Saturday, January 14, 2012

About Me - Photography 1

I got interested in photography in 1999. Till that time I had had a point-and-shoot 35 mm Canon film camera, and I would, like most people I knew, carry the camera to places I went, take a few snaps, get them developed, and stick them into an album. In case you are wondering, and this is most likely to happen if you don't 'go' back to the 90s, then this whole talk about '35mm' and 'film' cameras will seem quaint and odd. Let me clarify. The first thing to clarify is that in 1999 digital cameras were far and few in-between. A megapixel was a big deal, and most digital cameras were sub-pixel in resolution and no match for even the most basic of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras when it came to quality. And they were costly. Digital cameras. Things would change rapidly in just a few years. But in the reality of digital cameras that existed in 1999, 'affordable' was not a word you would find in its dictionaries. A digital camera was therefore not on my mind at that time. The second point follows from the first: shooting on 35mm negatives meant you had to get them processed and then printed. This usually happened at the local K-Mart of Wal-Mart. There you generally got two options: one was to use the store's in-house processing and printing capabilities, the second was to use Kodak processing. Kodak processing was about a dollar or two costlier than the in-house option for the entire 35mm roll, but gave much better results. Since I was not shooting that much anyway, it did not make much of a difference, and I would go for the Kodak processing option. 

The photos that I did want to share via email, or put on my website, I would scan using a flatbed scanner, and then upload them. Even the scanning had to be done at low resolutions, and the resulting image file no larger than a 100KB in most cases. This also had its origins in the cost of storage. Email providers like Hotmail, Yahoo, and others usually provided 2MB or 4MB of free storage space. You could purchase a massive amount of 25MB for something like $25 a year, but most did not. I did not. Lest you wonder, Google mail (Gmail) did not exist at that time. Google the company itself was a year old. So you could not send large images to your friends and relatives. You ran the risk of overwhelming their entire email quotas, which would make you rather unpopular with such friends and relatives. Hosting space was at a premium - especially the free one, and hard drives in those days maxed out at under 10GB or so. External hard drives were costly. Flash drives were almost unheard of - and their capacities was measured in KB and not MB. USB had just about made its appearance in consumer PCs a year or two earlier, USB2 was a few years away. External storage, for the most part, came in 3.5" floppy diskettes. You could also buy CD writers, but these ran at a few hundred dollars, and the CD-R discs were themselves about a couple of dollars each. So you see, there were limitations imposed on storage.

Till 1999 I had little idea about either film speeds or exposures - the basics of photography. You see, automatic cameras took care of all that - auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-forward, auto-everything. All I had to care about was to make sure that the film had been properly inserted into the camera. You really did not want to shoot an entire roll of film, pop out the lid at the back, only to discover that the film leader had somehow not latched itself quite properly into the camera, and all you had been shooting were blanks, so to say. I was photographing, but I knew next to nothing about photography.

In 1999 I decided to invest a little money in a better camera than I had. The reason I came to this decision was actually quite silly. I had gone to San Francisco to visit my cousins, and there, in bright San Francisco daylight, under the open skies at the Golden Gate bridge, I had shot photos with ISO 400 speed film. The others had used Kodak ISO100 film. And when I compared the prints, I realized mine were not as saturated in color as theirs. Mine sucked, to put it simply. The short of it was, and I of course would not want to admit that even if I had known it, that I knew nothing about photography.

To remedy my less than desirable results I had to take a decision. Providing impetus to the decision was a realization that I had started taking more pictures than before. I had refused to accept that photography was becoming a hobby for me. Now I could continue to stumble on as before, take mediocre photographs with a mediocre camera, and exult at the occasional good photograph, pat myself on my back on a job well done, more the result of accident than design, and continue taking mediocre photographs. That was certainly a course of action that required little to no effort on my part. It was the status-quo. It was the path of least resistance. But what was clear was one thing: taking more photographs was not making me a better photographer.

This is the first post in this series. I am also posting this to a page I have added to my blog, About. As this year progresses I too intend to make progress in adding to this page.

Live long and prosper.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.