What Photography Means to Me

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What Photography Means to Me

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I cannot relate to photographers who toss out their old Nikon cameras to buy new Nikon cameras because newer models can operate at 5 frames per second instead of 3. Perhaps the newer model has an 11 point autofocus instead of 9 points. Or, perhaps it has 10.9 megapixels instead of 10.0. Unless you are photographing a race car traveling at over 200 miles per hour, these very marginal increases in performance do not produce better photographs. Better photographers make better photographs. Sure, all this high-tech gadgetry is wonderful for the camera companies. Consumers keep throwing thousands of dollars at them to produce a slightly better model camera then the person sitting next to them in the camera club just for bragging rights.

By the by, fifty years ago film cameras were already capturing images at 128 frames per second so I am still quite unimpressed with the so-called "Digital Photography Revolution." Wake me up when something exciting happens.

Is photography an art? A craft? Or a commodity? Are photographers artists, illustrators, or craftsmen? As I have re-examined my own journey in photography, I admit I have been too critical of digital cameras. Sure, they are overpriced, overvalued, and will never take a better photograph than a film camera costing 1/10th as much in my lifetime. But, these facts alone do not make them tools of the devil.

The devil is in the details. It is the use of the camera which makes a digital camera "better" than a film camera or vice versa. Let's put aside the posers for a moment. My definition of a "poser" is one who takes wildlife photography to justify the purchase of a very expensive camera or lens. They must have the longest lenses, the fastest memory cards, and the highest performance cameras. If you're photographing a bird at 400 yards and fill the frame with "bird" then you are neither an artist, illustrator, or craftsman. At best you can call yourself a photo illustrator. Here is a picture of a "bird." Well done. Now, how many thousands of dollars did that take you? If you want to shoot wildlife photography, put the damn bird in context. Have him hunting or feeding its young or doing something interesting. One bird against a blue sky is not photography. It's a demonstration that you will pay any price for high-end camera equipment and feel the need to justify the expense.

It is the craftsman who needs to buy the most expensive model of digital camera. The camera is a tool of the craft. That extra bit of sharpness or that extra f-stop demonstrates the camera's ability to take a better photograph. It is not the photographer who takes the better picture, but the better equipment. There is nothing wrong with that. If you own a BMW, you will have the ability to drive faster than someone who owns a Dodge. This does not mean that owning a BMW will make you a better driver.

Photography is the "art of seeing." In this photograph, I was in a group of photographers walking by the water side. We all had walked past the chair and the canoe then walked past the scene again on our way back to the car. The "art" of photography allowed me to analyze the scene, compose it within my camera, and create a unique image. Photography is the art of capturing something in real time and space onto a tangible medium, then creating a presentation to the world which conveys an intangible idea, mood, or emotion through a tangible medium. In this case, I used a digital camera. It was not the most expensive digital camera nor did it have the greatest number of megapixels. The art of composition transcends the tool used to capture the image.

Photographers who like to "fix it in Photoshop" cross the line between art and craft. When they heavily edit an image by removing telephone poles or replacing cars with trees, their camera becomes an extension of their computer. They become armchair photographers, spending more time in front of a computer screen than taking photographs. They are craftsmen, not that there is anything wrong with that. Digital cameras are the preferred choice of the photographic craftsmen since it readily dumps images onto a computer where the real work begins. Photography is just a necessary evil. If software evolves to the point where birds, trees, waterfalls, and other landscape images may be generated with a few mouse clicks then its doubtful that any photographic craftsmen would ever again venture out into the real world. To add a rainbow to a photograph or transform a cloudy day into a sunny day using a computer turns photography into a craft and a photographer into a computer operator. The art of seeing is gone.

As for the art galleries which display photography, that which has commercial value is only loosely related to its quality or its validity of the medium as "art." If art buyers only purchased digital photographs printed on the back of bubblegum wrappers, then that is what the gallery would exhibit and little else. Here, photographers are reduced to commodity brokers. It matters not what equipment was used or how skillful the photographer was. What matters is price of the artwork and what that price will be five years from now. In the art world, the digital craftsman as well as the artistic photographer are both diminished by market value.

I do not think that digital cameras are evil. I no longer believe that transforming a color image into a black and white image is a crime against society. What matters to me is the art of seeing. It is what I have captured with my camera that makes me the better photographer through proper composition and lighting. If I need to heavily rely on the aid of computers to "fix" the photograph then I become more of a craftsman and less of an artist, less of a photographer. Although film will always take a better photograph than a digital camera, the benchmark of what makes us better photographers is how we choose to fill our viewfinders.

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