5 more findings from trying to will myself to photographic mastery!
In paintings, there is a significant difference, in price at least, between a painting by the great artist himself, or one that looks “just like it”, but “attributed to”, “his studio”, “his circle”, “follower of”, “in the manner of”, “after”. Each step takes the painting a bit further away from what it would have been by the master’s own hand.
I find photography to work somewhat in the same way, depending on the care I bestow -or not- on each image, both in the shooting and in the processing. Admittedly, some talents may achieve this “by the artist himself” status effortlessly (think: Wrinkly Senior), but such is not my case. I need to earn it the old-fashioned way, and recent events have helped me formulate a personnal approach to training, as written here. Having described where it gets me, the question is: what lessons have I learned?
Look for whatever If there is a key, if there is one single important thing I have learned, it is this: not to look at a subject -say, a window- and ask myself: is this window nice enough to warrant bothering neurons and electrons? But to look at a subject as a “whatever”, and ask myself: what is this “whatever” going to look like on my screen? And not ask myself: “what window will it look like?”, which is a question of identification or recognition, but: “how will it look?”, which is a question of appreciation. And what if I did it another way? And what if I combined it with…?
Shooting for identification, to put it simply, produces postcards. And you know of my love for un-postcards… As it happens, DS published two brilliant posts, by John Wilson and Nancee Rostad, neither of which contain images, gorgeous though they are, that are instantly recognizable. Think like Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe). If you think of it as a pipe, then you will shoot it with your mental pipe-presets to make it look like the pipe you know it is. Not like the “whatever” that is actually there, and there may be a lot more to it than “just” a pipe [nothing against pipes as visual objects 🙂 ].
How many times have I thought to myself: “hmmm…. it looks so much more like a bird/whatever than like the leaf/flower/whatever that it actually is…” Hence the proverb: “a truly open mind is the right vessel for a bountiful image harvest”
This is also an insight into how and why GAS works. It does because it triggers a shift in mindset. With new gear, we have no choice but to explore, and observe, and search, and discover. The very opposite of merely harvesting from within a confort zone. This is what confinement did for me. It removed any kind of subject-led stimulation. The shooting opportunities were reduced to the barest minimum, so any stimulation had to come from within. Big shift! And beyond that, 2 factors help me “get there”. Focus, and gear proficiency.
Focus rules. Remember PMPM (Putting Myself in Photo Mode), from the same post I linked above? Am I really doing/thinking about something else even though I have my camera with me, or am I determined to shoot the hell out of whatever is there? Am I harvesting pictures, or making images? Not that the answer need be strictly in black-and-white… That single, deliberate, almost extremist, one-track-focus works in two ways. At the same time it concentrates the mind on what is out there that will make a good image, and also on what I need to do to get it really, really right.
Subject-search-and-locate and shoot-to-capture as two steps of the same focus-driven process. And lots of time to make it happen. ‘Cause a fast process it ain’t, not with my wobbly hands. Incidentally, my previous post begat a few comments that said: while that may work for you, it wouldn’t for me, because I haven’t the patience”. This actually proves my point. Being deliberate and determined has nothing to do with being patient. It is a different mindset. That is what you should try to find the right key for, if the BBC video doesn’t do it for you, the way it did for me (It doesn’t for Dallas either, so I know it is not universal, and I am sure there is more than one key…)
Gear proficiency matters It also takes time to know “how to get it really right”. Each camera body is different, each lens as well, and PP software. Knowing each one inside out is key. Or else we are back to pot luck. Nothing wrong with that, though… just…. And it came as a huge relief to me that, after weeks and thousands of shots with Jonathan (that’s my nickname for the Laowa 100 Macro) shooting only a garden, which gave me great intimacy with the system and the subject, I found that my newly-explored approach also worked a treat with my other lenses.
Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t be happy with a single-lens system, only that I am not life-sentenced to one and one only.
Except, these two factors lead nowhere if a third one isn’t there, and that is technique. Both shooting technique and PP ability. Modern gear does require good technique. High-resolution digital sensors are a lot more sensitive to technique than film was, and my lust for “getting it really right” has forced me to up my game. No focus-and-recompose any more, because the point of focus is then ever so slightly “off”. No more one-touch magnification to check focus, but the full two-press, to see even more detail. No race towards ever-slower shutter speeds, because sharpness suffers. No more exotic shooting stances, on the contrary, a quest to find any form of stability and firm support to buttress my wobbly hands. Chairs, table corners, tree trunks. Tripods, of course. All forms and shapes of support…
Now I know there is a proverbial 400-lbs gorilla that some of you expect me to talk about.
Gear. What camera? Lenses? Software? And so many other critical IQ factors without which an image cannot be wholly, truly satisfying -NOT! Basically, at this stage, I would be willing to say that gear itself is not the prime limiting factor. Sure, an FF sensor has more dynamic range than a 1″ one of the same technology and generation. And so on.
But it is my considered opinion that mindset, focus and gear proficiency matter a whole lot more than the choice of gear itself. So, yes, there are pieces of gear that are easier for you to get really, easily proficient with than others. Suit yourself. But a proficient shooter with moderate gear will IMHO produce better images than the opposite balance. Remember the fun I had with a 7-year old NEX 7 and 30-year old Leica R 28mm? This may be why many wonderful images are produced with -or should I say: despite- less-than-state-of-the-art gear.
And that does not begin to discuss talent, though it matters hugely. I leave that to others, better qualified than I…
To be honest, I did shoot a modicum of other subjects than just the few irises which I am showing this time around. But my intent is to illustrate how much can be done with so little, with the right -for me- approach -this being a highly individual “thing”-.
But, whereas conventional wisdom would have it that shooting the same 12 irises day after day, and some days more than once to avail myself of changing light conditions, would both require patience and generate boredom, two words not usually associated with unbridled fun, I had, from a photography point of view, a great time. From that perspective, and that one only, obviously, I’d gladly do it again.
Because now I know that the key to better pics is already in my hands. It is not measured in pixels or stops, or new gear, it does not [primarily] depend on how I use them. It rests on how I make use of my neurons, and my nervous system, all the way to my eyes and hands. Talent like a master may well be outside my reach, but working hard at making my images better, that is within my comfort zone.
And then, when I have indeed achieved my ambitious [relatively of course] goal, and it may have been on the umpteenth attempt, I can crow like the delightful characters of Tex Avery’s cartoons, and boast: “I dood it!” and add, like Droopy: “I am happy!”
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