Ron Williams is an amateur photographer with professional talent. He takes photographs not for the money, but because, quite simply, he has to.
“Photography is something I’ve got a passion for,” he said. “I can’t quit.”
Though he doesn’t remember exactly how he got into photography, Williams has been at it for quite awhile, starting in high school as yearbook photographer.
Growing up in Kingsport, he also took advantage of opportunities offered by what was then called Tennessee Eastman Co.
“Eastman had a camera club where you could rent a camera. I rented a little Nikon for a year,” he said. “I started shooting people. I always had my camera with me. Then I transitioned into other things.”
Williams also learned to develop his film, using the darkroom at the camera club. He learned all about “dodging” and “burning,” endangered arts today, and worked mostly in black and white. He does not, however, bemoan the loss of film to digital.
“The digital age has given access to the joy of photography to so many more people. People who couldn’t afford it before can take unique and artistic pictures, and that’s a really neat thing.”
Digital has also freed him to take as many shots as he wants without worrying about running out of film or the expense of buying more film and developing it.
“The trick about my photography is I’m not particular about what I take pictures of,” he said. “I always have my camera with me.”
That camera may be a point-and-shoot or the camera in his phone, but he has some serious equipment that he takes with him “95 percent of the time.”
“I shoot with a Canon 60D. I always carry three lenses. The all-around 18-35mm is a do-everything lens. The 50mm is very fast; it’s a great portrait lens.”
The third lens is what he calls his “secret weapon” — a 100-400mm L-series lens that his wife gave him as a birthday present. (“The best present I have ever gotten,” he said.)
The 100-400mm is a fast lens that can take very low light and still turn out good photographs, Williams said.
When his friends ask him what kind of camera they should buy, he always advises them to get something they will take with them and use. “If there’s a format you’re comfortable with, use it. Use your phone,” he tells them.
The technical aspects of photography have been simplified, but a “good eye” is both a gift and the product of training. In high school, Williams took art classes, focusing on fine art. He painted in watercolor. As a student at East Tennessee State University, he took photography classes, but “somehow got into computers.”
“The reason I got into (photography) — when you’re on the road traveling, you don’t have time to take your gear and set up. This doesn’t replace doing it, but it does fill a void. Photography gives people who don’t have time to pursue fine art the satisfaction they are doing something creative,” he said.
Williams and his family live on Boone Lake, which puts him close to nature. “My wife will be at the kitchen sink and she’ll yell ‘eagle.’ I’ll grab my camera — they’re only there about three seconds.”
His family has adapted to his passion, and he’s grateful for their support. “Your eye will see something and say, ‘There’s a picture.’ You walk two feet forward and the picture is gone. My family is patient enough to wait while I go back. ... They have to tolerate my tardiness. I will get struck by a waterfall. Instead of walking by, they have to wait 15 minutes while I take pictures.”
When asked if he’s thought about going professional, Williams admits that only recently has that idea begun to appeal to him. “As I get older and less focused on computer work and computer travel, I can look at a future where I want to do what I’m supposed to be doing.”