Thursday, October 23, 2014

Photography and the Art of Saxophone Playing

 Dear Stephen

I think I'll stop studying photography. It's far too technical, and all I really want to do is make nice photographs that I can show to my family and friends. 

I don't see the point of all that stuff about white balance, ISO settings, aperture and shutter speeds etc, etc. 

They are not what I wanted to hear about and it all seems pointless and something I'll never get my head around.

Dear (whoever feels the same)

I'm learning to play the saxophone at the moment, and I started last year when I was 58 - and I am concentrating on a jazz style. I had played other musical instruments previously, so I thought how hard could it be? it certainly looks easy enough when you hear a good player do it.

Well, it's very hard. I first of all had learn how use the mouthpiece - getting the "embouchure" right (and there are whole books just on that topic). Then, I had find the right mouthpiece (another endless task that some people apparently never get right), choose the right reeds to suit me (I have spent a  LOT just on bits of thin cane so far), and eventually get a sound out of it. It took several months before I could practice without worrying who was hearing me.

Oh, practice, that's another point. I have (without a word of a lie) practiced every single day since 1st August 2013 for not less than one hour. Actually it probably averages 3 hours a day. I've often done it very late at night - sometimes in the early hours of the morning - after my day's work (luckily, we have no near neighbours).

As for playing great jazz tunes all the time, my main practice has been based around learning scales, arpeggios, chords (major, minor, harmonic minors, chromatic scales, blues scales) and really boring technical exercises to get them into my head.

I have the exercises in books, on printed sheet music, in Kindle books and even in apps on my iPad. It's been like learning another language. It's the most mind-numbing, technically challenging thing I've ever done. My partner says that some of jargon I quote now sounds like I'm speaking another language.

She also says (now) that I really seem to understand it. Also, when I first played her a tune, she couldn't work out the name of it. When I played her the same tune recently, she said - "wow, will you play that at the Christmas party, it sounds great!".

She told me I sounded like one of my hero sax players - Courtney Pine - who plays at lightening speed. She was probably being nice to me, but actually I know that I now play quite fast and with a good tone.

And my point is...

Photography, like anything else worth doing - but which looks easy when you see it done well - is extremely technical.

But unless you do the homework, understand the jargon and practice (a lot) you'll never get to the point where it all just makes sense, and the technical side allows you to do what you wanted to do in the first place - take good photographs.

The technical side is the "engine room" that sits there in the background, but is really driving the thing along and without it, you'll get nowhere.

It's boring and not glamorous, but when you put it all together, with a good idea for a photograph - and a creative eye for composition (that's also a very technical aspect that needs to be learned) you get great photographs.

But you can't just have a good eye. If you don't understand exposure and white balance, and ISO and focus, the photos just don't work.

But when you do, and then "play" the camera your way, it will suddenly produce great photographs. 

1 comment:

  1. Ok Stephen ...Now stand up take a breath and Bow ...Well dune from an old but still amateur photographer and Sax player.
    I must practice every day I must practice every


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