Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photography Over Technicalities

Hello Alpha Sight readers.

I'm sorry for the lack of updates, but here I am again.

This time I will discuss something that all photographers should keep in mind: Photography over technicalities.

The search for perfection.

This happened during the days of film, but it has become much more frequent to find in the digital era.

Everyone looks for perfection.

Everyone wants their pictures to have the perfect angle, perfect light, perfect grain or noise, perfect exposure, perfect focus.

To these effects, we spend money on DSLRs, accessories, editing software and lenses.

These days, most people consider a picture good by checking all the settings the photo required to be taken and by checking pixel by pixel if the picture doesn't have noise or something out of the ordinary. If the settings are good according to them, its a good picture, if there is no pixel with noise in it, its a good picture, if you edited it with Photoshop, Aperture, or any other photographic processing/editing software, its a good picture, if you used a 1,800 dollars lens, its even better.

Its true you need to know about shutter speed, f number, ISO, etc. All those technical settings affect the final picture you take, and if you want to get consistent results or be able to duplicate them, you need to know what all those things are and do.

But they don't make a good picture on their own.

Message over technique.

No matter what's your level of photographic skill, if you're just a casual snapper or if you're a highly famous wedding shooter, this applies to you.

Photography is an art. May not be as big or even considered one like painting, writing, dancing, or music, but its an art. Photography is the art that led to cinema.

You can have the best camera in the world, the best processing software and computer technology at your disposal, you can have the most expensive lenses in your bag, but if you worry more about the settings used, the kind of filter you will process with, if the lens you're using is better than the other one you can use, then you got it wrong.

Your main concern as a photographer should ALWAYS be the scene in front of you, then you can worry about settings.

In order to take a photograph, you first need a subject to photograph right? You don't worry first if the ISO you use will show up too much on the picture.

A photograph should convey a message or the feelings of the subject(s) in it. Has it ever happened to you that you make a really artistic shot of a statue, but the one people like the most is the one of your dog making a silly face?

And you say: How can they like that one more if I just snapped it, I worked a lot harder on the statue!

That's because the message or the feeling from the dog's picture reaches more people than the statue shot.

When you took the picture of your dog, you worried about taking the expression of your dog, about the moment, whereas on the statue shot, you focused on ISO settings, f number, focal length, and such.

The statue picture can be perfect, but its where your attention is that determines the impact in other people.

You can also have a shot of the statue that reaches people's feelings.

But for that you need to worry first about the message, and then for the settings.


It would be foolish NOT to worry about settings at all. You can't control something if you don't know what does it do. Taking a picture and hope the settings are right is just as fool as going in a car and hope that you wont need to break or park.

It is also foolish to take a picture carelessly and say "It's alright, I'll fix it in the computer".

That kind of thinking is lazy and foolish, not to mention dishonest. That way you will NEVER improve as a photographer, and what you show other people is not what you ORIGINALLY shot.

There are people who like to post process their photographs, and that's respectable, but the original shot doesn't change too much in the end after processing. But taking a bad picture and then work 6 hours on it the computer doesn't make you a photographer. Photography is done with the camera.

When you take a photograph, you should always give priority to what you want to say with it or the feeling you want other people to experience and then you worry about the camera settings.

Otherwise you will end with a perfect shot that doesn't say a thing to people.

If you spend hours and hours checking pixel by pixel in your shot, or worrying that you're using a 200$ telephoto instead of a 1000$ one, or frowning because the noise is visible in your shot, then you're worrying about the wrong things.

If your shot taken with a kit lens gets a reaction out of people (good or bad) instead of a shot taken with an expensive lens, that tells you that you can create photos worth watching with simple tools.


You can get expensive lenses, but that wont guarantee a good picture.

You can get expensive cameras, but that wont guarantee a good picture.

You can spend hours on the computer making your picture perfect to a microscopic level, but that wont meant your picture will be liked by others.

Don't worry about the noise in your picture, if the wings of the bug don't have perfect focus, if the lower corner of the shot has color aberration due to the focal length of the lens.

Worry about the message you want to convey, worry about capturing that moment that will make people say "wow" or "awww", worry about getting that moment that truly shows the personality of your subject.

People who aren't photographers look for that kind of stuff, they don't care about what ISO you used, what lens you used, if you used X camera model or J model. They care about the dog's expression, the feeling or moment in your picture, and that's because that's the stuff they can perceive, you could have set a complicated rig to take a certain shot, but people will focus on the result, not on the mechanics needed to take the shot. The best way to know if you're shot has a message, is if people from all educational levels say something about it, from a house builder to the CEO. That means the message is getting across to a lot of people.

I tell you this because it has happened to me.

True photographers can look at both message and settings and offer their suggestions, but it's only the bitter people or those who failed at the subject who do the "settings and composition autopsy", either in photography, music, painting, etc. They worry about the settings rather than the message. And that's because they never managed to say something with their work.

Always keep photography over technicalities.

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