Do What You Like

Rialto

On one of my trips to the ocean shores of Olympic peninsula at Ruby beach I met an old man who was photographing too. He was very energetic and open. We started talking.

It turned out that he was a professional photographer for many year. His story was both bitter and inspiring. As a professional photographer he spent most of the time photographing things he was not interested in. He did not even mention over our whole conversation what it was.

It was a year since he retired and he finally could start photographing for himself, the things he loved the most – landscapes. He was already on a year long journey, traveling from place to place, capturing the beauty of the Nature. He was finally happy. He drew his energy from the times he was young amateur photographer, open to what the world presented to him.

While I have never been a professional photographer I think I understand him. Just probably as with any other profession once money gets into a picture we start making compromises, that may lead us to completely forgetting why we started doing what we liked in the first place. With my photography I’d prefer photographing what I like and be happy in the process. That’s the place I want to be true to myself.

Dad and Photographer

I have not had much time doing anything photographic last week and won’t have this week either. We’re getting ready for my son’s fourth birthday.

Being dad and photographer at the same time can be both challenging and rewarding. Here is how it is challenging carrying bag full of gear, tripod and my two year son after photographing sunrise:

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And here is how it can be rewarding. My son – now almost four year old – copying his dad:

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I am an Amateur photographer!

History sometimes yields interesting facts. One of such is that a while back Amateur would be a compliment to a photographer. From French amateur "lover of", this meant a photographer who does photography for the love of it (as opposed to professional who does it for the money).

Henri Cartier-Bresson in his famous essay “The Decisive Moment” writes: “I still regard myself as an amateur: but a dilettante I certainly am not." Somehow over time amateur has become an equivalent of dilettante. So let’s restore its original meaning. And I’ll do it first by stating:

I’m an Amateur photographer because I’m doing photography for no other reason but the love of it.

Who had the most influence on my photography?

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko.

I started with reading books by John Shaw. A lot of my photographs at the beginning were attempts to repeat some of his photographs. Repeating is good for studying technique and composition. I was spending a lot of time comparing what I got to his photographs and trying to understand why there was harmony in his, they were capturing attention, they were “singing”, while mine were too static and boring. Decomposing his photos forced me to learn a lot about photography.

While imitating John Shaw’s photographs I did not feel completely satisfied, there was something else I wanted to see in photography. Once browsing books on photography I ran into a book by Freeman Patterson “Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image” and it immediately captured my attention. It was exactly what I was searching for. After that I bought and read all his books.

His photographic esthetics are the closest to my heart. (That’s probably not surprising, giving that I like impressionism in art and improvisation in music.) I don’t want my photography to be limited to documenting events. Photography should reflect what you see and what you feel, not what your camera happened to capture. After all camera does not know what you’re photographing and for sure does not feel anything.

Also big influence for me has been Jay Maisel. Maybe not as much by specific photographs but his individuality, style and being open-minded to all kinds of photography, seeing photographs in everything that surrounds you. Under his influence I don’t want to limit myself just to landscape photography, only color photography or black-and-white. In photography as well as in any other art there cannot be limits – it is always exploration and excitement of finding something new outside a box in which we currently are.

Moving away from photographers who influenced me, I’m just finishing book by Stephen King “On Writing” and it certainly will influence my photographic process and my photography. Most things that he writes about in this book can be applied to photography as well.

How long have I been photographing? How did I start?

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko.

It depends on what point to start count from. I was fascinated with photography on some subconscious level. Back in school I had an old rangefinder camera. Completely mechanical with manual exposure – no electronics at all. I developed film by myself, I made prints by myself. I still remember the scent of chemicals.

I remember my experiment with enlarging a photograph to a really big size. I put my enlarge on a side and projected the image from one end of 7 meter hall to the wall on the other end. On the wall I put letter size sheets of photo paper. The hardest thing was to develop those sheets exactly the same time to keep the same tonality. And I did not succeed on that. Different sheets ended up being darker or lighter. Despite that I enjoyed experimenting.

Later, in high school, my parents bought me more advanced camera – film SLR. It had electronic exposure metering! That was when I learnt my first lesson: not to trust tools. Since I started relying on exposure metering I did not get a single shot with a good exposure.

Still I would not say I did fine art photography in the school. After I entered a university I abandoned photography completely. There was no way I could setup a dark room in a dorm.

After post-graduation school I moved across an ocean to the US. I did not immediately started doing photography again. I traveled a lot, bought a simple digital camera and was taking some random snapshots which I have not even bothered to look at since then.

After a few years living in the US I noticed that I spent too much time working. I needed something that would take me away from work. I tried several hobbies and could not stop on anything.

At the same time my wife got into photography. She was the first we got a DSLR for. I thought about trying myself in landscape photography. I bought a tripod, started reading books and explore landscapes around. And I really like it. Photography has become part of my life that I cannot live without.

The Importance of a Routine

It is important to work out a routine of taking camera out of a backpack and putting it back. Routine will turn into habit that will ensure that nothing gets broken or lost over time.

I realized this after one incident while photographing in Yellow Stone National Park. One time I though I would leave my camera backpack open in the trunk of my car. I thought why bother opening it and closing every time I need to reach for a camera.

Then I was in hurry to catch a sunset and I completely forgot that I left my backpack opened. I needed to run to get a better angle for a shot. I quickly pulled the backpack out of the truck and threw it at my back.  That sent my DSLR and filters flying out of the backpack.

I was very lucky that time – my camera landed onto a level inserted into the camera hotshoe. The level was crushed but it saved the camera – it did not have any damage. Needless to say that I did not get any sunset shots that time.

That taught me an important lesson not to skip on important routine of packing camera after doing photography. The lesson cost was $25 – the cost of a new level.

I have similar routines for extending/collapsing tripod legs, placing camera on tripod, for placing and removing a filter, changing lenses. These routines are very important. Eventually they turn into habits that you do very mechanically, so you can focus more on photography instead of these small things.

What is a photographer?

Who can be called a photographer – this has been discussed many times. Is it a person with a camera? Is it a person who composes a shot? Is it a person that produces a final print?

This question has got a whole new meaning for me recently. My son has grown up a bit – he is three and a half now. When we go to a park and I take photos there he wants to be a part of it. I setup a tripod, compose a shot and then let him release shutter by pressing a button on a camera or on remote release. He is really happy to do that. Later he proudly tells mom that he has taken a photo on dad’s camera.

So, does this mean that he is a photographer now and I infringe his copyright by publishing those photos on my website under my name? (I hope you don’t take this question too serious in this context.)

Composed by me, shot by my son: