My Addiction

Believe it or not, it isn’t cannabis.

I am addicted to light, and specifically, capturing it. I’ve become a compulsive amateur photographer.

This happened rather suddenly, though the roots went down a long time ago. In 1988, my father sent me off for a semester in India with his 1960s Ricoh 35mm. Complete with a hot-shoe-mounted light meter, that sweet little two pound metal beast accompanied me all over the world’s biggest democracy for four months. I took a ton of disposable tourist crap and a few well-composed and decently-metered shots. I had no idea what I was doing. I pretty much still don’t.

Narain and Guru

In 1996, a friend and I opened a guitar shop on Main St. in Charlottesville. The internet was new and hot back then, so we figured we’d need a digital camera to post our listings online. We bought a blocky Kodak digital cam with a slightly articulating view screen on the back. The thing looked like an oversized bar of brown soap. It was giant, dorky, and effective.

Eventually, the guitar shop was kicked off Main St. so a new hotel could be built, and I went looking for work. In ’99 I landed a job writing reviews for C-Ville, and the Kodak was my main tool. I’d roll into a club full of punks or goths or college students or fake-ass downtown pseudo-redneck heroin-chic hipsters, whip out my giant sardine can camera and start shooting. Invariably, only one or two of those shots would be passable. But it was enough.

After a year or so, I got my mom to help me buy a Minolta Dimage 7, a 5.2 megapixal consumer digital slr with a decent Zeiss 7x optical zoom. This puppy cost around $700 and it took decent shots, for what it was. I even took some cover pics for The Hook at one point. After a couple years, the zoom ring disintegrated, and the Minolta found itself on the shelf. (No one wants to work on these plastic cameras – shocking!)

In 2007 I got a wild hair and ran out to drop $250 on a Canon Powershot SD1000, a tiny point-and-shoot. This camera has 7.1 megapixels, and basically kicks the Minolta’s ass in every respect – except the lens. And being so compact that you can have it on you at all times has meant that I’ve been able to catch some silly-ass once-in-a-lifetime stuff that no full-size camera could have caught. It’s always right there! In my pocket! I love that.

rocker girls saying goodbye

But there are things that a point and shoot will not do. Low light photography, for one. I sometimes shoot bands. Bands around here play in crappy low-light rooms. I wanted a camera that could snap on a fast lens, shoot at high ISO, and get the job done artfully without resorting to onboard flash and the crazy trails the Canon gives me in manual mode.

This kind of upgrade is not cheap. I’m already a musician (now my main source of income), and I can think of plenty things to spend a couple thousand dollars on. But this was starting to eat at me. I checked my inventory. There was one thing I could get rid of. One thing that was pretty valuable, and rarely in use: a 2001 D’Angelico New Yorker jazz guitar.

what I gave up for my new camera

Easily the prettiest (and most valuable) instrument in my arsenal, the New Yorker was, frankly, just too much guitar for me. It was in too good of shape. It needed to be played by a real jazz guy, somebody who knew how to baby it. I have a tendency to beat the hell out of my instruments. I was keeping it in a closet.

I put it on Craigslist. And there it sat. For three months. Some dude in Boston contacted me about it, but I really wanted to sell it locally. I didn’t want the eBay hassles. The Bostonian slowly raised his offer, and after a point, I couldn’t refuse. I sold him the guitar. This was last September.

Now, when I was growing up, my stepbrother was an aspiring photographer. We used to go to camera shops and annoy the hell out of sales people, collecting brochures and putting finger prints on their nice glass cases. My stepbrother was a little older and knew a lot about cameras. We liked Canons, but we LOVED Nikons. (I think I just wanted to be like him, so I agreed.) That Nikon lust stuck with me, and I’ve always wanted one. A real pro tool.

(As an aside, I should note that my step-bro has been a professional photographer for the past 20 years. He’s now a sports photographer for the Kansas City Star. And he still shoots Nikons.)

Well, at the time of my big guitar sale, Nikon had just released the D90, a “pro-sumer” digital slr that fits all Nikon lenses and even shoots video. (This is the first digital slr to do this – not that I care. I rarely shoot video.)

The d90 generates beautiful images – good enough for print work – is fairly versatile, and is large but not intimidatingly so. It will run on full auto (for family types who just want to take better family shots), but can also be set to full manual, so you can develop your photographic technique. This is not a true pro camera (on which I would surely be lost), but it’s good enough for paid work, considerably cheaper, and fun enough for casual experimentation. I splurged.

Please don’t think I made this decision lightly. I spent a lot of time at Imaging Resource and other camera and lens review sites weighing my options. Luckily, if you are into cameras, there is a ton of helpful (and not so helpful) advice online. Most camera retailers have user reviews on their sites and user groups contain extensive discussions. Camera people, like music people, tend to be incredibly opinionated and often over-informed about their tools. Many are idiots or rich hobbyists. But many actually consider photography an art and their opinions are incredibly insightful.

The D90 is fantastic. It’s definitely a bit more camera than I require, but it’s allowing me to do something I wish I had done 20 years ago: develop photography as an art.

You see, art takes a long time to mature. While there are always people who just take to something and start producing interesting results fairly quickly, most good art is developed over decades of practice. You learn the basics so you know what to do and what not to do. Then you take it apart and build your own thing. This is how you develop a “voice.” For most people it is slow, organic and very subtle. You wake up one day, 20 years later, and suddenly find that nobody sounds like you. Have I been doing this all along?

Anyway, I’m hard at studying photography and image manipulation with the free program GIMP. I just got a flash that can be wirelessly controlled from my camera. (very cool) I gave up video games and cable news, and now I sit reading tutorials on lighting and photoshop. I regularly post crap to my flickr page. I still suck, but I like my pictures. I’m trying to find a voice at the same time that I’m trying to become a better photographer. It’s a lot of fun. It’s also daunting.

world's greatest invention?

We’ll see where it gets me. I’ve got some photos coming out in an upcoming issue of Urge Magazine. This will be my first glossy pressing. I’m pretty stoked. But I know my shots are just ok. I have yet to create images that reach out and grab you. You know, the kind of stuff you’d want framed on your wall. That’s what I really want to do.

Just to be clear: ANYONE can take a great picture. You give anybody a small digital camera and tell them to get creative, and they’ll produce an interesting image now and again. It’s the nature of the art. It doesn’t take a genius, just somebody with gumption and a little vision.

If you go to my flickr photostream and browse my contacts, you’ll find a bevy of brilliant image creators. Some are pros. Some are high school students with great ideas. Browse their pictures. I do all the time. After all, I’m addicted.

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13 Responses to “My Addiction”

  1. I think you have achived the art trifecta. Or at least well on your way. Another portal feeding thy might pen!

  2. cripsyduck Says:

    Cheers, Scooby.

  3. Nothing like listen to Zero from ’86 on a Saturday morn with a good cup of coffee.
    http://www.archive.org/details/zero1986-09-06
    Enjoy! Truly amazing audio.

  4. Now I know who to go to for advice on taking pics of my mosaics! It’s especially difficult to shoot the mosaics that have mirror tiles in them, what with the light bouncing all over the place. I recently bought a pro tripod to help keep my Canon Powershot SX100 steady. Still, I haven’t yet been a able to take a pic that does any of my mosaics justice…

  5. great picture of the dude with the lighter. looks like you’re losing the wresting match, but I like your red pants!

  6. cripsyduck Says:

    a.s.k.: Some of those mosaic shots look pretty nice to me… I’m no pro, but I’m guessing you might try an off-camera flash with some kind of diffuser to soften the light – for indoor shots, anyway. You might be able to improvise that kind of thing. I recommend extensive experimentation.

    sh: I wish I looked that good in red! That girl’d tear my arm off and beat me with it.

  7. thanks Cripsy! I’ll give your tips a try…

  8. Tawnya "Cripsy's cousin" Cole Says:

    Okay, okay so I’m prejudiced since Cripsy is my cousin and blood and all. My husband has a photojournalist degree and is a PHOTO TAKING MONSTER.
    I love your pictures cuz and would like to see more. You’re doing a great job. May I just say the rest of the family will pick up the slack on the cannabis. Keep up the great work! Love, Tawnya

  9. cripsyduck Says:

    Dunky! I love you.

  10. Tawnya "Cripsy's cousin" Cole Says:

    Back at you babe! Take care, hope to see you some day…..

  11. D’Angelico New Yorker for a Nikon D90.I bet you must be regretting that now,the New Yorker would surely increase in price as years go by,cant say that about Nikon D90,always new upgraded model every couple of years or so..boy I wished I had found your ad back then I would have given up my D90 plus a couple of fast lenses…regretssssss…

  12. Hi, Me again (post above) you got anymore nice archtop’s you want ot get rid of for DSLR..email me!

  13. criPSy duck Says:

    Actually, Anonymous (if that is your real name) I have no regrets whatsoever. It wasn’t a REAL D’Angelico, just a Vestax copy. A very nice jazz axe to be sure, but unlikely to increase too dramatically in value. I had no use for it, as I am pretty hard on my instruments and perform mostly on acoustic guitar anyway. Besides, the D90 – though not top shelf photographically – has proved a good workhorse and made back its value several times over, something that could never happen with the jazz guitar. (For me anyway.) We all know what jazz musicians get paid for all that excess musical understanding – zilch. It was a nice guitar, though.

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