Game of Tones: Musings on Photography

It’s the thought that counts

Scott Bourne is a famous and prominent photographer who has written books and a popular blog about photography. I became aware of him when I was looking around for resources for beginning photographers, and started following both his blog and his Twitter feed.

Scott is unabashedly opinionated (I say that with fondness, not judgment), and he wrote a post yesterday that resonated with me. It’s worth reading the whole thing (it’s not very long), but in a nutshell, Scott makes the point that photography is about the picture, NOT the process you use to get it.

The post talks specifically about the now-iconic photograph of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston, and says this:

Nobody cares which camera or film or shutter speed Neil [Leifer] used to make this image – it’s the IMAGE that counts. It’s about the impact of capturing a moment in time that will live on forever. It’s about a photo that will live on past all of us. The processes used won’t even be known to people generations from now who see the picture. All that they will know is that in the 1960s, a boxer named Ali dominated and the moment was captured for generations that will follow to see.

As I’m getting into photography – this blog of mine is even symptomatic of this – I have found myself getting more and more buried in the technical minutiae of taking a picture. White balance, aperture, shutter speed, where’s the light, composition – these things are all swirling around in my head when I go out to shoot now, and I find that when I blow one (or, let’s be honest, usually MORE than one) of these settings before firing the shutter, I get exasperated with and angry at myself for not getting it right. The only outcome of this is that I’m going to end up thinking of photography as an irksome chore rather than a satisfying hobby.

The flipside are people who are so confident in their Photoshop abilities that getting the shot right “in the moment” becomes an afterthought. Who cares if I blow the shot? I can fix almost anything later! That will never be me. I find processing tedious, boring, frustrating, repetitious, and not at all satisfying. It is also, in my opinion, shoddy and lazy. If you love digital imaging THAT much, maybe you should be an animator instead of a photographer. I resisted digital photography for a long time because I felt it was too much tricks, not enough substance. I still feel that way.

It’s good to learn the technical details, and good to learn the processes, and best of all to learn them so well that they’re internalized and become second nature when you’re shooting. There’s nothing wrong with educating yourself such that when that can’t-miss shot appears before you, you are as sure as you can be of nailing it rather than losing it because you got something wrong. But I appreciate Scott’s insight and it’s something I need to keep in mind: picture first, process second.

OK, enough words. Photo time! I’m using one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken with my new camera. A while back, I was out on a random Sunday having coffee with friends. It was one of the first nice, warm, sunny days of the year. We were sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe in what is, frankly, a not particularly beautiful section of Busan – think ugly, charmless urban downtown. But nearby, a very small planter held a few leafy green things, one of which had some unopened flower buds. They looked nice, so I pointed and snapped a few shots. I didn’t worry so much about any of the technical stuff, but I came out with an image I love.

Can you tell that this was taken in an ugly urban downtown?

This entry was published on June 20, 2012 at 12:37 am and is filed under Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “It’s the thought that counts

  1. Torvic on said:

    STEVEEEEEEEE…update your site

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