Photography is an interesting blend of the technical and artistic. It lends itself both to gadget geeks and hipsters. We have the gearheads who’ll drool over the latest camera or lens, discuss high ISO performance as if it were the be-all, end-all of camera function, or worship at the altar of megapixels. On the other hand, there are the retro afficionados with their Lomos, Dianas, or Holgas preaching, “Don’t think!” and “Shoot from the Hip”.
In between those two extremes lie a middle ground which takes a balanced view of how to approach and improve one’s photography. For me, I see it terms of four axes which together encapsulates the factors for good photography. There are:
- Equipment. Photography is merely the formation of an image and the means to record it. However, we require the appropriate tools to achieve our photographic goals. Equipment should be seen as a means to an end, and not an end onto itself. Perhaps gear fetishism brings pleasure to some people but it can distract from the main event, taking photographs. A professional photographer does not have top end equipment just to look cool, it’s because they need to utilise their capabilities.
- Technique. Simply having the best tools isn’t enough, you have to know how to use them. But technique in itself can sometimes overshadow content so this needs to be balanced against artistic vision. A professional photographer should have honed their skills through years of practise and a continual process of learning.
- Artistic Vision. Having the latest and greatest gear and the technique to use it should serve the purpose of expressing your artistic vision. Otherwise you might has well just take snaps of your cat. Some people naturally express their vision, others may require work to develop and enact it. Balance your own experimentation against gaining inspiration from others. Looking at the work of others is helpful for discovering possibilities, but conversely don’t let it narrow your own vision. Develop a style, make the photos you take your own.
- Opportunity. This isn’t just a matter of finding the time or funds to take photos, but also involves making opportunities. This could be networking with colleagues or potential clients, scouting out new locations, planning photo trips, being in the right place at the right time, or chasing up that lead. If photography is important to you, give it the chance to grow.
There is an interplay between these, my vision may drive the kind of equipment I need to acquire and the skills I need to learn. New opportunities may lead to a different direction in my vision. My technique may evolve to accommodate the equipment I have. To improve, you could consider what balance is best for you and which area(s) you many need to work on.