Spray and Pray

I recently joined The Arcanum, which is an on-line community of photographers which tries to replicate the old style of teacher and mentor in photography, in our new world of technology.

A dog and his ball at Withrow
A dog and his ball at Withrow. Challenge #3, Spray and Pray photography assignment

It was started by a few fellows, most notable Trey Ratcliffe of many famous pursuits, most recently the creation of the program Aurora. The premise, is based upon completing certain tasks and challenges assigned to you by your Master as you climb the hierarchy of experience and skills. It seems much like a game of  Dungeon and Dragons (of which I have never played.) My assignments are unique and specific for me and where I am at in my  abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Along with your Cohort (other photographers assigned under our Master) we help each other level up and complete the challenges.

So, my challenge was just go out and try and take as many photos as possible. If you like macro or landscape photography, it means you have to get out of that zone and head out into the streets to take pictures, copious amounts. I do enjoy grabbing the camera and going for a walk, but I came to realize the exercise was going to be a little challenging for me. Firstly, I realized, I am a conservative shooter. I mean, something has to really catch my attention for me to want to photograph it. I generally am the one, sitting on the sidelines having snapped a few photos, waiting for everyone else to finish up and I wonder, how can they take so many photos of a bird on a stick? Boring! Even when we go away, or out-of-town for photography, I shoot about a quarter of what everyone else does. I’m not only selective, but I do get tired quickly of shooting.

I hate scrolling through Lightroom, only to find ten photos of a table decoration of the same thing. I look to see if I was trying to be creative. Are any at different focal distances, or maybe different apertures? Nope. Now which one do I pick to process? This one or that one or that one …. they all look the same! That’s because they all ARE the same. I gave that up a long time ago. Same as processing one photograph numerous ways. I try not to do that too, because inevitably, I like them all and then I can’t decide. So, now when I shoot, I do two usually, at most. The first one is the set-up. Is the exposure right, the aperture and angle etc? If it’s good, I move on and if not, I re-adjust and take another photo to correct what I wasn’t happy with. Simple and easy. The only exception to this is when I am bracketing for exposure or it’s a tourist area with lots of people I will want eventually to cut out of the photo. Those require multiple shoots to create people-free photos. I must say, I have not done these techniques too often as I generally accept what is in front of me. I guess, I’m more like a street photographer in that sense. I’ve learned that people can give scale and add to a photo.

So, here I was, walking downtown Toronto going to meet a friend for lunch. I was walking with my camera out, trying to take photos of anything that looked remotely interesting. But I still had a hard time just taking lots of photos. I wondered what this exercise was all about anyway? But it did force me to look and see an area I often travel in without really looking at it with a photographer’s eye. I saw things I normally don’t see, and I took photos. And I think that was the purpose of the exercise, to see things you might otherwise not see. I learned a great deal when I was a runner about the neighbourhoods in this city. You see, you don’t see them when in a car, or on a streetcar, or walking with your head down and tunes playing in your ears. You do see them when you have your head up to navigate the crowds, you scan the store fronts looking for a washroom or a variety store for a refill of water. You see the people in that area, as you meander in and around them, some areas heavily encumbered with baby strollers, while others with walkers. And that was what I learned on this day as I walked around downtown, seeing my hood with a different eye today, a photographer’s eye. I knew the neighbourhood in a different way.

But I still had to complete the task. As I made my way home, I was enthused by the nice fall day and the fall colours along the Don River. I headed towards Riverdale, my old neighbourhood. I ended up at Withrow Park and what had caught my attention, was a beautiful and simple scene of the trees in fall colours covering a path which was going up the hill beside a wooden fence. It looked more that it should be out in the country, not in the middle of a city park!  It was while I was there that I realized that this was the place for me to take a lot of photos. There is a dog off-leash area and so in I went and set myself up, perched on a picnic bench. I took lots of photos, dogs moving this way and dogs moving that way. But nothing struck me as really interesting and a good photo. I realized the difference was that the photos did not tell a story. I started to scan the group of dogs, about twenty at this point, and asked myself, what would make a good story? The relationship between an owner and dog or maybe between two dogs, having a good time playing with each other. This was new to me and I had never thought this way or asked myself this question before. Then I saw it. The Golden Retriever, fixated on his ball and chasing it down to bring it back to his owner before starting the game again.

There I crouched for about half an hour. The owner was chatting and only once in a while would reach down, grab the ball and throw it again. Apparently she didn’t realize I was all about photographing her dog! But I took photos, lots. I tried to capture a scene, to tell a story. I was happy with the result in the end and the lessons I had learned that day. I was a conservative shooter, but I had seen my neighbourhood with different eyes today, from behind the lens. But best of all, I tried to capture a scene, one that creates a story, and that was new to me. I had grown today as a photographer. And as I travelled home, excited to review my results on my computer, I was sadly disappointed. Most of my photos of the dog were out-of-focus. I may have thought about a story, but apparently I need a lot more practice on panning lol! But I did find one in focus, the one for this blog. I carefully processed it in the digital darkroom, trying to capture and highlight the story of the dog and his ball. And yes, I passed the challenge and the Master moved me up a level.

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