Tag Archives: photos

The Benny Ling 2012 Photographic Year in Review: By the Numbers, An Introduction to Film, and Just Taking Photos

One of my favourite photos of the year was of this pink bike. Not this particular photo, but one of them.

2012 marks the first year I’ve taken photography seriously. I’ve always been interested in photography, but haven’t really gotten as involved with it as I did this year. It probably had a lot to do with the acquisition of my own DSLR kit late last year, and even more to do with doing my own photography — the shots I’ve seen other people take but have always wanted to apply my own spin or interpretation of, combined with the creative control a “serious” camera like a DSLR allows.

By the numbers

Lightroom says I’ve taken 7343 images with my 60D this year Of those:

  • 3493 were taken with the Sigma 30 1.4
  • 2105 were taken with the Canon 17-55 2.8
  • 662 were taken with the Canon 18-135 3.5-5.6
  • 632 were taken with the Canon 24-85 3.5-4.5
  • 200 were taken with the Canon 50 1.8
  • 251 were taken with a Samyang(?) 6.5mm fisheye

The Sigma’s high numbers are pretty easy to explain: it’s the lens that got busted out at my first ever wedding reception, and it’s usually the one that’s attached to my camera the most often. It’s usually the lens that I take when I’m going to an event at youth, and of course, being the fastest lens I own means it gets used quite a lot. Overall, I quite enjoy the Sigma — it’s a great piece of glass when you consider the price. Fast, with a great focal length for a crop sensor.

The 17-55 is easily the most expensive piece of glass that I own, and in a few respects it’s a better lens than the Sigma. Its numbers are lower than the Sigma on a pure photos-taken basis mainly because I don’t use it as much. I’m not sure why, because it can produce some truly great photos. It’s the lens I took with me to Melbourne that one time, the one I used at the Relay for Life, and what I do most of my landscapes with. But I seldom use it at youth events, purely because it looks (and feels) intimidating; people tend to shy away from it. It may produce some excellent photos, but it’s not exactly subtle. It’s heavy, too — almost a full kilo. In an ideal world I’d like this lens to be the one permanently attached to my 60D, but such is the advantage of an interchangeable camera system.

The rest of the numbers aren’t exactly special: the 18-135 was the first lens I owned, along with the 50 1.8, the latter of which doesn’t get much use due to the slightly longer focal length and the fact that I have the much better (sharper, faster) Sigma to use instead. Maybe when I go full-frame I’ll use it more, but that’s definitely for another time.

An introduction to film

Around April, I bought an old film camera, and experienced film photography for myself. Our family had an old film point and shoot before the days of digital, of course, but I rarely used personally. But the Yashica Lynx 14 I bought off an OCAU forum member made me realise that maybe there was more to this photography thing than just pressing shutter buttons. Perhaps it was the fully-mechanical nature of the camera, or maybe it was having to wait to see if my photos were any good, but film photography made me start enjoying photography all over again.

I ended up loving that Yashica Lynx — non-operational/slightly temperamental light meter and all — so much that it ended up with a stuck shutter, which was the end of that particular camera.

But by that stage I couldn’t give up rangefinder photography, which has more advantages than just looking the part with a fancy film camera. Long story short, I ended up buying a Voigtländer Bessa R2A camera, paired with a Voightlander Nokton 40 1.4 to replace the old (like, late 1960s-era old) Yashica Lynx.

The story continues…

Back in the Saddle

There’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

It encompasses the period from October to November this year, and represents a two month period where very few photos were taken.

Why? I’m not sure myself, actually. It could have been any number of things: the iPhone 5 was released during that period, Uni exams were during that period, I got into the Twilight series, and many more reasons (some even more ridiculous than the ones I’ve already posted) besides. Maybe it rained a lot. Or maybe I didn’t leave the house because I was too busy studying for exams and/or re-re-re-watching the Twilight series.

Whatever the reason, there’s a gap in my Lightroom library.

And it’s such a stupid thing to get hung up on, but it’s more than just a time where I didn’t take photos, film nor digital. Perhaps that gap represents something entirely different other than just “a period where very few photos were taken”. For example, perhaps that gap points to a period where I was felt so uninspired that taking photos felt like the worst possible thing to be doing at that time. Perhaps I just didn’t feel like competing with others when it came to taking photos.

Or maybe — and I suspect this is closer to the real reason than any any excuse I’ve offered up this far — the gap represents a time where I was questioning my own photography compared to the photography of others. By this I mean: what sets my own photography apart from those taking photos with iPhones? Or with their Polaroids? What makes my photography special? Why should I bring my camera out to events when someone else can document it just as well with their iPhone, and share it instantaneously with others?

And, you know, it’s great that we live in a world that can be documented and shared instantly with others. It’s great that iPhones now approach the capabilities of the more advanced point and shoot cameras, and it’s even better that they have the advantage of being able to share their photos instantly via the ever-connected web.

But then I think about things like Instagram, and realise that as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Cute girls post pictures of themselves on their social network of choice garner more likes than should be possible in the blink of an eye, and the more popular individuals on one social network will be equally as popular on others. Haters gonna hate, and so on, and so forth.

I’m not sure why there’s a gap in my Lightroom library. Whatever the reason, I’m glad there is — otherwise I might not be taking pictures now, and maybe, just maybe, my photos wouldn’t be nearly as good as a result1.


  1. Both photos you see in this post are from September. Bonus points if you can name the place where the second one was taken. 

Ithaca College →

Ten disposable cameras. Five locations. One authentic view of a day at Ithaca College.

Pretty cool. Leave a few disposable (film!) cameras around, collect them at the end of the day, and put the photos up on the web.

I’d love to do a little project like this one day.

— permalink to this post

Does it make you a better… ?

There’s a scene in The Unit — one of my favourite TV series of all time — where one of the lead characters asks another soldier who’s about to make a life changing decision: does it make you a better soldier? In that scene, Jonas asks Mack whether what’s he’s about to do will make him a better soldier, and it’s a good question: if killing your superior officer (who slept with your wife) doesn’t make you a better soldier, you have to ask the question: what does?

It’s the kind of question I ask myself all the time; what can I do that will make me a better person?

A while back I was asked if shooting film made me a better photographer. At the time, I didn’t really have an answer for the guy who asked, because I hadn’t really thought about it myself.

But thinking about it now, the answer seems pretty clear: sure it does, if only on a purely technical level. When you shoot film with a manual-exposure camera, when you’re guessing exposures, you learn about apertures and shutter speeds in addition to thinking about all the other aspects of your shots. A lot of shooting film is also the experience of not being able to look at your photos immediately and having to wait for it to get developed. That teaches patience, which, last time I checked, was a pretty good attribute to have.

With film, you’re limiting yourself to only shooting a certain number of frames. It means you can just spray people at 5fps — 12 if you’re lucky enough to have a 1DX — and it means that you value your shots more because you’ve got less to work with.

And you know what? At the end of the day, maybe taking photos with film cameras doesn’t have to be about if it makes you a better photographer. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t — but if you’re having fun doing it, then I guess that’s okay too.

A New Rangefinder (feat. Bessa R2A)

I was about 30 exposures into my 13th roll of film when suddenly, the shutter button on my Yashica Lynx 14 just stopped activating the shutter. Quite inconvenient, really. I always wind-on directly after firing off a shot, which cocks the shutter automatically — but somehow, that wasn’t happening anymore. The shutter wasn’t being cocked, even though it seemed to still be advancing film.

I made a short video which explains exactly what was going on.

The shutter was being fired when I was winding on. Not sure how, or why it started happening pretty much spontaneously; I had noticed similar “shutter-not-cocking-after-wind-on” issues a few weeks prior, but I didn’t know it at the time and dismissed it. Resulted in some pretty funky exposures too, since it was opening the shutter after winding on a new frame — mostly shaky, blurry-cam type stuff, but kinda cool in some sort of surrealist way.

I was pretty upset. Shooting with a rangefinder is incredibly satisfying, and seeing as my only rangefinder had just given up the ghost, not shooting with a rangefinder for street just wasn’t an option.

Being an old, fully mechanical camera, I investigated repair options: taking it to the local camera repair shop resulted in a repair bill which could have run into the hundreds of dollars had I chosen to send it off to some gentleman who specialised in older cameras, multiples of what the camera was actually worth (in monetary terms, anyway). I decided to do a little DIY, taking apart the camera and seeing if I could fix the issue myself.

Sadly, that didn’t work due to a lack of understanding about which camera parts did what. I took the entire thing apart (except for the lens assembly), and I still didn’t figure out how it worked. Nothing terribly obvious was wrong with it, which seems a little strange when you consider that it’s a fully mechanical camera, and not some electric-powered everything like the DSLRs of today. But I digress.

I did get the chance to clean out the rangefinder patch and window, though, which has now resulted in a viewfinder that looks fantastic. Shame it doesn’t actually take photos anymore.

Which brought me to an entirely new dilemma: which replacement rangefinder was I going to purchase? Not having a rangefinder wasn’t an option, they’re just too much fun to shoot on, way more portable than a DSLR, and besides,, I don’t mind manual focus. I lusted over a digital rangefinder for about the same amount of time it took to look up the price. Until I start getting paid handsomely for photography, they’re a little out of my price range.

After looking around for a bit, it was a toss-up between two Voightländer cameras: the Bessa R2A, or the Bessa R3A. They’re practically the same camera, but the Bessa R3A has a 1:1 ratio viewfinder, which is pretty cool because it means you can take photos with both eyes open (if you look though the viewfinder with your right eye, that is). Apart from that, they’re both 35mm film rangefinders with built-in auto exposure or metered manual — and if I was going to shoot street, autoexposure was exactly what I wanted, allowing me to set the aperture, focus, and let the camera take care of the rest.

I ended up buying an R2A second-hand, because the store that I wanted to buy from didn’t have any in stock… I also ended up getting the super-popular Voightländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4, perhaps one of the cheapest ($529 new, hah) M-mount lenses that you can buy. Compared to some of the massively-upwards of $2000 Leica lenses, it’s dirt cheap whilst still providing excellent image quality — and by excellent IQ, I mean knock your pants off stuff.

But perhaps the best feature of the Bessa isn’t that it has auto-exposure, or the fact that it’s a reasonably recent film camera (i.e. introduced in 2004, still manufactured today), but the fact that it has the all-heralded Leica M mount.

Ah, Leica. They’re not a brand for the beginner or even for those without deep, deep pockets, but they’re renowned for the simple reason they have some of the best glass in the business. All manual focus, but lenses that are unparalleled when it comes to sheer resolving power and image quality.

The Bessa R2A isn’t really unique in that it’s not the only 35mm film rangefinder that features a Leica M mount, because there are a fair few rangefinders that do — but besides all that, it’s still a (very big) step up from the el-cheapo Yashica Lynx I was using before. Not top-tier (Leica M6/M7/MP-level), but not exactly bottom-barrel, either.

Besides being fantastically built and opening up yet another wide variety of super-expensive glass to lust over, the R2A is really good fun to shoot with.

But that’s for another time.

Prints

Shocking photo, let down by my iPhone.

It intrigues me that in a a world where the entire process is digital, there’s still intrinsic value to be had from a distinctly analog concept; the concept of prints.

Film is so unique in that traditionally, people have just made prints directly from their negatives or slides. But then the digital revolution happened, and people started digitising their negatives so they could view them on their new-fangled computers. Prints kinda, sorta, fell out of fashion as costs for developing and printing soared with the digital revolution. For many people, digital was all about convenience — being able to instantly view photos and share them to others was a huge plus. Having to wait an entire hour before photos could be viewed was a thing of the past. Our time grew more valuable, and film was all but forgotten.

Not so in the film industry, apparently, where film still holds a special something over digital:

No wonder, then, that directors like Christopher Nolan worry that if 35mm film dies, so will the gold standard of how movies are made. Film cameras require reloading every 10 minutes. They teach discipline. Digital cameras can shoot far longer, much to the dismay of actors like Robert Downey Jr. — who, rumor has it, protests by leaving bottles of urine on set.

There’s something about film which makes it command a certain amount of respect, a certain reverence. Digital is cheap. Film is not:

“Because when you hear the camera whirring, you know that money is going through it,” Wright says. “There’s a respectfulness that comes when you’re burning up film.”

I do quite a bit of shooting for my youth group, and while I’m definitely getting too old for a “youth group”, no one really seems to mind, or at least they’re not telling me about it (a topic for another time).

At youth, we have this wall that shows off photos of the youth. Photos from past events, photos from trips to Planetshakers, photos from previous Relay events, and things like that. It’s pretty cool, but the photos are a few years old now.

I was recently approached by the youth leader, to see if we could put a few new photos up. As I was the one who had been taking photos for the better part of the year, I was the one who would provide the photos. It made complete sense, and yet, to be asked of such a thing felt like a huge honour. I know it was probably inevitable and just common sense, but still, this was a Pretty Big Deal for me.

I had already uploaded a few photos to our Facebook group, and I already have a collection in Lightroom that has all the best shots from youth, so choosing which shots to print was a non-issue.

Numbers kind of were, but I ended up being ruthless and culling mediocre photos from the ones that were worthy of being printed. There were a few exceptions to this rule, and they were mostly photos that were good in terms of subject/composition/emotion, but perhaps technically flawed (slightly missed focus, limbs cut off weirdly, etc). It was interesting finding a line between choosing photos that were interesting and showed the “right stuff”, and photos that were perhaps not that good in terms of subject, but were still interesting, like the photo below. One night we played with a strobe, and that made for a cool photo, even though you can’t make out anyone in particular.

Anyway. 105 photos later, with about 7 enlargements of the group shots, and I’m happy with how the photos turned out. It was interesting seeing the difference between how the photos looked on-screen and how they looked when printed out, but for the most part things were pretty good.

All in all, a good experience. It’s kinda funny, because photography enthusiasts and hobbyists don’t really print out their digital images all that often, but mums, dads, and grandparents do it all the time.

Funny how things work like that.