As photographers, we have a tendency to get a bit on the self-important side. For example, we often scoff at soccer moms with cell phones. We also tend to classify cameras as “amateur” or “professional” while losing sight of the fact that it is we who are amateurs or professionals.
One of the most significant aspects of professional photography is having our audience in mind at all times, whether the audience is readers in a publication, attendees at an art expo, visitors to our home, viewers of web sites, or just us trying to explore ourselves through imagery.
With our audience in mind, the purpose of our photography is almost always to illicit an emotional response. Maybe, as is sometimes the case in my work, our goal is to bring the feelings of triumph or tragedy to the reader. Maybe, as in the case of a wedding photographer, our goal is to bring joyful and intimate moments of the event to the viewer.
In either case, and many more, the central idea is use our cameras to translate moments into images, which then bring those moments to the audience.
What about beauty? Flowers. Sunsets. Canyons. Forests. Essentially, beautiful photographs work because they elicit an emotional response in the viewer. A snowboarder flying off a cliff edge elicits excitement. Sunlight filtering through a tree elicits memories of childhood. Grey-black clouds of a thunderstorm illicit feelings of foreboding.
I thought about these ideas recently as my intermediate/advanced class went on our walk to the pond at the Pontotoc Technology Center. Ostensibly intended to guide them from the nuts-and-bolts in the beginner classes to putting those tools to work, invariably we discover much more to photograph, often in the beauty of nature. When we do, it has a way of feeding itself, such that I can stand back and act as advisor, and let my students grow and explore their imaging potential.
It’s not exactly news that newspapers are, like the rest of the world connected by the internet, changing. When I started my first internship at a newspaper in 1982, the internet didn’t even exist. But today, it is in the hands of everyone. In fact, I recently read that more people on the planet have access to smartphones than have access to clean water. It seems absurd and immoral, but it is economic and social reality.
My own newspaper recently hired a new publisher, one who is far more comfortable with technology than her predecessor, one who is aggressively pushing for our product to be part of the 21st century game plan.
In furtherance of this strategy, the newsroom staff and I all just received Apple’s iPhone 6s, the latest iteration of the iPhone product. It is a powerful tool that lets us keep in touch with each other and the wired world, and also contribute to our online product instantly, from almost any location in our coverage area.
Honestly, I am very excited about this development. In the past, we often didn’t have a reliable way to communicate from the field, and it was implied that we should use our own phones (and their service costs) to communicate and contribute. Our new publisher clearly recognizes how unfair this was, and the first remedy, these iPhones, are now in our hands.
The learning curve for using a sophisticated tool like this is variable depending on how one wishes to use it, but I intend to learn everything I can about it, and milk it for all its potential. I want to put it to work for us.
It is often temping to try to quantify our lives. In a world of chaos and the unknown, it is comforting to remember that 2+2=4, and imagine that our existences make that kind of straightforward sense.
I have written on a number of occasions about the value of intimacy in photography, and I have also talked about the idea that many people buy and talk about photographic equipment much more than they actually use that equipment to make pictures, or if they do make pictures, they are emotionally dead and technically perfect, or are simply aimed at proving a technical point. Super-sharp pictures of cat whiskers come to mind.
But why is it so hard to make intimacy at the center of photography?
Computers, pixel counts, sharpness charts, noise ratings, buffer sizes, and so on are concrete and specific, and most importantly, are not intimate. It’s easy enough to master noise reduction software and defragging hard drives, but it’s not as easy to find genuinely intimate moments, and even harder still to photograph them.
One serious problem with photographing human moments, as I have discussed before, is that the camera itself can interfere with moments, causing people to lock up and pose. It’s difficult to keep that from dominating your imaging, but it can be done. The world is full of emotionally empty images, particularly in the age of the ubiquitous “selfie.”
I’ll tell you who cares about noise, sensor size and bokeh: computer geeks and other photographers.
I thought about these ideas last weekend at my wife’s family’s annual reunion. Abby and I have been making pictures at this event since we got married 11 years ago. In all that time, we have made a priority out of capturing genuine, intimate moments. As the years have flown by, we’ve used a variety of cameras, but the actual camera has never made all that much difference. The only thing that really matters is that we are comfortable using it, and that we are comfortable not using it when we want to be part of the action.
In the last three years, Abby and I have gotten very comfortable with the Fujifilm HS30EXR, a small, lightweight “crossover” camera that never gets in the way of taking pictures or getting in them. This year’s reunion was no different; we both had a great time and made great images, never worrying about frame rates, noise factors or sensor size. We freely handed our cameras to other family members, who were instantly comfortable using them in both the “viewfinder mode,” like a DSLR, or in “monitor mode,” like when shooting with a smartphone, since the camera automatically switches between the two modes using a small sensor on the eyepiece.
The Fuji might not be the camera for you, but consider that the best camera for you might be the one that gets out of the way and lets you and your subject have fun.
In the end, as the years go by and Abby and I capture more and more of these great memories, no one will ever ask which camera we used, and no one will talk about shutter speed or aperture. They will take about the great times we all had, and recorded, of those people we loved, and the ones who are no longer with us, but who were with us over the years, in our memories and our images.