Monday, November 21, 2011

The Many Moods of Butternuts

So no joke, there I was. In my living room. By the window. Photographing a trio of butternut squashes.

I may or may not have been actually perched on top of the bookshelf with my back pressed against the window so as to achieve the best possible combination of light vs. angle. My neighbors across the way probably think of me fondly as That Crazy Lady Who Does Yoga with  Her Camera In the Window.

In any case, I was snapping away thinking about the millions of things that I think about while taking what is essentially a very basic and not all that interesting photograph of squashes. Is this light working? What about the background? I need a new camera strap. Is that stubby one in front too stubby? What if I shoot from above? My hair is annoying. Boy, that stubby one really is...stubby.

In the middle of this, I look down at my camera preview window and see this:
Immediate panic on the possible brokenness of my camera. I may or may not have almost fallen off the bookshelf.

And then I realized that in the course of moving about, snapping shots, I had accidentally nudged my camera dial from "Aperture Priority" to "Manual." Which meant that the camera was no longer helping me out by calculating the ideal shutter speed for each shot. Which meant that my shots went from full of sunlight to smoky darkness.

Immediate relief on the non-brokenness of my camera. And hot on its heels, intense curiosity.

I am totally and without question an amateur photographer. One of the unexpected developments of starting along this career of food writing has been a steadily growing side-passion for photography. When I was first hired at The Kitchn, my manager admitted to me that photography was definitely...shall we say...honestly...not my strong point. She was very kind when she said this and I was not at all offended because she was totally right.

But I really badly wanted photography to be, if not my strong point, at least no longer a weakness. Truthfully, I've always really liked photography and felt drawn to it as an art form. The trouble is that I lacked the patience of using up a roll of film, getting it developed, and then finding that maybe two pictures were decent.

Turns out that I just needed to wait for digital cameras to be invented! I love digital cameras. Pro photographers can yearn for the good ol' days of film photography, but as for me, I'm not looking back. I love the immediate feedback. I love being able to take pictures until my battery runs out and never having to worry about scrounging the money to get them developed. I love having neat, organized (ok, mostly organized) files for all my photos instead of a shoe-box. I love being able to work on them right away in Photoshop without resorting to chemicals or dark rooms (see above re: impatience and laziness).

Digital cameras made me love photography.

I've worked at my photo skills doggedly over the past few years. I look back on some of my early photos (like this one and this one and this one), and it's pretty cool to see just how far I've come. Somewhere along the way, photography went from simply being a way to document the things in front of me to being something that felt more like art. I feel the same sense of passion and focus when I'm taking photographs as I do when I sit down to write a story. I like it. I love it.

But back to these squashes. Once I was sure my camera was ok, I got curious about what such a drastic shutter speed difference was really doing. In my photographs, I'm primarily aiming to reproduce what I see. If I see bright light, I want bright light. If I see moody shadows, I want moody shadows. It never really occurred to me that I could manipulate the camera settings to create a totally different feeling than the actual scene before me.

This was a bright sunny fall afternoon. But by slowing down the shutter speed, dropping from 1/800 of a second to 1/250 of a second, I still get a sharp picture but I completely change the way the light enters the camera. Cool.

I kept stepping up the speed to see how the increments changed. I love how spooky and and slightly sinister these innocent butternut squashes become:

As you are reading this (if you're still reading at this point, ahem), you're probably thinking either a) Wow, this is super nerdy, or b) Wow, you're just figuring this out? Or to give myself a little credit, possibly c) Wow, this is nerdtastic and I love it! In any for stopping by? Goooo, photo-nerds!

P.S. Yes, I totally had to look up the whole "1/250 of a second" thing to make sure I got it right and didn't make myself look silly.