+ Ryan Lott (of Son Lux) teaches how to build custom virtual instruments for sound design and scoring in Designing Sample-Based Instruments.
If you’re like most people I know, you probably learned a thing or two about yourself while shut inside during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in early-to-mid 2020, when the depths seemed to be their darkest and most claustrophobic. My biggest realization from that time was just how much I crave the mental/psychological satisfaction of learning new things.
The sudden absence of musical performances, inability to travel abroad, barrage of video conferences and screen time, and the vanishing of all kinds of other enriching real-world, in-person interactions I took for granted in the “before times” really did a number on my mental state.
This probably explains some of the educational projects I took up that year, in pursuit of new experiences: I made the switch from Logic Pro to Ableton Live; my wife and I learned how to brew kombucha ourselves; I figured out how to stop the cycle of “shanks” in my golf swing by simply distributing my weight further back toward my heels at address…
Big things, all of them, in those days.
I also learned, for the first time, how to properly wield a camera. Or at least, how to press a shutter button, and what words like “aperture” and “shutter speed” were actually referring to.
Despite what I now realize to be some pretty obvious parallels and complements to musical expression, photography was simply one of those things that I felt utterly unqualified to practice. My knowledge of photo-making was, essentially, tinkering with the camera and editing apps on my iPhone, slowly adjusting dials here and there to eventually come up with an image I thought looked okay.
ME: “Hey, wait a minute…isn’t that what I’m already doing with my music half of the time?”
AUDIENCE: [roars with laughter]
In all seriousness, this isn’t far off from the train of thought that led me to buying my first non-iPhone camera. Why couldn’t this be different than the musical path that led me to learn trombone, then bass guitar, then drums, then modular synthesis?
Reading manuals and studying new material had never scared me, but I think I felt some kind of pressure to make a “good” photographic product as a result of this, like I was releasing an album for review or something to that effect. I was worried that the photos I’d be making wouldn’t be good enough to justify the expense.
I had to shake off some (misplaced) anxiety about putting unnecessary, sub-par content into the world, and just remind myself why I was interested in taking photos to begin with.
Any musician or creative person sharing their work can probably relate to this experience in some way: it’s a totally unhealthy way of thinking about creative practices, and the self-doubt convinces you that the world doesn’t need to hear from you, that your contributions have no value, and you shouldn’t bother taking that first step.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “How Do You Eat an Elephant?”
So, while I was selling some gear to come up with the funds for my first camera, I started the endless, mind-numbing research and spec sheet comparisons for entry-level mirrorless cameras. Eventually, at the recommendation of my brother, I picked up a used Canon M50.
Truthfully, my primary use case was filming high-quality video in a low-light basement studio. The added benefit of taking photos and documenting the world around me in a visual way, not just through field recordings, was a nice bonus. I felt I could justify the purchase this way.