From Mentoring Photographer, James Schot
Finding a Photographic Balance:
I’ve written about it in a previous blog article “Celebrating the End of Photography – as we knew it” how by creative destruction photography has changed and business is not what it used to be. That’s not a problem, it’s a realistic reminder that things are always changing, and doing so with ever increasing speed. These changes, however, are occurring exclusively on the technical end: new and better sensors, more intuitive software, greater integration, more portable sophisticated lighting, etc.
Oh yes, new tools and toys, is exciting for sure, but also a lot to keep up with. Newsstand magazines and the Internet offer a full time occupation in exploring the latest equipment and software upgrades. Keeping up with trends and understanding technical changes is nevertheless essential to mastering photography. In my experiences teaching photography it was dismaying to have students claim to have no interest in the technology behind the camera. Photography, a product of the Industrial Revolution, began with a need to understand mechanics and chemistry. Now having entered into the Digital Age a basic understanding of electronics can be beneficial. Obtaining the complete ability to master photography, in part, requires the mastering of operational technical and post production software skills.
Riding a horse, doesn’t make you a skilled jockey, flying a piper cub is not the same as being a B777 captain. Technology has advanced and enhanced photography, and at the same time taken over much of the operations of photography. For the majority of people that own cameras, this has had two consequences. First, for most people, technology has removed any necessity of learning, understanding, and applying the essential skills needed for advanced photography, and secondly, for a much smaller group, keeping up with technology can be the ultimate absorbing distraction.
For the majority of camera bugs that set their cameras on digital “auto pilot” the fully programmed results are perfectly satisfactory. Photography, in a general application, like taking snapshots no longer requires training and control for quality. The free unlimited-processed-pictures and instant replay on the LCD, thanks to technology, makes anyone bound to hit a satisfactory exposure at some point. This approach equals quantity over quality, and a bit of pot luck without further photography aspirations.
These technical advances may also lead to delusions of ‘knowing it all’, and a failure in recognizing that photographic proficiency means knowing and practicing the fundamentals. If you have a serious interest in photography, be careful to avoid that trap. Like any other profession there are building blocks to excellence. When many of those blocks become automated, many aspiring photographers become blind to the existence and vital purposes of the fundamentals. Learn how to use your camera in manual and expand your vision from there.
The flip side to the coin is that smaller group of photo enthusiast so enthralled and absorbed by technological advances surrounding photography (to include software). Virtually all their time is spent by the local magazine rack or more likely facing a computer screen reading spec sheets on equipment and watching Youtube videos and tutorials on new ways to enhance or alter photographs. They are very knowledgeable and well versed and I have a great time talking with people fitting into this enthusiastic group. There’s a lot I don’t know, especially about the latest software, and so I pick up things from them.
In mentoring, I have to let my photo enthusiasts know there is a downside in tipping the scales for your attention to technical specs and products. Believe me when I tell you, manipulating algorithms don’t make great photographs.
When we used to talk shop in my LA Studio back in the late ‘70’s and 80’s, we all knew starting out on the right foot in photography meant exposing a perfect negative, and from there every manipulation possible in the darkroom (at that time) could hold its maximum potential. If, on the other hand, darkroom techniques were used to save a bad exposure, let’s wish you good luck. Nothing has changed between then and now, except you do have a lot more powerful tools to waste a lot of time fixing a file (formerly a ‘negative’) with failing fundamentals.
Back ‘in the day’ photography was an expensive hobby and profession with the cost of film, its processing and printing and this put the combination of photographic knowledge, developing skills, experience and innate talent at a premium. Even with the removal today of many costs formerly associated with photography, time without question is still of the essence. Not to mention you are often faced with one fleeting moment to capture something truly amazing, and you better have all your photographic wits about you to capture it in an instance.
This brings us to the final point in finding in finding photographic balance. You can also waste a lot of time trying to fix a boring photograph. Manipulating algorithms will not develop your ‘creative vision’ as a photographer. In part, having such ‘vision’ comes from innate talent, but you develop it through balancing your time expanding your knowledge with time practicing and experimentation. You have to apply the technology in the field. As you do, over time, you will pre-visualize your goals and objectives, and be inspired to find your style and creative vision to capture them. We’ll talk more about this in the next mentoring session.