Do you ever ask yourself why you take pictures? Most people do, and the answers aren't always cheering. On a bad day, you can quite soon convince yourself that it's not worth bothering: that you should take up gardening instead, or cycling. Then there are days when the question is quite easy to answer and you end up with some good pictures as well. Even then, you can start tormenting yourself with what constitutes a "good" picture, but I'll come back to that later.
The day I took these, I had woken up; opened the shutters; and been intrigued by the light. When I rode my bicycle over to St. Jouin de Marnes, partly to pick up bread and partly for the exercise, I took my camera with me; and saw nothing worth photographing. So when I got home, after the 4-mile round trip (just over 6 km) I went for a short walk as well, a kilometre or two, down beside the River Dive (pronounced "Deeve") which is less than five minutes from my house. Thus far, therefore, two reasons: I liked the light and I needed the exercise. Either alone might not have been quite compelling enough. Together, they were convincing.
For a camera, I chose my Nikon Df with its 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor. This immediately raises further questions: not least, why not a proper film camera that could deliver much better quality? The answer is simple: laziness. I wanted to shoot colour; I didn't want to carry a tripod; colour film is expensive; processing it is a time-consuming hassle; and I was reasonably confident I'd want to shoot close-ups, where the Micro Nikkor really comes into its own, though of course I could equally well have used it on film.. As it turned out, although I shot quite a few close-ups, none of them made it to the final cut for this piece, though one does appear elsewhere as on this site as Flipper. I shot just over 50 pictures in all, which prompted another line of thought.
Fifty-odd pictures is a roll and a half of 36-exposure film. Even when you're shooting semi-professionally, the cost of film and processing is still in the back of your mind, and then there's the hassle of reloading. Also, of course, I could see the pictures as soon as I got home. If I'd used slides and processed them myself, it would have been at least a couple of hours before they were dry and ready to be sleeved. Taking them to the lab isn't an option, because there's no E6 lab inside an hour's journey, and mail would mean days, not hours. Then I'd have had to scan them.
Regardless of time and cost, there's also the "instant Polaroid" aspect: in fact, faster than Polaroid. In the picture above, the rings in the water are caused by drops of water falling from the weeping willows above; water that had condensed from the mist. With digital I could take as many pictures as I wanted, and check them on the screen as soon as I had taken them. On film, I might have shot a whole roll and not got the effect I wanted.
The reason I said "semi professionally" in the last paragraph is because Frances and I now rely a lot more on our pensions than we do on our photography; which is just as well, because photo magazines are a dying breed. Some that we used to write for have simply disappeared; one has ceased physical publication and now appears only on the web.
Even so, we still make a (very) modest supplementary income from photography: not enough to live on. Its modesty is one reason why we are more careful about costs than we used to be. It is easy to forget the sheer freedom, and lack of expense, that are consequent upon adopting digital photography. Both Frances and I still prefer black and white, hand coloured in her case, but for getting an idea across, or just for taking a few pictures as an adjunct to taking some exercise, digital is usually adequate.
Next question: what is a good photograph? The older I get, the harder it seems to me to find a satisfactory, universal answer. This is, I suspect. because there is no satisfactory, universal answer. Different people like different pictures. For that matter, our own personal tastes are not constant. Most of us must surely have taken pictures that we liked at the time, but later found ordinary Equally, most of us will remember putting an "ordinary" picture to one side, only to find that we liked it a lot better the next time we looked at it.
There's also the question of the frame of mind with which we approach a picture. The illustrations to this piece may seem dull and flat to some. For others they may perfectly (or well, or at least adequately) evoke the mood of a misty day. For that matter, a great deal may depend on the monitor on which you view them. This site seems to work very well on hand-held devices, which lend the pictures a jewel-like quality.
Familiarity matters too. I can be down at the river side in two or three minutes, and because I've lived in the same house for almost 14 years (longer than I've ever lived anywhere else in my entire life), I have a good idea about where to look for the best pictures. The ideas aren't always fruitful, of course, so the pictures don't always work, but a further advantage of familiarity is that I can look at something that didn't work before, but works (or maybe will work) in this particular light at this particular time of day. I also know how to avoid mistakes I've made before, such as including an ugly sign in the picture of the bridge above (the sign is above and right, out of shot). The railing isn't good, but plenty of foreground helps distract attention from that too.
This is a circuit I make fairly frequently, so since I wrote this I have added two more pieces, one on a Sunny Day, and another called The Third Day on how "picturesque" is not necessarily the same as "photogenic".
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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017