For many weeks, my condition prevented me from any interaction with the outside world. During that dark time, Pascal sent me almost every day a “picture of the day”, complete with questions/reflections/musings on what is photography. Beyond the extraordinary friendship and generosity that this shows (what else is new, for those of us who know Pascal?), he mused over one point which I want to elaborate on in this post. He said that photographic skills can (should?) be perfected and honed with much rehearsing and practicing.
Being the son of a concert pianist, I am no stranger to the many hours a day it takes to be at the top of one’s game in many types of performing arts. Ballet dancing comes to mind as the one art form demanding a huge commitment to often painful training. So my first reaction to Pascal’s piece was “Great! The man is right” (it always hurts to come to this conclusion…:-). And I began to wonder how to go about doing this. What to see/shoot/process over and over again that it might become second nature, and free me from execution so that I might concentrate on artistic conception and delivery?
The answer wasn’t forthcoming. I couldn’t see how doing something over and over again would have anything to do with capturing scenes which are unique in nature. Or rather, I could see how this would lead to formulaic photography. That is something that Pascal has a bizarre love/hate relationship with. Just look at his post from Berlin, and you will notice the variety and creativity of his “eye”. I am very envious of this ability of his to “see” so many different subjects as we walk together, and he creates many more shots -and worthy ones!- than I can manage. Yet, he chastises himself for not endowing his pictures with a “common look” as a professional photographer would. Pshaw!
As an example of the benefits of rehearsing, he mentioned my series of pictures of arum flowers. The reason I shoot them often is that they are in a greehouse very close to where my mother lives, soon to be mauled by the extension of the Roland-Garros tennis stadium. So, yes, I have many such shots, over a few years. If Pascal’s point is correct, then my shots should be getting better. Not necessarily because I am getting better, but because my many sessions there are making me better at them.
Fact is, looking back, such is not the case. To some extent, I might be getting worse. A sense of “been there and done that” means I now look for less obvious, less attractive angles, as I’ve covered the favorites ad nauseam.
So, does that mean that no amount of “work” will let me get better? I think there is no simple yes/no answer to this question. Where I am at right now is that
(a) photography is not a repetitious exercise, the way executing a dance choreography or playing a music part is. Hence, rehearsing the “finished product” doesn’t apply. Shooting, and shooting more, and yet more, only goes so far. Yes, it will help, but with all the efficiency and finesse of brute force.
But (b) “seeing” is like a muscle. It can be trained. So practicing definitely applies. How to do it? One simple thing that works for me, and I kick myself for doing it so little, is going out with a target. Concentrating on “this” or “that”, rather than “whatever happens to cross my mind, my path and my lens”. Some thing like being a pro rather than a dilettante. Or appreciating the opportunity to its fullest, because it (or I) may not be there for an encore.
And (c), mastering one’s equipment is key (that includes your PP software). Being able to previsualise a result, and pre-selecting the best setting/composition is hugely valuable; To wit: it takes me but a couple of minutes to get a first impression on a given piece of gear I am trying out. It takes Pascal a couple of months to master a lens. No connection to the fact that he can wring many more shots out of an opportunity? I rather think the opposite.
Lastly, (d), execution does matter. But that is a case of being disciplined, focused, thorough, relentless. Typical of my friend Boris (not his only strong points, far from it), and, again, the very opposite of a dilettante attitude.
What this eventually boils down to is a much-debated question, how much photography is creation, and how much a technique. My answer is to compare it to driving a racing car. It can be driven fast by a gentleman-driver, who relies on pure talent for speed. But, ultimately, it is the more professional sort (Lauda, Prost, Schumacher) who collect the more titles.
Just to show you what I mean, 3 examples. The first one is taken from the same group of blossoms, if they can be called that, as the very first picture. What didn’t I do it first time around? Did I not see it? Was I too lazy to change lenses?
The second one is due to chance. I feel that the blueish spot in the background and the square crop make to shot, but I hadn’t seen “it” on shooting it, nor on the LCD. Dilettante’s luck.
The third one is one I worked on hard. Shot it many times, to get the most out of it, consciously, and, I hope, not without result
There you have it. One in three, not even counting the ones I missed for want of seeing. I must make sure to go there with Pascal one day, and see how much more could be done.
It is good, if painful, to know how much I have yet to learn. But I would be hugely grateful for approaches, methods, tips and all, because I am sure not to be the only one grappling with this issue….
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