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It’s About Pictures

December 19, 2009

Unicoi State Park, GA

Tools are important. Without cameras, lenses, film, software, etc, etc. we wouldn’t be photographers, we would just be observers. Techniques are important too. You have to learn how to use your tools to transform your ideas into something you can share with other people. That being said, I think there is far too much focus on tools and techniques in much of the photographic community. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a total gear-head. I love to talk about the latest camera specs, and I really love to tell anyone who will listen how great I think Lightroom is. It’s when I hear people mention film vs. digital, or Canon vs. Nikon or some other ridiculous argument that think they are missing the point.

Photography is a craft and it requires certain skills, but at the end of the day it is ART. We are using one process or another to capture how we see (or want to see) the world. That means that everyone might have a slightly different idea of what “real” photography is… and that’s OK! The great thing is that no one has to be wrong for you to be right. We can ALL be right. Whether you shoot large format B&W film, create multiple-shot HDR images, or anything in between, you’re still making photographs. If you make images that you love, what difference does it make if someone else shoots something you don’t like? Wouldn’t your time be better spent making photos instead of arguing online about some arbitrary technical detail? If your tools allow you to make the photos you want to make, you’re all set. If you are looking for techniques to help you realize your vision, you can definitely find them. I can see having a discussion about what works for you and what doesn’t, but trying to convince an artist that they are using the wrong tool seems silly to me. I’m not talking about constructive criticism, I’m talking about arguments over sensor size, etc.

There are several prominent photographers that are trying to keep the discussion moving in a creative direction. When Chris Orwig writes about how much he enjoys shoting film, or David duChemin is loving his Hasselblad, they are referring to how these tools spark their creativity. They aren’t trying to convince you to throw away your D90; they are simply embracing a different aspect of the medium. At the other end of the spectrum, Trey Ratcliff is not lobbying for you to shoot HDR images. If you WANT to shoot HDR he is more than willing to give you advice, but he isn’t trying to convert anyone. He is an artist who is sharing his work and sharing his process with those who are interested. I think Rick Sammon does a great job of delivering lots of information to his students while keeping the group fun and creative. You’ll have such a good time on on of his workshops that you won’t realize you’re learning.

I think the focus should be on the images (your images and those that inspire you) and not so much on the process. You have to have tools and learn how to use them, but think of the tools as a means to and end. Do you think of the camera when you see a favorite photo? Do you imagine Photoshop layers when an image moves you? There is definitely value in studying the process behind photographs that you love, but that comes AFTER the emotional response. Learn how to make the images that you love and get to it. Keep learning and experimenting and keep an open mind. You don’t have to like everything. Someone else’s work is not BS because you don’t like it or because of what type of camera they use. Don’t TELL me why your process is more valid than another, SHOW me your awesome photographs. No really, I want to see them…



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