Outthink your camera!

mill ruins, Italy

If you can think about an image more than your camera does then you will move forward in photography. When digital replaced analog in photography there was a sudden rush of people thinking the secret had been revealed and they could now enter the world of the professional photographer. That it was the digital camera that would elevate them to the next ‘rock star’ in the photography world.

The truth is that for most it is not happening and the realization is that it was never all about the camera but more about themselves. That new piece of gear is just a complex piece of technology that has no ‘minds eye’ or intention. It does not know where to stand or what time to be there or what to include or exclude from a composition to make it better. It knows nothing of timing and capturing that precise moment as it happens, not before or after. It is no more than a tool to a professional photographer. An instrument placed between the photographers eye and the scene they wish to capture, that’s all.

The camera has evolved since the first photographic image was taken in 1827 with a camera obscura and will continue to advance as technology progresses.  What is in front of the camera and behind it are the true secret to great photography. The ‘minds eye’ is where the vision, idea and plans for execution are born. Without intention there is only luck and chance to being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to do when you are there. The sun still rises and sets, the tides come in and out and the seasons change in front of the camera.

If you look at all the great photographers and the images produced over almost two centuries it can’t be all about the camera.  The instrument was invented and the photographer evolves from it. The same camera in two different hands does not create the same image. There is no instinct within the camera body.

I think the hardest point to instill in the amateur photographer is that they must look within for the great photographs and then utilize the camera to show the viewer that vision. Again and again they attempt to capture a moment without seeing the picture first in their head. The camera today has been given far to much responsibility in the production of outstanding photography due to the lack of understanding by the operator. Yes, the operator. It would be a better designation for some to call themselves a Nikon or Canon camera operator. Even then they know little about the functions of the system they choose. You cannot call yourself a photographer if you do nothing more than aim a camera. You contribute very little to the outcome when you consider the subject, camera and photographer are the key elements to all images and that the great photographs are what the photographer imagined and executed as he intended. If any of the elements are discarded the process will fail.  You must have a subject to photograph and a camera to capture the moment but first you have to make an effort to provide the creative input. The photographer has to in control of all the choices not the camera.

The modern DSLR camera today has given people a false sense that it has the capability of understanding the operators intent and knows how to compose and where to focus, transforming the operator into a successful photographer. I realize that society is moving farther away from learning a craft or trade that requires an effort and learning curve to be successful. The ‘quick fix’ least amount of effort mindset  is the mainstream today and I can’t see it changing in the near future. Good for those of us who still know that success comes from discipline, dedication , effort and the knowledge that you can always do more to improve.

Best advice for amateur photographers who want to improve. Turn off your auto focus until you learn where to focus. Use aperture or shutter priority only.  Understand the relationship between F-stops and depth of field and between shutter speed and desired effect. Shoot lots , edit later. Bracket when you can. Use the lowest ISO possible. Slow down and really look at what you see, then see the image you want to create in your mind. Finally, make the camera dance to your tune not its own.

By putting yourself in charge you will have total control over every aspect of the creation of an image and the right to call yourself a photographer.

‘There is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea.’


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