The Digital Journalist
Letters from Central America:
Hey There Youngster, Let Me Give You A Few Little Pieces Of Advice.

by James Colburn

Let's set the scene. It's the porch of a rustic cabin set in a beautiful wooded area. There's a perfectly preserved 1930s Ford pick-up off in the distance and a freshly painted barn over to the left. It's getting on towards sundown and that gorgeous afternoon light is casting a glow over the leaves, the cabin, the porch and the two people on it. The Walter Brennan-like old man is leaning back (just a bit) on a comfortable wooden chair with his feet up on the porch rail while the 20-something young man looks at him, realizing that the old man has two things he lacks: experience and wisdom. The old man begins to speak...

Who the @#$% am I kidding? You probably don't even know who Walter Brennan was and you wouldn't care even if you did. But look, if you're a young photographer just starting out, let me give you a few pieces of useful advice. I may be dead before you realize how useful it is but when that day comes, I don't know, give some homeless guy a few bucks as karmic payback.

First thing? Save EVERYTHING. Every stinking image that you take. Back up every file onto some sort of archival CD and please try to do some sort of cataloguing by date, subject, etc. Start now and keep doing it for the rest of your life.

I've been pretty good about saving negs and slides over the last 30+ years even though it's meant moving from place to place dragging cardboard boxes filled with stuff, and I know that there are images I took early on that might be useful to me today. That friend's band that you shot last week at the bar might turn out to have a guitarist that'll be REALLY hot in 15 years or the bass player might, one day, run for president. If that happens and you can come up with the pictures, the money you earn might just make that trip to St. Bart's a reality for you and the wife.

And don't be fussy with your edit. Out of focus? Dump it. Wildly over- or underexposed? Dump those too. Anything else? Keep it.

Remember. High school basketball players grow up to play in the NBA, math geeks grow up to found billion-dollar software companies and cheerleaders sometime grow up to be porn stars.

Second thing? Shoot some film once in a while. I know that you're "all digital" but find yourself a film body compatible with your lenses and take it out every so often to shoot a roll or two of film. Make it 100ASA slide film for good measure. Think of it as a Zen discipline thing. If you can consistently make properly exposed slides that are in focus (and try manually focusing too) and well composed it will only help you with your regular work. Shooting film will also (probably) slow you down just a touch and that's a good thing too.

Number three? Wander. Aimlessly. As lonely as a cloud. Wherever you are. Take a camera and stroll in your neighborhood, your town or a foreign city. Don't set out to photograph anything specific, just look all around you and try to see the things that are there. Stop and have a cup of coffee. Ask the guy behind the counter if he's seen anything, and I mean anything,interesting in the last few days. Then go find it and shoot it.

And save the images.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer