Something to Think About: Should Photography be Easy?

As I write this I am about 34,000 feet over Colorado heading to Atlanta to teach a seminar. I have a question that keeps popping to the fore in my thoughts. (NOTE: I posted this article to a forum on Flickr immediately after it was written. I want to share it with the Lighting Essentials readers for their consideration.)

Is photography easy?

Should it be?

We seem to expect it to be. I see the ads about how easy it is to “click” and get a picture. Kodak said it decades earlier: “Push the button and we do the rest.” Now Ashton Kucher, the uh, actor or whatever he is, tells us that it is even easier.

I see post after post on forums everywhere that seem to say “I don’t have time to learn this, just show me how to do it really well. I got a minute. I have to do an annual report next tuesday and my ass is on the line. How do I light a CEO?”

To record an image to a sensor is an extremely easy thing to do these days. Point and shoots do it amazingly well. And the new pro cameras are simply awesome. Throw in a flash and a modicum understanding of light and ‘voilA’ – a photograph.

We can post it on Flickr. Stick it on a hard drive. Transfer it to our iPhones.

Easy.

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But is it so easy to make a photograph? I mean an image that connects with the viewer. One that means something to the people who see it. Should it be easy to make a photograph? Seriously… should it? Will it ever be?

Not an image. That should be as easy as, well… a click I guess.

What I am talking about is making an image that transcends the ‘pictures’ we make and reaches a new place.

I submit to you that it is easy to make an image, and terribly difficult to make a photograph.

Making a photograph requires more than a camera, or the newest sensor, or gazillions of pixels. It has more to do with the photographer than the camera. The thought processes that got the photographer from the bed to the place where he/she is standing and ready to click the shutter.

So many of us spend so much time talking about lenses, cameras, pixels, lights, stands, whether we should take an umbrella to the beach (heh) and other stuff that we forget about talking about photographers. About photography. As a verb.

Us.

Briana in CA near the windmills

Briana in CA near the windmills

We matter in the taking of a photograph. We make the difference between a capture and a photograph. What we think. Who we are. Our depth of life experience (or lack of it) can make so many differences in the choices we make to commit that moment to a still shot. An image is a momentary snap of reality that is recorded for review. Lots of images are simply wonderful too, so this is not a slam on simple images or snaps or whatever. However, a photograph can bring us back again and again to a place in our emotions that call up more complexity.

Or not.

Consider this: An photograph by Edward Weston or the snapshot of your parents now gone, taken before they were trampled by age and smiling together – a rare moment – as they went out the door for a party. Which provides more emotion for you. Side by side it is a no brainer. At least for me. Which would I grab and head for the door in a fire if I could only take one? See ya ‘Peppers.’

Agave: Santa Barbra, CA

Agave: Santa Barbra, CA

The image can become a photograph by extraneous emotions of the beholder. If I were not there and someone came in to save my things, I imagine they would take the framed ‘Pepper’ shot and not the little picture on the desk of mom and dad. The difference is what they brought to the image. Not in the image itself. We bring things to the picture after it is taken.

What do we bring to the image before we take the snap? Is it easy? Simple maybe, but easy?

In this fast world where you can board a plane in Phoenix and end up in Atlanta in about 3 hours, take your camera out and make a snap of the concourse and hook up the iTouch for some Coltrane, the thought that making pictures should be easy is probably normal. Yeah, I’m good with that.

But I don’t think making a photograph is easy. It is made more difficult by the ease of creating an image. Does that make sense? As the making of a snap becomes quicker and easier (no film, processing and darkrooms needed) the ability to transcend the mere making of an image becomes more difficult. When everone can make a picture that is exposed well, lit reasonably well, in focus and with glorious Photoshopped enhanced color, the call is to make an image that somehow goes beyond that set of parameters and touches the viewer, or moves them, or repulses them, or makes them think, do, act… whatever.

Door: California Coast

Door: California Coast

That is not easy. That is as hard as any other art form. Hell, maybe harder due to the fact that everyone can reasonably do it. I can sit any person down at my keyboard or drums and if they cannot play… they cannot play. No button to push. No “Easy Button” or whatever. They are gonna have no idea and the learning curve is substantial. Give them a 40D and they can put it on auto and make some reasonably good captures. Some point and shoots will even alert you if the subject wasn’t smiling. When they can make decent coffee, I’m gettin’ one.

Bri and the Cones: Patton Museum, California

Bri and the Cones: Patton Museum, California

So the ability to make a clean image is just not a big deal anymore. To me that means that making an image that goes beyond that level is made even harder.

My questions to you is: Do you think about photography as being the result of the gear you have or the thought processes that goes before? Is it the print or the moment? The action or the result? Is it a question of how that you first think, or one of why? Are they both important, or are neither of any consequence?

Is the making of a photograph easy? Or are you challenged every moment that you work at it.

I am. I want to make some photographs as I make thousands of images. It can be such a daunting task. Like triple paradiddles, but uh, different. But every time I grab the camera I think ‘maybe this time’ and work away.

To make a photograph that makes someone else feel something is a privilege. And a rare one at that.

— Don Giannatti

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

5 Comments

  1. Don, great post. Photography really is a crazy field because as you put it, everyone has the tools to perform the art. As soon as someone purchases a point and shoot at the local ya’al-mart they’re offering photography to friends and family. While that’s OK in itself, the fact that Mom and Dad doesn’t understand the value of a good photograph is not. I’ve seen parents hang simple, technically incorrect photos of their child’s blurred face right next to a professional studio portrait and regard both as of the same professional quality.

    What’s the fix? I’m not sure so I keep up with what I know. Quality, professionalism and educating the client. Oh, and I tap dance and play the kazoo.

    John

    Reply
  2. Right on Don….
    I really like your last sentance…. It truly is a privilege….

    Reply
  3. Just because I can drive a car doesn’t mean I’ll finish the Daytona 500 alive.

    Reply
  4. I loved this article. Just made one in my website, a translation to portuguese… =)
    Congrats!

    Reply
  5. Hi Don
    You are saying and asking many things in this article. Those super sophisticated shirt pocket point and shoot cameras that never miss a shot have made it extremely easy for everybody to create technically correct images of everything from landscapes to portraits. I think the difference between the “snaps” and the “photographs” is weather or not the photographer approaches the shoot with a concept first. Next you decide what is needed to light it and how to do it. Then, everyone else involved must be up to speed models, MUAs clients (if they aren’t already). I think you conveyed this recently when you talked about the Apricot Lane Boutique shoot you did and how everybody got involved to work towards the common goal of “creating those dynamite images” Fun – Fearless – Fashionable. YOU could have probably created those images with any camera because you’d planned it out. I think most of us can tell just by looking at an images how much thought and work has gone into a “photograph” BEFORE the shutter has been pressed. That’s the way I see it.

    I really enjoy all the articles on Lighting Essentials and read them all. A superior BLOG. Keep up the outstanding work.

    Douglas Essery

    Reply

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