#924. Finding the photo fun factor

By philberphoto | Art & Creativity

Nov 04
Is this scooter a transport vehicle, or is it a fun-toy?

In his seminal post, Pascal asks, in essence, where is “home” for us in the realm of photo gear.

Shooting church contents with a 100mm macro may be counterintuituve, but it can also be fun…

For me, fun is home, and home is fun. That is the single most important parameter for me. Is this piece of gear fun to shoot? It wasn’t always like that. I went through a phase when performance was the overriding factor, and my shots “had to” reflect gear-and-tog performance.

An image from someone else’s image and art.. Not very nice, but fun…

Now, at Pascal’s prodding, I have reflected on what I look for in gear I would enjoy owning and shooting. And there are 5 factors, in this order. Using said gear must be Fun, Easy, Carefree, Eclectic, Surprising.

Fun from someone’s fallen bike??? really…

Fun, as in: un-work. Fun, as in: makes me smile. Fun, as in: brings out the child in me. Fun as in “let’s give it a go!” Fun, as in “mignonne, allons voir si la rose…” Fun, as in: “now, take THAT, Pascal!” Ooops, too many of them around by now, better not annoy all of them at once…:-(

Catching JP like this, on-the-stealth…. yes, fun!

Easy, because fun isn’t always easy. But, being who I am, if it isn’t easy, it isn’t fully fun. Easy means, when it relates to gear, not heavy. Not hard to focus. Not hard to get what I want. Not a low yield. No nots at all in fact.

The roof-tops of Paris from a Ferris wheel. If that isn’t fun….

Carefree, because, if I need to overthink, let alone worry, the fun factor flies out of the window. So no worries about reliability, suitability, availability, or any other word ending in “ity”. Not even quality, or likeability.

Reflections mixing the true and the plant… fun.

Eclectic, because destination shooting is but a small fraction of what I do. The rest of the time, I take my gear with me day in and day out. Not knowing ahead what opportunities might show up, what they might look like, or require gear-wise. Thus the shooter and the system need to be eclectic, to be able to shoot many different subjects, to have a broad shooting envelope. And my system needs to be more than a one-trick poney, however great the poney. That doesn’t mean I do everything, some subjects simply don’t resonate within me. The biggest “don’t” has to be things/people that move. Catching this elusive instant “on the fly” isn’t my thing. Too much focus on performance for me, sort of “did I get the money shot?”. Now I am not saying that this is wrong, or knocking it in any way, just that it isn’t my “thing”, whereas Paul or Pascal -actually pretty much everyone else at DS save for me- do it so bloody well…

What can be less fun than grey cinderblocks? Yet….

Surprising, because photography entails, for me, a part of adventure, of discovery. If I know exactly how to shoot something, how it “must” be done, how it will look, it means the picture is done already, even if only in my mind, and it will not be surprising, not contain a part of mystery.

A sunstar? Fun!

So, what is my brand of fun today? Well, I have to say, my camera, the Sony A7 series, isn’t particularly fun. Its haptics are really nothing special, its user interface is clunky, its is not particularly robust or protected from the elements, and it does not feel like a premium product, let alone luxo. But its innards perform superbly and deliver IQ in spades -wait, that’s performance not fun!- and it allows me to select from an umatched variety of lenses. THAT is fun! A fun selection of fun lenses.

Carefree… easy… fun…

My 2 latest lenses are true grin-fun-machines. The Laowa 100 f:2.8 super-macro, and the Voigtländer 50 f:1.2. In both cases, very eclectic, with a broad shooting envelope, and shooting either of them is both creating an image and discovering whether it tells a story.

So much for sharpness being the first criterion people look for in a lens. This lens (Beep-beep) is NOT very sharp wide open. So what? Especially for Internet use. This shot, of course, is wide open.

And I love doing the counter-intuitive. Shooting inside a dark church with a 100 f:2.8 macro lens that requires significant shutter speed. Or shooting the same scene at f:1.2 and f:2.8, and finding out that the wide open one looks sharper (it isn’t, of course, so there is a lesson for me here).

Sometimes, shooting not even close can be a bulls-eye….

The Laowa is fun because it performs more than well from infinity to insanely close up, and it mates so nicely with the A7, they seem to have been made for each other. Its rendering is also not only gentle, but forgiving, which means “almost” shots get a positive nudge towards the publishable, rather than the dismissive treatment handed by most macro lenses to imperfect material, with a one-way ticket to oblivion. This makes for a great one-lens system for my needs/wants. I take my camera with me every day. But I don’t explore new paths to world-class locations every day, so there is not that much “new stuff” that I can mate with my lens. But if you bother to look for smaller, small, even very small subjects, then a whole world of opportunity awaits, that not even a hundred encounters will exhaust.

Mine is up closer than yours, hehe!

There is, however a potential downside to this lens. It is so easy to get spectacular results out of it that it is easy to fall into the “Wow shot” trap as above. Yep, it is sharp, and in focus. Yes, it shows what a ultra-macro lens can do. But does it have any value except to my ego as a circus performer of photography? Nope. No cigar.

PG Special

To some extent the same can be said of the Voigtländer 50mm f:1.2, a.k.a. Beep-beep. It is so fast, has so much bokeh, that it is easy to fall into that trap, as I did with my previous f:1.4 lens trio. Shooting them wide open, just because I could. But if you avoid that wanton, boisterous use of bokeh, this lens is so much fun. See above, or below. The harsh, cruddy child bike fished out from the canal it was dumped in, or the dreamy, poetic bamboo clump… It is also a delightful portrait lens, but French law restricts posting of such images unless one has a written release.

I could go on as to how Julia is fun, and how Audrey too, in another way, but both thoses lenses have been reported on at length on DS.

Of course, there are other factors that matter , including to me, such as performance, aesthetics, intimacy with the subject, oneness with the process. But one can’t have all the priorities in the world, else they stop being priorities, right?

And so my question to you, in closing this overlong post, is this: are you a fellow funster or funstress?


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  • Hi Philippe, another intriguing article; well done. The sunstar shot is a gem and the others are not too shabby either. It’s interesting how in 12 months you have gone from 1 lens to 4 and each fits your criteria of Fun, Easy, Carefree, Eclectic, Surprising.

    • philberphoto says:

      Many thanks for the kind words, Dallas, they are much appreciated. Your answer shows how well you know me and read my mind like an open book…. The big step was not goin from 1 to 4, but from one to 2. Once that bridge had been crossed, the rest was inevitable…..

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Nice post, Philippe! I’m definitely a “funtress” and am in total agreement with your Fun, Easy, Carefree, Eclectic & Surprising creedo! Photography shouldn’t be work – you know, like a job! That would suck all the joy out of creating images. Julia, Audrey, and you make a very talented trio – in other words, I totally enjoyed the photos in your post!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    It would seem we share a gene which shreds adherence to convention and replaces it with the liberation that only free spirits experience.

    I love the shot of the stamens – and yes, I can’t keep up, your Laowa is much more powerful than my macro. Your photo makes a strong point – people do clutter their photos with a whole lot of unnecessary detail, don’t they? It doesn’t matter how often you draw their attention to it, most of them are recidivists and keep doing it.

    And I think that comment captures something special about your photos, Philippe.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Philippe, two comments:

    Number one: Very interesting post.
    Number two: My list would be Eclectic, Aperture control, Speed of use, Yummy image, Wide aperture, Intelligent design, Pure interface, Elegant and Simple.


    • philberphoto says:

      Ah, Pascal! Not only is your list so wise, but I believe that you cleverly made it in the form of an acronym if you just take the first letter of each word. Like Hitchcock appearing briefly in his own movies…..

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    A couple gorgeous pics here… and your post resonates a lot with me, Philippe… I join you in the anti-adrenaline approach, so I’m not part of the “everyone else” 😀
    I would like to be good in “cathing the moment”,but I always found the stress too much for me; the rare times I managed to get it, it was like a nice surprise!
    So, all your “laundry list” is exaclly mine 🙂

    • philberphoto says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Pascal. And, yes, for me as well, stress kills the fun. This is why I have “carefreee” on my list. It helps my pics, as well as my enjoyment of shooting them.

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