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Recharging Your Photographic Batteries 
by Jim McGee

Writing about photography and playing with new cameras all the time sounds like a heck of a lot of fun and a great way to make your living - and I'd be the first to say that I enjoy what I do.

But there are times when the deadlines and the volume of work get overwhelming (especially at an Internet startup!).  When you take your camera along on vacation, waking up to rain is a disappointment.  Waking up to rain when you're shooting a travel article and you've only got three days to get it done can make you reach for the bottle of Tums.  It can start to feel like you're just shooting for deadlines, and that you don't have time to really enjoy what you're doing.

All that stress and pushing hard against deadlines can start to take the joy out of your photography.  The problem is that if you let yourself get to that point, you'll start getting far fewer usable images per roll, and the quality of the keepers you do get will suffer.  A good frame of mind helps you to relax and to see images that you might otherwise miss because great images are a product of the photographer's mind - not the camera.

My solution when I reach that high stress point is to get back to basics.  I leave the heavy camera bag home.  Instead I grab an old manual camera, in my case a very well worn Nikon FG, a basic zoom lens, and my 20mm wide angle, and I go for a walk in the woods.  The whole combination weighs less than some pro camera bodies do.  It fits into a snug little camera case that loops over my shoulder, and at the end of a long day it still won't feel heavy.  Depending on my mood I may carry a little Quantaray travel tripod (no longer available).  It's so light-weight that I just slip the handle into the back pocket of my jeans and it will stay put while I walk.  It's not particularly sturdy, but for this type of photography I don't need it to be.  If I'm really ambitious I may even drop a flash into a pocket, but probably not.

The whole works is so light that I can hop across rocks in a stream and not even be aware of it.

The advantage to using an old manual camera is that it forces you to slow down.  When shooting for an article or a review, you're moving; you've got a purpose, an agenda.  You're thinking about getting a shot that illustrates a place, or a camera feature.  If I'm out for a walk with my old manual I don't have an agenda other than to see what I can see.  

When I slow down and focus manually I notice more of what's in the viewfinder.  I take longer to frame and compose a shot.  I also have a tendency to stay in one place longer, to play with alternate compositions and exposures, to experiment.  This puts me back in touch with the craft of photography.  It helps me to remember why I was drawn to photography to start with.

While I've done these walks in the city, there is something about being in a large park or in the woods that just takes you one more step away from your day to day realities.  I know of several places around here where I'm out of range of the cell phone towers, and no one can reach you with the details of the day.  Just knowing that the phone can't ring can be a comforting thought.

I've also noticed a pattern in the way I see on these walks.  Early in the day I don't tend to take many pictures, and the images I do get tend to be straight forward.  A roll or two into the day I find shots with varied perspectives, close-ups to go with landscapes, and more experimentation.  By the time I drag my tired butt back down to reality at the end of the day, my legs may be weary but my photographic batteries are recharged and humming.

But why take that old manual camera when there's a brand new EOS 1V back at the office?

Because it's like an old friend.  Many years ago it became an extension of my hand that functions almost without thought - once I relax enough to allow it to.  That allows me the luxury of only thinking about creating the image.  And though it's long been replaced as my primary camera for every other kind of photography, it will always remain my only camera for those long walks in the woods.

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Deadlines can take the joy out of your photography




great images are a product of the photo-
grapher's mind - not his camera





Many years ago it became and extension of my hand...



text and photography copyright 2001 Vivid Light Publishing