There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. —Dalai Lama
I learned a long time ago that I can’t please everyone. There are a few people, fewer than five, who seem frustrated that I don’t write more about photography since that is mostly what I do. I suppose I could do that, but I’ve always operated under the premise that if one is reading about photography one is not doing photography and the only real way to improve is to do, not read. When I do write about photography, I want it to be something that is genuinely helpful.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that in those moments when I consider doing something crazy like writing a book, the outline itself seems sufficient instruction. If I were to title a chapter with something like, “Understanding Depth of Field,” what else is there to say except that the larger the aperture, the smaller the number, and the shorter the depth of field. There, done with that chapter. You’re welcome.
Okay, so I can BS my way through a thousand or so words on just about any topic, but is that really helpful when, if you want to improve your photography, you have to get out and shoot; that’s the only way anyone gets better. You can read all the damn books by all the “experts” in the world, but if your camera is not in your hand, if you’re not snapping regularly, if you’re not taking risks and trying things out differently, you’re not going to improve.
I’m no longer shooting anywhere near as often as I did four or five years ago and while I’m still not exactly “okay” with that, I’ve come to terms with the reality that my body hates me. We have a working relationship in that my body doesn’t especially like me working and lets me know when I’ve gone too far. Actually, if I could get more shoots in between 4-6 AM, we might be more productive, but there aren’t many people willing to shoot at that hour. Having plenty of time to step back and think, though, has allowed me to re-asses my philosophy of photography and make some changes.
Philosophies come and go and none of them are ever iron-clad; they’re circumstantial at best. Philosophies are based on a specific perspective to a specific reality and as both the perspectives and the realities change, so do the philosophies. As a result, philosophies held by other people are of limited value. Their perspective isn’t going to be the same as yours. The reality is not going to be identical to yours, even though you might share significant portions. Philosophies are valuable to other people only as guides in helping them establish their own.
I’ve held enough different philosophies of photography to fill a terabyte hard drive. Could I talk about each point at length? Yes, but I’m not sure what purpose that would serve. If you want how-to articles, there are plenty of those spanning different topics at Peta Pixel and PDN. Neither link is an endorsement, mind you, just two obvious resources. All I’m giving you are bullet points. Use the contact form if you have questions or hit me up on Facebook.
- Photography is a means of communication. When you take a picture, you are saying something. When you share a photo, you are broadcasting a message. Think before you talk.
- Photography is a visual language and just as we don’t all speak English we don’t all take photographs the same way. That’s good. Diversity opens all our minds.
- Sometimes we have a lot of pictures to serve as our vocabulary, but we don’t always know how to put them together into cohesive communication. Learning to curate our photos before sharing them is important.
- Just because someone else did it doesn’t mean you can, or should. Find your own distinct look and play to that.
- Any camera that takes pictures is a good camera.
- Every once in a while, stop what you’re doing and shoot dirt. Choose a common element, such as a tree or a dandelion, and find a way to make it interesting. Keep the creative juices flowing.
- Don’t over-think any situation. Details can distract you from the creativity and artistry of the shot. Focus on the major elements and then shoot.
- Shooting nudes is to photography what figure drawing is to a traditional art education: fundamental. To not study the human body is to be unprepared for shooting a clothed one.
- Protecting the rights of photographers to shoot without interference is your responsibility, even if you never leave your own studio.
- Beauty is built upon flaws. There is no such thing as the perfect photograph. Play to the quirks, the oddities, and the imperfections of a subject.
- The world sees photography as a commodity. The only way to change their mind is to take pictures that are not common.
- Photography has the ability to tell a harsh truth and that scares people. Don’t be afraid to take those pictures. Sometimes people need to be scared.
- Censoring photography is like putting a gag in someone’s mouth. Just because someone doesn’t like the message doesn’t mean they have a right to control it.
- Photographers own the rights to their pictures just like a speaker owns the rights to the words coming from their mouths. Limiting the rights to a photograph because of who is in it is like limiting the rights to a novel because of the words the author used. Stepping in front of a camera does not give anyone rights to that image.
- Giving up rights to a photograph is a weakness.
- Neither taking a photograph nor being in a photograph gives either side the right to bully the other.
- Think with your eyes, see with your camera.
- Criticizing photographs is a waste of time. When examining a photograph, there are but two questions: Did you capture what you wanted? What would you do differently? Everything else is a matter of one’s creative taste.
- Saying one understands the whole of photography is like saying one understands every language in the world: you don’t. Photography is too broad, too complex, and too individual in its details to be consumed as a whole.
- One doesn’t need friends who limit one’s work. One needs friends who will stand/sit/lie naked in front of your camera while one searches for an angle.
- The value of a photograph is not in the subject but in the photographer’s ability to tell the story of that subject in a single frame.
- Just as mountains are millions of years old, there are an equal number of ways in which they can be photographed.
- Light introduces us to a subject; shadows tell the story.
- Morality in a photograph lies not in its content but only in the mind of the person viewing it.
- To be jealous of someone else’s photography is to demonstrate the need for one’s own improvement.
- Displaying a photograph in both color and black and white is like telling a story from two different perspectives; one is the three little pigs, the other is the wolf.
- Technology and digital camera works open the field of photography to a whole new realm of exploration which we’ve not yet begun to understand.
- Never share a picture that didn’t first make you feel something.
I’m going to stop there. I’ve probably already exceeded the point of interest for the vast majority of people. Philosophies become boring the longer one is forced to stare at them. Consider what your philosophy might be. You don’t need to write it down, just think about it then pick up the camera and start shooting.
Philosophies don’t take pictures. Photographers do.