For many, photography is just another consumer experience. Their efforts are focused on acquiring equipment and debating its merits once acquired. One reason is that photo magazines tend to be absorbed with pitching the equipment of advertisers both present and future. Another reason is that it's simply easier to buy photo equipment than take quality photos.
It's a hackneyed truism that talented photographers are capable of taking photos of consequence with even the most rudimentary of cameras. The corollary being that those endowed with more cents than sense will invariably miss the shot in spite of their technically superior equipment. As with the act of creating photos, the purchase of photographic equipment should be the result of a great deal of thought and a great deal of restraint. Using the equipment that you have to its fullest capabilities is far more fruitful than stocking your gadget bag with every imaginable gizmo.
Since this is the final instalment in this series of photo assignments, as a parting shot, I'm going to relate a few final insights that can help give you an edge as a shooter.
Your assignment? Keep shooting!
Stay Motivated: Give yourself regular photographic objectives as a way of motivating yourself to get out and start snapping. I've tried to cultivate my intuition, being aware of it and listening whenever it starts screaming at me. I had noticed this little shop on Vancouver's West Pender Street from the bus window on numerous occasions and, though at first glance it wasn't much, something about it kept nagging at me. Finally I decided to take a stroll in that direction, on the prowl for fresh graffiti and other urban mayhem with the ultimate objective of getting a shot of the shop too. Not until I had viewed the photo after the fact did I realize the payoff. I started to notice details like the stuffed monkey swinging among the delightfully floating bananas, the five cent discount on bananas with a smile, the cross-cultural "Dairy & Ginseng" sign and, the pièce de résistance, the proprietor's face gazing up and out of his forlorn little world. Even the lottery signs speak eloquently of desperation.
Be Flexible: Frequently the best photos are serendipitous ones, those taken incidentally within the context of different objectives. In this photo, taken in Kyoto's historical Gion district, I was framing the noren -- that hangy-downy banner you see over the doorway -- when the staff member popped out of the door. Rather than breaking concentration, I switched focus, recomposed and took the shot, all in an instant. This was easily the best shot of the evening.
Listen to your Inner Sensor: This is another one of those shots that started off with a nagging curiosity. My intuition was telling me over and over again that the scene was significant but my rational side couldn't see it. Finally, I just let the intuition takeover and captured this shot of the anachronistic Del Mar Inn, with its quirky slogan: "Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide". Some years later, by chance, I met the building owner, George Riste, an octogenarian who happily took the time to explain the history of the building, the sentiments behind the slogan and the political fight behind the grim brick façade. A man of conviction, Mr. Riste battled long and hard against efforts by BC Hydro to acquire the property to develop into a new head office. Finally, the provincial government power monopoly gave up and built their glass and steel monstrosity around the Del Mar Inn instead. That structure can be seen glaring in the upper right hand corner of the photo. Resisting the urge to cash out, Mr. Riste was determined to protect one of the few remaining affordable refuges for the downtrodden in Vancouver.
Be Ready: A Camera left at home in a closet is not going to take many photos of consequence at all. Photo ops occur when you least expect them and usually when you are least prepared to deal with them. I was running a quick errand in Vancouver's Chinatown but paused just long enough to grab my wife's camera before heading out. On the way back I came across these zonked out druggies. Quickly I snapped off this shot and then the emergency responders arrived.
Put It All Together: Over the past 25 lessons we've looked at a number of approaches in isolation that can make your photos stand out if not outstanding. Besides the unconventional framing and precise timing, this shot employs rim lighting, silhouette and reflection resulting in a surreal effect. Every situation offers unique opportunities to you as a photographer. You have the tools now to assess any scene then, reaching into your toolbox, squeeze off a "keeper" or two.
All photographs were taken by Brian Grover.