You must have a really good camera!
“You must have a really good camera!”
Just as people almost invariably ask me “You getting any good pictures?” when they see me carrying my camera, when people see the photos I have taken, at some point they almost always make that comment about my camera. As if the camera was the only thing responsible for the photos!
I’m sure that many of you, who take better photos than I, hear that even more often!
I should say that this subject is a bit of a double-edged sword right for me right now, as I am blaming my camera and lens for not producing the quality of photos that I think I am capable of, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic, one which I have been beating to death, so I’ll try to avoid that in this post.
It sort of irks me, the idea that the quality of one’s camera is the only thing responsible for the quality of the photos a person produces.
That’s right, the person behind the camera actually produces the photo, the camera only records what the photographer tells it to record.
I wasn’t around back then, but I seriously doubt that any one said to Rembrandt “Wow, you must have a really good paintbrush!”. I can’t quite picture some one seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture Statue of David and saying to him, “Wow, you must have a really good hammer and chisel!”.
So, what is it about photography that most people equate the quality of a photo with the equipment used to take it, rather than the skill of the person operating the camera?
Most of that is due to the fact that nearly every one has a camera, and this is especially true now that just about every cell phone comes with a camera built-in. Everybody can, and most people do, take photographs. But, most people don’t invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into camera gear, so when they look at the photos they take compared to others, it’s easy for them to chalk up the difference in the quality of the photos to the differences in equipment.
We can all draw, every one has access to a pencil and paper, and many people doodle and sketch. In our early years of school, most of us used crayons and/or paint to try our hand at those arts. Most of us played with clay to try our hand at sculpting.
Therein lies much of the reason people view photography in the way that they do. Pencils, crayons, paints, clay, for the most part, they’re all equal, so when we see that our work isn’t as good as that done by others, we know that our talent (or lack of it) is the only difference, there’s no blaming the equipment.
But with photography, it’s easy for people to think to themselves, “If only I had the very best of equipment, I could take photos as good as anyone”.
One of the things that led me to post this was a recent post from Kerry at the Lightscapes Photography Blog. Another is the huge number of really bad photos being passed off as great examples of the art of photography in the blogosphere.
(Note! This does not apply to naturalists who post photos to illustrate their posts, I am talking about people who call themselves photographers)
There are probably few people who call themselves photographers who post as many really bad photos as I do, but I know that they are bad, I am under no illusions to the contrary. I post some of them because they are humorous in some way, or because they are captures of something that one does not see everyday, or to show budding photographers what not to do.
However, as bad as my bad photos are, I see a lot of just outright crap being posted in blogs by people who call themselves photographers. They may be a poor snapshot type photo of a landscape, and the “photographer” uses photo editing software to “juice up” the coloration to the point where the photo looks like nothing that you would see in the real world. Or, an everyday shot converted to black and white, and held up as a great example of the “photographer’s” artistic skills just because it’s a black and white photo.
I know that since photography began that photographers have edited photos in the darkroom, often to make up for the limitations of the cameras and lenses ability to capture what our eyes see. They have also tinted, toned, and done other tricks in the darkroom to make a more pleasing photograph, but they usually began with an excellent photo to begin with.
In a way, I see photography as a dying art, and that photo editing is replacing it. It’s as if this new crop of photographers could care less what they see in the viewfinder when they hit the shutter release, they want to get something, anything, to play with in Photoshop.
Well, to me, photography is an art, in a way, it is two different forms of art at the same time. One is the art of photojournalism, telling a story if you will. The other form is more along the lines of more “traditional” art, much like painting.
But, photography can also be a scientific tool, one example of that is freezing the motion of things in order for us to study that which happens too quickly for our eyes to follow.
And, to make things even more complicated, photography is a science at its root, the science of capturing light on media of some type for future reproduction or transmission. While modern cameras make conquering the technical aspects of photography much easier these days, it does require that the photographer have at least a working knowledge of the science of photography.
This spring, I noticed that almost all the photos of flowers I was taking at the time all looked very similar as far as the way I was composing the shots. It isn’t that the shots I was getting were bad shots, it was that they all looked the same, other than the species of flower. I even stopped taking photos of flowers for a while, to make myself start looking at them in a different way. It worked, or at least I think that it did. (You can click on any photo for a larger version)
OK, so most of those shots are still clichéd, but there are only so many ways to photograph a flower.
When I show them to friends, what I hear is “Wow, you must have a really good camera!”. I want to slap them up side of the head and say “No, photography is an art! It takes skills to get photos like that!”, but I don’t.
But it does!
I worked for every one of those photos, getting the light just the way I wanted for the way I wanted to compose the shot. I had to set my camera to record the shot the way I saw it in my mind’s eye. Those shots didn’t just happen! Not only did I work for each of those shots, I put a lot of thought into each one as well. I tried to match the quality of the lighting to the “personality” of the flower. From soft, subtle lighting for the morning glories, to somewhat harsh lighting for the prickly thistles. I paid attention to the backgrounds, and how they would affect the overall picture.
Take this shot for example.
I have been trying for two months to get the shot of a teasel seed head the way I want it to look in a photo, and that’s the best that I have done, so far. That’s still not exactly the shot I am looking for, but it’s as close as I have come of all the photos of them I have taken. I can’t even explain to you why that isn’t the shot I want, I just know that it’s not, and I’ll keep trying until I do get the shot I want.
Not only does artistic photography require skills, it requires a determination to produce art. That may require you to shoot so many photos of a subject that you get bored with it for a while, and have to take a break, then try again. Or, get down on your hands and knees and crawl through a wild rose-bush, getting stuck with thorns, to get into the exact spot you want to be in to be able to capture the shot that you want. Then, you try to hold still as you have the thorns of the rose sticking into you as you work the camera.
Of course art is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that, so I am not saying that those photos are great works of art, but they are works of art, even if only somewhat humble works of art. I’ll admit it, I am far from being a great artistic photographer, although I do enjoy dabbling in more artistic photography from time to time.
I have never taken any classes, but I have read books and attended exhibitions of fine photography, so I have some basis for my opinions.
It’s funny, several decades ago, two of my friends took photography courses in college, thinking that the photography class would be an easy way to fulfill the art requirements towards their degrees. Both of them talked me into shooting many of their homework assignments, yeah, we cheated. I don’t remember exactly how we did in those assignments, but I do believe it was quite well.
My last long-term girlfriend also took a photography class, and she would come home and say “Now I know what you’ve been trying to tell me, but you don’t explain it very well”. (Photography wasn’t the only thing we had difficulty in communicating on, which is why we’re no longer together.)
Over the years, I have gravitated towards nature photography almost exclusively. I believe that nature is beautiful enough just the way that it is, that it doesn’t need our “help” in any way. I also believe that the person taking any photograph should do everything possible at the moment that a photo is taken to get the very best photo that they can without resorting to editing to make up for a lack of skill on the part of the photographer.
Here’s a few of my attempts at artistic nature photography from this last summer.
So, how did I do?
I know that there are no award winners in the bunch, if for no other reason than that the subjects are too common for any judges, and that I have done no editing other than cropping a couple of them. No “straight up” photo will ever win a competition these days.
( I noticed that the photos I selected were all shot on bright sunny days, that may be because I have been socked in with fog the last three days?)
Anyway, I think that you can see that I like to play with light, shadow, color, color contrasts, textures, and composition when I attempt to get artsy, and isn’t that what photography is really all about? And, if that is what photography is all about, then, the quality of your equipment becomes less of an issue.
One of my basic goals when it comes to nature photography is to capture the beauty in nature that most people miss. Most people would walk right past any of the things that I captured in those photos without even pausing, but when they see the photos I take, I hear “You must have a really good camera”. No, I pay attention to what there is to be seen. You have to stop to not only smell the roses, but to really see the roses as well, something that I think more people should do.
I also wish that more people who like to think of themselves as photographers would pay more attention to the basics, and even if they are going to go crazy editing their work, at least start with a good photo in the first place.
I’ve been working on this post on and off for a while now, it really isn’t quite how I want it yet, but something happened last night to push me to publish it now. I picked out 40 of what I think are my best photos, and had them printed 8 X 10 to see how they would come out. Last night I went to pick the prints up. As I was standing there inspecting the prints, I hear from behind me, “Wow, you must have a really good camera!”
That’s my rant for this week, thanks for stopping by!