Well, I was happy when I was invited to the show my photos at the SUNY IT Tech-tures event; I am even happier looking forward to the exhibition tomorrow. The exhibition runs throughout the month of June to July 29 at the Gannet Gallery at SUNY IT in Utica. If you enjoy viewing art, I certainly recommend giving it a visit. The opening reception starts at 7:00pm and runs through 8:30pm.
I am not sure if this is the most appropriate title for this post but I am going to leave it as is for now as I think it summarizes what I believe is most important in the following text. I wanted to take the opportunity to revise some of the advice that has been circulated by camera companies and pro photographers as a means of improving oneself as a photographer. Although the intention is well meant, I believe that some of it is not entirely accurate; so let’s examine this.
Two of the most common suggestions for improving one’s photography are to take more pictures or to get better equipment; It all depends on who you ask really. If you asked most professional photographers the response would be to take more pictures. If you were to ask some of the persons who actually sell camera equipment, the response will most likely to get a different camera. One of the problems I have with the first argument is that it lacks a truly organized purpose. “Take more pictures“, if that were the simplest formula to improving one’s photography then there would be tons of persons going professional and putting out pictures with ever increasing levels of creativity but that is not the case. I think that the argument is so vague that it fools someone into thinking that by just continually taking photos that you can improve immensely. I think what the statement lacks is the importance of having a feedback loop – a continual adjustment of the information gathered in the process of making the photograph – so that the end result matches what you had intentioned. I think the statement can be better explained this way. Determine first what you want to express through your image, then take as many images as possible, adjusting camera settings and perspective as needed, to better capture the intended expression. If at first you are not quite sure what it is you want to express, I recommend taking some test photographs to get an idea of the image through the frame and using that as a starting point.
On the other argument of “getting better equipment“, that is only partly true. It is true that getting better equipment does increase the mechanical quality of an image – sharpness, the amount of detail that can be captured, the dynamic range of the image and the amount of thinking required to determine optimal settings for taking a photo. However, better equipment is not a substitute for vision. A camera is a tool; it merely reproduces the scene in front of it without regard as to what you may feel about a scene and what in the scene draws your attention most. For example, you may be taking a photograph of a scene which is by its nature dark but the camera decides to put the entire scene to middle grey, boosting the ISO, to get as much as possible in detail. Sure, the image will probably be mechanically accurate in capturing more detail. But, if the intention is to show the scene as a dark foreboding place, you may just want to have dark areas and shadows in your scene not infinite detail. Like wise, the same can be said if there is too much light in a scene like a backlit scene. By default the camera will try to darken the scene to keep everything within the dynamic range of the sensor.. This may not be the intention of the photographer and he/she may want to have certain parts of the scene be rendered as pure white and without detail. Generally, any camera can take good enough pictures. But, it depends on the photographer to recognize the limits of his/her equipment and what it is that he/she wants to capture. If you work within the boundaries of your camera’s limitations you should still be able to capture images which reflect what you want to express. However, if there is a need to work outside of the limitations, only then I would consider entertaining the idea of getting different equipment to extend your expressive abilities.
To summarize, I think the only way that we can improve ourselves as photographers is to tame the machine, your camera, and ultimately, taming ourselves, determine what we want the outcome of the shot to be.. As a closing note, I think that author and photographer David DuChemin said it best, “Equipment is good, Vision is better.”
Have you ever wondered how the “Great Photographers” have been able to capture a scene or a moment in such a way that the image becomes memorable or even iconic? It is because the photographer came to connect with not just the subject matter but the surrounding environment and was able to organize the elements or move himself or herself into position to best capture, visually, the elements which most represent the moment. That is what I refer to as getting a feel for the moment.
It is an ability to get attuned to the subject matter so much so that you recognize, by gut-feeling, how best to portray it and produce the strongest possible image. Now, it is possible to create strong images through manipulation of colour, contrast, lightness and darkness. But, applying that as a formula to your images will leave them without the one thing that I believe matters most – emotion. The adjustments become mechanical at best and do not in any way magnify or better express the mood or emotion of the image. It is possible to create a strong image without excessive manipulation you just have to better express the mood.
To summarize, I believe that every image should be rendered in a manner which best suits the mood and manipulations should be applied as merely corrections to adjust the image so that it better expresses the mood.
In a world where regular commercial photography is moving more and more toward digital photography, is it worth the time investing in learning about film photography? The answer is a resounding, Yes. And, I will explain why.
Recently, I acquired a book on photography. The author is primarily a film photographer but this edition of his book has been updated for the digital photography era. So, it discusses elements which are important to both film and digital photographers. However, in reading about the book I have learned a lot more about the zone system and its uses beyond simply taking a properly exposed print. I have learned how the differences in proper exposure for different objects in a scene can be harmonized through the zone system and how the zone system translates into a system for properly developing the prints. I have also finally realized why persons choose to expose for the highlights most times than to underexpose the images.
The book also goes on to explain the use of coloured filters and their significance to black and white photography. It also explains how the effects of the filter can help to help adjust an exposure to ensure that all elements within the frame can be rendered within the dynamic range of the film (digital sensor). It will be very unlikely that I will use coloured filters to generate toning effects in my black and white. I will more than likely resort to using basic software for those purposes. But, even for photographs which I will never convert to black and white, I know how to correct more of the colour balance in those photos.
I agree that I will never put a great deal of the techniques to use, but it is good to know where the common dos and don’t of photography come from and what their purpose were. I think it is important to understand whether those concepts still hold their own in the digital era of photography or whether they have become antiquated.
If anyone is interested in learning a little more of what I am talking about I recommend picking up the book “The Art of Photography – An Approach to Personal Expression” by Bruce Barnbaum. I will warn you early that it is a long read and a lot of it is based around the author’s tastes and interests but he certainly explains in depth the significance of different practices in photography, where they originate and how they can be applied for artistic expression.
Anselm Adams once said, a photographer does not take a picture, he makes a picture. In essence, a photographer uses his/her knowledge of light, the cameras capabilities, his/her inner motivations, and understanding of post editing and print to create art work which is manifested eventually in the print. So a photographer is both an artist and technician in one. Now, it’s true the cameras of today do a decent job of doing the technical work for us with extraordinarily large ISO settings, image stabilization, face detection, live preview, DOF preview, and a myriad of other settings but these merely assist the job of the photographer and help to increase the quality of the output. But, it is still up to the photographer to determine the composition, determine whether he/she should use flash, whether he/she should use a larger aperture setting for shallow depth of field etc. So, whereas the camera helps to take care of the technical aspects of the shooting, the artistic and aesthetic aspects still need to be carried out by the photographer and no camera can do that. So which is more important? Photographer or camera ?
Well photographers have been around for quite some time, utilizing some of the same techniques that have existed since the inception of photography. However, the equipment of photographers have been upgraded over the years becoming more sophisticated and capable. So, although the equipment has gotten better, there is still a need for that ever capable mind working behind the viewfinder to come up with with images that capture the viewer’s attention and stirs the imagination.
To make a more entertaining play on that idea have a look at the video below
It is a amazing how a month flies by so quickly. I don’t even remember all the things that happened and why in the world I only have one post for February – bad me. However, I think it is about time I sat down and got back to some serious blogging.
So what have I been up to? I have been in the market for my first prime lens. I have been looking for a standard 50mm lens with either a 1.4f or 1.8f. Why you may add would someone be using for a prime lens? Have you completely lost touch with the world of the zoom lens and all the pleasures that gives? Absolutely not! But, for taking shots indoors nothing beats a fast prime with a wide aperture.
I have been checking around locally in the Syracuse area but most shops I have visited only seem to stock the 1.8f lens. I would have loved to do a comparison because all reviews I have read online recommend getting the 1.4f for one main reason. Most lenses are soft when they are open at their widest and get progressively sharper as one stops down. This the best photos for a 1.4f is really at 1.8 and the for the 1.8f it is 2f. So, if you want to shoot at 1.8f, it makes sense to get the 1.4f because your images will be as sharp as a tack in the places it needs to with that lens. I have certainly tried out the lens and taken some test shots with it. The one below is a shot I took at 1.8f, in one of the camera shops I visited and my impressions.
On close examination of the image I did notice that there was a bit of color fringing and a bit of noise in the sharp areas after sharpening was applied. I guess there is some truth to the statement of a lens being a bit soft at its widest aperture.
So why even consider a fast prime lens? Well I have been considering getting some personal projects taken care of which involves some indoor photography, thus my interest in a fast lens. I would love to hear some input on the 1.4f.
Ever look at a magazine cover and you are immediately awestruck but after the third review the photo has lost its impact. But then, there are some photographs you see in some magazines or calendars which are always able to spur your emotions no matter how many times you see it? That is a timeless photograph.
We have seen many examples of these photographs. Dorothea Lange gave us “Migrant Mother”; Ansel Adams gave us “Moonrise, Hernandez, Mexico”; Garry Winogrand gave us some visually amazing photographs, some if which were untitled. Despite the fact that these photos were taken long ago, these photos have a quality which continues to make them worthy of admiration and review. What is this quality/qualities that make these images enduring?
Is it the monochromatic tone, the composition, the quality of light, the fresh point of view? Perhaps it is all of the above. Certainly the photographer’s excelled at those areas and in many more and provided us with a new way of seeing things. A vision which has endured for decades without fading.
In spite of the flood of photographs I see being produced by amateur and professional alike, few tend to have that timeless quality of the masters. My argument here is not that the photograph needs to be black and white or made with a medium format camera or made everyday. But, I think more photographers need to think a little more of what they are shooting when they look through the viewfinder in making a photograph which fits their vision.
Last year, I spent about 3 months studying the styles and techniques of various other photographers whose work I came across online. My objective was to enrich my knowledge of photography, and in so doing develop my own style. What I achieved was further from my goal than I would have desired.
In the three months of learning on how to improve things like tonality in my black and white photographs and developing a better understanding of my editing software, my photography prints improved – visually. Indeed they were more eye catching and stunning but slowly I noticed that my photography did not look anything like what I had started off with. These improvements on my photography did more than improve they radically changed it to the point it was unrecognisable. Sure, they had this great magazine appeal but I didn’t feel the deep, emotional, timeless connection to them any more. My photographs were no longer my own. Instead, they were those of the authors who had mastered those techniques I had picked up along the way. I had become a human photocopier. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it is bad to learn the styles of other photographers; I am saying it is bad when you don’t move past that and make elements of the style your own – i.e. change it so that the photograph expresses your vision.
After going through that funk for three months I saw an anime series where one of the characters was an artist. Whenever she did a piece she went almost into a trance. She was in her own zone – “Listening to the beat of her own drum.” Suddenly, I realized what I had forgotten. I had completely pushed a side the very essence of my style of photography. I had forgotten to listen to that little voice inside of me that drew me to a scene.
So here is a little tip for the New Year’s resolution. March to the beat of your own drum.