I have been asked one question as a photographer more than any others. Can you guess what it is? If you're a photographer than you probably know the answer.
What kind of camera are you using?
The funny thing is that it is not other photographers asking this question, it's regular people. The moms and passers-by and the pocket camera hobbyists.
When I tell them they all respond with the same phrase. "If I had a camera like that I could take great pictures too!" Or something similar to that point.
I smile and say how nice it is to have a good camera. But inside of me is a deep dissapointment that so many people think that's all there is to what I do. I just bought a nice camera and magically became a photographer.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know that they are mostly making small talk or they secretly want to be a photographer some day. I have nothing against these people and many times they are dear sweet friends.
But think about eveything that really goes into a photograph. Below are just some of things a photographer must understand to be succesful.
Using light is study that can go on for a person's entire life. How we use light, how we see it, how it can change the dynamic of a picture completely. Sometimes light happens happily by accident and beautiful natural light scenario unfolds. But just within the use of light itself lies a number of complex an variable applications that a photographer can use. Light can bring out the detail creating grit and depth and texture or it can soften and illuminate and accentuate. Light itself can tell a story. A photographer invests in tools to use and manipulate the light and sometimes invests in tools to create light where there is none. You can also ruin a picture if you don't know how to work witht the light. You must study and learn and practice and adapt.
You might think a person just stands or sits in front of the camera and 300 clicks later you have an album. Of course, if that's how it works then you will probably have a pretty boring and lifeless gallery of images. There are masculine poses and feminine poses and poses for hands and feet and hips and head and all of them have to come together in a smooth and fluid natural looking position. You have to study the human form and how the camera angle effects it. A good photograph has angles lines and curves like any good painting or drawing. This communicates interest and form in the image. These elements may aline perfectly by accident every once in a great while, but generally you need to have an eye for them and be able to direct the subject or move to a place that affords a better view of the desired scene to line up objects in the optimum composition. You need to be able to go with the flow of your subjects movements but also to direct them and give them guidance and purpose.
Sure the auto setting on a nice camera is pretty good compared to a basic point and shoot. For many amatuer photographers this setting is perfectly good for almost any general picture. The problem is you can't control it. It controls you. If you aren't in control then you can't determine the quality or result of the image the camera takes. You are at it's whim and as technologically advanced as they may be they are not capable of making the same judgements and assesments to compensate for each situation. A good photographer has at least a basic knowledge and understanding of manual functions and menu settings. A great photographer has a mastery over the camera settings and all it's features and can make snap judgments and adjustments in moment to capture the perfect shot.
A basic instinct and understanding of what looks good in a photograph. It isn't necessarily learned (although in some cases it can be learned). In many cases it is a naturally occuring artistic talent that merely needs to be harnessed and properly directed through the tools of the art form. A vision that comes inspirationally though the artist's mind and soul.
There is so much heart and soul and work and monetary investment involved in photography that goes much farther than the camera. A photographer takes what is there and shows it in its best form and light. In some ways it can be the most challenging medium of all. You must work together with the elements to capture a moment in time, a snippet of reality and fantasy in one breadth of a second. There is no do-over. The next minute the moment is gone and the elements have changed never to be the same perfect moment again. A true photographer is an Artist who captures and seals a fleeting moment in time in one finite frame to last for generations. Can you even put a price on a moment in time?
Below is an example of a photo taken with the auto settings before manual control of the camera, makeup, lighting, set, and wardrobe.
(yeah, I know, scary, right? don't laugh at my tragic before picture. well, at least don't laugh too hard. would you hang this on youre wall? I think not)
Then the after, done literally an hour or so later with time an attention to every detail. Clearly the camera is not the reason the second picture is more succesful.