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The Vancouver Photography Meetup Group Message Board General Discussion › Russ' Rant - An Evolutionary Path for Photographers

Russ' Rant - An Evolutionary Path for Photographers

Russ K.
user 3929906
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 324
This message board is too quiet! To liven things a bit, I’m going to post periodic, perhaps controversial rants to hopefully inspire thought and rebuttals.

An Evolutionary Path for Photographers

As I think about all of the photographers (both masters and students) I’ve met, it seems to me that the best of them have a (perhaps oversimplified by me) common path. Perhaps it is the very accessibility of photography that puts people on this path – most of us have come to photography in some kind of casual way – in my case, my parents put a Kodak Instamatic 124 in my hands when I was eight or so.

Kodak made it so that right out of the box, it is possible to make photographs instinctively. I’ve had this exact experience once again, just a couple of years ago, when I got a Canon G10, specifically to reconnect with this intuitive way of photographing. Yep, straight out of the box, without even cracking the manual, it is possible to make very credible photographs. I’ve also had similar experiences with my cellphone. Most of us have experienced the possibilities of photography in this entirely instinctive, intuitive, easy way.

At some point, some of us get to thinking that we can make our photography better by making it more reliable in some way – by turning those misses into hits somehow. We embark on a program of learning technique and technology, perhaps by taking classes or researching camera handling or studio lighting or street photography or exhibition printing or classical composition and colour theory. We find that our photography indeed gets more reliable. But, does it get better?

I believe the answer is to push through acquiring all the technique and technology you require (you may well need much less than you think) as quickly as possible, and then return to your original roots of instinct and intuition. Your voice lives there. This is not a matter of “learning the rules, then breaking them” – it’s more a matter of “learning the rules, then ignoring them, with prejudice and good reason”. It is important to have reasons, but it is not important to articulate those reasons – they should (and will) be self-evident in your work. Always have fun!
Bonnie W
user 11713001
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 13
Well written, Russ. What you say makes a lot of sense. In real life, however, it is often difficult for us to slip into the intuitive mode. There are always the naysayers who surround us. Those who look at our photos and say, as if we were a 4-year old who just drew a bunch of squiggles, "What is that?" followed by "But that's not anything like it was on that day!" or "Lily pads aren't supposed to be pink." I attempt to explain that my camera is in fact a paintbrush, I record my interpretation and not my vision, but they will have none of it.

One must have courage to use intuition and have strength to keep standing when those lashes strike. For self-preservation I have learned to be selective in the people I share with and also in which photos I share.

I have a friend who often places his subject smack dab in the center of his composition. Invariably it is balanced in weight and in lights and darks so that his centered subject actually fits well in that position. When I ask for his reasoning he replies that he didn't realize it was in the center. So much for rules. Use your intuition. A favorite shot from my archives throws the rule of thirds right out the window. I knew that when I snapped it, I composed in the camera and preferred it to what the perfect composition should be. I like it and I don't care what others think.
A former member
Post #: 8
Phtotography; like any art form, starts and finishes with the creator. If the photographer is shooting for a client the client is at least an equal to the creator of the final image, if for an audience then the audience must be the inspiration of the final muse. If one is making images for ones self, for the pure joy and pleasure of their own purpose then no rule or demand is relevant other than the image and the action itself is pleasing to the individual.
user 9181103
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 3
good point. i would like to add we should look to the client/creator relationship from other angles also. When a creator create something which brings perfection to the client demand then a greater satisfaction will be experienced. Adding more to the demands of the clients pleases everybody but requires a great wisdom.
Jack S.
user 9198037
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 75
Good read/idea Russ smile And, along a similar (I think) vein..... I think back to when I started my
travels through Europe (mid-70's to the early 80's) with a sojourn in London for a few years along
with the south coast of Spain for nearly a year. The photographic point/vein of this is, back then
I had a Kodak 110 camera and during the entire time period I shot about 4 rolls (cartridges) of (24 exp)
film shockshock H•ll, these days I can shoot that much catching the Canada Line to/from the airport shock
Also, back in the 70's/80's, photographywasn't even a part of my vocabulary and I have no idea
what my rational for clicking the shutter would have been confused

Whereas, if I was doing the same trips/travels today .... my entire trip (waking hours) would be "photo-
grapy/viewfinder (view)
" driven shock and I really wonder how my travels would have been different
and, undoubtedly, changed.

Also, the terms I used to describe my travels back then is: Jack's Frauleins and Beersteins Tour wink

Final word/question: How has (or has) your photography changed and/or has it changed you and your
day to day life?


A former member
Post #: 9
Quickly back to my earlier comment: it is well worth the time to learn rules that apply to photography. Two of my favorite instructors (a photo and a painting) both demanded that one learn the rules of design before breaking them – lol. In general I recommend learning the zone system, squares rule (flash and lighting), natural vs synthetic lighting, and to spend some time with portraiture techniques.

Jack is your ask an open one or directed to Russ?
Russ K.
user 3929906
Vancouver, BC
Post #: 325
Thanks, Bonnie, Lorne, Kevan and Jack for your thoughts and insights! I've written some notes for each of you :-)

Bonnie, it does require a great deal of courage to continue along a path of self-exploration that others just don’t get. There are some strategies that can be pursued: 1. Work hard at purifying your ideas – figure out just what makes your work unusual, and purify those aspects so that they cannot be denied or ignored. Make lots of pictures, so those ideas are obvious. If your ideas are extremely radical, you may have to write words to go along with the pictures, to help people interpret them. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but radical ideas often need both things – volume and explanation. 125 years ago, a group of painters calling themselves “Impressionists” were fighting this exact battle in trying to get their work accepted by the art establishment – a fight that lasted more than a decade. Today, their work stands amongst the most-loved of that period, while much of the establishment work is largely forgotten or even lost or destroyed. 2. Many of our students have complained that their work often goes unnoticed or even ridiculed in their circles. We point them to bullet 1 above. We also suggest that they get another circle. Jeff Wall has suggested that it is difficult to emerge from or rise above what he calls “average cultural production”, and work that differs from that culture’s expectations will likely be not welcome there. This is very hard to take, and so it does make sense to seek out like-minded people to share ideas – these groups can be extremely useful as you purify your ideas. Specifically, even if you are a member of such a group, you will still need an answer for the pink lily pads – it could be that pink is a cornerstone of your visual language, or it could be that pink really was there at the time… but you will need an answer and more examples.

On the “rule of thirds” – I don’t think I have ever made a picture that deliberately conforms to this rule. Sure, it happens, but that is a happenstance of intuitive balance, and it is true that “rule of thirds” works some of the time, but no more often than smack dab in the middle, neither. Every picture has a natural balance point, and intuition is a better guide to finding it than anything. For practice – put your camera on a tripod, frame up your picture, snap a picture, then without changing anything, walk away for a couple of minutes. Take a deep breath. Go back, and look through the viewfinder. Is the picture still in the balance you want? Or is there some better solution to the configurations you see? Repeat as necessary.

Lorne: Well said! We all must learn to separate making pictures for their own sake from making pictures for some external master – whether real or imagined. If an audience is desired, it is best to know exactly who that audience is, and figure out whether or not your work belongs in that culture. Be honest! If your work does not belong to that culture, and having an audience is truly a goal, then either the work must change or the audience must change.

Kevan: At some point along the requirements curve, the client becomes the creator and the photographer just a technician. Sure, there is a great deal of satisfaction in being able to meet extremely demanding requirements, and often a great deal of ingenuity is required to pull it off. The question I have is: just whose voice is getting expressed in this case?

Jack: I think you had your priorities in tip-top shiny order in your misspent youth. I had a similar misspent youth, only in Australia. For me, photography is my day-to-day life – I live and breathe it. I left a lucrative, but crazy career a decade ago to do this, and wouldn’t change a second – even knowing about the hard knocks in advance. OK, maybe I would forgo some of the hard knocks if I could – but the good, especially the creative outlet, clearly outweighs the bad.

Lorne (redux): Well said again. The only proviso I would add is: the Zone System has limited utility for digital workers – it will allow you to understand the dynamic range of your sensor, and I would leave it at that. For film workers, the Zone System allows a deep understanding of the dynamic range controls available for this medium, which revolve around film choice, developer choice, exposure and development time. Film also does not respond to exposure in a linear manner (but sensors do), and the non-linearity of film is different from film to film and developer to developer. All this said, Zone System is often carried to ridiculous extremes – which doesn’t yield better pictures, although it does arguably yield better photography geeks. I practice something I call Russ’ Simplified Zone System, which doesn’t require a densitometer, is less rigourous, but is eminently useful, which is all one needs from a tool.

Thanks for writing, gang!

Vancouver, BC
Post #: 628
Russ, if you're inclined... I'd like to see another Russ' Rants entry one day soon :)
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