One of the things I feel is lost in our current society is an understanding for the “art” in fine art photography. Digital SLRs are so cheap now they are prolific in their use by ordinary folks. Before digital it was a rare person who spent the money to purchase an SLR camera. They were expensive and difficult to operate. People would instead buy camera like the Brownie, or Instamatic. If they had some money they might buy something like the Rollei 35B but rarely a 35mm SLR. Rich people might buy a Leica M series camera.
The photos taken with these camera litter draws. Travel photos, parties or other special occasions. Today as an artist I try to recreate the look of some of these camera much the same way people use the Holga camera. But then along came digital cameras. It took years to develop them into the machines of today and now with price points dropping almost anyone who wants a camera can pick up a Digital SLR and bingo they are a photographer. Add to that programs like Photoshop Elements and you can act like a pro.
There is just one problem. Training. Learning about Art. Seeking valid critiques of your work. You see a real photographer studies and learns all he(she) can about the ART of image creation. The image could be a drawing or a print; maybe an etching. The principles are all the same. You must learn the rules before you break them. When you break them there needs to be a good answer to the question “Why?”
Then the new camera owner assails us with his wonderful images on Flickr or some other image sharing site and claims to be able to comment and critique other peoples work. What they don’t know is those of us who have spent a lifetime in study and practice don’t really care what they have to say and; really your photos are so mundane.
I personally push the limits when I work. I search for meaning and emotion. I want my image to be more than “just a photograph.” I may spend two hours working on an image in my digital darkroom then print it and pin it up on the wall and look at it for several days. They I learn what wrong and go at it again to get the final results I’m looking for.
Here is my advice to those of you who have just gotten home with that new digital SLR. First off don’t spend too much on the camera. I have done some amazing photos with the cheapest cameras. Second don’t buy Photoshop. Instead get Photoshop Elements. It will have all you need. Third, organize your images. Think hard about work flow so you develop a consistent process and image storage system.
Fourth, READ. One great book is “VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography.” Click HERE for a good book on workflow. Locate a local photo club. In Kansas City it might be Digital Dimensions of Kansas City. Take some art classes. I’d do an art appreciation class then maybe even a drawing class. You have to “learn” how to see and how to process the world differently than you do right now.
Fifth, learn your camera and your software. For the software you may only need to know 20% of how it works to use it for the kind of images you create but learn it well. You have to understand white balance, exposure control, noise reduction, histograms, curves, and how not to create a cliché.
And for God’s sake don’t get on Flickr and tell me what I’m doing wrong. Instead react emotionally to the photos and tell me what they mean to you. That tells me so much more than comments like, “you need to crop tighter.” You may not have a clue as to why I cropped the way I did but there is a reason.
Remember, photography is very difficult to do well.