the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THE GOLDEN AGE OF JUST OKAY

Is this a success or a failure? Does it matter? All that's important is that you, not the camera, is making the picture. Manual mode, 1/100 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

Plenty of mistakes made on this one. Is it a success or a failure? Does it matter? All that’s important is that you, not the camera, is making the picture. Manual mode, 1/100 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WE ALL SAY IT: THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO SUCCESS. 

We all say it. None of us believes it. It’s just not, well, American to throw aside our national myths, and the folk tale of the lucky, quick genius who zooms to the head of the line to fame, bounding in front of all the sloggers and suckers, is intoxicating. One blinding inspiration, we tell ourselves, just one great notion, and we can bypass all that “practicing and patience” stuff, the same virtues we feel honor bound to extol in others. In anyone else but me.

Me, I’m taking the shortcut.

So now is about the time when the photography angle of this rant should kick in, right?

Okay, here goes.

As the automode functions of cameras have grown ever more complex, they have made taking a perfectly acceptable picture effortless. Great for immediate gratification. Not so great for the art of photography. Think about it. It has become so fabulously easy to point and get something that isn’t too bad, that we are bypassing the slower, uglier, but eventually more satisfying process that comes with trial, error, recalculation, and risk. We produce more error-free pictures than ever before, but, to do that, we have to hang our own creativity…..the raw, sloppy process of imagineering our own vision…on the wall. We get fat and lazy. And so do our pictures.

Now that I have successfully defended my title as the great Grinch Buzzkill, trying to rid Whoville of good, clean camera fun, let me just ask one more question. Do we want a large mountain of “okay” pictures, taken, to an ever greater degree, by our cameras, or a smaller, more amazing pile of remarkable pictures borne of our own sweat and struggle? Tricky part: there is no right or wrong answer, just a choice to be made based on your own expectations.  Turning off the “green zone” of guaranteed effect modes and really educating ourselves as to what is going into the making of our pictures means turning off a snapshot mentality and opting for the unpredictable.

Hey, I’m not suggesting you go all Matthew Brady and lug around forty pounds of wet plates and a covered wagon full of caustic chemicals just to take a birthday picture of Grandma blowing out her candles. But we can probably aspire to more than just the golden age of okay.

We already know how easy it is to take a picture. Now we need to rediscover how hard it can be, and what miracles can spring from our minds when we get our hands dirty and go down the rockier path.

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2 responses

  1. Such good points about refusing the easy way out in picture-taking. I still struggle with many of the finer points of my DSLR, but it’s a happy struggle … and I resist the “green zone.”

    January 12, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    • I always have believed that we learn far more from the pictures that “fail” than from the ones which luckily succeed. The failures haunt us, spur us on, challenge us to stretch, while the happy accidents or “easy” wins just make us comfortable, even lazy. THANK YOU SO MUCH for the comments, and please come back to visit in the future!

      January 12, 2013 at 11:00 PM

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