About the Photographer - Castle Island Photography
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25422 Trabuco Rd #105-342

Lake Forest, CA 92630

949 639 9102

About the Photographer

Paul McElligott

Photography is something in my life that I’ve returned to many times over the years, even when other creative pursuits have begun to seem stale. Whether it’s the technical challenge or just the tangible result that any one can appreciate in an instant, there are many facets to both the craft and the art form that never cease to fascinate me.

Any art form is at its purest in the absence of commerce, but that does not mean that photography done as a business is necessarily devoid of artistic merit. In fact, I believe that the truly gifted photographer, even when facing an assignment not allowing much room for creativity, can transcend those limitations and produce work that might actually resemble art.

Photo courtesy of Dave Nesthus.

My first camera was probably a Kodak Instamatic shooting what was called 126 film. This film came in a plastic cassette that you just dropped in the back of small box. There were no interchangeable lenses, no way to control exposure or depth field. Flash came in the form of "flash cubes" that snapped into the top of the camera and you used it up after four flashes. 

Still, to a thirteen-ish boy, it was kind of miraculous that I could point this little plastic box at something, push a button, and see something that I had created myself. Of course, there was no instant gratification, no LCD on the back, no Lightroom, no Photoshop, no SmugMug.

There was a man who worked in a small shed in the middle of a parking lot. This shed was smaller inside than the average apartment bathroom, and it was called Fotomat. You drove your car up to the window (or your mom drove her car up to the window), handed your film through a window to the man in the shed. A few days later, you drove up to the same window, and the man in the shed handed back your pictures. It was magic.

In 1982, I was a senior in high school when I received my first SLR (notice the lack of a "D" in front of that). It was a Ricoh XR-1, a little workhorse of a camera, built like a tank. Actually, I got it at Sears, and back then, they liked to slap their own brand on everything they sold. It may have been a Ricoh on the inside, but it still said "Sears KS500" on the outside.

Didn't matter. It was still a good camera. The RS-1 was manual everything, focusing, exposuring, etc, so by using it, I learned a lot about photography in the process. That little camera lasted me fifteen years, until they day it died at the Alamo.

I'm not using a figure of speech there. I was in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 1997, shooting photos just outside the Alamo, when the Ricoh's mechanism just froze up. Rather than be left with no camera for the rest of the trip, I went into the Riverwalk Mall (which fortunately is just behind the Alamo), walked into Ritz Camera. Sadly, no one made cameras for my old K-mount lenses any longer, so I blew 500 1997 U.S. dollars on a new two-lens Minolta kit, effectively adding 50% to the cost of that trip.

While my little Ricoh had been mostly manual, my new Minolta was a child of the automatic everything era. I had paid for all those automatic features, and I was damn well going to use them.

Sadly, I learned the hard way that automatic things are a trap for the unsuspecting photographer. It's too easy to trust them, especially the Program exposure modes, and use them as a crutch. This was still the film era. Fotomat was long gone, but there was still Ritz Camera, and I could get my pictures back in just one hour. An hour! 

I had to drive to the mall and wait that hour to find out if my camera had guessed right about exposure. By then, of course, it was too late to do anything about it.

Needless to say, I took a much higher percentage of good photos with my old manual Ricoh than my new-fangled Minolta.

The Minolta lasted ten years, but probably received less use than its predecessor. It never broke, but by then the digital era was in full swing, so I bought a Canon Digital Rebel, followed three years later by Canon 7D. Even though I also paid good money for even more automatic features on those cameras, I learned through trial and error that turning off those features often improved my photography.

The simple truth is that the camera isn’t that smart. Auto-focus works well, except when it doesn’t work at all.

Compared to auto-focus, automatic exposure is something of a simpleton. It thinks the whole is lit the same. It is easily fooled by very bright or very dark scenes. If you put too much trust in your camera, you’re just “taking pictures.”

Photography is about taking control of the camera and making it work for you to the image you want, not the image your camera thinks you want.

My Philosophy

There is, of course, a huge difference between photography for my own pleasure, and photography that I might do professionally. Not in the quality of the end result, since I always challenge myself to produce the best image possible with the equipment available.

If you engage my photographic services, you are asking me to have 30+ years experience as a photographer, to have equipment you can afford, and to worry about details you shouldn’t be bothered to sweat over.

In short, you want me to walk in with my expertise and walk out leaving behind the images you want, and nothing less. Something more resides in the intangibles of the photographer's eye.

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