 8, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks, all! I am determined to keep up my efforts. Plus, I have an upcoming long-haul trip with which to get experimental. The great thing is that if I lose my nerve experimenting with important occasions I can just put the settings straight back to full auto and have decent photos.

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