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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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"We photograph the wrong things"
Old 11-29-2016   #1
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"We photograph the wrong things"

In 2011, Johan began the following thread about a photograph taken of his father before he had a heart attack. The general feeling was that seemingly trivial shots can turn out to be very important, and that many of us shoot to document things that are important to us.

http://www.rangefinderforum.com/foru...hreadid=110757

Roger replied in usual sagelike fashion:

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Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Michael Winner in "My Teenage Diaries" (BBC) makes the superb point that we photograph the wrong things.

Wouldn't you LOVE to see a picture of your parents' house or the interior of your bedroom when you were young? Of your lecture halls at university? Of the room (or even the outside of the building) where you lost your virginity?

Cheers,

R.
As I look back through the sparse family albums from the 70's and 80's, I notice that there are few pictures of areas and settings, and far more of people. While it is great to have images of people taken long in the past, having images like Roger mentioned would be fantastic.

There are very few pictures of the first house I remember, although I treasure the ones that exist. There are no photos of the lecture halls in my uni days, and the only photos I have of the house in which I lost my virginity are from real-estate listings decades later.

There has been some luck, though, in revisiting places that are important to me.

Uni hasn't changed that much in the decades since I left. Various events took me back there in recent years, and I've been able to get photos of many places I used to go. But I do wish I had taken photos back then. No photos of my uni life exist at all.

My teenage years were spent in a house for which there exists only 20 or so photos; but fairly recently, that house came on the market, and I was able to visit and quietly take over a hundred pictures with 18mm and 21mm lenses. It was truly, truly wonderful. It had not changed much, and so many good memories came to me.

Similarly, I was able to attend the open-house of a very good childhood friend, and it was superb to be able to see it again, and take photos. But as for the house in which I gladly surrendered my innocence no chance of return exists. It was demolished a few years ago and replaced with townhouses.

Shoot and shoot and shoot again. You may regret the photos you didn't take, but you'll never regret the ones you did.
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Old 11-29-2016   #2
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TV shows like 'Life on Mars' pull on this emotion
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Old 11-30-2016   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by radi(c)al_cam View Post
Oh, yes.

The very room, where my beloved grandparents' piano room was, is now ……… an urologist's office.

I do have some childhood pictures where I'm playing in my grandparents' garden, but nothing from the house's interior
Dear Alexander,

That's just taking the piss!

Because my father was in the Royal Navy, and my mother liked old houses while my father liked new houses, I had moved 19 times by the time I was 19 years old. I have NO pictures of any of the houses my parents owned (four by the time I was 14 and three more since), nor of the flats or married quarters we lived in, except in Bermuda, nor of my grandmother's house where I was born. In fact I couldn't even tell you the address of the last without looking at my birth certificate.

I do have a few pictures of the first house I bought (and stayed in for 12 years as a reaction to the above, 1975-1987); quite a few of the second house (1992-2002); and several of my present house (2003-present).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 11-30-2016   #4
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During uni (2012-2016) I had quite an intense documentation drive. Thanks to phones having a camera (it counts) I documented the heap of daily life and situations. So much that I can recall that 8AM rainy arrival and fortuite running into a friend at the metro, 4 years ago.
I haven't shot uni on film however, just for its aesthetics. Graduated last July with an occasional visit nowadays. There is a moment when you leave things behing, and don't care much for them perhaps because of still being fresh. After a while, I know it turns into nostalgia territory. I don't have many photos of HS for that matter.

I got an F80 cheap for summer shooting and really quickly liked and used it.
My last project (if it can be called so) was with that camera. Simply having it on the backpack and carrying it anywhere. The good thing of a summer job in my hometown is that I had time around here, and photograph situations that I'd otherwise don't. Many photographs recall my childhood (2000-2007). Even back then I thought about this, it was the nearest subject, but I did not give it attention until recently. Again, the aestethic of film gives it a closer connection to that not so digital era of last decade.
Really fulfilling to document life around here. Part of that is that I may have to move away from the town and country, as proper careers are seemingly impossible around here (just look up Spain's labour market).

I am young (recent 22) but I do agree that the instant social media may be a blessing and a curse. As much as people document, in the long run it can just vanish. There is still plenty material from 10 years ago, and the semiautomatic backups may prevent this. Film encouraged measurement.

One regret is about my grandfather. Part of my family is on Asia, so really far. (some accepted regret following) I wanted to take a flight in September but could not, giving priority to beginning (the still unbegun) career. Mid september my grandfather had a stroke and nowadays he's not what he used to be. I did document decently that environment, but it was 6 years ago during my last visit.

Also, I have a hill near home with beautiful views and nice pine trees in the peak. Had, because last August some kids decided to burn it down. Thankfully I have a nice shot of the (what was) a nice green area at the top. It's about understanding how everything is fleeting, at a slower or faster rate.
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Old 11-30-2016   #5
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My experience, entirely. Oh, how I wish my ancestors had recorded the date, place and names on the few, poor quality photos I have in my meagre collection.

Not one has any information, and I since I have no one around to ask, I can only guess why some faces in some group photos have been scratched out.

Since I started tracing my family history in 1999, I have been able to visit locations – the houses, towns and villages where my ancestors lived and died, and have taken as many photos as I have been able. Google street view helps a lot.

I have been able to visit my primary school and art college, when they had open days and fetes, visited the GP surgery of the doctor I had when I was a small boy, now a detached family home, the churches my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents married in, the recruitment office my father signed up in during WWII…

We all have a living, evolving history; what might appear to be presently uninteresting, in the future becomes a valuable resource. Record and document as much you are able for the future generations.
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Old 11-30-2016   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Atherton View Post
My experience, entirely. Oh, how I wish my ancestors had recorded the date, place and names on the few, poor quality photos I have in my meagre collection.

Not one has any information, and I since I have no one around to ask, I can only guess why some faces in some group photos have been scratched out.
That's a little spooky! It's one thing for people to not remember, but another to attempt to erase them altogether.

One of my near-future projects is to scan my maternal grandmother's photo albums and label everyone, and possibly get years and places. I don't know who many of those people are; only my Mum and Aunt know, and I have to capture that knowledge while it still exists.
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Old 11-30-2016   #7
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Nice thread.

I have three old pics - my grandmother and her sisters as girls - she was 93 when she died 25 years or so ago, My mother as a young woman (nurse portrait 1940 or so) and my dad as a one year-old with my other grandmother and my uncle Jack in his uniform ready for the trenches (1915) as a boy soldier. He was 15 or 16.

Everything else I keep in an album in my head. It works for me.
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Old 11-30-2016   #8
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Yep ... nice thread .
I try and do this as much as I can .
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Old 11-30-2016   #9
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Thomas Roma gave in interesting interview where he said:

Q: You tell people NOT to photograph the following subjects. Is that an accurate quote? And what is the reasoning for the restriction?

• homeless people
• fire hydrants
• old people
• chinese people
• children
• african americans
• street performers
• italians

A: Let me make a correction here - I do not say do not photograph "Chinese people" but rather don’t go to “Chinatown" - I do not say don’t photograph "Italians" but in the fall semester there is the San Genaro festival in Little Italy and I tell them not to go there to photograph. I also tell them not to photograph mimes, jugglers and whoever else is all over the tourist spots. It's not actually important what I tell them as they do whatever they want anyway. I also poll the class at the same time I am telling them this, asking them how many people have kept a diary. I usually get a fair number, half to 2/3rds, and as I continue to tell them, rattling off the list of what they shouldn't photograph, I ask by a show of hands how many people have attempted to write a poem even if they never showed anyone. Then I continue with the list and return for the last question - How many have written a love letter or a letter home? I then tell them that whatever it is they were trying to express in their diary, or poem, or love letter or letter home, is what their photographs should be about. I doubt whether they were writing about old people or Chinatown or children playing in the park. At least I hope not.
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Old 11-30-2016   #10
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I made a point on one of my trips to visit my brother, to visit my home town and photo the house where I was born, the house my parents bought in the country, and the house my mother lived in before she died. And later, the house my wife and I live in now. Don't know how much that will mean to my kids or their kids. I didn't take photos of the houses we lived in on military reservations. It just didn't seem important.
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Old 11-30-2016   #11
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I don't believe anyone has yet mentioned the incredible body of work Chris Crawford is doing to document his own community. Plus the fact that he is including pertinent commentary about the subject matter.

For decades many of us have been looking back, slapping our foreheads, and saying "Duh! Why didn't I do that instead of just talking about it." But Chris is actually doing it.
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Old 11-30-2016   #12
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Agree. With everyone here.

Thanks.
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Old 11-30-2016   #13
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I am working on a project ( boy that sounds impressive, I mean I'm taking a few snaps ) called "the streets where I live". Taking a camera on my regular bicycle rides in the neighborhood, asking people I encounter if I can get them on film, and pics of other things I see that I like the look of.

I was bragging about it to my son who says "like the 'humans of New York'? Sheepishly I answered, "oh, its been done?"
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Old 11-30-2016   #14
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Situation and motive wrong:

Embarrasingly obvious to take photos? I spent quite a block of my working life in meetings, but only have perhaps 5 or six snaps (probably with a Minox) and there is only 4 or five of me in a meeting.

Too ordinary to record? One picture of an apple pie, a couple of christmas cookies, a few of open fireplaces, none of electric stoves, one of festive porcelain, silver and crystal glass but none of ordinary crockery etc.

Disliked? I have garden birds & cats: lots, but no snails.

Inconvenient? Rain & sleet driven by strong wind or simply children desperately hungry & tired not leaving any opportunity to fish out a camera

Or maybe just no camera to hand since the nice hich-resolution, high-contrast precicion device is left at home.

Interesting to investigate whether the mobile phone camera has changed all this.

p.
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Old 11-30-2016   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ph. View Post
Situation and motive wrong:

Embarrasingly obvious to take photos? I spent quite a block of my working life in meetings, but only have perhaps 5 or six snaps (probably with a Minox) and there is only 4 or five of me in a meeting.

Too ordinary to record? One picture of an apple pie, a couple of christmas cookies, a few of open fireplaces, none of electric stoves, one of festive porcelain, silver and crystal glass but none of ordinary crockery etc.

Disliked? I have garden birds & cats: lots, but no snails.

Inconvenient? Rain & sleet driven by strong wind or simply children desperately hungry & tired not leaving any opportunity to fish out a camera

Or maybe just no camera to hand since the nice hich-resolution, high-contrast precicion device is left at home.

Interesting to investigate whether the mobile phone camera has changed all this.

p.
In my case, yes.

I think I've done all of these you list.
University lectures and friends time, commuting scenes, a jellyfish that was on the sand after a swell, shooting awkwarldy with umbrella and phone. The last one very much, even having a camera a phone pic has less steps for sharing.

Sometimes it's just not being in the mood of it and simply enjoy the moment.

I think of my phone as a visual diary, anything that catches my attention gets photographed, it's just a couple of fast gestures.
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Old 11-30-2016   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
I don't believe anyone has yet mentioned the incredible body of work Chris Crawford is doing to document his own community. Plus the fact that he is including pertinent commentary about the subject matter.

For decades many of us have been looking back, slapping our foreheads, and saying "Duh! Why didn't I do that instead of just talking about it." But Chris is actually doing it.

You`re correct Bob but I had Chris in mind whilst reading this thread.

In particular the lovely shots he took of his grandfather ,the house and his grandfather`s cat.
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Old 11-30-2016   #17
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@ Prest 400 - being 22 in the cameraphone age means that you've had access to a camera almost every day of your uni life, and probably before that, too. For many of us, we only had film cameras at that time, which made photography a lot harder and more expensive. I kind of envy you!

A smartphone at school and uni would have given me photos and recordings of orchestra rehearsals and performances, musicals and gigs, goofing around with friends, dinner with my girlfriend, and loads more. It's a bit of a lament that I have no photos of my first girlfriend from that time!

My phone isn't my visual diary, though. My compact cameras serve that purpose. Every day, I'm out with a Ricoh GR or Panasonic LX7 and GM1. With cameras like this, I've documented work trips, family gatherings, and the last days of my grandmother, who sadly passed away this year. In fact, in the last two years, I've been to five funerals, all of which were neatly and discreetly documented.
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Old 12-01-2016   #18
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Do not forget that making the right photos at the right time will not suffice.

One must edit to a manageable number of images, identify them, and create some format will will be usable many years down the road.

Years later it will be useless to have about a million unidentified images on a hard disk drive or DVD. Anyone have boxes and boxes containing every transparency you shot for many years? Anyone have data stored on 5 1/4" floppies?

Think about how useful the top 1/4% of your images would be compared to all of them.
Think about how useless those images will be when they are in technically obsolete format that can no longer be viewed.
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Old 12-01-2016   #19
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Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
Do not forget that making the right photos at the right time will not suffice.

One must edit to a manageable number of images, identify them, and create some format will will be usable many years down the road.

Years later it will be useless to have about a million unidentified images on a hard disk drive or DVD. Anyone have boxes and boxes containing every transparency you shot for many years? Anyone have data stored on 5 1/4" floppies?
This is very pertinent. All of my film is printed and in albums, and I strive to write dates, places and descriptions beside each picture.

My digital files are regularly migrated to bigger and better harddrives, and are organized by years, with subfolders for places and people.

I do have data on old floppy discs, and surprisingly, there is a computer that still reads them. But I have yet to migrate that data across. That's another subproject, along with scanning and cataloguing my grandmother's photo albums. As it is, I'm already considered the record keeper in the family.
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Old 12-02-2016   #20
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We have found a photographers extensive documentation of the streets of my neighborhood through the 50s. A lot had changed and things are changing even faster. It inspired me to do the same thing but through my decade. Also with a Rolleiflex.

A lot of people appreciate this work found recently and I think it's about time we make another volume.

The old is lost with the generations, but not if it's documented. My main excuse to acquire fancy gear and shoot film is that my documentation will be of high quality and not lost or incompatible because of outdated digital technology.
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Old 12-02-2016   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
Do not forget that making the right photos at the right time will not suffice.

One must edit to a manageable number of images, identify them, and create some format will will be usable many years down the road.

Years later it will be useless to have about a million unidentified images on a hard disk drive or DVD. Anyone have boxes and boxes containing every transparency you shot for many years? Anyone have data stored on 5 1/4" floppies?

Think about how useful the top 1/4% of your images would be compared to all of them.
Think about how useless those images will be when they are in technically obsolete format that can no longer be viewed.
A very interested post which reflects my "recent" way of thinking, after having noticed how many photos, negatives or files I have that are stored anywhere in boxes, in hard disk or wherever it happens they are. Sometimes they are a surprise for myself as well!

Therefore I started a process to catalog and print postcard size 10/12 pictures for each year of my photo activity. Selection is based on emotion, events, subject or ...something else. Not necessary they to be the "best" pictures.

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Old 12-02-2016   #22
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Very interesting thread. Thanks. I am wary of documenting my workplace, but I did once sneak a photograph of our neuropathologist slicing a post mortem brain, and this was later published in his obituary in our journal. I have taken lots of abstract sort of photographs in and around work, but not many at all of people. But I have a wonderful photo of a ward round near my office with the chief of my specialty donning a gown. He has now retired due to illness.

Along with all the photographs of my children I have long kept a book of all their deep and amusing questions or observations. As soon as they say it I whip the leatherbound notebook off the shelf and write it down. It is hilarious reading through these years later. If they are not recorded very quickly they are usually lost forever.
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Old 12-02-2016   #23
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I completely agree with the original post, in that some of my most treasured photos would be the least interesting to anyone else. They are mundane, but capture something that's important only to me. I was brutally reminded of this earlier in the year when our dog fell ill and we were facing the prospect of having to end her life. Thankfully she recovered, but it made me look at things a little differently and I now take a lot more photos of her particularly in her more playful and happy moments. And obviously, these are the tedious 'dog shots' that everyone hates! I've tried to take more photos in general since then, but probably nowhere near enough.

I'm not a fan of digital photography in general and social media type photography more specifically, but maybe it will solve this problem for younger people? Maybe they will have photos of all the things that many of us have lost? I hope so, but at the same time I also think some things are better left to our imaginations and fading memories.
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Old 12-02-2016   #24
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I found this recently and thought the same thing: why didn't I take more pictures like this if for nobody else but me.

My apartment in 1965:

1965-6 slides by John Carter, on Flickr
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Old 12-02-2016   #25
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"We don't photograph the right things."

Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don't.

With experience and time, hopefully we learn and concentrate more on the things we ought to.

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Old 12-02-2016   #26
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Interesting thread.
When we moved into this old house just over 20 years ago we knew we would be making changes. My wife was instructed to take pictures of every room before the furniture moved in - and we have those in album. Every major change we made, we have taken photos. What is fascinating is how the garden has changed through those years.
What we didn't do was take photos of every room and space in the house we left - we have some garden photos but just a couple of interiors.
A case of opportunities taken and missed.
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Old 12-02-2016   #27
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I completely agree with the original post, in that some of my most treasured photos would be the least interesting to anyone else. They are mundane, but capture something that's important only to me. I was brutally reminded of this earlier in the year when our dog fell ill and we were facing the prospect of having to end her life. Thankfully she recovered, but it made me look at things a little differently and I now take a lot more photos of her particularly in her more playful and happy moments. And obviously, these are the tedious 'dog shots' that everyone hates! I've tried to take more photos in general since then, but probably nowhere near enough.

I'm not a fan of digital photography in general and social media type photography more specifically, but maybe it will solve this problem for younger people? Maybe they will have photos of all the things that many of us have lost? I hope so, but at the same time I also think some things are better left to our imaginations and fading memories.
I used to go out with a woman who owned a couple of dogs, and I was forever taking photos of everything, dogs included. When one dog passed away, it was an easy matter to collect the dozens of dog portraits, dog play times, and dog-interacting-with-people images. She wasn't a huge fan of my constant photography, but she absolutely appreciated the collection of images of her dog. She even had a number of them printed and set in a large frame, hung above the box of his ashes.

If social media images are anything to go by, people will have hundreds of photos of themselves in locations, but not that many of the locations themselves. It's the same issue I've noticed when looking at family photos. There are loads of pictures of people, and hardly any of places, unless they made dedicated holiday or travel albums.

Unfortunately, Mum's side were not huge photo takers, so there are the usual posed environmental portraits outside houses, landmarks and other things. Few photos exist of places. Barely anything has dates. And the photos are all in a certain time period, and stop.

Dad's side is a different story. My paternal grandfather was an keen snapshooter, and had a variety of cameras including a Pentax Spotmatic and an Olympux XA, which I am told he carried everywhere. At family gatherings, he could burn through a roll or two of film and get prints from the developers that evening. I'm itching to get into those!
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Old 12-03-2016   #28
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I have enough trouble photographing anything as I have trouble 'seeing the picture' first. If I 'see a picture', it's usually when I've not got a camera with me. If I see one when I've got a camera I often don't take the pic. I think it's partly due to not having a lot of money to pay for the processing, so I end up being 'too careful' about whether to take a pic or not.

Then there's the 'faffing about' I do getting ready to press the button, Ioften miss the pic. This is from a lack of confidence.

Because of this, I missed getting a pic of the Blackpool donkeys as they were were being walked through the streets to the beach. The pic may not have been good, but it would've been a little unusual.
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Old 12-03-2016   #29
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Originally Posted by seany65 View Post
I have enough trouble photographing anything as I have trouble 'seeing the picture' first. If I 'see a picture', it's usually when I've not got a camera with me. If I see one when I've got a camera I often don't take the pic. I think it's partly due to not having a lot of money to pay for the processing, so I end up being 'too careful' about whether to take a pic or not.

Then there's the 'faffing about' I do getting ready to press the button, Ioften miss the pic. This is from a lack of confidence.

Because of this, I missed getting a pic of the Blackpool donkeys as they were were being walked through the streets to the beach. The pic may not have been good, but it would've been a little unusual.
Sounds like it would have been a fun image.

While it depends on the kinds of images that you think are 'photo worthy', if you have a digital camera or even a smartphone, you can take pictures without any fear of wasting money or faffing about. You can take a photo of just about anything in the full confidence that if it's not good, it didn't cost you a thing. And if the image turns out well, it was worth the effort.

This may sound a little excessive, but I've developed the habit of photographing my food, my bed in the morning, and random times during the day, whatever i happen to be doing. This gives me a visual diary of what I've done in the day, and this ramps up if I'm going somewhere not in the usual routine. As I look back over the years, I can see changes in the places I've gone, the people I've seen, the work I've done. Not only the changes in subject, but in the subjects themselves.

Photos show me shops that used to be there, but aren't any longer. This habit allowed me to put together a chronological collection of images of a wonderful friend who unexpected passed away a couple of years ago. I'd never have those images if I was worried about taking a bad picture; the only bad picture is the one you didn't get.
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