Considering all the technical improvements in photography, of course purely gear related, I would almost presume that the photographic art is getting lost. My dear reader Chris commented in my previous post about a fictional scene where a camera would talk against the camera operator (used to be photographer) to frame slightly different to get a better/more perfect composition. You might laugh now, but it could well happen. Remember the great Henri Cartier-Bresson? In his book ‘The Decisive Moment’ he wrote that he hoped that no compositional grid would ever be supplied to attach to the viewfinder, because you had to feel the moment and not think about it. There was time enough to study the photograph after it was taken. Unfortunately for him though, almost every digital camera now comes with these compositional grids.
He continues to write in his essay about the essence of composition, but mostly in relation to be able to feel it. There is this split second where you make the decision to press the shutter. A moment when everything comes together as a unity of form and action, the moment that feels right, which he magically described as ‘the decisive moment’. I really do agree with him that he suggests not to think when you frame your final composition. There is enough time to understand what you are doing when you are reviewing your photographs at home.
I guess it is easier to change gear in a hope to improve your photography, because it makes you less vulnerable for critics. We often do not see the things. Don’t we all have that situation where you see someone elses photograph and you think: “I should have seen that one too” or “When you look at it, it is actually quite simple”. Is it true that your photography will improve when you buy a new camera? Of course not. It is absolutely not the camera. It might affect the image quality, but I am not talking about that. I am talking about better compositions, the bare and simple essence of photography in my opinion. I believe the only reason why people think a new camera improves their photography is because they photograph more often with a new camera.
And there I said it: “photograph more often”. These three words are probably the most important thing related to getting better. When you replace photograph for practising, than you realize that it works for just about everything. Whether it is photography, soccer, playing guitar or your job. Not everyone is gifted with a lot of talent. Remember athletes preparing for the Olympic Games? They train as much as possible to become really good.
And to become better you do not need more in my opinion. Less is often better. A basic camera without bells and whizzles is easier to learn. All the options don’t become an obstruction for your photography. You don’t learn photography from a technical point of view when you select a scene mode. Learn exposing appropriately, how to achieve shallow or huge depth of field, and learn how you can use these skills to improve your intended compositions.
There is no decisive moment digicam or ‘DMD’ on the market as some ask for, there will never be one. I believe the decisive moment is in your head, it really is. In my opinion a camera with many features is a camera with too many features. I personally disagree that every technical ongoing development is there to improve the photographic experience. Using a simple and small camera can be very liberating. Daido Moriyama for instance started using compact cameras more then 10 years ago, because it made him less obtrusive. HCB didn’t start using a Leica, because it was a …. Leica. No, he started using it, because it was one of the smallest cameras around at that time. It helped him realize the photographs he envisioned, because he didn’t become noticed.
More than 10 years ago when Nikon introduced the F5, it was a camera, I believed, that consisted of a small database of some 50,000 photographic light situations to help meter the framed scene as good and accurate as possible. Maybe within 10 years they will introduce a camera with a large database of trully well composed photographs to assist you. But by than all the produced work will be all the same. No new insights, no new visions. Photographic art will than be killed. Than photography will absolutely be temporary and won’t last for ever.
Maybe I am old-fashioned. Yes, I often use the LCD for framing, but I still prefer optical viewfinders. I use the camera in manual mode and don’t need a P, A, or S mode. I like to keep it simple, because I want to concentrate on my photography. I want to come home with pleasing photographs, I want to feel the joy and excitement of capturing light. I see the camera as just a part of my photography that consists of a larger process.
Instead of learning how to handle your camera, spent more time learning about art. I think it helps to study paintings or drawings. See how they used light to emphasize subjects or pencil strikes to show only the necessary objects freed of unimportant details. You don’t need to be arty to see that. You don’t have to speek art intellectually to prove your importance and knowledge (I personally almost never understand what they say anyway), unless of course when you want to cover your own mediocre photography. It doesn’t matter what craftsmen used to produce their art, it matters how they used it.
Today’s photographs were made in Amsterdam while having a trully wonderful day with Rui and Dora from Portugal. Thank you both for this glorious day and opportunity to meet each other.
All photographs by Wouter Brandsma