“To make our photographs come alive it may be necessary to prevent ourselves from being invested by the complex knowledge of photography and our love for technique. Instead, we may be better off by concentrating on our love for the subject matter and on the feelings we hope to reveal”
Per Volquartz. Photographer.
I rarely buy photographic magazines. Maybe once a year for a holiday read is about it. As a member of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) I receive their magazine every month as well as the RPS visual art group magazine, and whilst I have issues with some of the content as ‘photography’ the work published is usually superb.
Part of my abstention from the main-stream photography press is due to the fact that they are obsessed with equipment (which keeps advertisers happy) and with technique (which, I suppose, keeps readers happy). Lots of ‘how ‘and little ‘why’ is the norm, which is to say that there’s little discussion or critique of the aesthetic and creative attributes of an image. This if fine if you want to buy a new piece of kit, need to understand ND filters, or are looking for a promising location, but useless if you want to understand why a particular image works so well.
Another reason for my abstention is that, in this digital world, there are so many more ways of finding the information and inspiration I’m looking for. However, the problem here is that the new wave of bloggers, vloggers etc are simply aping the hard copy magazines. Equipment and technique are still paramount to the point of banality. Why anybody would want to make a 10 minute video about un-boxing a new camera, or why anyone would watch it, is beyond my understanding.
Last weekend I spent time looking at some landscape vloggers work on Youtube. I watched eight vlogs by six different ‘landscape photographers’ (inverted commas intentional), and errors, mistakes, poor technique, and resulting images (when displayed) which were, quite frankly, rubbish were in abundance. One vlogger was disappointed when he found himself on the wrong side of a valley at sunset! Wrong place at the wrong time; difficult for a ‘landscape photographer’ to get it more wrong then that.
There are many facets to landscape photography which are not apparent in the finished images. An understanding of weather patterns, tides, the movement of the sun, the variations in water levels in lakes and rivers, timing of seasonal events, to name a few, are crucial. Research is also important, as an understanding of the background of a landscape feature can (and maybe should) have an influence on how you photograph it. Studying the work of other photographers and artists is crucial, and viewing as much work by as many different photographers and artists as possible provides a good foundation to your own work.
‘Landscape photography’ is not about photography; it’s about the landscape. You can teach someone the basics of photography in a few hours, but an understanding of the landscape can’t be taught. It has to acquired through experience, and that takes time. Only when you have developed some empathy with the landscape can you start to explore your response to it through your images. My best images often come towards the end of a visit, as if my photography head needs time to tune in to a particular landscape.
A few years ago I hosted a one day workshop in Snowdonia, and those photographers who made the effort to meet me 2 hours before sunrise were rewarded with spectacular lighting. To this day, whenever I visit their club, they still talk about that morning. It was no accident that I took them to that spot at that time. True, the light was even better than I anticipated, but we were in the right place at the right time, which was a product of not only my experience and knowledge of the area, but of the efforts by everyone to get out of bed at silly o’clock.
Rather than being able to recite the attributes of the latest piece of kit, which will be replaced in a few months anyway, we should concentrate on the emotional, aesthetic and creative ‘why’ in our images. To understand why the photographer was compelled to make the image, and why, for example, the compositional decisions were made. What does the photographer ‘see’ in the landscape and how does it affect their response and the resulting composition.
Maybe what we need is a vlog which describes, in real time, the photographer’s thought processes in building a particular composition, or one in which a photographer discusses the attributes of a successful image. Any takers?