Tuesday, 2 June 2015

It's photography, not rocket science.

For as long as I can remember people have asked me about the technical details of my image making. All the usual stuff. Conversations usually go like this: "What camera / lens / film / developer / exposure / f stop / paper / printing methods etc. etc. do you use"? When I reply with very prosaic and simple answers they seem disappointed. "But your prints are so good, you must have secret film and print developer formulas"? "No I don't, I just use very basic materials". "Ah, come on, you do really and want to keep it a secret". "No, really, just bog-standard, readily available stuff". "But I use those too and my prints don't look like yours". "I have been at it a long time so I have experience, it takes time to learn how to get the best out of your materials". 
Llyn Brianne, Ceredigion, 1986
The reality is that I am not keen on these conversations because my questioners usually end up disappointed with my truthful and hopefully helpful answers and go away disillusioned about how to progress the technical side of their work. It seems as if they are always looking for some instant 'fix', or a 'short-cut' magic formula to avoid the trek along the long road to gain skills.

Not that the skill requirement is over complex or ultra demanding but it does take time, patience and a basic understanding of the materials you are using. The problem is that few have the humility to accept this, or are willing to devote the time to learning these basics. They scour photo magazines and read internet blogs in a vain search for the 'holy grail' of technique that will transform the technical side of their work overnight. 
Sardinia, 2000

It's a shame that so many potentially good photographers have wasted years of their life in this fruitless search for the 'magic potion' they assume will transform their images at a stroke. In reality they would have been far better served by heeding the advice that they were no doubt given by the majority of prominent photographers and sticking to basic, good materials and getting the best out of them. Constantly changing techniques and materials just means that they never really get to fully understand their potential and you end up spending time playing with techniques rather than concentrating on the image making. As a consequence it's a double loss. Mediocre technique and a lack of progression in the photographs themselves.
Sardinia, 2000

There are a few simple axioms that I have followed all my working life in photography and they apply as well to using digital equipment and techniques as they do to my film-based work. Cameras and lenses - buy the best. Not what you can afford, I do mean the best. If you can afford it without a struggle or your eyes watering then you are probably buying too cheaply or a multi-millionaire. At a stroke, this eliminates all the 'excuses' you can make about poor technique or having to fiddle with equipment. In terms of materials, also buy the best but this you will find is also the simplest and most easily available. I have had the privilege to meet and work with a host of great photographers over the years, worldwide. Although their styles differed greatly, the common denominator was that the equipment they used was the best and their materials were almost always very straightforward. 
Part of the 'Wildwood' exhibition

I carried over this philosophy with my recent colour work too and to the use of digital equipment and techniques and it still applies. I read reams of stuff on photography forums about photographers trying this or that technique, constantly swapping computer programmes and fiddling with this or that control. Me? I use the best equipment and lenses, (some lenses now over 60 years old but because I bought the best at the time, still perfect today). I also use the simplest and most basic programmes and 'fiddle' with my images only in very minor ways. Keep it simple and master the basics. I have seldom needed any more and it allows me to spend more time concentrating on the important stuff. The world around me and how I wish to interpret this.