There are many different reasons that photographers love photography. Almost always any individual photographer’s interest is a mixture of multiple aspects.
I was never a professional photographer, though for a few years I worked as a semi-pro, covering high school sporting events for a weekly newspaper on nights and weekends. But, I was in the photographic equipment business from the age of 23 to my finally full retirement at the age of 73. I worked for a photographic equipment manufacturer and distributor, primarily of professional photographic products, then, in conjunction with a valued partner, started our own manufacturing business, again supplying specialty photographic equipment, as well as other products not related to photography.
Having been an enthusiastic amateur, I eventually got burned out, as much from doing customer service as any other single element. RTFM became my mantra — as in “Read the F****** Manual”. (I have since learned that waiters have a slight variation but use the same acronym – as in “Read the F****** Menu.”)
In my 60s, I returned to photography with the purchase of a small digital camera with a zoom lens. In due course, I became dissatisfied with the level of quality offered and moved to Sony APS-C interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras, which rapidly renewed and expanded my interest. I rediscovered my primary interests in scenic pictures and travel photography, with my travel photos heavily weighted towards scenics. Mountains, forests, oceans, deserts — these are subjects that hold my interests — urban environments not so much.
I must also admit to a long-held fascination with the technical aspects of photography, especially lenses. Years ago I was heavily involved with lenses in my business and learned a lot about them. While I was no lens designer, I did learn the attributes and weaknesses of various lenses, the trade-offs, and how to optimize performance. The development of still photo imaging technology continues to fascinate me.
Some years ago I discovered an interesting quirk in my photography, in that, frequently, the framing of a photograph in the viewfinder and the taking of the picture had become more important to me than seeing the result; something that to this day often remains true for me. I should note here that this eccentricity is almost always with scenic shots.
In the days of film, one would shoot color slides, then send the film out for processing and hopefully a week later be able to see the results. Obviously, today digital photographers can see their picture in seconds. But in my case, it is sometimes weeks before I download pictures from my camera, though I have likely taken a number over the period since my last download to my computer.
This aspect of discovering that I was more interested in taking the picture than seeing it later did not seem logical, a seeming conundrum. I was determined to work out the paradox. It did not seem to make any sense. Or did it?
At this point, I should point out that for the last some years I have been working out an understanding of my personal spiritual journey. It involves the abandonment and discarding of most of what I was taught in my formative years and my search for a replacement understanding of my existence and its meaning. (If you have any interest in this journey, please see here.)
I began to see that what seemed a quirk in my personality is in fact, for me, an important clue to larger things. There is a definite streak of pantheism in my make-up, which, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “is the belief that God can be identified with the universe, or that the universe is a manifestation of God.”
This seems to me to be a bit simplistic because the whole concept of God and Creation is far too complex to be so easily delivered. Still, I have come to realize it a significant component of my personal beliefs. Accepting that has let a lot more pieces of my personal puzzle fall into place.
I have a strong sense of needing to acknowledge and indeed worship my Creator, but no longer in the framework of any organized religion. The works of Creation are all around us, and to my eye they are beautiful. To fit them into the frame of my camera’s viewfinder and make the exposure is for me an affirmation of their beauty and this affirmation is indeed an act of worship.
And that is the root of my thinking. Still scenic photography is a wonderful tool to affirm the Creation. It took a long time for me to gain this understanding — many decades in fact. I do not expect most people will find this to be a significant insight for themselves, but it works for me, and if by writing this I help a few others better understand themselves I will be truly delighted. In any case, having accepted this aspect of my photography, a lot of lesser issues became clearer to me as an outgrowth, things that follow this thinking.
For example, if the taking of a photograph is indeed a form of recognition of the Creation, then it should naturally follow that we should do our best to make the photograph as good as we can within the limitations of the situation. But then, don’t we always do that? It would be a sad commentary on ourselves if we don’t.
If we acknowledge that the taking of photographs is an important and meaningful thing, should we not be using the best possible equipment we can afford? Within reason, I have to think the answer has to be yes. But wait! If for example, we shoot daylight scenics, we certainly don’t need an f/1.2 lens, including the price, size, and weight, when an f/2.8 or even smaller aperture will do the job every bit as well. And at f/8, most quality zooms are virtually as good as the finest large aperture fixed focal length lens.
Cameras with higher resolution sensors? My personal belief is that you can’t have too much system resolution, of which sensor resolution is a major component. And why is this important?
You have to ask? If nothing else, because it allows a lot of cropping without significant loss of quality.
Sensor size? If full-frame is better than APS-C (a difference I believe is very marginal when shooting scenics) then instead should we not go to medium format? This is one argument that does not work for me.
Tripods? Yes — use one where you can. But doing so is often impractical for one reason or another. To give your best effort to get a picture does not mean it has to be perfect in every way — in any case they never are — but rather that you did your best to get it under the circumstances available to you. Hauling a tripod around may be a serious impediment to getting a great picture. Common sense should rule.
And what about after the picture is taken, downloaded into a computer, and examined? Most photographers today go into a post-processing program in a bid to improve and often embellish a photo. Which brings us to an important divide.
Personally, I look to see what errors I can clean up, such as removal of dust spots, leveling the horizon, changing the apparent exposure settings, correcting lighting color temperature, and the like. I also may use other programs that sharpen the picture and eliminate noise. But I resist doing much more. If indeed the picture was taken as an affirmation of the beauty of Creation, significant enhancement measurers that actually change the picture seem to me to be denying that very affirmation.
There is certainly nothing wrong with taking an image into a post-processing program and significantly changing it. Beautiful pieces of art can come from this — or portraits that hide little imperfections, or product shots that optimize the virtues of the subject. The artful elimination of people no longer in one’s life, an enhanced sky, the “mood” of a picture considerably altered — these are all well within the possibilities of post-processing, and certainly are valid techniques. But excessive post-processing of a scenic means that we are no longer recording a scene but instead creating a different one. Doing so removes the original intention of honoring the scene we framed and shot.
Is this a horrible sin? Of course not. But when we do so to a scenic photograph we must understand that we have become the artist, inspired by the Creation around us but modifying it.
And of course, any attempt to make a sharp division between affirmation and post-processing is impossible. An excellent case in point is the work of Ansel Adams. His famous pictures were representational, yet we know very well that he was a master of darkroom wizardry, using his skills to bring out the best of the images he saw and photographed. Still, his methods clearly were intended to be true to what he saw. I very much believe he would be comfortable with my thinking.
Every day in normal circumstances people take thousands of pictures of the Grand Canyon. It takes very little thought to realize that few if any of these pictures will be in any way noteworthy above pictures already taken. But that said, they are OUR pictures, our personal affirmation of the wonderful scene stretched out below us, and that gives them a special validity for us.
Professional photographers operate on a whole different ethic from my comments above — they must satisfy the customer. Yet, many pros still shoot for themselves as well, and I believe it frequently is for the reasons above.
Must our scenics be free of man-made objects? To my thinking, not at all. After all, we too are a part of Creation, not alien to it. Farms, roads, telephone poles, people; all can be tasteful elements of a scenic photograph. I will confess however to prejudice against urban congestion.
In the end, we have to accept that few if any of our photos are great. Often the scene is great; our photos of it less so. But our pictures serve as memories and even little shrines of the wonderful little piece of Creation that is our home.
P.S. I am confident some readers will not relate to my views, for whatever reason. But I hope that it will resonate with others and that it will help them on their journey. Cheers
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
About the author: Bob Locher certainly makes no claim to being a great photographer; rather, he considers himself to not be a very good one. He is not much of a speaker either, and does not have his own YouTube Channel, nor does he do Photographic Tours. But, he has been in the photographic hardware industry most of his life, fancies himself as something of a writer, has opinions and is not afraid to express them. He loves photography, values technical quality, and is indeed a pixel-peeper. Locher has written over 50 magazine articles as well as two books. You can find more of his work and writing on his website.
Image credits: Header illustration by Kassy and licensed under CC BY 4.0