On “Professional Camera Enthusiasts”

Tyler with "Voldemort"

I’m probably going to get knocked for this, but having followed a pointer somewhere to this post on Thom Hogan’s site I feel compelled to a rebuttal/vent blog post.

This kind of obsession over your gear will get in the way of photography.  Yes, you have to know the craft side well and yes, you have to have it down to where it comes nearly automatically.  Most of us will go through the phase of learning the gear, and sweating a lot of details thereon to get a sufficient level of technical prowess.  But,

Assuming you’ve done all the above, congratulations, you’ve got pretty good shot discipline and you’ve probably optimized the data you collected. Now all you have to do is optimally process and output your optimal data and you’re the next Ansel Adams.

this kind of comment, that implies (and yes, I know it is tongue-in-cheek, but regardless) that you will be a great photographer if only you follow some elaborate set of technical steps misses the boat by a nautical mile.

Here is my list of 5 steps (he has 5, so I’ll limit my list similarly) to good discipline in photography:

  1. Practice, practice, practice.  And by this I mean go wherever you go and take photographs. Lots of them. All the time. Carry a camera with you every day, or have one close at hand. Take a small camera (gasp) if you don’t want to lug around a big one. Try photographing a lot of things, but spend extra time on things that interest you anyway. If you are going to work on technical aspects of photography, don’t obsess on it.  Just work on one or two techniques at a time. Meanwhile, be out there (or in there if that’s your thing) making photographs. The technical prowess will come.
  2. Look at other photography.  Study it. Look at books of photography and go to exhibits and shows where photography is featured.  Look at other art such as painting, sculpture, etc. Study the cinematography in films that you watch. When you look at other photographer’s work, try not to just pigeonhole it immediately and move on.  Sometimes, in limits, look at photography on the web. There is so much that it is tempting to just blaze through it. But you won’t taste much from drinking from a fire hose. If you find a photographer’s web site that intrigues you, linger over it. Return to it again later to look at the images again.
  3. Network with photographers that like to photograph and talk about photography (avoid the ones that only want to talk about gear or post processing). Share your photography with others. Listen to constructive criticism, but don’t listen to all criticism. Enter photo contests. Take a photography workshop with someone. Make a print portfolio of your work.  Make another one.  Make a photo book (in a month). Try to frame and hang your work somewhere. Do more than just put your photos on the web (but do that, at the very least).
  4. Listen to music that inspires you. Go for walks in nature if that inspires you.  Do things that inspire you, especially if they help inspire you to take photographs.
  5. Reflect on themes in your work.  What are they? Can you categorize your existing work into those themes? Work at organizing some of your work from a theme into a show with others, or solo. Make folios and books based on themes. Think about projects in terms of themes, and try to direct some of your photographic energy into thematic picturing. Plan your photography accordingly.

Of course, if it is cameras you are into more than photography, then forget everything I just said. Plug your fingers into your ears, say “La la la la…” and wander off blissfully.

You can tell a lot about where you fall on the spectrum by looking at your own web site: is it heavier on reviews of gear, technical and posprocessing tips, etc. or does it fall more heavily to lots of photographs and thoughts about photography? Is there a balance?

4 thoughts on “On “Professional Camera Enthusiasts”

  1. Eric, I agree with your five item list much more then Thom’s. If photography was simply a formula, they’d sell it in a bottle. I do believe decent equipment adds to the photographic experience, but I’ve seen beautiful photos created using less the stellar cameras.

    • Hi Earl,

      I agree. Equipment definitely “does matter”, but photographers are far, far more limited by their seeing, artistic vision, time, motivation, etc. etc. than by equipment.

      I’m painfully aware of this every time I go out on the golf course with my $75 bag of clubs. They are hardly limiting my golfing potential, but vice versa!!

      I suppose it’s good for the economy, but most photographers would be far wiser to invest some more time than money.

  2. You could argue that everything in Thom’s list is a subset of your number one. He has listed the sorts of things that you do whilst clocking up your practice practice practice hours.

    Your list… I like.

  3. I hadn’t seen that!! I was about to buy a Holga – for fun and because they will send you one from HK for 16.99 including postage, but perhaps that’s the wrong attitude today. LuLaLuLaLuLa

    Good points and nice picture as well.


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