what’s so special about photography (#1)?

By: Kirsty

Feb 23 2010

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Daily Photos, little things, On Photography


Focal Length:70mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS-1D Mark II

synchronized diving

Having posed this question, I realize I could spend a lifetime answering it. Then again, I am a bit one-eyed. I love photography almost as much as I love my children, and it has been a long, sometimes tumultuous affair. For now I will talk about some little understood aspects of this medium. The still camera is a unique tool, capable of producing magical results with apparent ease. However the real magic doesn’t come from the camera, but through the person using it. It’s easy to be deceived into thinking that photography is a bit of a cop-out. Painting, drawing and sculpting are seen by many as more demanding skills. I remember when I was a student (3 years – full-time – living and breathing photography) I was often asked how it could take so long to learn it. After all, people would say, all you have to do to take a photo is press a button! That is true. But to master the art of photography is a life’s work. I still consider myself a learner though I have been deeply committed to that learning for the last 25 years.

Observation # 1 : A photographer meets the world, and creates, in ‘real’ time. This requires a balance of total attention and deep relaxation. Whether  we are creating a preconceived image, responding to the moment without a conscious plan, or producing work that will be run through the ringer of photoshop, we are always working in the moment. In order to really observe what is going on around us, and to be available for the unpredictable, magical visual moments that are happening all the time, we need to meet each moment unencumbered. It helps to know that the technical side of our craft is handled so that we can relax into the more right-brain task of responding to our environment. Although it’s true that all we have to do is press a button, the camera needs to be on the appropriate settings, pointed at the chosen subject, and pressed at exactly the right instant. This seems obvious, I know, but in all my years of teaching it seems to be the hardest thing for most people to learn.

I would love it if everyone could experience the magic of photography even when they are relatively new to the technical aspects. For this to happen I highly recommend you work out one aspect of what your camera can do. Play with it until you are confident that you know how it works. The next time you are taking photos limit yourself to this one thing that you have mastered. Then make yourself available to see subjects that fit this. It could be anything. Shallow depth of field, macro settings, back light, or distant landscapes are some obvious examples. Narrowing your attention to just one of these things will free you up, and you are much more likely to notice and capture something wonderful.

The photo in this post was taken in exactly this way. I was in a beautiful place, with all sorts of visual possibilities, but I decided to stick to the macro world. I chose to pay attention to little things, and in particular insects. Then I spotted the ladybird. I stayed with her for a while and followed her around, so I was in the right place at the right moment when the little ant arrived on the scene.

8 comments on “what’s so special about photography (#1)?”

  1. I think I am most impressed with what you had to say about photography, Kirsty. My respect for photography as an artform has grown so much since I started blogging and exposing myself to what photographers are sharing. I glean many ideas from observing what all of you do and how you capture a moment in time. Your ladybird and ant have found themselves a beautiful spot!

  2. Thanks Leslie. I have learnt a lot about painting from you in the short time that I’ve been reading your blog, so I’m glad I could give something useful back!

  3. Great to hear your viewpoint…a good explanation of what it is to be a photographer. I am looking forward to doing your workshop (one day!!)… won’t be around for the Passion Tasting Festival, but I know there will be more! I feel confident about observing and waiting, to capture that fraction of a moment in time that is just right… it’s the technical stuff that messes me up.

    • Yes, the technical side of photography can seem very complex and distracting. That’s why I’m suggesting that it helps to choose a theme, one which involves working with only one set of technical challenges at a time. As you know, a simple framework can allow the space for multiple possibilities, but if we are trying to deal with everything at once we confuse ourselves. Very similar to what you create when you start by choosing one colour to paint with. 🙂

  4. I looked at macro lenses online today, because of you, and yes, I could get a relatively cheap one, but for me, the lens is usually the key to having my vision — or moment in time — accurately represented. So, I think I will save for the Nikon lenses, which I adore, and have stuck with. This photo makes me want to save at a much faster rate. Such a gift of patience and vision to capture these “moments.”

    • I absolutely agree – as far as equipment goes there is nothing more important than a good quality lens 🙂 I wish you speedy saving and I’m sure you’re going to LOVE it when you get it.

  5. it was good but i wanted to know why should i learn photography.

    • Hi Danna, thanks for visiting. If you’re thinking of learning photography I would say there are many good reasons. Most of all it is a hobby and/or a job that can give you great satisfaction for your whole life.

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