I’m a photographer as one of my professions. I have a background in photography, education in photography, and am regularly paid for use of my photos. I have worked as an aerial photographer for an engineering firm, as a wedding photographer, as a photojournalist, and as a freelance photographer meeting photography needs of clients. I’ve been a photographer for nearly 40 years, from film to digital, and have processed my own B&W film and photos as well as having worked as a lab tech processing film for others. I may not be a great photographer, but enough find my work worthy of comment and compensation to validate my skill. I bring this up not to brag, but as point of fact to show my credentials. I am a professional photographer that loves photography nearly as much as I love writing, and I love to share the wonders of photography with others. Over the past few years, however, I’ve grown weary of listening to so many “experts” imparting vast “internet knowledge” upon those taking photos around them- especially when they were never asked in the first place. I bite my tongue as I listen to “advice” that is often unnecessary for the situation, and frequently flat-out incorrect. IF YOU ASK questions about photography, I will give answers that will likely not fit the expected pattern. I know my thoughts will send many photographers into a tizzy, but I’d like to think it will set many more free- call it permission to enjoy your camera again, if you will.
As a long-time photographer, family and friends regularly asked for advice about cameras, techniques, gear- you name it. IF YOU ASK, I’m always happy to talk photography, and will gladly talk with you about all aspects of Photography. What I will not do, is talk down to you. I was a long time Nikon snob, shooting with some phenomenal Nikon gear back in my film days. “Of course you use an FM, because manual is the only way to go- right?” “An FE2 (still a great camera) has a terrific Aperture Priority mode- you should own one”. “F3 is the only way to go for outdoor work”. Yep, that was me- then I found a lightweight Minolta that was easier to haul around, and I found I grabbed that camera way more often- and my photos did not suffer at all. The cameras available today, from cell phones to inexpensive point-and-shoots to full-frame DSLRs are all amazing tools that will take terrific photos. Obviously the pocket-sized point-and-shoot will not take art museum-sized enlargements that will match a full-frame Canon DSLR- but thousands spent on the DSLR to post vacation photos on Facebook is complete overkill. IF YOU ASK, I will tell you to find a camera that fits what you’ll do with it. A camera that fits in your hand the way you like it to. A camera you’ll be happy taking with you often, and that takes photos nice enough for what you intend to do with them. The best camera in the world won’t make you a better photographer- the one you like shooting lots of pictures with, will. So, this is permission (should you need it) to buy the camera you like and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will tell you what I like about your photos, but I will not tell you what is “wrong” with them (unless you ask very specific questions). I will soften my criticisms and tell you how you might make a photo vibrant, NOT what is “bad” in the picture. That photo may be saying exactly what you meant to say, and I’m just not wrapping my head around your meaning- so it’s not my place to be critical of the subject, though I may be able to provide pointers about camera settings or composition. Only you see the world through your eyes, so all I can really offer is help with the hardware you use to collect your vision through the lens. So, this is permission (should you need it) to snap shots of the world as you see it and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for shooting in any of the automatic settings your camera has available. Capturing the photo you want is worth far more than losing the moment by setting the camera horribly wrong. Camera manufacturers devote a lot of resources to the programming and algorithms that allow the best photo with the least amount of effort. Ever wonder the most expensive Pro cameras still have the same Auto settings as consumer cameras? Can a professional take a better photo wresting control from the camera’s internal elves? Probably- though if they’re honest, many will admit it’s getting closer all the time. Can you take a better photo handling things manually? Maybe- if you use the same camera all the time, and know it’s idiosyncrasies and when your input will have a positive impact. It is true that some older or less expensive cameras have issues with exposure values, or metering, but you can usually make minor tweaks to improve the output. The market is so competitive to have “The Best Camera” that we’re in an era of “fine-tuning” as opposed to fixing camera firmware. This means the internal camera elves do a wonderful job of turning your vision into art. So, this is permission (should you need it) to leave it in “Auto” and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for not shooting RAW. I stopped shooting RAW a few years ago, almost as an act of rebellion. My publishing clients all require JPEGs, so my need for RAW is nearly non-existent, and I’ve grown tired of constantly hearing “MUST SHOOT RAW”. Is RAW the best way to shoot fine-art or commercial photography? Yes. Is it true it may “save” a photo you blew out highlights or lost shadows in? Yes. Can RAW be processed fairly easily with the right software? Yes, but it still adds time. Does everyone want to spend time at a computer processing photos? I’d say for the vast majority, myself included, that answer is NO. When I shot film professionally, particularly weddings/ portraits, I had a specific lab I sent all my film to for processing. They were professionals who were much better than me at turning my work into printed art. When did we decide everyone should be processing their own digital images? Yes, the software is available and it’s moderately priced (or even free), but few people have large, properly calibrated monitors to work with. Few people have the time and wherewithal to spend hours after shooting to tweak each and every photo- and even fewer have the desire. I use Adobe Lightroom, and I have a few presets I use while importing, but I use it primarily because it’s a fantastic piece of software for archiving and organizing my photos. Occasionally I have a photo I might like enough to “improve”, and Lightroom is more than capable, but I try to get my photos “right” when I take the picture. Yeah, I know tweaking JPEGs leads to image degradation (use copies!)- yet I’ve tweaked JPEGs that have still been high enough quality to be used as magazine covers- so I’m not sold on the “horrors” of manipulating JPEGs. While I agree RAW may be best, and I’m not saying not to shoot RAW if that’s what you’d like to do. I am saying that shooting RAW is somewhat analogous to shooting film and needing time to process it in your basement lab- albeit with fewer toxic chemicals. So, this is permission (should you need it) to stick to the JPEGs your camera hands you and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for posting a blurred action photo, or a grainy low-light photo of a compelling scene. I know you have a slow, inexpensive lens, and you needed to shoot a high ISO to capture the action under poor lighting. It’s still a cool picture, and I’m glad you shared. Your eye for the scene was spot-on, and I can’t look away from the image, the content. That’s what photography is about- capturing the moment, and that’s exactly what you did. Could you have done better with a better gear? Absolutely- the photo shows your skills. Did you give us a great image? Again, absolutely. When did we decide photos must be technically perfect? Some of the greatest photos in history are grainy and shadowy, and that’s part of what makes them compelling. A different camera may have helped, but ignore technical perfection if you must to give us a compelling picture. No one ever told a brilliant artist “hey, you used the wrong pencils/ chalk/ paints/ material/ whatever to create that masterpiece”, so your camera, flaws and all, is just fine. Lomo (look it up!), anyone? So, this is permission (should you need it) to use any old camera and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, I will not chastise you for using your cell phone as your primary camera. Despite what Apple wants you to believe, there is a bit of post-processing necessary to make building-sized photos from your iPhone- but the photos posted on Instagram or websites are incredible. This is the age of the cell phone, and we always carry one. There’s a reason cell phone makers now compete to make the “Best Camera Phone”- because we all want one! A beautifully composed picture is still a pleasure, no matter what it was taken with. Yes, there are limitations to the tiny sensor in a cell phone, and the “lenses” leave much to be desired. But we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in cell phone technology, and manufacturers still need some reason to convince us to upgrade- so they’re competing on the photo tech, a big win for photographers! So, this is permission (should you need it) to use your cell phone and just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
IF YOU ASK, this was not meant as a definitive how-to about being a photographer. It’s not even particularly instructive. It’s merely a topic that’s been troubling me for too long, and one I feel needs to be addressed more often. Most folks will never hang a photo on the wall of a museum, yet many take gorgeous photos that deserve to be shared. There is no reason for the process to be painful or overly complex, or for a photographer to feel their work is, somehow, less worthy. Photography can be merely collecting and archiving a moment or event, and it’s a great medium for doing so. Photography is also art, and art is from the heart. If the art for you is time spent manipulating photos digitally, that’s fantastic- you have a skill and sensibility I am often jealous of, and I find those photos fascinating. For those who find their art is in the composition and collection of images through the lense and into flash memory, keep taking pictures, keep honing your skill, keep feeling those snapshots in time. Collect those snapshots by whatever means works best for you, and revel in their perfect imperfections. Borrowing words from Neil Gaiman, “Make interesting amazing glorious fantastic mistakes. Make good art”. His words, like mine, give you permission (should you need it) to just shoot beautiful pictures to your heart’s content!
Always remember to find, and share, the joy in your photography- and thanks for reading!