Photographic Abilities

From the moment I was born, my right side has been significantly weaker physically than my left. This has been recognised as a disability by some, but not others. In a recent post entitled “Ability or Disability – that is the question” on my personal website, I mentioned a film quote which was “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are – it is our choices”. I have chosen to live my life for who I am, accepting my physical limitations in a positive way. (The full post on this may be found in the Topical Tales section of

Photography has played a significant role in my life, right from the time I was given a Kodak Instamatic 100 camera as a Christmas present when I was eleven years old. In those early days I often had to use the index finger of my left hand to press the shutter button, because the fingers of my right hand were not strong enough to do so. However, with practice and determination I gradually mastered pressing the shutter button in what others might consider the ‘correct’ way.

Some years later I was able to buy a much better camera, which was, (for the technically minded) an Asahi Pentax SP1000. This allowed me far greater control over the photographs that I took, as the shutter speed and aperture could be adjusted, the camera lens changed, as well as adjusting film ‘speed’, dependent on the type of film that was put into the camera.

Photo: Asahi Pentax SP1000

Asahi Pentax SP1000

I was always taught to read instructions. I am aware that isn’t the case for every member of the human species, but I learned that by doing so it saved me time by making fewer errors. I therefore read the camera handbook thoroughly! I also talked to a friend working at a local chemists shop – he advised me to take a series of different photographs and use a notebook to record the exact settings used for each photograph. I did so and when the film was developed he and I examined the results alongside my settings. I learned what was good and what was not in a very practical way!

I continued this process, sometimes taking two or three photographs that were exactly the same visually, but with different settings. I learned to use focussing techniques, so that the background was either in or out of focus, depending on the subject – and indeed the degree of focussing! This is known as ‘depth of field’ and can make a massive difference to the resulting photograph. In fact there are three main aspects to camera settings, which, dependent on the camera you have, will affect how much control you have over the resulting photograph. They are film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Combining these three gives great flexibility over the effects that can be achieved.

Photo: small dog running

An example of careful focussing

For many years I used my Pentax film camera, but I wanted to get a good, digital camera. I started researching the subject, finding that the ‘main’ camera makes were with Canon or Nikon – sadly, Pentax were not doing the sort of camera I wanted at a price and quality I was looking for. I visited several photographic shops and found that some felt too heavy, didn’t sit well in my left hand and didn’t have a shutter button I could operate easily and comfortably with the index finger of my right hand. I needed to be able to hold the camera both straight and steady! I also knew what worked for me and saw no point in buying something I couldn’t manage. After much research I bought a Canon 40D digital camera, and did the same as I had done with my Pentax – I read the manual! I then took a series of photographs, this time downloading them onto my computer as soon as I returned home. I was able to review each photo, looking at the various settings I had used and deciding if the photo was how I wanted it to be.

An even greater advantage of digital photography was being able to look at the photographs that I had just taken by looking at the viewing screen on the back of the camera. This enabled me (in quite a few situations) to take another photo if the first one wasn’t quite what I wanted. However, that didn’t work at certain times like sporting events, wildlife, local events etc where I wanted to ‘capture the moment’. It proved to me that being able to make adjustments to the camera settings without having to reach for the handbook each time was a great asset. As my photographic skills with this camera improved, I bought additional lenses, enabling me to get both wide-angle and close-up views. I had to be extremely careful when changing lenses though, as one lens was slightly heavy. I also took care to make sure that the camera safety strap was around my neck – I have seen some photographers wrap the strap around one of their hands, but that was impossible for me.

photo: Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas, Chile

A favourite effect of mine, one that I am rather known for, is taking a photo of someone else taking a photo or video – especially if I can include the viewing screen of their camera! But in order to get the required effect, I may have to make a few camera adjustments very quickly. This brings me to another aspect of taking photographs, and one which I believe is very important.

If you use a computer, drive a car, operate machinery or perhaps take part in a sport, when you first try it you will probably feel awkward, but with practice we learn a degree of ‘automation’, as our brain learns new and co-ordinated movement as well as the relevant controls. I believe it is the same for photography – the more we practice, the more ‘automated’ we can become on what settings to use. This can give greater opportunity to get that particular photograph that we can not only see with our own eyes but want others to see as well. This degree of expertise was highlighted to me when I was taking several ‘group of people’ photographs at a particular event. Whilst I was setting up then quickly taking each set of photos, a friend stood near me, trying to take photos with their camera at the same time. They asked me to slow down, as I was setting the scene, organising the people, checking the lighting, setting the camera then lining up the photograph and taking several photos, all before my friend was taking their photograph. I slowed down!

Afterwards I was questioned as to how I could do all of that so quickly, but I had to point out that I’d been doing this photography business for quite a while… I had also found my own ways to ‘overcome’ the lack of mobility and grip in my right hand. My right eye and right leg are also affected, but I do my best to overcome the difficulties they create in order to get the photo I’m after!

There is an old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. In my case I’m not sure it makes for perfection, but it does make things easier! At the very least, it allows me to concentrate on the subject I wish to photograph, rather than on the camera’s controls or my physical abilities. I am very well aware that others may be able to manipulate certain controls on their camera more quickly than me, but I manage to do all I need to do. It also enables me to be prepared, wherever possible, for more photographic ‘opportunities’ that may arise. With all this in mind, I try to make as good a use of the camera’s abilities as well as my own.

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