Me Strong Like Bull. Me Photographer.

Sure-footed European student perches on top boulder. Taken with D750 just before I fell and cracked this lens – Nikkor 70-300 f4.5-6.3. Pretty slow, but the story is told.
Tarahumara girl
Smiling for the joy of it. Tarahumara girl. Taken with Nikon D600 and Nikkor 85 1.8 AF-G lens.
Dancers at Eyipantla Falls, near San Andres Tuxtla, VER. Taken with APS-C Nikon D5300, kit lens.

They Aren’t Pictures – They Are Symphonies

While plodding through cataloging and culling images in Lightroom, every once in a while magic reaches out from the screen and grabs me by the heart. It’s sweet agony, feeling the emotions flood around me, wraiths and angels dancing like mayflies around my head.

Invariably, I remember the circumstances behind the shot. I remember laying my heavy backpack down, choosing which lens to use. I remember forgetting the heaviness of the gear, even the gear itself. I listen for the story the person or place before me wants me to tell. I adjust the mechanical things like f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO etc. Each adds an instrument to the symphony that’s tuning up before me and about to erupt into a thunderous opening movement. Those are the moments that make photography a passion, make up for the sore muscles from lugging 35-40 pounds of camera gear.

With all the aches and pains I endure, I feel like I am a master workman, using the tools of my trade. I know these tools. It’s taken me years to learn how to use them and will take me years more to learn how to use them better. Meanwhile, I live for those moments when what is in front of me comes back to me upside down and through the magic of photography comes out in a right-side-up image I can share. That’s my story-telling.

I don’t delude myself into thinking I am a great photographer. I don’t expect any of my images to win awards. That’s not the point. I (and no doubt you) take pictures because I HAVE to, which is why I write. Few photographers (like writers) make a decent full-time living at their craft. That’s not the point. The point is that we take pictures for ourselves. We hear stories and feel compelled to tell them through photographs. The story-telling is enough. We may, or may not, share them. But we enjoy them.

The pictures that illustrate the blog post are only slightly adjusted in Lightroom. They have been cut down to a fraction of their original size for the web. I chose a number taken with “smaller” cameras because they tell a story. So if you can’t afford the top of the line, don’t stress. Get the cameras and lenses you can afford and learn to listen to the stories in front of you.

General Photography in Mexico Pages

I’ve added a section to my website for general photography info – like how not to violate social customs, safety and more. The first of these pages is here. And while I am into writing asides, here is a link to Adorama, the online store where I get all my gear and where you can get quality, reliably name brand (no fakes as can happen elsewhere) photo equipment, computers and more.

Mirrorless Cameras Today

Mirrorless cameras are all the rage now. They’ve come a long way since I first tried one at a Professional Photographer’s Association convention in San Antonio a few years back. Mirrorless cameras now come with removable lenses, different formats including full frame. Nikon and Cannon are coming out with them. Their main attraction is they are much lighter than traditional full frame DSLR’s and lenses.

Some professionals even use them exclusively.

For those of us whose backs are bent so the we look the part of the viejitos in the traditional Danza de los Viejitos . These long-suffering columnas cry for mercy every time we heft a suitcase. So why do we insist on carrying  heavy camera backpacks? We drank the photog’s Kool-Aid when young. We believed the ecstasy of better pictures is only attainable by enduring the agony of debilitating backaches. It’s not a REAL photo shoot if there is no pain. It is small comfort that today’s cameras and lenses are lighter than back in the film days. We have become a tribe of weaklings, laughed at by our elders sitting around the campfires.

We’ve made our beds. Now we must lie in them – even if they are beds of thorns.

Bah To Cell Phones

A friend read my grousings about my heavy camera bag and approached me with a solution as he saw it. He told me how wonderful the camera in his iPhone was and how people were shooting movies with them now. (I don’t know if that is real or just a commercial). I could not stand the idea of equating my carefully framed, perfectly exposed, stunning bokeh  stories to cellphone snaps. I didn’t know whether to cry or punch him in the nose. Fortunately, I’m old enough to stifle my emotions. And I don’t have the punch I used to, or the legs to run away.

Argument for Mirrorless Cameras

Common sense dictates that I move to a mirrorless system. I’m not getting any younger – just ask my wife! I can honestly call myself a professional photographer, having sold real images for real money.  I can point with pride to book covers, magazine articles, sales to the Mexican Tourism Ministry and big public relations departments. I had my first gig shooting a funeral, which should keep me humble.

Today I shoot thousands of images and use only dozens of them. They are 24 to 36 megapixels and I compress them down until they pixelate, then back off so they will look adequate, but will load faster on the web.

For web and eBook work, I could probably get by with a mirrorless. Heck, sometimes my point and shoot Panasonic produces the perfect image to illustrate an article or a roadlog. (Though it has a Leica lens, he said snobbishly).

Sometimes my “perfect” pictures in the field morph into blurry mistakes in post-production. It’s those moments, when my finger tires of pushing the “delete” key that I am most susceptible to the siren call of the mirrorless demons, just beyond my horizon. Grimly, I lash myself to my keyboard and keep on keeping on the path. What saves me is finding that one image, that one beautiful, perfectly exposed, story-telling image that sums up the persons, places or things I was seeing. Sometimes it’s one out of a dozen. Sometimes it’s one out of a hundred. In the old slide film days, it seems like there were two very good images per 36 exposure roll. We’re spoiled today with digital images.

Could I get good images from a mirrorless? Sure. Everywhere you read it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer. An image is a story. A good storyteller could shoot with a Brownie and outdo a ”picture-taker.” I think there is some truth to that, but if that’s the case, why do the pros have higher-end cameras? A perfectly framed, correctly cropped image taken with poor glass will not look as good as the same image taken with a quality lens.

Full-frame vs Cropped Sensor

I’ve spent a lot of money buying the best glass I could afford. I still don’t have all high-end glass, but have climbed my way to the middle of the pack. F/2 or bust.

It’s taken me years, but I’ve gradually moved from APS-C sensor cameras to full-frame cameras. There is nothing wrong with smaller sensors. They made real photography affordable for those just beginning – like me. I’d been away from photography and all my equipment destroyed. Plus I didn’t have much money. I could afford a cropped sensor with kit lenses. That started my journey back to professionalism.

Wildlife photogs like the extra reach they afford. Street photographers find their less obtrusive size better for them. Cropped sensor cameras are just smaller, have less information in the image. As I could afford it, I replaced the kit lenses with better quality and faster lenses. I’m still not completely feeding from the “professional” trough. I just can’t spend the price of a new car on lenses. But I can be proud of the fact that when I drove a 15 year-old Ford Escape, my camera equipment was worth more than the car that carried it.

Did I take decent pictures with my original Nikon D3000 a decade ago? Yes. Did I use them in my work? Of course. The best photo is the one you have. Would I use them today? Some, yes. Now I see the noise, the lesser detail compared to my D810. A prominent Internet photo reviewer, Ken Rockwell says sharpness depends on the person behind the camera.

No Matter What, Just Shoot

Regardless of  whether you use a mirrorless, cropped sensor, full-frame, medium or large format camera system, go out, find the passion of the stories waiting for you in Mexico.

Now go forth and buy something at Adorama! Remember, life’s too short for crappy gear.


2 thoughts on “Me Strong Like Bull. Me Photographer.”

  1. It is awesome to see you back and writing stories in Mexico. Last May I finally got my Residente Permanente after years of frustration and of course filling out all the forms correctly. Also our two sons and now citizens of Mexico! My wife being from Cuquio Jalisco helped matters tremendously dealing with the US consultants and Mexican Immigration.
    I have been living here since April 15. The quality of live is exactly what I knew it would be. Living here is healthy, relaxing, simple and very rewarding. The people here are polite, generous, respectful and religious. Something that is lacking in the US.
    Would love to meet with you in the future.

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