Photographing My Own Art (New Lens!)

If you like overly broad assumptions, than these next few paragraphs are for you:
There are two types of photographers: those who like to take pictures, and those who obsess over gear.

Some head out early in the morning, venture to remote locations during stormy weather, and wait there, hoping to capture something breathtaking. The others stay at home, count pixels, take pictures of charts, zoom up close and look for flaws in the gear.
(I’m leaving out the third kind: people who downloaded some nifty app for the iphone that automatically filters their images into something cool.)

The photographers who go out and take great images can look down on the gear-porn junkies; they buy all this expensive gear, and never use it to make images worth looking at. The technically minded gear-porn junkies look down at the photographers for buying gear that is 2% less sharp around the edges at certain f-stops while zoomed in all the way, when a better alternative is only two pay-cheques more expensive. And everyone looks down on the iphone photographers, because no one seems to notice that good images are all that matters.

I’m not really a photographer, so I guess I’m safe from being stuck in one of these groups I’ve just invented, but I can certainly understand the appeal of being obsessed with gear. Its objective. It’s easy. Taking a good image is hard. Powerful images have a certain quality that can’t be quantified. In the discussion over what makes an image worth looking at, aesthetics are lost in translation.

I picked up my camera to document my artwork. I wanted to be able to do a professional job of documenting my art myself. I got a great deal on a used Nikon D70. In a previous life, the D70 was a wedding photographer’s backup camera. It was only actually used once. Now it’s an art-documenting camera. Now I can take high quality images of my art, and post them in my gallery. The camera will never leave my studio. It’s an art camera.

Well, that was the intention, at least; that’s why I bought it.

But…people saw me with the big camera, they thought I was a photographer, and they hired me to photograph things for them. This was a pretty sweet deal, in the end, I made back what I spent. Things were good. I did my homework. I practised. I read. I got better.

My very first impression of this camera was one of being underwhelmed. The images didn’t look that much better than what I got with my 3-megapixel point and shoot. It took me some time to develop a visual sensitivity to the finer points of digital photography. The bigger sensor really makes a difference. The big lens really lets the light come though clearly. And the shutter actually fires when I push the button, not a half second later. When pushed to the extremes, low light, lots of motion, high detail, etc. the virtues of a big camera slowly became obvious to me.

So, I was snapping away, happy with the results I was getting. Then I got an email that changed everything. A magazine wanted me to do an image for an insert. No problem. I had just wrapped up construction on Take a Picture, I had lots of time to paint. Life is good.

I painted the thing, and it came time to document it. Normally I line things up, shoot 5 copies, put it on the computer, pick the sharpest image of the bunch, crop, save, resize, post.

The program I use lets me zoom in to 100% by pressing “1”. Very convenient. This time around, it was the reproduction that really mattered, not the original painted object. I did my normal check, found the sharpest image, cropped it, saved it. Then I decided to look around, I wanted to be sure there are no dust spots or highlights.

To my horror, I discovered that the edges were blurred. I checked though my whole catalogue of images. My lens takes perfectly clear images in the centre, but the edges show a significant loss of sharpness. Damn. This is just unacceptable.

Then I realized, “hey, the amount they are paying me to do this is just enough to pick up a super sharp high-end professional prime lens.”

I thought about this a bit more, then I realized, “hey, the much cheaper prosumer grade prime is just as sharp (although half a stop slower) than the pro lens. I can have a new toy, do a better job, and have a few bucks left over.”

Hello Nikkor AF 50mm 1.8D.
I am in love with you.

Published by

Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.