To be honest, I have never really found myself trying to be the most technically savvy photographer in the world. I know my way around a camera and know how to dial in settings for any given scene within a few seconds but I am okay admitting that my knowledge falls a bit flat in the face of a true studio lighting set up. I find comfort in using a few simple tools and cameras to the best of their ability without reaching too deep into a bag of tricks either in lighting or in post editing work.
My skill has emerged from fifteen or so years behind different cameras and learning what works and what doesn’t. After all this time I realize the best way to get better as a photographer is simply to pay attention. My style has shown itself to me over time through trying different approaches. During this process I have never tried to replicate photos I have seen other photographers take. In fact, I don’t often find a lot of inspiration in other photographic work. I have a huge respect for other photographers who forge a fresh, original path for their work and appreciate others work constantly while browsing online or in books and magazines, yet I find other art far more inspiring. The emotional connection I pull from a good film or book often leaves me with a creative fire burning. Even collections of graphic design or illustrators and comic book authors who create artwork without binds to the tangible, physical world leave me wondering what I could potentially accomplish within my own approach.
When I browse 500px, for instance, I loose interest quickly because all it seems anyone ever posts there are photos made specifically to show off something. Sometimes it’s just to show off their skill in post processing. Sometimes in how good their gear is, sometimes its how sexy they can make a woman look, or how patient they can be waiting for whatever animal to appear. I skim through the popular photos there and rarely find any with much of a soul or purpose other than to look good or show off.
I am all for mastering your gear and knowing it well. Technical prowess and a well trained eye are valuable assets as a photographer, but I just don’t really have the same amount of patience while viewing photographs as I once did. Not after so many years of following the art and seeing so many styles emulated and copied over and over as if reading a recipe and thinking you can make it better with just a dash of extra spice. I’m speaking of the sort of image you look at, admire for a moment, click the like button as though patting the creator on the back, then forget about forever.
Don’t go thinking that I am all out trashing a photo with a solid technical achievement, I have immense respect for the time and patience involved in some of these photographs, I simply have trouble connecting to them on an emotional level.
Now, if you give me a photo that has a soul, I feel that it is obvious. I touch on this all the time, that an images composition and approach to the subject speaks volumes about the person behind the camera and their true motivations. Are they selling themselves or are they sharing themselves? Great photographs should be like holding up a mirror to the photographer behind the camera.
I feel there is a deeply carved line here in the photography world. It separates many passionate shooters from those who are in it to make an easy buck or show off. I am not claiming to be on either side of this line. In fact, I feel its important to be able to balance your skill and learn to appreciate as many different approaches as possible. I have learned that there is no right or wrong here, the only thing that matters is that we, as your audience, are able to see you in the photographs you take. To have a firm understanding of these finer differences in approach takes years of trial and error and constant vigilance. If you feel you are not learning from each photograph you create then you are doing something wrong.