“What I love most about rivers is / You can’t step in the same river twice / The water’s always changing, always flowing…”
Thus sang Pocahontas in her eponymous film, which, like many Disney films, I’ve seen on more than one occasion. (I watch them for the kids’ benefit, honest!)
However, a flowing river seems to be an entirely apt metaphor for photography too.
In the 13 or 14 years I’ve been making photographs with intention, I’ve gone from knowing nothing but how to point a camera phone and press a button to get an image, to understanding the essentials of aperture, depth of field, focal length, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and so on.
And when you’re on an adventure where your learning is fluid (like the river), you find that using a camera for a while, then coming back to it three months, a year, three, five, 10 years later, the way you use it has changed.
Because of what you’ve picked up in the intervening time, and because your needs and tastes have changed too.
For example, around 2010 I was using a Sony Elm (J10i2) phone as my only camera.
And pretty much sticking to Auto everything, pointing and shooting.
All I recall I did know beyond this was that squeezing the shutter button halfway down (yes, a phone with a dedicated, physical shutter button, hallelujah!) meant it locked focus, then I could reframe if I needed, when the subject I wanted to focus on wasn’t right in the middle of the composition. Which was more often than not.
When I found the Elm in a box last summer (2018), some eight years on, the first thing I did after charging it, was delve into the menus and see what I had control over.
As with most digital cameras, I set the exposure compensation to -0.3 to take the edge of clipped highlights (the most common failing of small sensor cameras I would suggest).
I also set the colour mode to b/w, which has been my dominant preference from perhaps two years now.
Once the Elm was set up how I wanted, I did use it pretty much as a point and shoot.
But I knew if/when the highlights blew out, I could adjust exposure compensation.
And having the screen show b/w meant I could better seek out images that suited b/w better than colour.
In other words, my experience with other cameras over the years between gave me more control over the old Sony Elm, and meant a higher rate of keepers – photographs I liked enough to want to keep and share.
There is a downside I’m finding with this ever flowing river metaphor though.
That is, I keep thinking back to a certain few cameras I no longer have, and wondering if I had have kept them, would I now be able to get more from them (enjoyment, control, the final image) than I did at the point where, for whatever reason, I got rid of them?
A case in point is the two Sony Alpha DSLRs I first had around the spring of 2017.
When I look back now at photos I made with my favourite of the two, the a100, I really like those images.
I wonder why I ever sold it.
Even more than this, I wonder what I could do with the same camera now, over two years on.
Or two years further down the river.
Now most cameras I’ve let go of, I’ve done so for good reason. And I haven’t looked back.
But perhaps with some, like those Sony Alphas, I was a little hasty with, and maybe should have just put in a box for three or six months then decided.
How about you? Have you come back to cameras after a time away and realised how much your photography experience has grown in the interim? Or sold a camera, then bought the same one years down the line?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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