Taming the machine; Taming yourself.

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.”

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