Talking about Photography with David Hunsaker

John in Thought 1, originally uploaded by johntynan. Photo taken at hanging Hands Bookstore by David Hunsaker: hunsakerphoto.com using my equipment.

This evening I met with David Hunsaker from Tempe Camera. I had contacted him with the intent of learning about my camera. In the course of the two hours, we seemed to skim the surface of the entire range of photography.

Starting with best practices about keeping the lens clean, having backup batteries, and surprisingly keeping a ziplock bag handy to protect my camera (and other electronics) should I ever find myself in a really bad downpour. We then progressed to learning about aperture, shutter speed and the various other modes and settings on the camera. I learned quickly how to think about the lighting for a photo, the kind of detail I wanted: landscapes = high aperture and high background detail, portraits = blurred background and low depth of field. Then we talked about how this related to ISO (film/sensor sensitivity) and shutter speed. We discussed the benefits of Aperture Preferred mode vs. Shutter Preferred mode vs. Program Mode vs. Manual mode. I learned that I could real quickly set the kind of lighting type and take that task of automatically guessing at the adjustment away from the camera and put it into my own hands. I learned that I could play with the ISO and the shutter speed depending on the lighting or how fast the subject of the photo was moving.

We then moved on to looking at his portfolio, a few selected photos, highlights from years of experience. We talk about composition, about the Rule of Thirds and how the subject of a photo is rarely centered.

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Photo Credit: David Hunsaker

We then talked about optimal times to photograph – in the morning and afternoon when the light is diffuse and coming in at an angle or on cloudy days, and how taking photos in the noonday sun gives you shadows under the eyes. We talked about how shooting in black and white is superior to a desaturated photo in Photoshop and how color “gives all the answers” but black and white “goes into the soul.” We talked about how sometimes it is about the color, for instance brilliantly shaded landscapes, or buildings with colorful doors, or a woman’s red hair. We talked about changing the angle that you’re looking at the photo and what that says about your relationship to the person your shooting.

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Photo Credit: David Hunsaker

We talked about holding the base of the camera with your palm and about using the camera unobtrusively. He recommends that I hang out with the camera and talk or just be relaxed. He says that I should support my camera with my left hand as I shoot – it removes a whole plane of possible movement. Then he shows me how if you move slightly in your seat, then and all of a sudden, you have a different angle. He shows me a photo he took of a Japanese worker and how he studied her movements and how he waited for the precise moment when he knew her body was going to pause while her gloved hand reached out over a work bin. I was suprised at how deliberate this all was. In another instance, he tells me about a photo where he knew a stop light was going to turn green and two bicyclists were going to cross the street behind a woman on the street in japan. At the moment after the light turned and the bicycles began to move into the scene, he coughed and caught her attention and grabbed a photo just as he intended.

I was impressed how a photo could express a whole larger story that could be sketched out (but not summed up) in a pithy sentence, like for instance, “you will not see a child in Mexico that is far from his parent.”

We look through my portfolio of a dozen of my favorite photos. He talks about what works in them. I don’t think I could say why it was I liked them before. But I’m starting to see why it is I like them now. I find out that lot of their success had to do with not placing the subject in the center of the photo. A lot of it had to do with interesting leading lines. A lot of it had to do with telling a story.

Handhold

Then, David points to one of my photographs, saying “That’s a photo that I would want to take!” And I get it instantly! The understanding fills my soul — this is the difference between taking a snapshot and taking a photograph!

At this point, we talk about raising the bar, about how gaining technical control is the first step, and how thinking about the story comes next (and how this may come out afterward in the editing process). David then tells me there are three levels of photography:

  1. The technical level – adjustments and composition – if you get this down you’ll be good, you can be a professional.
  2. The level where you SEE LIGHT
  3. The level where it is a spiritual exchange

We talk more about our lives and our aspirations for our art. And as we shake hands and promise to keep tabs on each others work, I have the feeling that we’ve experienced this highest level of photography, that we’ve experienced a spiritual exchange.