Joy In A Leather Jacket

Of the compact 35mm film cameras I’ve tried in the last few years, many have given decent results, but only one has combined quality images with genuine pocketability, and close enough (for me) focus.

That camera is the Olympus Mju 1 (or µ[mju:]-1), aka the Stylus in some territories. 

Well, I say only one camera. In truth, it’s not the last Jedi in this compact galaxy. No, Luke, there is another. Except it’s the same wolf. In different clothes.

Before my analogies become even more muddled, let’s introduce the Olympus LT-1. 

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On the functionality side, it’s essentially a Mju 1. Same cracking little 35mm f/3.5 lens with a close (auto)focus of around 0.35m.

Same compact size. (It’s a bugbear of mine to have had so many cameras that claim to be compact, but have the bulk of a small SLR. Very few have been truly pocketable, as in a trouser pocket, not the centre kangaroo style pocket of a very oversized hoodie. But back to the pros of the LT-1…)

Same ability to astonish when you get your scans back and wonder if you mixed them up with photographs shot with an SLR (especially when shooting colour film as black and white).

The main difference with the LT-1 is its shape and outer shell. 

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Left to right – AF-1 Mini, Mju-1, LT-1, all sharing the same 35mm f/3.5 lens

The Mju 1 is known for its curved, ergonomic shell, and the ease at which you can slide its clamshell cover open with a swift motion and be ready for shooting in an instant.

For me the original Mju perfected this, and where later Mju descendants tried to repeat the trick, they didn’t quite get it right.

The now ridiculously hyped Mju 2 (Stylus Epic) I found too small and too slippery, and if it wasn’t for the wrist strap I would have seen it meet a violent end against the pavement two or three times in just one roll of film. Way too pokey viewfinder too, but that’s another story.

I’ve had a couple of later zoom models in the Mju series and unfortunately the added bulk of the body required to house the zoom lens meant it was no longer pocketable.

Those curves, whilst near perfect on the original Mju, just made it even more uncomfortable when you did try to force it into your pocket, where a more typical smoothed brick shaped compact camera of the same depth would slide in and out with much greater ease.

The closest I’ve found was ironically another sibling in many ways to the Mju-1, the AF-1 Mini, pictured alongside its family above.

Same lens again, and a weatherproof body, but just slightly less pocketable than the Mju-1 – comfy in a coat, too tight for trousers. Oh and didn’t focus quite so close, more like 0.5m.

Back to the LT-1 and there’s (gasp!) no clamshell cover to slide open.

Instead we have a flip over leather flap that folds up over the lens, plus an on switch right next to the lens itself.

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Initially I was sceptical and expected this to be slow and fiddly.

But Olympus cleverly designed the lens so even when the camera is on and the lens housing protrudes a couple of mm, the leather flap can still be over the lens without touching the glass.

Which means by keeping it switched on, on a photowalk it’s virtually as instantaneous as the Mju-1 – just flip the cover over with your thumb, point and shoot.

When the flap is closed, it reassuringly relocates itself in a second, thanks to the magnetic clasp. A clasp that is magnetic enough to stop it flapping open unwantedly, but not so strong that it can’t be flipped up quickly with your thumb tip when you’re ready to shoot.

Unlike the shiny smooth plastic of the Mju-1, the LT-1 has a fancy leather jacket. Sophistication indeed.

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The shape is much more symmetric and rounded too, like a well washed pebble on the beach that you pick up and feels just right in your hands.

This curvy edged shape plus the extra grip of the leather surface make it handle at least as well as the Mju-1. 

These kind of details – the tactile leather, the on/off switch round the lens perfectly placed to operate with your middle finger, how the lens housing protrudes when switched on so the flap can be closed without touching the glass, and the perfectly weighted strength of the magnetic clasp – are not happy accidents.

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Especially given Olympus’s track record (not least of the Mju-1 itself and its father/grandfather/godfather, the original XA), we can safely assume these were features specifically designed to make the LT-1 a very easy, almost invisible camera to use, yet at the same time that leather providing a hint of luxury unusual in a compact, unless you want to pay many hundreds of pounds more.

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In short, for those seeking a very capable, close focusing, genuinely compact film camera, it’s joy in a leather jacket. 

So would I crown the LT-1 as my AF king compact?

Well I certainly wouldn’t be upset if I was told it was the only compact (indeed the only film camera) I could shoot from this point on.

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Given its greater rarity, and the way those design features make me smile at Olympus’s intelligence and attention to detail each time I pick up, the LT-1 might just be my favourite compact, even trumping its older sibling the Mju-1.

Indeed my discovery of the Mju-1 , and then later the LT-1, feels very akin to being a teenage boy and finding a beautiful girl you spend a few months with and really start to think you might spend the rest of your life with her, gulp, only to discover she has an even cuter, quirkier and equally friendly younger sister.

In that irresistible leather jacket, of course.

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As a confused adolescent male in that situation, which sister would you run away with?

What’s your favourite 35mm film compact? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Letting Go / When The Fun Stops

Over my photography adventures in the last five years, there have been significant landmarks, where something that had worked well for a period of time just stopped working.

Or, put another way, the fun disappeared. 

Rather than carry on slogging through and becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned, I’ve tried to recognise what’s happening, and make the necessary shift. In short I’ve tried to let go of whatever was sucking away the enjoyment.

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In gambling shops and ads over here, one slogan appears frequently – “When the fun stops, stop.”

It’s a good philosophy for any hobby and pursuit we originally begin because we enjoy it. 

Here are a few photography activities I once loved, but chose to let go of when the fun stopped.

Scanning film

I got into scanning film for a couple of reasons.

First, I thought it would be cheaper than having it scanned by a lab. Even the initial outlay for the scanner would be saved once I’d scanned maybe a couple of dozen films – which was only three or four months’ worth at the rate I was shooting film back then.

Second, I could scan film it was either not possible to have scanned locally, or that was prohibitively expensive (for my budget).

Like 35mm film shot in my Holga 120N that exposed the film right to the edge and across the sprocket holes, and overlaid multiple exposure collages (again usually with the Holga and my DIY 35mm conversion) where a conventional automated lab scanner would cut it into regular 35mm frames.

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It was useful for a while, and what I should have probably done was only use the scanner for occasional experiments, and send the conventional stuff to the processing lab for scanning too.

But scanning every film became laborious and fiddly, and a roll might take me two or three hours or more.

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One reason I love photography is that it gets me away from computers and out in nature. Scanning for hours a week completely defeated this aim.

I came to loathe scanning.

Plus my time and energy in the evenings was worth more to me than the extra couple of pounds a roll it would cost me to have regular 35mm film scanned to CD at the lab.

Further to this, I was actually holding back from shooting film because I was dreading the whole scanning experience I’d have to endure if I wanted to see the photographs in digital form.

The fun had emphatically stopped.

So I let go of scanning, packed my Canoscan away and trusted the lab. I haven’t looked back. I should probably list it on eBay soon.

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Testing cameras

This one took me a while. For about four and a half of the five years or so I’ve shot film I’ve felt more like a camera tester than a photographer. The first few months were very exciting and experimental, with the Holga and my first few 35mm cameras.

But then the buying of new (to me) cameras accelerated beyond the speed at which I was able to find time to shoot them.

Again the actual experience of shooting the cameras was being tarnished by the fact I knew I had another dozen at home also waiting to be tested.

Also, I just don’t like having too much stuff or clutter in any area of life. My inner minimalist reels in horror at seeing cameras and lenses spilling from shelves.

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Because I was selling most of those I’d tested, I also had a rising stack of boxes, bubble wrap and other packaging materials in our bedroom.

Again, every time I went in the room I was reminded of all the stuff I needed to photograph, list and sell online, and all the packaging that needed using up. Which chipped away at my enjoyment of the hobby overall.

As with the scanning, the fun had stopped. So I had to let go.

This took far too long to realise, and it was probably only a few months back I felt I’d really got on top of this. Choosing mostly just a couple of lens mounts (M42 and Pentax K) and one brand of camera was a huge step.

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And on the digital front in fact switching to Pentax DLSRs which only use those two aforementioned mounts, rather than my Sony NEX for which I’ve had at least half a dozen adapters and over a hundred lenses, was also fundamental in this letting go and regaining control. And rediscovering the fun.

Buying and shooting 50mm lenses

This one is like a sub-genre of the testing cameras experience above, but different enough to mention separately.

My first SLR was a Praktica BMS Electronic with, inevitably, a Prakticar 50mm f/1.8 lens. The next was a Konica, again with a 50mm lens.

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Then I think a Canon AE-1. With a 50mm lens. And so it continued.

Of maybe 100 or 120 SLR lenses I’ve had, I would guess that 85% of them have been 50 or 55mm.

What you find after a while is that there is not a drastic difference between them.

All of the major manufactures came up with a very good 50mm lens, one that you could use as your only lens for the rest of your life and still get consistently pleasing images.

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Plus as mentioned before, the incredibly adaptable Sony NEX meant I could switch between different 50s in completely different mounts very easily. The choice was amazing, yet overwhelming.

What really helped narrow this down and let go of so many near duplicate 50s was deciding on the camera bodies I most enjoyed and wanted to use.

For a while it was the Contax C/Y bodies, but as good as the Yashica C/Y lenses are, I found I was using the Contax with M42 lenses and an adapter the majority of the time. So having a 50mm C/Y lens was all but redundant.

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As I explored digital SLRs maybe nine months ago, first Sony, then Pentax, (both with M42 adapters mostly) I found the C/Y lenses completely superfluous and off they went.

The Sony DSLRs were fine, and created excellent results. But it wasn’t until I stumbled across a Pentax K10D in my research that the pieces really started to tumble into place.

This gave me a very capable camera, with excellent handling (probably the best of any camera I’ve used, film or digital), with a great viewfinder and the ability to easily use M42 lenses, or any Pentax K mount lens since 1975. It’s probably the camera I wish I’d discovered about four years ago.

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The range of available 50s in M42 mount alone is still vast, but steadily the mighty Asahi Takumars rose to the top.

I now have just two different 55mm Takumars (a Super 55/1.8 plus a much older Auto 55/2), plus a 50/1.4 Pentax-A for when I want (slightly) more automated shooting, and slightly brighter, poppier colours.

The relief of having only three 50mm lenses to choose from rather than 13 or 33 is immense, and means not only do I choose more quickly and just get out photographing, I’m getting to know the particular strengths and personality of each of these lenses better too.

When you’re choosing a different lens every time you pick up a camera, reaching this familiarity takes forever – if it happens at all. Constantly fiddling around with your kit is frustrating and time consuming.

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As with the other examples above, when the fun stopped, I needed to find ways to let go of the habit so I could preserve my enjoyment of photography overall.

What has caused photography to stop being fun for you in the past? What did you do to help you let go and rediscover the enjoyment? Please let us know in the comments below.

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The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)

Lomo photography is an itch I periodically get and have to scratch. Here’s how I came to it, the allure it has, and how I scratch that itch these days…

Though I was using camera phones to intentionally make photographs from the mid 2000s, my first film camera, in 2012, was about as Lomo as it gets, a Holga 120N.

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My initial disbelief that this simplistic toy hunk of plastic could make any kind of image turned to wonder and delight I had the first roll processed. Then another, and another.

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Finding that shooting medium format 120 film was pretty expensive, I followed this by adapting the Holga to take 35mm film – considerably more affordable to buy and have developed.

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Realising that the Holga exposed 35mm film across its whole width – and that the cost to have this scanned was ridiculous – I invested in my own scanner and modified one of the scanning masks/frames.

I also experimented with some close up filters, and again got some surprisingly pleasing results.

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This in turn was soon followed by the first genuine 35mm film camera I bought, a possibly even more Lomo, er, Lomo Smena 8M.

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Most of my cameras since (and there have been many!) have been less lo-fi, and I eventually expanded into the sedate control of SLRs, and some five years later, DSLRs.

Other notable plastic fantastic cameras I’ve had are the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS) clones – I’ve had a Black Slim Devil and an Olive San, both made by Superheadz – the Konica Pop, a Pentax PC-330, and a couple of Miranda and Halina panoramas.

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Though these days I shoot mostly digital with vintage manual lenses, that Lomo urge still periodically reappears.

Why?

Because not having to think about anything but pointing and shooting, and knowing that the final photograph will be high contrast, overly saturated, soft at the edges (if not all over), and have significant vignetting (if it comes out at all), and be a little bit unpredictable, is somehow very attractive and addictive.

But, ironically, the most Lomo images I make these days aren’t on film at all, but with my iPhone, plus the Hipstamatic app.

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After taking a few hundred shots with the iPhone and finding them good enough for snapshots but overall a bit dull, I tried the in built filters, like Noir, Chrome, Instant and, my favourite, Transfer. The latter makes for especially appealing spontaneous portrait shots, in my opinion, and it’s my default setting for family outings.

Keen to explore further (and after stumbling across it via another app I already had to use my iPhone as a lightmeter for my oldest 35mm cameras), I downloaded Hipstamatic.

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The range of options available via changing the “film”, “lens” and “flash” in any combination is quite dizzying. I’ve managed to find a handful of combos I really like, and recently settled on just one.

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Hipstamatic offers seven different aspect ratios, but the one that I use most is the pure 1:1 square. I sometimes use 3:2 as I’m so familiar with it from shooting 35mm film and with my Pentax DSLRs.

And occasionally too I’ve been dabbling the widescreen cinema apsect of 16:9, which can work well for landscapes and adds drama.

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The iPhone plus Hipstamatic pairing gives me results very similar to my favourites I was getting with probably my favourite 35mm plastic fantastic, the Superheadz UWS clone.

As I can do this with no expenditure on film, a way higher hit rate, and the convenience that my iPhone is always with me, it’s pretty much resigned my Holga and Superheadz to a dusty shelf.

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Plus the whole process of scanning was unbelievably time consuming, and for me at least, just not worth the time and frustration. I fairly quickly reverted to having my film developed and scanned to CD again, and let the lab do their best.

The time saving and the relief was a major revelation, not unlike my recent giving up of eBay to gain more time for other aspects of photography.

More often than not I love the control and image quality that SLRs/DSLRs with vintage manual lenses give, not to mention the tactile experience and the immersion of a good viewfinder.

It’s these that get me closer to the majesty and wonder of the world that’s too easily overlooked.

But for when I feel that Lomo itch, and want a quick and dirty image that’s a delicious hyperreal dream take on reality, all I need do now is reach in my pocket, swipe right, open Hipstamatic, point and shoot. And that has a great appeal.

What are your experiences with lomo/lo-fi photography? Let us know in the comments below.

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Why Photograph? (The Hunt And The Wonder)

The subheading of this blog sums up why I photograph, but a recent post by Jennifer has inspired me to revisit the subject a little more deeply.

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The name 35hunter covers two aspects of hunting in my photography.

First, hunting for the core arsenal of cameras and lenses that I’ll feel I can settle on and use enough so I know them like an extension of my hands and eyes.

Why do I want this, and how does it tie in with Jennifer’s “awe and wonder?”

Because, put simply, if you’re out with camera, and constantly fiddling, adjusting and generally fumbling around in trying to figure out how to use the equipment to the best of your (and its) ability, you’re not focused on what your trying to capture.

You’re lost in completely the wrong kind of detail.

When you don’t know your kit, the very activity of trying to effectively document what you’re seeing (and feeling) in front of you – capturing the full force and wonder it possesses – becomes a stumbling block at best.

At worst it becomes an impenetrable wall – solid bricks of incompetence and unfamiliarity held firm by a mortar mix of frustration and irritation.

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So being able to just raise the camera to the eye, focus, compose, meter and shoot, in one fluid motion becomes highly desirable in this pursuit.

It’s harder to do this if you have, say, ten cameras and 20 lenses (assuming they’re all compatible this gives 200 different combos, yikes!) than if you have say two cameras and three lenses, giving six arrangements.

At its peak my “collection” had maybe 30 compacts and 15 SLRs, with probably 30 lenses for those SLRs. With considerably more than 200 combinations, no wonder I was getting so frustrated. Just picking one to go out use was sometimes painful enough!

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No-one’s going to master and remember 200 different combinations of anything, but two or four or six, well that seems achievable to most of us.

The appeal grows further still when it means a higher percentage of the shots we take come closer to what we saw, which again is far less when we’re floundering with cameras we don’t fully know how to use (or even know that they fully work, in the case of many film cameras I’ve used in the past five years).

This fluid motion of capturing the scene doesn’t (necessarily) mean using a camera with full program modes and autofocus so you resort to a purely point and experience, although that is one option, and sometimes exactly what we need.

I confess in recent times some of the photographs of mine I’ve been most pleased with and excited about are the ones I’ve taken fairly spontaneously with my iPhone and Hipstmatic.

One camera, one lens, and, lately at least, just one “filter” combination in Hipstamatic.

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Most of the time though I favour my Pentax DSLRs with manual focus lenses, and manual exposure, so the process with them takes a few seconds longer. But when I know how to do it without thinking about where my fingers are, what buttons I’m pressing and dials I’m turning and why, it adds to the experience rather than hinders it.

My recent plan to use one camera and one lens for a month has inevitably gone awry, but with the DSLRs I have stuck to just one, even if I’ve used two or three lenses.

The familiarity of one camera quickly starts to make a difference and how invisible the camera’s controls become in the process of taking the photographs.

The thinking of the brain and the actions of the fingers starts to disappear, and this single fluid motion of taking the picture starts to become a reality, and consistently so.

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Which brings us to the second aspect of my hunting – for the compositions worth capturing, the photographs themselves.

For these the wonder is not so straightforward as travelling to places in the country and world where natural, er, wonders, present themselves almost on a plate, then just snapping away.

Rather, I prefer seeking out the tiny wonders of the (/my/our) world on a much more local scale, whether that’s in my back garden or a nearby woodland or churchyard or coastline.

This, I realise, is why the majority of my pictures revert to pretty close focus and shallow depth of field.

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Hunting up close you see things you would never be able to see if stood far back and assessing and capturing whole scenes.

And using a more shallow depth of field allows me to isolate objects more and hopefully better enhance and relay the beauty I saw in them in the first place.

If I think generally about moments of wonder and try to describe my state of being, I’d say I stop actively breathing (maybe my heart momentarily slows or stops) and the awareness of every thought, memory and experience outside of what’s right in front me disappears.

A short circuit from the essence of the moment to the inner essence of me occurs, a momentary direct bolt of lightning to something deep and primitive and ancient and frequently inaccessible.

All of my consciousness is open to and filled with that experience in front of or around me, and nothing else matters, nothing else even exists. 

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This, I realise, albeit on a more subtle scale, is the same kind of feeling I try to seek (and am fortunate to be able to find with enough frequency to make the hunting worthwhile) within the four edges of the viewfinder of my camera(s).

The holding of breath, the focus on the contents of that rectangle, the disappearance of all else…

It’s also, I think, a major reason I often visit old rural churches.

I don’t attend church on a religious basis (I prefer them empty), but entering them as a curious photographer, their age, history, and atmosphere do instil a sense of awe in me that no other places really do.

I would describe it as a hushed and dignified wonder rather than anything explosive or dramatic. But a wonder nonetheless, and precious.

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Starting out with 35hunter I didn’t plan to talk about equipment specifics as much as I have done over the last 22 months.

There are plenty of other photography blogs that do that more detail and expertise than I ever could.

So when I get back to the reasons underlying my desire and need to explore and photograph, it reminds me what I’ve been searching for with all these cameras and lenses over the past five years.

And reassures me that, finally, I’m getting down to the essence and the bare essentials of this “wonder hunting” – both in subject matter, and in the equipment I use.

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Why do you photograph? And (how) does wonder play a role in your hunting? Let us know in the comments below. 

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How To Find Time For Photography

When speaking with other non-pro photographers, one of the biggest and most common struggles is simply how to find time in our busy lives to get out and make photographs.

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A decade ago I was living alone with no dependents and, even with full time employment, I had plenty of time to commit to photography. And be a salsa addict and teacher. But that’s another story.

These days, married with a nine year old daughter and nearly five year old son, my days are somewhat more filled. But I still find time for photography. Here’s how.

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First, let’s get more specific about what I mean about “photography time”. As I see it there are four main areas. I want to talk a bit about each of them, and how I find time to commit to them.

Research and Inspiration

This covers looking at other people’s photography via books, online and in person, and finding what inspires and excites us. It also includes researching particular cameras and/or lenses, not so much for me about the dry technical spec, but more about how others feel about using them, and what they’ve been able to create with them.

I find time for this fairly easily because it’s something you can do in very small chunks. In a tea break at work, in the evening when the children are in bed, when waiting to collect the kids from somewhere and more.

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Social and Sharing

I consider this to be how and where I share not only my photographs but my thoughts about particular cameras and lenses, and photography in general. So my own blog here at 35hunter and my Flickr, as well as my favourite blogs and Flickr streams of other photographers I like and talk with.

This can also be very bite size and done in a few minutes. To write a blog post or share a batch of photos with tags and description takes longer. I nearly always do this in the evening when the kids are in bed and when I haven’t got a particular activity committed with my wife. I prefer to write a blog post in one go, so I’d rather spend a couple of hours in one evening then none for a few evenings than say 30 mins over four or five consecutive nights.

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Editing and Processing

Even with the most minimal of processing (which I strive for with both film and digital!) you still have to edit your photos in some way. This for me means importing into LightRoom, exporting those I like to JPEG from RAW, then deleting all the others, then a second or third sort through the JPEGs to find my absolute favourites. The digital processing part for me is virtually non-existent, the RAW files from my Pentax K DSLRs seem to work well with LightRoom’s simple JPEG export and give me results I love.

I try to make time for editing and processing as soon as I can after taking the photographs. Mostly it’s that evening, again when the house contains at least two sleeping bodies, if not three. It doesn’t take long – a batch of say 100 photos from a a few hours shooting might take 15 mins to scan through, keep the best and ditch the rest.

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Making Photographs

Ah, the big one, without which we can’t claim to be a photographer at all – the time we’re actually making pictures with camera in hand. I have two main approaches – one is a short walk for maybe a handful of snapshots and little expectation. These usually occur during lunch breaks at work, sometimes on the way to or from work. Sometimes a local short walk in the evening if the weather and light is conducive.

The second approach is a more deliberate and lengthy photowalk, usually at the weekend. My partner has a few leisure and additional work commitments throughout the week and weekends where I look after the kids, so when we swap roles I virtually always use the time (typically a couple of hours) to drive to one of my favourite haunts and photograph. A 15-30 min drive plus 60-90 mins photograph is usually enough for me – beyond that my eyes get tired, the magic starts to fade, and I start to feel I’m photographing just for the sake of it.

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So this is how I find time for photography.

I certainly don’t spend endless hours or all day sojourns on photography. But by having maybe one committed lengthier photowalk each week plus a couple of evenings for the editing and processing and social and sharing elements, then fitting snippets of research and inspiration in quiet moments in between, I’m able to, most of time, find enough time for my love of photography to keep me sane.

I would add that I try to keep my life pretty stripped down and simple on the whole.

The major things I do in my life are sleep, eat, work, spend time with my wife and family, photograph (all the above activities under that umbrella), write, read and listen to music. I have simple exercise routines – a daily morning yoga practice and an almost daily brisk walk I slot in too. But that’s about it.

This is by choice – I do fewer things, and I try to do them better.

And it means those things I do choose to make time for, I can give a worthwhile effort and commitment to, rather than halfheartedly dabbling in a 20 different activities and not really giving much to (or getting much from) any of them.

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A final note about a major way I freed up more time.

I’ve virtually given up eBay. A few months back I was probably spending half an hour per item I photographed and listed for sale, and another 30 minutes on packaging and taking to the Post Office. When you’re selling a dozen items a month say, that’s a lot of time.

Plus just stepping off the binge purge repeat hamster wheel in recent weeks has been so refreshing.

As well as saving time not listing and selling, I’m not spending further hours a week scouring eBay for potential bargains and/or lenses I have only known about for five minutes but now suddenly absolutely desperately need in my collection to have any chance of being a decent photographer. You probably know that feeling.

Aside from the time saved, I don’t have that unpleasant and ever present anxiety of seeing cameras and lens overflowing my shelves and in boxes waiting to be sold.

It took me a while to get there, but now making use of what I have (the still not unsubstantial two film bodies, three digital bodies and 15 odd lenses that make up my core kit) and letting go of the chase has been enlightening.

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I hope you find this post of some interest and it encourages you to look at how you can find more time for photography.

But right now, how do you find time for photography? Which different activities do you consider combine to make up your overall passion for photography? Let us know in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.