Spitalfields Market Tea Dance June 2019 135mm, 200 ISO, f1.4, 1/6s handheld
A Relationship Between Respect and Resentment
I have written a few times recently about my view that digital photography is too everything! By that, I mean sharp, contrasty and saturated. This appears to chime with some of my readers who I have met. However, this cannot be true for all readers may be a greater portion will respect the camera for its ability. That ability is to easily record and present highly accurate pictures.
But what if you’re like me? I do not want my camera in every circumstance to take highly accurate pictures. Here is the paradox, on the one hand, the camera recording machine is designed to give us as near possible perfection. On the other hand, as a photographic artist accuracy is not always within the gamut of my photographic vision. For me, I’m looking to interpret my subject and not to accurately record how it looks on the surface.
“For better or for worse, the destiny of the photographer is bound up with the destinies of a machine.”
There is a continuum between respect and resentment for the cameras ability to accurately record a picture along which all photographers and photographs sit.
The quote from Dorothea Lange above highlights the conundrum between vision and control or negotiation with the camera. All photographers have a continuous negotiation with the camera. The photographer has the job of seeing the attraction to record. That seeing is then passed to the camera to record. In all instances, there will be a balance to be struck between seeing (artistic vision) and recording (use of camera controls).
For example, take the feature shot above of the Tea Dance at Spitalfields Market in London. Here with the camera left to its own devices, it would have chosen a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the movement of the dancers. That is what it was designed to do.
By my intervention and negotiation, a shutter speed of 1/6s was chosen for a specific artistic reason. I wanted a shutter speed slow enough to record movement in the dancers and also fast enough to be handheld and render static objects sharp. There is obviously a large degree of Image Stabilisation at work here.
Below is an example of my resentment of camera perfection from a shot in my Fellowship panel awarded in 1990
It’s more important to know how to take a photograph than to operate a camera
Taking photographs is more than pointing the camera in a direction and pressing the button. As a very general observation photographers fall between two extremes. There are those who are highly artistic and not very technical, and those who are highly technical and cannot see a picture. The purely technically gifted amongst us may know how to operate a camera but seeing the attraction can be difficult for them.
“Without a vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29.18
We all need to have an idea of what we are trying to achieve before pressing the shutter release. For me, I call that idea of what the picture is to look like – vision. The photographer’s eyes are the viewer’s eyes, they are recording the attraction. We have a choice whether to record the subject matter authentically or creatively.
“To be truly creative we have to allow ourselves to invent, to look, to imagine, and to produce whatever we want to produce without concern for what others will think of us. We need to produce unselfconsciously.”
Elizabeth Roberts Editor of Black and White Photography Magazine
Of all the millions of photographs posted to the Internet every day I’m sure 99.9% of those taking the pictures greatly respect the techno perfection of the recording device they use. The way camera manufacturers can only improve their products is to make them more technically superior by every increasing new model. That is the way the global economy works.
From the earliest days of photography, there has always been a drive to greater clarity of picture. Just because we can have the marvels of phone photography that is shared with our friends nearly instantly does not mean to say we have to.
Cameras have nothing to do with photography
If you want to make expressive and satisfying pictures that reflect your view or vision of the world, then you have to dominate the chain of decision making. Consequently, this will include negotiating with the camera. Your expensive camera is only a box to record your ideas, it is one of the links in the photographic chain, not the be all and end all. Digital technology does not provide the answers to the ultimate photographic questions, it only provides a means to make a record with greater accuracy and speed.
To quote Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1952:
“For me, photography has not changed except in its technical aspects”.
We need to think about what we are using photography for and the servant role of technology? Technology and technique follow the lead of your artistic intent and creative vision. With camera technology becoming ever more sophisticated, the statements at the start of this section may seem a little odd, “cameras have nothing to do with photography”. Maybe a similar idea is “cameras don’t take pictures, photographers do”.
The negotiation process will include the input from the photographer and the output from the camera. The photographer brings the seeing: observation skills, what is the attraction to be recorded? Timing of the shot, abstraction (deciding what to leave out) and creative expression. The photographer will negotiate with the camera on the technical output of the seeing idea: ISO, shutter speed, aperture, exposure depth of field and choice of focal length.
A brief extract from The ABC of CameraWork – A Workshop Manual by Andy Beel FRPS
It is not for me to tell you why or how to take the pictures that appeal to you. All I can do is openly tell you what works for me. If any of this information is relevant to you then only you can decide if and when you want to negotiate with the camera as a recording device.
The best time and place to learning to negotiate with your camera is in The Learning Zone. A safe place where new skills are perfected away from the need for stunning pictures instantaneously. The Learn Grow Express (LGE) Programme is offered as a way to learn photography progressively.
Portfolio Update – 16 New Galleries
I have spent many hours refreshing the Portfolio on my website with 16 new galleries, it had not been updated for a while with any new work. Also, in the process of adding new pictures from recent trips I have added portfolio categories in the main page menu. The new menus will make navigation of the portfolio easy.
On each of the main category pages Mono, for example, I have added “The Reasons Why” text. The reasons why may help to explain my thinking behind the motivation to move away in some cases from camera perfectionism to the beautiful emotiveness of imperfection.
The portfolio main categories are Mono, Mono + Lith, Infrared, Pinhole, PB Filter and Colour.
I have written a series of Encouraging Articles to help you learn how to negotiate with your camera. The topics covered in the articles include Attraction, Background, Composition, Depth of Field, Exposure, Focus, Gently and more