Technical considerations are definitely important. Sweating the details is what will make the difference between OK and wow. But there is always a time to stop being squeamish and just shoot!
The above is an example.
I saw this scene and barely had time to run and set up the equipment against a not-entirely-clean window. Shooting through windows is not normally a great idea but just look! This was not a scene to miss by obsessing on perfection.
We live in a sea of photography. Every day a wave of tsunami proportions of new images washes over us. Every image creator competes fiercely for a few precious seconds of your eyeball time. Every new technique is done to death. To be heard you must shout!
I was reading a post by an Austin commercial photographer named Kirk Tuck. He has a good blog about photography in general and the post is here:
Basically, I think he is right. I think we are all sorely tempted to jazz up the “KERPOW!!” factor on our images.
But could we live with them?
One thing I find I have always striven for is “livable” images. If I were suddenly wealthy one of the first things I would do is have the best of my work printed mural size and fastened to my walls. I strive to make images that I could live with.
The above image is one of my recent favourites from a trip to San Francisco. I thought it was very liveable but it seems I was distracted by the lovely colours and tones. They had blinded me to the flawed composition. A few minutes at full screen were enough to tell me that. I had to fix it before linking to it here.
It takes an awful lot to make a good photograph and very little to ruin it. Maybe it is time to look at your own photographs again. Are you making photographs you could live with?
What equipment do you need to take a great photograph?
This photograph was taken with a cheap plastic camera with a plastic lens bought at a drug store in South Africa. It was loaded with the cheap Fuji film that they give you for free in Qatar when you get your film processed and pay for prints. Whatever redeeming qualities this picture have did not come from the crappy camera or the crappy film.
So what equipment do you need?
I recommend the following equipment list:
One or two eyes. You should keep these open. Try to use them to really see the world around you. If it seems like everything is the same hour by hour and day by day then consult your user manual. You are not using them properly
One heart. Keep it soft. Allow things to move you. If you have set up a firewall and access control list to limit what has access to your heart consider drastically opening the ruleset. A lot of mundane things are often part of a default “ignore” list. Although this is considered an industry standard “best practice” I strongly advise you to consider removing most items from this list
One brain. Use this to store as much technique as you can. Try every new technique you hear about that interests you until you don’t have to think about it. Store macros for all your commonly used camera equipment. Consider not adding to your equipment until you have all commands for all your current equipment automated. One word of caution: use your brain to automate the process of capturing what your heart and eyes are captured by. Do not expect good results from simply firing off these automated processes at random objects that your eyes have not been captivated by or your heart has not been moved by
Well, that’s it. Take with you the above three items and use them as directed. Along with that you should have some sort of camera or camera phone (or even pen and paper). If you make proper use of your equipment you should have no trouble at all making stunning world class photographs!
Sometimes you just need a tripod and don’t have one. Other times you need two tripods and you only have one. This photo relates to the former. I am currently experiencing the latter.
Here’s the thing. Are you going to let life stop you just because you don’t have an 800WS monolight, or an 85mm f1.4 lens, or the latest super camera body? Good tools can certainly make the work easier and give better results than poor ones when skillfully and artfully used but even bad tools are better than no tools and you may be surprised at what you can build for yourself if you think through your exact requirements.
As I write this I am timing an eight minute exposure. I’ve taken a few frames tonight with the Crown and I like the way it looks out there on the balcony with the lights behind but, of course, it only looks like that on its tripod. What is the Retinette supposed to stand on to get the right angle? Why, my makeshift tripod. Here’s the bill of materials:
One Polaroid back for a large format camera
One TV remote control
One camera bag for a large format camera
One chair (stood on end) from inside the hotel room
One outside chair (already on balcony)
To assemble, simply stack all of the parts with the highest number at the bottom and the camera resting on top.
Now this is certainly not the finest tripod known to man. In fact, I won’t be surprised if I later find out that it shifted at some time during those eight minutes and ruined my shot. However, neither was the roof of someone’s Jeep a perfect tripod either. But without it, I would not have the picture you see above. If you later see the picture I made tonight then you might want to remember this emergency tripod recipe!
I firmly believe that you can never succeed at an art form like photography unless you can learn to see, sometimes in an instant, the finished artwork as you look at the scene in front of you. This skill, which takes years of practice to hone, is essential and no meaningful work will be produced (except occasionally by accident) without it. This skill of pre-visualising and “seeing” is essential.
The craft of photography is learning how to translate the captured scene into a finished product that matches that previsualisation. This is a suite of skills that encompass camera handling and camera settings (at capture time) as well as various image editing and other intermediate procedures that come between capturing the image and presenting a finished version. This is the suite of skills that garner most of the attention on internet sites because it is easiest to talk about and it is also the subject of most marketing by companies with products to sell to photographers. This suite of technical skills is not essential for the photographer to have, however. In a good partnership, it could even be outsourced since the vision is the essential part. However, it is necessary and if you are a photographer who does their own image processing it can often make a real difference in how close to its potential a good image can come.
I find that I have one or two images that I have never been satisfied with my ability to process into what they should be. Into what I visualised them to be. This is one of them.
This is the fifth time I am presenting a version of this image and I doubt it will be the last. I think it is good to have benchmarks for yourself. We only see how far we have come when we look back.
I grew up in Alaska and I knew the name of one photographer. The name everyone knew. Ansel Adams. I love his work and the power that it evokes. I love the way black and white focuses you in on the essentials in a picture. And yet, I can hardly bear to shoot any.
I love colour. The bolder the better. The richer the better. I don’t like colour to look too unnatural but I just love amazing colour. When nature presents amazing colour it is that amazing colour I want to capture!
This is a shot I took when I first got my large format camera. The shop I bought it from only had black and white film in stock. I like it. I like it for all the reasons mentioned above. But I’m not sure I can bring myself to do it again…