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Practice . . .

Water Shapes, Starbucks, DeVargas Mall, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2013

Water Shapes, Starbucks, DeVargas Mall, Santa Fe, New Mexico 2013

There is this old joke that’s been around for years. It goes,

 “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

The answer is,

 “Practice, Practice, Practice!”

It has always been interesting to me that musicians will practice 4-6 hours a day to perfect their craft.  Dancers about the same. Photographers . . . mmmm not always so much.

Ansel Adams once commented on the importance of practice. He said,

“In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.”

Fuji Nexia Q1 APS Film Camera

Fuji Nexia Q1 APS Film Camera

For years I have encouraged my college and workshop students to purchase an inexpensive camera and take it everywhere with them and make pictures. In the early days I liked the Fuji Nexia Q1, an inexpensive aps film camera that allowed you to choose between three different picture formats, weighed about 4 ounces and cost about 30 bucks at Target. It was small and compact and could be taken with you just about anywhere. And if you accidentally left it on a bus, you perhaps felt bad about it for a few moments; then moved on and bought another. My point is that by having a camera with you all the time, you have an opportunity to make pictures anywhere and even while riding that bus too. You have an opportunity to practice and hone the way you see.

Apple iPhone 5 showing ProCamera app

Apple iPhone 5 showing ProCamera app

Today technology of course has moved forward since my early days in the classroom. Most cell phones today have a built in camera and I find that I don’t leave home without my phone. While yes I can talk, text and even check the weather with it, it more importantly allows me the opportunity to make photographs just about everywhere I go. I use an Apple iPhone 5 which has an 8 megapixel camera and it does a great job of allowing me to practice my seeing and creating a image file large enough to make prints from.

iPhones come with a camera app included with the iOS on the phone and it works well but there are certainly better ones out there.  Here are a couple of my favorites:




I made the image at the beginning of this epistle at Starbucks recently. I was sitting outside one morning with our dogs Dektol and Ektar and noticed that rain from the night before had pooled on the outside tables at this venerable caffeine dispensary. Studying the patterns of water I immediately knew that an interesting image was at hand. As I moved the camera over the liquid silver shapes I watched the reflections of sky and shadows created by the poles of the overhead ramada  shift and change in the reflections and eventually come together into something wonderful. I think the resulting image, a sketch really, is a pretty nice find.

I am convinced that making pictures (sketching) daily with my iPhone has helped me become a better photographer. Learning to grasp the essentials quickly of what one is photographing is perhaps the second hardest thing to do in photography; the first is figuring out where to point the camera in the first place. Learning to grasp the essentials more quickly (the substance and quintessence of the thing itself as photographer Edward Weston would have said) has certainly helped me be a more productive photographer and I find that I am even more confident in the images I make. And while my iPhone will probably never replace** my 5×7 Ebony View Camera or even my Canon 5D Mark II it has certainly helped me learn to work more efficiently and to see more clearly with whatever camera I am using.

In the end author Patrick Rothfuss may have put it best when he wrote,

“Music [insert Photography] is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer. So I began sleeping less to give her the time she needed.”

**NB: I was reminded after I wrote this statement about using my iPhone to make photographs, of an old expression that says, “if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  😉

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CRAIG VARJABEDIAN is an award-winning photographer who explores the back roads of the American West, making pictures of the unique and quintessential. He shares awe-inspiring stories of the land and the people who live on it . . . one photograph at a time.


  1. Funny that you have a dog named Dektol. I recently had a beautiful little Border Collie, who is now playing Frisbee with Jesus, that we named T-Max. That was the most amazing dog. Better than most people, really. I do miss her.

    • Kodak products provide great names for furry friends. In the case of Dektol, he actually named himself. Shortly after we got him from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter we were having trouble coming up with just the right name. I remember calling out to my assistant while she was placing an order for supplies to “not forget to order some Dektol!” Well the dog came running in and sat at my feet wagging his tail. I looked at him and asked if wanted to be called Dektol and the dog quite literally “woofed” at my suggestion. From then on his name has been (and will always be) Dektol. Thanks for sharing your story about your dog T-Max. I love the image of your pal up there playing frisbee with Jesus.

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