I recently saw an interview with the great travel photographer Bob Holmes. With a thoughtful economy of words he noted, “Photography is deceptively simple.” His succinct statement resonated with me and gets right to the root of my intrigue with photography. This maxim underscores the boundless possibilities offered by the camera as a medium for expression. It also opens up discussion of the myth that the point-and-shoot era of photography has made the professional-eye obsolete.
The autopilot functions of modern dSLRs broaden their accessibility, but they also narrow one’s creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate the fact that cameras are becoming more user-friendly and affordable. In fact, one of my biggest pet-peeves is the insecure professional who rants about the flooded market of amateur shooters. Everyday I read photographer updates and tweets touting how invaluable their work is while griping over the inexperienced competition. Personally, I think that your work should speak for itself, and if your clients can’t tell the difference perhaps they shouldn’t indulge in it.
Why is photography such a guarded art form? Why do many photographers spend much of their time defending their rates and complaining about newcomers to the trade? This attitude seems to run counter with all other expressions of art. Perhaps the answer lies in Mr. Holmes’ observation about photography’s deceptive simplicity. While I celebrate the accessibility of photography, I’m enamored by its complexity. It’s an art that you can dive right into on day one, yet continue to discover and uncover as a seasoned professional.
While I don’t think that there is only one right way to take a photo, I do abide by some basic guidelines to achieve the shots that speak to me. Ansel Adams is famous for saying “you don’t take a photograph, you make it.” This notion touches on the creative flexibility that the camera offers us. If you let your camera make all the decisions, you surrender this freedom. When we “make” a photograph, we’re creating a piece of art. I’m trying to create a reflection of my vision rather than simply xerox a moment in time.
What I personally try to achieve in my work is a pleasing and deliberate minimalist image that’s subject-focused. While the foreground and background are important in shaping the scene and putting things into context, I try to strip them down to their bare essentials. One of my favorite ways to do this is using a large aperture creating a shallow depth of field. Advances in low-light performance are not going to make heavy glass obsolete, because there’s no substitute for an f2.8 telephoto lens when you want to make your subject jump out of the print. I read my share of photography articles and I do not hear much discussion about this method for shooting wildlife. The tipsters are always focused on tack sharp shooting rather than artful documentation. Yes, its a lot easier to find focus at f8 and beyond, but they forget to mention the flat and forgettable textbook image this tends to create.