#583. The Monday Post. Is photography like harvesting truffles, or like growing grapes for wine? (17 April 2017)

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Apr 17


On Easter Monday, it might have been a good idea to talk about Easter eggs rather than truffles, but eggs are sought by innocent children, while finding the buried truffles is a hog’s job. So, as we are talking about me, it has to be truffles…:-)



This is how this post came about. DearSusan readers are familiar with my two brilliant-and-benevolent mentors. Boris and Pascal. One aspect of their superiority that has me consistently miffed is that, whenever we are together, with the same photographic material to deal with, both of them bring back many more pictures than I. We are not talking 20% more, but rather some 200%. And it is not only quantity either, that separates their production from mine, but let’s deal with the quantity aspect.



Fast forward to last Saturday. After close to 4 months without holding a camera, I had some catch-up to do. So, despite having shot with Pascal in Aigues-Mortes, I signed up for a photo Meetup in Paris. Meetups are meetings that bring together people with the same interest that sign up for events on the same Website. I knew no-one, not even exactly how this worked, but I had signed up and showed up. There were some 20+ of us, a very mixed group on all counts (age, gender, equipment, nationality). We wandered down the programmed route, a mixture that combined the very interesting with the very mundane, for some 2 1/2 hours, in what started with harsh daylight.



Early on, I found myself looking for photographic truffles, and guess what, noticed that just about everybody else was taking way more shots than I. So I started looking at what they were shooting. What were they seeing that I was not seeing? Being an unashamed snob, I saw no truffles there. Very ordinary mushrooms, maybe even Chinese imports. My pride felt safe. Still, not wanting to look too much out-of-place, and not wanting to declare my Saturday afternoon a waste, I started to shoot some more, and, yes, less-than-truffles. By the end of the walk, I had shot quite a bit more than I would have done either alone or with Pascal (I have not done a street shoot with Boris). Time to look at the results.



Meetup includes on their Website the ability to upload pictures, and obviously our group had done so. Not feeling particularly proud of my very self-conscious shooting, I only processed my harvest once some 170 pics had been uploaded by others. Some were of questionable value, more a remember-me picture than artistic expression. Hear the snob at work? But there were also many fine shots, most of which I’d passed by and overlooked without being aware of what I was missing. And some brilliant ones too. Now how did I fare?



Fact is, I came back with 12 pics which I consider to be posting material. Now I have done many such walks alone, on my way to or from a city meeting (I never go out without my photobag, a highly counterintuitive behavior since I shoot sparingly), and I very rarely come back with 12 different postable shots. So the peer-pressure had gotten to me, and I’d shot more, just to avoid looking like a moronic alien.



And what about quality? Well, there are 2 shots I really, really like, neither of which I would have taken without the peer pressure. In both cases, I only realised how good they were (to my eye at least) after I’d shot them and the LCD let me see.



So, back to the title. If photography is like harvesting truffles, then you have to sniff, and sniff some more so that you can harvest “all there is”. But growing grape for wine is another story, because quality goes up with quantity. One might think the contrary, and, in a way, it is true that, if you overproduce, quality suffers, but, for a given terroir, the best years in quality are also the more generous ones quantity-wise.



So, if photography is like growing grape for wine, let’s shoot, shoot more and even more, and the quality, far from going down, will actually go up. As for me, I’m already signed up for my next Meetup. And, no excuses, this time, instead of using my AF lens (Sony 85 GM), which is a cop-out, I’ll use a manual lens, and go whole hog.



Now you could ask: why don’t I shoot more when I am alone, and it is a valid question. Is it laziness?  Is it the subconscious desire to shoot “only winners” rather than take risks? Is it the fact that, as when I am alone no-one knows what I am doing and/or missing, I am not accountable, and therefore not under pressure?



This story has a particularly un-glam, but telling ending. I already told you I signed up for the next Meetup, yesterday. I found it a bit odd that such a meeting would be organised in the middle of Easter week-end, but then what do I know. Some 20 people signed up, and I went. I came early. More than a few minutes early, very early. 10.080 mintes actually, give or take. A whole week early…:-( So, being there on my own, I thought I’d have a koan-zen Meetup, a one-camera gathering, and I walked 1 1/2 hours. How was the harvest? Piss-poor was the harvest, both in quantity and quality. Oh,well, there is always next Saturday, right?



As it happens, today Sunday I went for the Easter service to a church I’d never been before, in the middle of a “ville nouvelle” (new town), planned and developed in the 70s. And I found such truffles that I couldn’t possibly pass them by. So I spent a totally unplanned 30 minutes harvesting easy shots. And I left thinking how much more I could have done if ever I became an amateur photographer rather than a dilettante…

Why do I have the feeling that this post will attract comments? 🙂


Email: subscribed: 4
  • John W says:

    It can be both … depending on how you shoot. Back in the days of film, when you could only carry so much of the stuff, we shot more sparingly; seeking out the best possibility for that expensive little piece of plastic. If you shot medium or large format the per frame premium was even higher. We became truffle hunters by necessity. That went away with digital … little or no per shot premium … and we became over zealous grape growers. For a lot of “serious” photographers the pendulum is or has shifted in the direction of exercising the eye and perception more and the shutter finger less … sort of a grape grower who hunts truffles. Problem is most of us like BOTH good wine and truffles … does that make us schizoid? Only our psychiatrist know for sure …

    • philberphoto says:

      John, you make a very good point. It may be that my shooting sparingly has something to do with factors other than photography, or at least digital photography. Let’s call them “cultural” factors. Let’s see if I can get rid of any, now that you’ve called them to my attention.

  • Adam Bonn says:

    Big (and biggish) photowalks are always a bit of a strange way to work…

    I find that they’re a little like a swam of locust, swooping in and devouring anything that might even remotely provide photographical nutrition!

    This changes the game very much from working alone…

    A group of people wielding cameras doesn’t just observe the world, the world observes it back.

    You move away from being the solo tog, eking out your shots, and become emboldened by the feeling of belonging to something… No longer the lone weirdo shooting leading lines and shadow juxtapositions, whilst every average Joe in the vicinity is taking postcard snaps with their phones and tablets – when there’s a group of you doing photography with real cameras, the average Joe becomes the thumb in a world full of fingers!

    Also when you’re in a big group, the pace is dictated by the group. Once the majority is finished in a spot, you all tend to move on. There’s no spending 45mins in front of that charming store front waiting for the right person to walk in or out.

    So in many ways group photowalks should actually be more limiting, but as noted – this isn’t really the case…

    Why? (As you asked)

    I don’t know!

    But I’ll end on a anecdote that just MIGHT be a clue…

    Years ago, I was involved in a (group) question and answer session with the technical director of a F1 team.

    My question was.

    With the rules of F1 being more and more restrictive, how do you feel this has stifled development of technology? I mean with no rules your cars would look like capsized boats, with fully enclosed wheels, producing such downforce that you’d be able to take hairpins flat out, right?

    His answer

    Yes, that’s theoretically accurate, but in practice the rules have made us persevere with tech that hasn’t worked off the bat, made us tease out clever solutions against the framework of tight rules. In short, by limiting what we’re allowed to do, we’ve really HAD to bring the best possible solutions that we can and without these rules and limitations we’d simply be leapfrogging from one new technology to next, without truly exploring what the incumbent solutions can offer us.


    So…. Success is to work and deliver within limits

    Perhaps like the limits you get when you’re in a big group of photographers.

    Thanks, it was a thought provoking piece!

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      In his book
      Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
      Igor Stravinsky somewhere says, that the stricter the rules are that he sets himself, the freer he works.

    • philberphoto says:

      Thanks for the kind words and long comment, Adam! When you say that constraints force us to work harder, that somehow resonates with me. You could well be right! Let’s see how next Saturday worls out. Thanks to it no longer being my first experience, and to your collective wisdom, I should be less self-conscious and more focused on my photography, and see whether results follow…

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    In photography, I believe, growing grapes for wine hones your skill of finding and recognising truffles for what they are and might become.
    But those truffles will, I think, always be better than the wine…

    ( And personally I don’t care whether I’m a dilettante or an amateur photographer. I always want a camera with me, but I don’t like carrying a camera bag – unsolvable problem…)

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I think the short answer to your question[s] is that you should do what YOU want to do, and not worry about what someone else is doing.

    I’ve only been on one “meetup”, and I found myself non-plussed by it all. Everyone was firing away, but there couldn’t have been anything going on that would differentiate most of the photos each one of them was taking – because they stood around in much the same position, taking photos of the same subject. I stopped and watched – then I decided it would be much more interesting to find a different location, so I broke off from the group and did my own thing for a while. I ended up with some shots they couldn’t possibly have taken.

    And I think my issue is simple – I lack the “herd instinct” – I’ve never much cared for what other people think, I’ve always preferred to find my own way and do my own thing.

    Dunno whether that’s of any help.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    PS – for what it’s worth, I did like your photos. You describe them as 12 “postable shots” – I think 7 of them are “better than postable”, I was rather taken by each and every one of them, Philippe. 🙂

  • Adrian says:

    What you describe is in part about “seeing” – you clearly think other people see things you don’t (and therefore don’t photograph). And that’s fine – if you saw in exactly the same way as someone else, you wouldn’t be you, nor would you be taking your (style of) photographs.

    As earlier posts have hopefully made clear, I’m all for learning and growing, but not simply by trying to replicate other people’s work. It’s not always easy to identify and understand your style, but it’s important to develop what is right for you, not mimic others. I don’t have the answer to how to find your style or your vision, as it’s something I am strive to develop. I know Ming Thein as talked about this, but in all honesty I think he over-intellectualises it, and in some cases I dobt think the artistic results stand up to the intellectual scrutiny.

    You should also be aware that we all have off days. If you’re not getting paid for the pictures, you have the freedom to not have to photograph. There is nothing photographically more tiresome that being forced (or forcing yourself) to take pictures of things that don’t inspire you. Sometimes if the time, mood and place is right I shoot quite instinctively, at other times it is laboured and uninspiring – and I think that can clearly been seen in the resultant fruits. If you’re not getting paid, accept that some times you can just put the camera away and enjoy your day without it – but also recognise when something interests or inspires you and get it out again!

  • >