The more you know (about great photography) the less pictures you take?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
jrtrent
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Re: The more you know (about great photography) the less pictures you take?
In reply to trale, 5 months ago

trale wrote:

Over the last couple months, I've been watching "The Grid" series of videos put out by photoshop guru Scott Kelby and his pals.

I've learned a great deal from these videos, particularly from the critiques that they do, like this one . I've learned many of the ingredients of great (not just good) photo, elements like:

  • Good lighting
  • Good time of day
  • Interesting location
  • Interesting subject
  • Good composition
  • The right moment
  • Interesting perspective
  • Eliminating distractions
  • Good post processing

That's a very nice list, but whether it applies to any given picture or not depends on the purpose for which that picture was taken. Landscape photographer Brian Bower described several different types or purposes for photography:

  1. A simple record of a place that has been visited. There need not be time, skill, equipment, or inclination to worry about the quality or angle of lighting at different times of day or even of making a satisfactory composition, yet the photos will be satisfactory to the person taking them as memory jerkers of places seen.
  2. The more serious photographer wants something better but also may not have time to explore as many viewpoints as he'd like or to return when the light is better, but with a good background of experience in technique, lighting, and composition, he will endeavor to make the best images he can under the constraints of time and with the equipment at his disposal.
  3. Truly dedicated scenic photographers have a clear idea of their objectives and will persevere until they achieve them. They have the means to schedule visits for the best times of year, more time to explore different angles and points of view, to wait for weather conditions suitable for his ends. Bower includes professionals such as those working for advertising agencies or providing illustrations for books or magazine articles as being among these dedicated photographers.
  4. The final group is that of the "artist photographer," who uses a landscape merely as a vehicle through which he communicates ideas or feelings. His concern is not a literal depiction of the scene before him, but how he can use what's before him to convey an abstract idea or use it as a metaphor. Bower gives John Blakemore's Wind series and Paul Hill's images of the Engish Peak District as examples.

My own photos are taken for the purpose of remembering what a place looked like when I was there. I don't travel or even take day-trips for the purpose of taking pictures; I go to a place or event because I'm interested in it, and the pictures I take are simply reminders of that trip. If those pictures are reasonably faithful in portraying things as they were, then those pictures are satisfying to me, and they don't need to look good or be of interest to anyone else. With a new camera, I experiment with and adjust the image parameter settings so that it yields natural-looking color, saturation, and contrast; when out taking pictures, I almost always use a normal focal length lens (about 50mm equivalent) and shoot at eye level because this way of shooting results in pictures that seem more faithful to what I saw with my own eyes when I was there.

Among Bower's categories, I'm probably a cross between 1 and 2, but definitely not a 3, which I think would be more interested in ticking off more of the elements of a great photograph in the list you provided. One quote from Bower that I think important is, "all these applications of landscape photography are equally valid. The important thing is that the photographer endeavors to achieve whatever objective has been set."

Unless I'm willing to go to such lengths to do the necessary legwork to purposely situate myself in the right location at the right time, many of the shots I take on a normal basis is classified (as they call it) "snap-shots", even if I do have some of the other elements.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking snapshots. The Oxford dictionary defines a snapshot as "an informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small handheld camera." My take on that is that snapshots are pictures that are not intended for professional use nor do they involve formal posing of subjects, elaborate lighting schemes, tripods, or anything else that is deliberately planned, but instead are a more spontaneous capturing of people, places, and things that catch our eye. Taking a snapshot does not mean that a person takes no care in composition or is totally oblivious to distracting elements, poor lighting angle, and so on, but the spontaneous, informal nature of the snapshot is such that you have to make the best of the light and location as it is in that moment.

The term snapshot is often used in a derogatory sense, but I would argue that the snapshot is just one of several types of photography, with none being inherently better or worse than another, and that different people should be allowed to like different things without judgement. When it comes to enjoying other people's pictures, I prefer snapshots. Is the postcard picture of Timberline Lodge technically superior to my friend's vacation snap of the same place? Of course it is, but it's not as interesting to me because it's just a pretty picture, and I don't know the story behind the taking of it. In the challenges, there are some impressive looking photos (landscapes, portraits, or whatever) that obviously took time and skill to both take and prepare for showing, but they are insignificant to me compared to a simple snapshot with a caption that reads "my grandson showing me his new lunchbox" or "Betty helping out at the church rummage sale." Snapshots are somehow more real to me, in a way that the "photograph of fine craftsmanship" often fails to be.

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