I sincerely hope that my love of photography comes across in every post I write. However, I think it’s important to write in very plain terms about the specific things I love about photography.
It’s difficult, but at the same time, effortless.
Photography gets ragged on frequently for being an “easy medium” since with digital technology there is little to no technique involved in producing a technically perfect product. I’ve dabbled in traditional mediums, and as a result of many hours of practice I’ve become a decent drawer. Pen & ink, charcoal, and pencil drawing has been a fascinating study in and of itself, but it’s also taught me a lot about photography or at least put the medium into perspective.
An artist in traditional mediums is limited only to the extent of their imagination and their skill. The photographer is limited by the same things, however the skill of photography is in a photographer’s ability to relate the impact of a scene with a viewer in a single frame. A photographer is both aided and hindered by the fact that they can capture the world in near perfect detail every time. The need to practice technique in and of itself is gone, however the skill of establishing and communicating an idea with what is given to you in the world, that is the essence of photography itself, and that is truly challenging.
No matter how good technology gets, a photograph or similar technology we have in the future will never replace being in a physical location. The feeling you get standing on top of a mountain you just climbed and looking out over a vista, that feeling is a composite of your five senses, filtered by a brain with a lifetime experiences, finally output as ‘a feeling’. While one may be quick to attribute this feeling to the view itself, as that’s the most unique sensory input at the time, the view does not even come close to the whole of that experience. Proof of this is in a shot of a vista itself in boring, midday light. Even if you took the photo and looked back on it, it’s not as spectacular as you remember it because you aren’t there. The visual component is only a small fraction of what makes us feel the way we do.
So, the skill of photography and the job of the photographer is to incorporate the non visual senses and immaterial emotion and experience into a single visual frame. This is not easy, and that’s the point. A painter can convey emotion in the style of their brush strokes, the photographer must rely on ingenuity and more than a bit of knowledge on how people respond to and view different things. The use of an angle, a lighting scheme, a time of day, a pattern of weather, a location, everything creates a small difference in the way a viewer feels when they look at a photo. The most skilled photographer will tap into that in order to create a moving photograph.
The recreation of a scene is trivial, the recreation of an emotion is art.
It seems like scores of mediums rolled into one.
When a painter picks up a paintbrush and stands before a canvas, there’s a lot of things they could paint. As stated before, they’re only limited by their technical skill and their imagination. However when I pick up my camera, there’s any number of things I could photograph. Each one of them, simply because photography is concerned with capturing what’s actually happening in the world, feels like its own unique medium and a hugely gratifying experience.
I could be going out to do architectural photography. Walking around a city finding buildings and figuring out the best way to detail their beauty and how we interact with them. Picking out the small details as well as the larger forms, photographing people moving and working and using a building. My father is an architect, so I’ve always had a great deal of appreciation for buildings as an artistic expression and a representation of function. A building represents an intersection of the style of the period, but also must serve a purpose. Understanding this intersection and thinking about how to portray it, that makes architectural photography a very fun pursuit.
I might be doing portraits. Whether it’s a formal shoot that I’m getting paid for, a casual shoot of a friend, or a meticulously planned portrait with which I’m trying to capture the essence of someone’s personality in a single frame, I’m interacting with people. In order to get personality and someone’s emotions to show their true face, you have to get it out of them. When I have someone model for me, it’s an essential part of my process to get them talking, relax them, help them to forget that I’m holding a camera. Portrait photography, to me, is as much about my interaction with the subject as well as the pictures I take.
When doing landscapes, I feel like I have to align myself to the setting. When I go out to shoot a landscape, I feel it is imperative to catalog each sense, to let the place I am in fill me and then I begin thinking about how to portray that. How to elicit a similar response in a viewer, the small details of a scene which make it unique and interesting. Landscape photography is an exercise in exploration, a chance to get out in nature and really feel like I am engaging it rather than merely passing through it.
I could speak at length about the unique challenges and rewards from various areas of photography, but suffice it to say, there are many pursuits in photography to keep me engaged.
It’s an easy medium to profit from
Many artists dream about simply getting paid to do their art. Dreaming about doing this and actually striving to meet that end are two different things, and some artists don’t aspire to reduce their art to a form that it would be commercially successful in. However I don’t think any artist, when confronted with the question, “if you could be financially comfortable as a result of doing your art, would that be an arrangement you’d be interested in?” would have a hard time objecting.
Photography is a unique art form in that it’s a moderately necessary thing, or at least, at some point in their life someone will feel like they need the services of a photographer. Be it photos of an event, portraits, or creative photography, most people find themselves in the market for a decent photographer at some point. While I haven’t entirely supported myself with my photography, I have done a fair amount of work in a variety of venues (senior portraits, event photography, one wedding, and selling a variety of prints). It’s a tremendous feeling to be commissioned for your skill with a camera, and being able to be paid to do photography has been a great experience for me.
It ties together a variety of skills
Photography can be done with a variety of photographic equipment, and depending on what one chooses, they’ll need proficiency in a variety of things.
Analog photography requires some mechanical knowledge. If one develops their own film, some knowledge of chemical processes could help. Digital photography requires some proficiency with computers and knowledge of how to use a variety of softwares. Making photography profitable requires some business sense and establishing and maintaining connections. Photography equipment itself requires a decent catalog of knowledge, there is skill and proficiency needed to know what gear accomplishes what, whether or not something is necessary, and how to get the most out of any given piece of equipment. The study of art and art history is necessary to be a skilled artistic photographer, and all of this is underpinned by an understanding of how light works and the physics of lenses and photographic mediums. There are a variety of different fields that one can study to serve a pursuit of becoming a good photographer, and as someone who likes to have a “broad picture” and study a variety of things, photography has been very fun for me.
It’s simply fun
When I pull a negative out of water when it’s done developing, when I get back a roll of scans, when I finally look at an exported album from a shoot, I feel an intense sort of satisfaction. Photography is the great journey that results in a single frame, one final product. Their can be successes and failures along the way, each step may have it’s own little story or quirk, but there’s no escaping the fact that you’re working for a single image. It’s immensely gratifying to me to look at this image and think about the steps taken along the way, the inspiration, the work, all of it is known to the photographer and hidden to the viewer, but the viewer and the photographer are both left with this single, finished product to look at and admire.
I already have talked at great length about why I love photography and yet it still doesn’t capture the whole of my feelings for it. I hope that in my ramblings you can get a sense for my joy and either compare it to your own joy and your own thoughts, or if you’ve never tried photography (as a creative pursuit) to give it a try!
Thank you all for reading. As always, if you like this blog, please share it with a friend. Reblog, comment, share, it means a tremendous amount to me. Thanks so much!