Saturday, August 13, 2011

What is Photography About, Anyway?

A while back, I was talking with a fellow website owner who writes excellent articles on photographic technique. He is non-camera specific and just concentrates on how to make beautiful images with any camera.

He asked me if he could post one of my Nikon hardware articles on his website. Since it was a high-quality website, I said he could. A few weeks later he contacted me and said that my article was getting very high usage on his site. He then wrote a few articles on camera hardware. To his surprise, the articles on camera equipment were being read 4-to-1 over his articles on photographic technique.

That made me think! What is photography about, anyway?

Are we, as photographers, simply collectors of fine cameras? Or, do we actually use those cameras once we get them? Why do articles on hardware pull better readership than articles on technique? I've been puzzling over this issue for several days and have come to some conclusions. Let me go back in time first though...

When I first started in SLR photography, back in 1979 or so, I had a basic manual 35mm SLR with only a light meter, a shutter speed dial, and an aperture control. I learned how the camera worked in a few days of taking pictures and then concentrated on technique. I learned to see a good composition by actually taking pictures and reading a lot of good books. I didn't read more than one or two books on camera hardware, though. Mostly, I read about technique.

My first Nikon was an FM. It was a fully manual camera. Then, I later bought a Nikon FE, which added an A-Mode for Automatic (aperture priority mode). I could set it on A-Mode, then all I had to do was adjust the aperture and the camera set the shutter speed. Really cool! My next major upgrade was to a Nikon F4. This camera had a lot more dials and buttons. So, I studied the manual and gradually learned about its P, S, A, and M modes. Next came the Nikon F5, D100, D200, D300, and finally now, the Nikon D7000.

The Nikon D7000 has nearly 1000 menu screens!

My Nikon D7000 has all the exposure modes that my Nikon FM, FE, F4, and F5 did. It also has user settings, custom settings, picture controls, white balance, sharpness, hue, JPEG, TIFF, NEF, color spaces, an ISO range, noise control, contrast control, a buffer, various frame speeds, autofocus modes, AF-area modes, release modes, flash modes, histograms, bracketing, an intervalometer, spot metering, 3D matrix metering, center-weighted metering, iTTL, HDMI, D-Lighting, live view, scene modes, D Lenses, G Lenses, DX Lenses, non-CPU Lenses, focus-tracking, movie mode, memory cards, menu and information screens, and sooooo much more!

My conclusion...

I think I know why people are reading camera how-to articles 4-to-1 over technique articles. It is simply because our cameras are so complex that it takes weeks or months of study to understand even a portion of their capabilities. And, by the time we understand our cameras really well, a new one is beckoning us. And, of course, the new camera has about 25 more features to digest than our current one.

The benefit of this complexity is that we can walk up to a subject, attempt a good composition, and get a good exposure 99 percent of the time. We have to think less about the exposure. In trade we have to become computer scientists to understand our cameras.

Where is a digital Nikon FM? Why can't we go back in time to a simple camera with a single meter, a shutter speed dial, and an aperture control? Couldn't a nice digital sensor be substituted for the film? Maybe they could call it the Nikon DM. Digital Manual SLR!

Look, I am over 50 years old now and I miss the "good old days." I long for the time when my kids were little, my wife and I were slim and fit, and cameras were simple.

Do any of you, my readers, feel these same emotions?

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young

1 comment:

  1. Dear Darrell

    My first camera used in ernest - Voightlander TLR 12 shots on 120 roll then a Practika MTL3 with a shutter noise like a barn door slamming and more durable than anything of twice the weight and a magnesium alloy body. Sadly, I learnt more on the TLR because when film cost money, every shot had to count. Digital is great - we can take more 'snapshots' - vital for social history and recording our changing times. Except, we do not print them, archive them, retain when shared and god only knows how we will open them in 200 years time. Digital gives immediacy, but I preferred the days when I did photography and was not expected to be a software engineer first and a snapper last. When I show my images, I am often asked 'How did you get that shot?' This is typically followed by something about a software programme. My responses to that is what I saw, this is my fourth attempt after three years, two minutes at F11, ISO 100, or F16, ISO400 at a 60th often gives a reply of "Oh."
    All things have their place, but as I say to my students, "Photography is about light first and then composition. When you fully understand the first and can apply the second instinctivly, then you will be able to creat the image 'break' the rules and create the image." The dissapointment on the face of the guy with a new Nikon D something would have been worth a shot! Unfortunately, people lack an essential requirement of photography - patience. Even sports photogs have to wait for the match, the action etc but need to know their subject and make the crucial decisions, ISO, aperture, framing etc. There are great images out their, but by photographers, not kit collectors. We are dinosaurs, but as long as I can produce a shot which makes people look twice (or more) I will be content. My advice, get over others opinions, get to an art gallery, get inspired and remember why we freeze our nuts off on night shoots, lug tripods around, take five shots and delete them, then do it again and get it right next time - then enjoy as they look twice and relaize it was worth it. Why the hell can't I set my ISO to 25 - has no one heard of Kodachrome....?