The insults that photographers hear all the time

Here’s the deal.  You’ve set up a location where you think you can get an amazing photo, one that should win any competition from here to the moon and back.

And then you have to deal with the naysayers, the downchatters, the ones who feel that no good parade can commence without them raining on it.

I’ve heard these insults more times than not, and after a while, I’ve developed my own personal responses – some cheeky, some snarky, some just plain vicious.  Trust me on this.

“Anybody can take a picture as good as yours if you have the most expensive cameras.”

Um… let’s test that theory.

Yes, my digital camera of choice is a Nikon Df full-frame lens.  But I’ve also shot photos with film camera, and many of those film cameras were rescued from flea markets and yard sales.

The Railsplitter. Nikkormat FTn camera, Kodachrome 64 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

An example of my “low cost” photography is at right.  The Railsplitter was captured with a Nikkormat FTn film camera, a camera I snagged off the shelf at a thrift store.  Total cost to me?  $12.  One roll of film, plus processing, and I scored this award-winning photo of a primrose weed bursting through the old, abandoned train tracks of the soon-to-be-restored Albany County Rail Trail.

It isn’t the gear you use that helps you achieve great photos.  It’s the gear in your brain that comes up with great ideas for photographs.  It’s the pre-planning and conceptualization that makes the final shot so worthwhile in the end.

That’s the same argument I’ll use when someone says …

“Oh big deal, I can get a shot like that from the camera on my iPhone, that makes me just as good a photographer as you.”

Does it now?

I’ve heard that jab more times than not.  Look, I have nothing against the photography that comes from camera phones – heck, I’ve used my BlackBerry smartphones to capture photos as often as I’ve used my regular camera gear.  And there are very creative people who have made amazing pictures come out of their iPhones.

D&H Building / SUNY Reflection. BlackBerry KEYone camera phone. (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

But again, it’s not the gear, it’s what you do with the gear.

Do you see that perfect moment in time, that instant where your eyes capture an emotion and you want the whole world to share in it?

Yeah, then you’re talking about shooting from the hip, getting that awesome angle, and ready, aim, fire, you’ve claimed a winning shot.

This was the same argument as I made earlier.  Yeah, your equipment can get you some great images.  But the most important equipment for awesome photography is your brain.

Oh, here’s a good one.

“You’re not a real photographer, all your photos are done with trickery and fakery.”

Actually heard that one from someone I dated.  I should note that she also downloaded several of my pictures off the Web, and they’re probably STILL hanging on the walls of her house.

The Lenten Meal. Agfa Clipper Special f/6.3 camera,

What I’ve achieved from my film cameras has been more of experimentation, than “fakery” or “trickery.”  You start with a camera and film.  Then you think about how you would enhance that picture.  How you would take what is in your mind and transfer it to a fully-formed construct.

For the picture at right, The Lenten Meal, I experimented with loading an AGFA Clipper Special f/6.3 (which came all the way from the Brimfield Antique Fair for $15) with various formulations of film.  That, plus angling the shot on a tripod, gave me a nice looking “weave” effect on this picture.  It was one of my “splitfilm” experiments that turned out quite well for me.

“That isn’t an original photo out of the camera.  You must have captured that with a PhotoShop filter.  That’s cheating.”

What if it really WAS an original photo out of the camera?

Hamilton College Chapel. Vintage expired 616 black and white film in AGFA Chief camera. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Example.  This photo of the Hamilton College Chapel was taken in 2010 with 55-year-old expired war surplus film.  The picture – and what I did to chronicle the experiment – went viral, and I received write-ups in everything from Gizmodo to Popular Photography.

I also received some nasty naysayers, one of whom went on a message board and SWORE up and down that I was a fraud, that this picture was nothing more than a photo with an Instagram filter, that he had NEVER seen film with that texture before, and that I should be ashamed of myself for perpetuating such a swindle.

I challenged this clown.  I offered to drive down to his location in Maryland, and let him examine the original negative for himself.  Plain and simple.  And that if what I said was true, he would owe me an apology and a box of cookies.  After several other people in the photography message board also confirmed my results, he did apologize… I never got the cookies, though.  Oh well.  At least I still achieved this image.

Oh, here’s a good one.

“I hate you for being a better photographer than I am.”

Well now.

Nipper’s Polar Panorama earns Second Place at the New York State Fair. Photo by Chuck Miller.

You may not remember Nipper’s Polar Panorama, a shot I took atop the Arnoff Building in Albany way back in I think 2010.  To get that image, I had to use my Nikon D700 digital shooter and take dozens of images – then stitch them together so that it looks like the RCA Victor dog is standing atop a tiny planet.

That picture claimed second place at the New York State Fair, my first “prize” ribbon (higher than Honorable Mention) at that event.  It was also one of four Fair photos I’ve taken over the years – The AGFA Bridge Over Ansco Lake, Lodge’s in Polaroid Polablue, and The Walkway – that scored prize ribbon honors in Syracuse.

Now mind you, I had gone to the Fair with someone.  She took dozens and dozens of photos every time she went somewhere, and she had binders and binders full of 4×6 photographs of her travels.

So we’re driving back from the Fair, and I’m feeling like a king.  Second place, and in only my second attempt to snag a win at Syracuse.

And she told me about how she had taken pictures for years and years.

“And now you’re winning awards for your photos.”

Yep, still grinning like a king.

“And I hate that you’re now better than me in what, the last two or three years you’ve taken photos?”

Owtch.  Regicide.

All I can say is that yes, it does take time to create award-winning photos, but whether it takes a week or ten years isn’t the point.  The point is, if you have an idea and you can bring it forward … it will benefit you emotionally and visually every day of your life.

Stuff like this, you deal with.  But just know … if you take a great photo, if you look through the digital shot and you say, “Damn, that one is just what I’m looking for,” then you’re already winning.

And no amount of denigration and consternation from the contrary nation of impatience and dissuasion will ever take away your fascination and dedication.

Now go out there and take some pictures, and don’t even consider what other people say.  They just wish they took that photo that you just achieved, and you got it first.