Today I am extremely pleased to introduce Kelly Gorham as my guest blogger. Kelly has been a big influence as I've grown as a photographer. He has helped with advice, ideas, and encouragement. As an intern for Kelly at Montana State University, I observed and experienced lighting people in various situations "on the fly". In other words, I observed Kelly in vastly different situations and he always came up with a quick, effective, and beautiful lighting solutions. This helped to give me confidence when I was on my own assignments. The one thing I carry with me on every assignment is something I learned from Kelly - "Treat every photo assignment, no matter how small, as if it's the most important." Please enjoy Kelly's post today as he talks about something he learned about his own work and his encouragement to fight through the laziness. Be sure to take him up on his challenge at the end.
Zoom With Your Feet
by Kelly Gorham
…my metaphor for photography and life
When I was six-years-old, in the 1970’s, and got my first camera it used film and flash cubes and had a fixed focal-length lens. You may remember a flash cube only had four shots in it. After I threw many tantrums when I’d run out of film or flashes, my mother lectured me and instructed me to make each photo count instead of photographing everything as I did.
This trend continued through my life of photography as I used a view camera with prime lenses in college and a Pentax K1000 with one lens during my first two summers interning with a daily newspaper. It really forced me to think about my photos and zoom with my feet. During these years I managed some pretty creative compositions and explored my subjects more thoroughly since I had to move my body to get different perspectives.
This all fell apart when I upgraded camera systems and got my Nikon N90s with 28-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses. I was working for a daily paper in Nevada and found myself working much more quickly. This was in part due to my heavy assignment load but also because the zoom lenses made me lazy. For years I would get to a scene, have a look around, and then pick a couple good angle and fire away with the motor drive cranking like a lawnmower. There I was, just standing and zooming. Oh, maybe I’d take time to switch between the two lenses but the interaction I had experienced with my subjects from an early age was gone. I used the technology like a crutch and it made me lazy and as a result the photos suffered.
Fast forward twelve years and I’d been shooting digital for about ten of those. Yup, you guessed it, even lazier. With digital I could see every photo as I captured it. We call this chipping in the industry. It’s almost like a funny photo ballet. You really see it at sporting events with a row of photographers bobbing their heads in unison from the action to their LCD screens. So now, I’m still standing and zooming but have even less concerns because I can see instantly if I’m getting the shot. The challenge is gone. Even if it’s a poor photo I’d be in Photoshop trying to salvage it. Of course, photographers are famous for saying, “I never Photoshop, I’m true to the subject,” but let’s admit it, we’ve all gone through that phase of trying to squeeze every bit of information out of every pixel. Is the photo too dark? Fix it in post. You didn’t get close enough? No problem, crop it in post. Too lazy to wait for good light? No problem, shoot a bunch of bracketed photos and merge them in HDR (high dynamic range) software.
In 2008 just as my laziness-induced obsession with HDR imaging and zoom lenses was reaching critical mass, my 28-70 broke. Oh crap. It was a morning before I had several news assignments. The 70-200 would be too long for all these assignments. I grabbed the only other lens that was with me at the time, my trusty $89 Nikkor 50mm f1.8 that I had previously only used when shooting food and products and went off to the assignments.
Suddenly photography was tough again. I was crouching, squatting, laying on my belly and on my back. I stood on chairs and tables. Wow, I was moving again. This lens didn’t allow me to be lazy. I was thinking about my subject and interacting with it. I didn’t even chip. I just shot the photos and hoped for the best, just like the days of slide film. When I got back to the computer I downloaded the photos into Adobe Lightroom and was amazed at the quality. It was like the 23-year-old version of me walked into the room. The photos were interesting, well composed and perfectly exposed. I didn’t change a thing in the computer. I simply exported the images and sent them off to the editors. I was a photographer again.
Soon after, I went to Berlin to shoot a project about relics of the Cold War. I carried a 20mm and a 50mm. The project was the highlight of my career and has exhibited around the U.S. and in Germany. Now in 2011 I carry a 28mm and an 85mm throughout the day. I shoot sports with a prime 300mm f2.8 and use a 1.4x teleconverter when I need the extra oomph. I still have a 70-200 and use it when needed but I travel light and think about my shots. Instead of researching cameras with bells and whistles and massive zoom lenses, I find myself dreaming about compact mirrorless cameras with prime lenses and very few controls. I treat every photo as though it’s the most important image I’ve ever captured.
Here’s a challenge for you. Take one camera with one prime lens and go for a stroll. No filters, no gadgets. Just go and explore your subjects and force yourself to break from the restraints of technology. Enjoy life for what it is and make the most of it.