Lately, my obsession with photography might be verging on unhealthy. I think about it all the time. I take my camera with me everywhere, only to be mad at myself later for not capturing any of the fascinating and beautiful images I see when I am driving around Addis. I’m afraid of offending people, so I don’t want to take photos unless I am 100% sure it’s okay. On Friday, we saw a procession coming from a church and I saw several people filming it with their phones. I decided to join the crowd, and jumped out of the car to take some photos and videos with my iPad.
But iPad snapshots are never going to satisfy my obsession with portraits. I pass by so many characters every day: the old man who sits by the train tracks with his sewing machine every day at lunch time and waves at passersby; the guy at the tiny “Spare Part” shop who always looks so bored, but has such excellent signage and marketing for his store; the men and women walking their beautifully dressed kids to school in the morning. Sometimes I think we must be following around a professional set dresser, because all over the city, the most incredibly diverse people sit in interesting little groups by the roadside, arranged just perfectly for photographs. Maybe one day I will get the courage to take the photos I want.
What really drives me nuts about photography is that I feel so limited by my own lack of talent. I’m not fishing for compliments here. I know I am a decent photographer and I’ve taken some really nice photos of the girls. Here are two I took today that I think are great:
I’m still not able to get exactly what I want, though. I often have an idea for a photo, and then I try it and fail miserably. I don’t even know what I’m doing wrong most of the time. Last summer, I hired a professional photographer to go through some of my photos–my best ones–and critique them. There was something wrong with every single photo. Every one! I was so proud of how far I’d come, but he had negative things to say about my best and most recent work. Once he pointed out the flaws, I agreed immediately. He was giving me very simple advice: crop this one a bit, straighten that one, watch your composition, etc. Maybe another photographer would have found his advice to be too simple, but I found that it changed the way I look through the lens. I’ve improved as a result, but I’m still so… limited. I’ve joined photography clubs over the years and have never had the guts to submit a photo to share with the group. Never! Over the last two years, I’ve done about two dozen photo shoots for families I know, usually for free. I might spend five hours editing someone’s photos, but since I truly enjoy the work, I feel lucky to have subjects to shoot. Sometimes, people don’t even get back to me to let me know whether they liked the photos or not. This obviously doesn’t help my confidence, although I am grateful for the reminder that I shouldn’t quit my day job. (Not that I need more reminders–I have several friends who are professional photographers and their work is stunning.) Sometimes I will spend an hour or two lusting after photography equipment online. Most of my friends who are into photography own much nicer cameras and lenses than I do. I keep telling myself that it’s not the camera, it’s not the camera, it’s not the camera; I need to push myself to get better using the equipment I already have. My little $100 50mm lens does a great job when I am paying attention to the scene and my camera settings. Would a $3,000 camera or a $1,000 lens do a better job? Probably, but I can’t justify the cost. Suze Orman would kill me.
So, one of my resolutions this year is to get out of my comfort zone. I’m going to put myself out there: I’ll share my work with photography clubs, take online classes to learn new skills, and photograph a few strangers. Wish me luck.