A very long time ago, before the dawn of the digital age, taking photographs was a costly exercise. Every click of the shutter had a cost involved including the roll of film, the lab processing and the production of prints. The other problem was you never knew if the picture would come out for a number of days. In 1948 the first Polaroid camera was sold and was popular with the public primarily for its instant gratification. It had only a few professional applications because of the limited size of the prints.
Through most of the twentieth century amateur picture taking was limited to family celebrations and special occasions using cameras like Brownies and Instamatics. The costs involved were a major limiting factor. Really special occasions called for a professional. Taking good photographs did require some training but mostly it came with experience and that needed taking lots of pictures, and that again was expensive. There was also the additional expense of studios or traveling the world to find those great images.
The first digital cameras for the consumer transferred photographs to a home computer using a cable and included the Apple QuickTake 100 in 1994, the Kodak DC40 and the Casio QV-11 in 1995. Soon they were available with memory cards and in 2000 the first cell phone with a built-in camera was released by Samsung. With the introduction of the iPhone the whole world changed and with the iPhone 4 a front facing camera was also included for taking something called a selfie.
Today we find the camera everywhere, if you carry a phone you’re carrying a camera. with the cost of taking and storing photographs being virtually free and always having a camera with you, the world is a very different place. Now anyone interested in taking good photographs can practice all they want and as a result the internet is now flooded with really good photos of literally everything. I have to admit that there is a lot about our digital new world I don’t understand but I do know what makes good photographs.
There’s an old joke about a famous musician that was stopped on the street in New York and asked how to get to Carnagie Hall. His answer was “practice”.
I’ve spent a lot of my life behind a camera. Maybe it started in 1961 when my Father couldn’t seem to get good pictures out of his brand new 35mm camera and in frustration he gave it to me. Years later in the military I spent some time with a couple of photojournalists and decided that would be a great career. I came back and went to college to study photography and over the years I picked up several degrees in the field. While I was still interested in traveling the world as a photographer for news agencies or maybe National Geographic, I realized that wasn’t compatible with settling down and focused on the technical aspects of photography.
Taking great photos is part skill, part opportunity, but mostly seeing with the eye of an artist. Not everyone has the talent of a true artist and that includes me, but there are a number of basic artistic skills that can be acquired that will help you produce good and interesting images. Start by paying more attention to photographs and trying to understand why each one is appealing. If you haven’t been introduced to the greats of photography get to know a few. My favorites include Ansel Adams, Minor White, Alfred Steiglitz and they are all true artists. Take some time to explore on your own history and masters of this amazing art form.
My skill set was best described as being a photographic engineer and in the following years I worked at medical universities helping researchers with photographic problems and took a job where I worked on projects with NASA and other government agencies, mostly involving satellite imaging. Much of that work came to an end with the advent of graphic computers and digital images, but I still loved travel and photography and continue to do both today.
Along the way I taught some college classes in photography and my favorite became evening classes where most of the students where young parents. They were taking the class to learn how to take better pictures of their children. It was those evening classes, where I learned what was most important to those young amateur students and that is where I became more involved in the art and the principles of composition.
Young people today think about images and taking pictures much the same way they think about just sharing a thought or making a comment to a friend. It has always been a visual world but today taking photographs and sharing images is now part of our everyday communications, just like talking or laughing or even texting. After all – a picture is really worth a thousand words.