How I rekindled my love affair with photography

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Aug 2, 2023 | Photography, Column, Blog | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography by David S. Wallens | Hathim in Daytona

My dad had a darkroom in our basement, and I can’t remember not having my own camera: 126 and 110 formats when a little kid before graduating to 35mm sometime around the age of 10.

By 13, I had a Canon A-1, a fairly advanced piece of kit for the time. It was also fairly advanced for a kid barely old enough to shave.

I studied photography in high school and college, and since then I’ve carried a camera around the globe. Our house is full of cameras, with several dating back more than a hundred years.

But a few years ago, I realized something: I wasn’t having fun with photography. It had simply become part of my job.

Take picture, make content, move on to the next item on the list. Ever-tighter deadlines meant more pressure to keep things moving along. Rarely did I shoot for personal enjoyment.

My dad, on the other hand, has been compiling books of his photos. My favorite: pictures of breakfasts he has eaten.

 

***

The first step, as is often the case, is to admit there’s a problem: Hi, my name is David, and I’d like to recapture one of my passions before I totally walk away from it–or just consign it to my other job-related tasks as editorial director here.

 

***

I’m a graduate of the University of Georgia’s journalism program, and through a strange twist of fate, a few years ago I met the man currently teaching the very photojournalism program that I attended. Mark and I now talk all the time–a mix of cars, cameras and life. He also owns a Miata.

Just before the pandemic, he had me visit UGA as a professional in residence. I spent two days talking with both students and faculty, from intro-level classes held in a lecture hall to the school’s dean.

It was one of the most rewarding moments of my professional career. I wore a jacket.

During the visit, Mark placed a new Fuji digital camera in my hands.

But Mark, I’m a loyal Canon shooter.

 

***

My Canons represent efficient workhorses, with each knob, dial, button and screen placed right where I’d want them.

I know these cameras will never let me down. Battery life has always been exceptional. They have a businesslike bulk and heft to them.

They’re usually paired with two big, pro-level Canon lenses closing in on their 20th birthdays. They might have a few scars but, thanks to regular cleaning and maintenance, continue to serve without a hiccup.

But that Fujifilm camera felt different. It reminded me of my film models of yore. To change film speed on the Fujifilm, instead of accessing a menu, you twisted a knob. Old school.

While visiting B&H photo in New York soon after, I checked out some Fujifilm cameras. Those initial impressions were still there. These cameras just felt familiar–like somehow this conglomeration of metal, glass and composite had warmth and a soul.

Two models sat on the counter. My friend Amy, who was with me, batted her eyes: Why not both?

I didn’t buy either one.

I wanted the forthcoming Fujifilm X100V. This compact rangefinder camera looked like the perfect travel companion, combining vintage looks with all the latest digital technology. It would be something new and different, too, as I’ve been shooting DSLRs since the year of the flood.

I was told that this new camera would be a game-changer. Since it wasn’t yet available, I placed my pre-release order with B&H and waited.

My new camera arrived on Monday, March 16, 2020, just in time for the covid lockdown.

 

***

So there we were with a full-on pandemic raging, meaning nowhere to go and me with this awesome new travel-sized camera in my hands.

We had recently said goodbye to both of our dogs. The house, like the rest of the world, had become very quiet.

Fortunately, our neighborhood contains an elaborate network of walking and biking trails–pretty empty at the time due to said pandemic–so I regularly walked them, new camera in hand.

I photographed a lot of fences: wood, vinyl, new, aged. And trees, leaves and flowers–the kind of things you find along those paths.

It gave me a tiny opportunity to clear my head, too. No news, no other voices. Did the birds and squirrels know what was going on? They didn’t seem to care.

I found myself just taking photos for fun. No deadlines, no need to please an audience. If the scene through the viewfinder made me happy, it was declared a winner and captured with a press of the shutter. Some were shared online.

I was falling back in love with photography.

 

***

As things were starting to return to normal–specifically, late last year–I met someone carrying a film camera. So, of course, we started talking about cameras.

I mentioned that a friend and I had been trying to put together a photo day–just an opportunity to make pictures for the sake of making pictures.

She suggested a group called Pexels that did just that, organizing group shoots for models and photographers, with all experience levels welcome. Their next meetup was scheduled for that upcoming Sunday evening.

I hadn’t done any model photography since college–involving Amy, coincidentally, that same friend who joined me at the camera store. But I still went, my little camera in hand.

I had no idea what to expect. Would there be any kind of instruction? Was this really some kind of sales presentation in disguise? Were they going to roll us and take our gear? Would I even find anyone to talk to?

I arrived at a small park to find a group of people milling about: half looked like models, half looked like photographers. (The cameras gave away the second group.)

Soon after, we got our marching orders: We’d be shooting in the nearby alleys. Make photos, have fun, trade Instagram handles. We’d all gather up later that evening for a group photo.

The sight of that first model left me a bit frozen. Do I just, like, take her picture?

On the way home, I realized that I had opened the door to something new: new ideas, new faces, new looks at something I had been doing since I was just a kid.

Afterward, Mark asked about the group’s vibe. Organic, welcoming and collaborative, I replied.


Shanice in Sanford, Florida.

 

***

Since then, I’ve attended several more of those events–like one a month plus a few gatherings organized independently by local photographers.

I’ve also done some one-on-one shoots with Hathim, an Orlando model who’s become a good friend. We find that it’s a good learning experience for both of us. As a bonus, it often ends with food and conversation. He also likes cars.

I co-hosted a meetup, too, and entered it with a stated goal: Make everyone feel welcome. I drew up a map so those arriving late would know where to find us. Area parking was clearly marked. Personal invitations and thank-yous were sent.

We had three or four dozen people join us. Lots of smiles and several first-timers. A few have come back since. We wrapped up the evening with a group dinner.

I’m doing this because I enjoy the opportunity to create. Plus, every time I pull the camera from the bag, I feel like I learn something.

Photography, at least in my mind, is the perfect union of art and science. It’s composition and light. The rule of thirds and proper metering.


Hannah in DeLand, Florida.

More cameras and equipment followed. Off-camera lighting is the newest thing. Perry Bennett, who’s been shooting for us for years, has patiently answered so many of my questions. Kevin, another old friend who’s an amazing shooter, has been on speed dial as well. My wife has been my patient model.

I’ve turned many of my photos into zines, printing enough for the models featured inside. Maybe I’ve assumed the role of the group’s fairy godmother.

I find I’m becoming more comfortable working with those models–less intimidated by those willing to step in front of the camera. Despite their runway looks, in most cases they’re nerds like the rest of us.

Some of my favorite shots revert to my newsgathering roots: behind-the-scenes images of models interacting with photographers, the slight boredom of waiting for everyone else to get into position. I’m realizing that Glen E. Friedman’s work in Thrasher and the punk rock scene left a bigger impact on me than I realized.


Arianna in Winter Garden, Florida.

The models, like the rest of us, all have different back stories. Some are college students wondering and hoping if this could lead to something bigger. Others have careers but seem to enjoy the collaborative, creative process. One of the regulars just shared news about receiving their six-month sobriety chip. Another can now be seen on a Busch Gardens billboard along I-4. It’s a community.

A car doesn’t get bored or care how it looks. My goal with my subjects has become simple: Make them feel comfortable and confident. The rest will happen naturally.

Together we have worked in parks and plazas, fully equipped studios and alleys that smell like stale beer and you-know-what. Together, we’ve made dumpsters look glamorous.

I once squeezed in a shoot in a parking lot before a Miata meet. The subject was into cars and simply wanted photos of her in her Hyundai.

One of our locals called me a couple of weeks ago: Wanna come over and shoot in my home studio? You’d never know the images were created in his spare bedroom.


Hathim in DeLand, Florida.

I’ve returned to car event photography with a new vision: maybe a little less pure documentation, my background, and a little more capturing the artistic views hiding in plain sight.

A topic that has come up in the local group: Is this for the money? Personally, I need to get something out of it–however, that something could be fun, helping a friend or learning a new technique. (See the comment about the photos of a friend in her Hyundai.)

The friend I originally simply wanted to shoot with? Bette and I now regularly get together to make pictures–sometimes with the group, sometimes not. Sometimes we do more talking than shooting, and I’d still call that a major win.

We just lined up a morning at a local air museum. I think they have three planes, a Jeep and a PT boat. Bagels are part of the plan. I know we’ll have fun.

My wife has joined in, too, picking up the Canon that I bought for her 17 years ago. She goes her own way at the shoots and has proved to have an eye for it.

Perhaps the biggest take-home lesson: There is no right time to start something–or to rekindle a dormant love affair. Add in some time, a nurturing community and space to learn, and it again feels good to create simply for the sake of creating.


Secret Art Studios in St. Cloud, Florida.

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Comments
David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/2/23 9:14 a.m.

Just wanted to say thanks for reading, and you can find more photos on my Instagram

Eager to hear from others who enjoy making pictures. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/2/23 9:26 a.m.

I've never shot with models before, so I totally get how that could feel odd.

I'll also admit that I'm in a bit of a photography slump. As much as I love shooting with my K1000, I'm starting to feel like I'd rather have something that doesn't require everything to be set manually–part of why I really enjoyed my (now broken) Olympus Trip 35.

I'm not saying the solution here is to buy another camera, but, maybe, just this once, it is the right solution. wink

 

And, while we're dropping Instagram handles, you can check out my photography here. I'm working on regularly posting, so stay tuned for more.

Patrick
Patrick GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/2/23 9:39 a.m.

Thoroughly enjoy your Instagram feed. I need to do the same and get back in, I even took some classes back when but then life got busy

ShawneeCreek
ShawneeCreek GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
8/2/23 9:52 a.m.

I totally get the burnout and stepping back to just taking pictures for fun and the art of it. I used to go to events and take pictures and completely miss the event. Just last weekend I went to an antique fire truck muster. I consciously decided to only take the pictures I felt like and to just enjoy. Three hours of walking around and I took 18 pictures and ended up with a dozen that make me happy.

- Sean

parker
parker HalfDork
8/2/23 9:58 a.m.

My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeff_parker_explore_in_focus/

But, I don't put 80% of my shots on Instagram, more on Facebook.  If a shot doesn't look ok as a square or vertical crop then I don't put it on Instagram.  Instagram is geared towards vertical phone photos which is not what I do.

pres589 (djronnebaum)
pres589 (djronnebaum) UltimaDork
8/2/23 10:00 a.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

You might look at cameras like the Ricoh XR7 or Chinon CE-4 (or -4s) or their badge engineered copies (Sigma SA-1, Revue AC-3 etc).  They're as fast or faster for max shutter speed and offer aperture priority "auto" mode where you set the aperture ring, it picks the shutter speed.  They're pretty accurate until things get pretty dark, so shooting in a club or similar you have to resort to doing more of it yourself.  The XR7 uses an LCD light meter readout that is really light on the battery so the batteries last forever but is not legible in low light conditions.  CE-4 uses LED's and have a nice "here's what I would suggest instead" blinky light feature to let you know if it things you're wrong.  They're all K-mount cameras so your existing lenses would work fine.  My XR7 is one of the cameras I brought to the Challenge and is my favorite of my film cameras.

aw614
aw614 HalfDork
8/2/23 10:33 a.m.

Great read. Shooting people is something I don't do often outside of family gatherings, I admit I do feel uncomfortable doing it, especially random people on the street. 

I found the half frame format works pretty good on Instagram and seems to align well with the vertical format. Though I realized instagram does not like mixing portrait and landscape. Though not many choices out there, but the popular one is the Olympus Pen F which I enjoy using mine and if you can find adapters, can use some full frame lenses on it. And Canon made a half-frame plastic fantastic 80s point and shoot, found one on FB marketplace and bought it, but haven't used it much. Has a lot of those 80s electronic features that kind of put me off (namely can't turn off the flash and its on auto).

Really need to update my flickr and IG with more stuff, as I did get stuff developed recently. Things have really slown down this summer with the heat and I haven't been out to shoot. 

 

Kevin_at_BW
Kevin_at_BW GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/2/23 11:10 a.m.

I'm in a huge photography slump right now.  I'm really good at turning my hobbies into a job and then it becomes....well, work.  And less fun.  This last year was the first time in...I think over 10yrs that I even missed the UTCC and the photos that come with that which are always fun.   Pikes was fun, but being pushed to do more and more video which I enjoy, but I'd still rather be snapping photos.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/2/23 11:17 a.m.

In reply to pres589 (djronnebaum) :

Thanks for the suggestions! Neither look like they will break the bank and bonus points for being able to use my current lenses.

I'm not too worried about shooting in low-light conditions for now, as I'm still getting the hang of daylight photography. wink

Tom1200
Tom1200 PowerDork
8/2/23 12:27 p.m.

My Great Grandfather was a noted photographer so it's in the DNA. I haven't dragged out the Canon in a number of years but just may start again thanks to this topic. 

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