It is when you least expect them that surprises present themselves and that makes them more, for the lack of a better word, surprising.
Around September last year (2010), somebody actually purchased a license to use my photograph. It was not much. Just slightly lower than Gursky’s shot that sold for $4.3 million USD. Because of that photo I have managed to pay in full the house I bought in the CBD and I now have enough money in the bank to allow me to live comfortably without having to work. Surprise!!! No, I did not. Although I did sell a photo for a measly $64 AUD.
The amount it sold for is less important than the lesson I learned from that photograph and I would like to dedicate this post into reflecting upon that reflection. That statement would probably make more sense if I’ve shown you the actual photo so here it is:
Now you know why it didn’t quite reach the level of Gursky’s shot (but I bet one of my kidneys his won’t make it to Flickr Explore LOL!!!).
Anyway, let’s satisfy the measurebators first so they can skip the rest of this post. I used a Canon Powershot A590 IS in full auto mode without a tripod. Of course the flash fired and that’s evident on the lower right portion of the frame. So, nope, nothing interesting in here for you guys. You can see the rest of the EXIF info here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dtmateojr/3462807514/meta/in/photostream/
Back then, I was in stage 2 in the evolutionary ladder of an amateur photographer. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please read my older post on this very important topic of evolution (you didn’t read it?!!!). To those of you who read that post (a thank you is in order) you should have realized by now that I wasn’t kidding at all 😉
This is quite a long story so please bear with me. If I remember correctly it was my second time driving all the way from Brisbane to Sydney. That’s approximately 1000 kilometers that took me 13 hours including lunch, dinner and wee breaks and about 1.5 tanks of fuel for the rented 2.5 liter Toyota Camry. We decided to visit Luna Park in North Sydney after the rain stopped. We wanted to take the fun rides but there was an important event, which I could not remember, so it was closed for mere mortals. We decided to just roam around and enjoy the night. It was our first time to visit the location anyway. This part of North Sydney is a very good vantage point to take photos of the Harbour Bridge (this I learned much later). I saw several photographers with huge cameras and tripods with dangling “cables” (shutter release). I remember this particular bloke who was standing on the same spot for several minutes. With all that expensive-looking gear I thought he must be a pro. I didn’t know jack about photography back then so everyone with a DSLR was a pro to me. Anyway as I was strolling, the reflection on the puddle of rain caught my eyes. I immediately took my camera and aimed at it. I framed it in such a way that the face of that entrance gate would seem to be staring at me from under the concrete. I was unknowingly teaching myself how to compose a shot! I must have done something right because that bloke who was just staying on one spot with all that expensive gear started doing exactly the same thing. Well actually it kinda annoyed me because he started setting up his tripod and was blocking my view. The copycat was preventing me from taking more shots! Anyway, he was the pro so I quietly walked away. He must have been very happy that this foreigner (me) finally left. Well I hope he got a nice shot of the puddle. Not! We went back to the hotel and, if I’m not mistaken, had dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant (that restaurant closed down after about a year later).
I did not immediately look at the photo. Typical of most n00bs, it stayed in the camera for quite some time. I stored it in my hard drive but never touched it until much later when I was already playing with that thing called Photoshop that my good friend sold to me for $100 (he switched to a Mac and the software was for Windows — lucky me). I’ve always thought that photos should be kept as pristine as possible. Photoshop = evil. SOOC = good. I don’t remember exactly why I started retouching my shots. You probably noticed that I bumped the saturation a bit too much in that photo. I must have thought that the shot didn’t quite turn out the way I saw the reflection or most likely because n00bs tend to push the sliders all the way to 11. In retrospect, I’m blaming auto white balance here.
Fast forward a year later. I went back to the same spot and behold: a rain puddle of almost the same shape was there again. Whoever was assigned to fix that concrete obviously wasn’t doing his job. Lucky me 🙂 Here’s the “enlightened” shot:
A bit conservative in terms of processing. The composition is much tighter with less distraction. I used a Canon G10 here, a much improved point-and-shoot camera. ISO 400, 1/8s at f3.2. I must have zoomed in thus forcing the lens to change the aperture from f2.8 to that weird f number. Flash did not fire this time 🙂 Of course I used a (wobbly) tripod.
I would like to think that I have grown as a photographer over that period when I took the old photo and the new one. If I go back to that spot again, assuming that they still haven’t fixed that concrete, I would be very interested to know if there is anything different I would find in there. I probably won’t. Which is kinda sad knowing that I have spent so much time learning how to shoot and not just writing about photography. With the more expensive toys I have right now, I expect my photos to be so much better. On the other hand, it feels good that even as a n00b I was able to capture a photo that’s good enough to attract a buyer. It’s quite amusing that the photo is now worth more than the camera that took it (digital rot guarantees that your old digital camera is next to worthless after just a few years). That old photograph won’t win me any awards but I humbly think that even pros will have a not-so-easy time improving it considerably. I am no pro but certainly no longer a beginner. If the second shot is any indication, I doubt if I can make the first one miles better.
Just to wrap it up, I would like to point out a few very important lessons. Firstly, it’s not the camera that makes a photograph. Equipment hardly matters at all. Secondly, photography is something that you can only learn by doing. Spend less time measurebating and lurking in forums. (Promise you will go out and shoot after reading this post). Thirdly, take some time to reflect on your self. Evaluate your weaknesses and try to improve on the areas that you feel most uncomfortable with. Be honest and take praises as a challenge to do better instead of resting on your laurels.
How about my “audience”? Do you have a story to tell? I’d be interested in reading them. Please do share.
Until then, keep shooting.