Sunday, November 21, 2010

Here's the Deal....

I see a lot of photographers pages with a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section, and most of them are complete fabrications. Not the answers, just the questions. People ask themselves the questions that they want to answer so they can get whatever information across that they would like to get out, and it's easier if they pretend that someone else is asking them. Now don't inundate me with "My FAQ section is absolutely true." If it is, that's terrific. The people that make them up know who they are. Even the ones that are made up aren't a big deal. No one's getting hurt and information is being passed along, which is more than I can say for a lot of photographers that act like they are dealing with state secrets or the formula for nuclear fission and no one else is worthy of knowing what they know.

"What's your point here Scott?" you may be thinking.

My point is, that there is only one question that I get asked frequently, at least once a day, and that is "What kind of camera do you use?", and that is probably the least important piece of information about a photographer that there is.

Not that it matters, but I bought my first 35mm camera in 1978, it was a Ricoh, and I bought it at Lechemere Sales at the Mall of New Hampshire. A few years later I bought a Minolta X-700 and a few years later I bought a second X-700. A few years after that, I injured my arm badly in an accident and need to change the way I worked so I bought a Nikon N90. I shot with that camera for over 10 years until I decided to go digital and bought a Nikon D50 a bout six years ago to dip my toes in the digital pool, and three years ago upgraded to a Nikon D200. There, now you know what kind of camera I have always used......and it doesn't make a bit of difference. No camera EVER took a great photograph any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel. A camera is just a tool, like a hammer or a drill. It's the person using it that matters.

Now this information might be quite depressing for those of you that thought you could go out and spend a couple thousand dollars on camera equipment and be a great photographer. It just doesn't work that way. Photography is an art, and art is a creative process, and you can't buy creativity. You can learn it, but you can't buy it. I've been to photography exhibits where all of the images were taken with SX-70's, 110 instamatics, and other varieties of toy cameras that cost about $20.

My friend Will Michael and I were discussing an image the other day (as we are often prone to do) when he said "Seeing takes discipline, it's more than just looking." I'm always talking about needing "vision" and Will's statement just cuts right to the heart of it. You have to actually see what is in the frame. All of it, not just the center. You have to look in the corners and n the background. You have to check your horizons and your plumbs to make sure that they are horizontal and plumb.

Ansel Adams is one of the all time photographic greats and a personal icon of mine. He also has one of the most misinterpreted quotes around.

"There are no rules for good photograph's, only good photographs."

People like to interpret this as meaning that Ansel Adams is telling them that they don't need to know anything about the photographic rules, that they can just go out and shoot 300 frames per minute haphazardly and get good photographs. Sure, you might get a good frame here and there, but a blind squirrel will find a nut every once in a while as well. What he meant was that just because you follow the rules does not guarantee a great image. There are lots of rules, and Ansel wrote plenty of them. Of course it's ok to break the rules, but you have to know that you are breaking them and be breaking them for a purpose. A horizon line that is 2 or 3 degrees off just looks crooked. A horizon line that is 20 or 30 degrees off can impart a feeling or an emotion and look like it is done intentionally and not just that you are holding your camera crooked.

If you want to take great images, you don't need a fancy camera. You need heart, passion, and vision. Everything else is just practice.


Anonymous said...

Nice work!! I linked here from ozknits blog. Glad I did!!

Sarah Weber

Caitlyns Mama said...

Thank you Scott for taking the time with this blog. You and Will are always an inspiration to me.

brandianndesigns said...


THANK you for writing about this. i don't understand why people think it's the camera that did all the work.

it's right up there with thinking the toilet brush cleaned the toilet...all by itself. (and if there is one of those - i would like to have it)

anyways, thank you for pointing this out. i will be reading your blog now. (i've never been here before)

Sarah McBride said...

another fantastic post.
i completely agree with what you said about the Ansel Adams quote.
I also agree with what you said about the camera being a tool and just because you have a good camera that doesnt mean you will take a good picture.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed all the insightful information. I'm just learning and plan on getting a nice camera but you have given me the desire to work at figuring out my cheap digital.
Thanks for the add. Very helpful blog.
{{hugs}} Jacquee

Callooh Callay said...

You make some great points here, and I don't really dispute them, but I love my new Nikon (Dx40) and I know I'm getting better pictures out of it! Still amateur-ville, but at least it gives me a baseline to build on (so if a picture is bad, it's my fault).

CT said...

Excellent post! I totally agree with your points. The camera is a tool but it also takes many many years to be able to come close to the images I see on this blog. Thank you for sharing. - CT

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Sid Ceaser said...

Modern commercial marketing is making people think more and more that it isn't the craftsmen making the image, its about the gadget in their hands. More and more I get people who look at my images and ask me what I used to take the picture, as if it did all the work.

The best gadget to own isn't something you can purchase; its the big grey blob of brain-matter in your head. Use that to help you learn and refine your craft, and any camera you use; film OR digital, will look awesome ;)


Scott Bulger Photography said...

It's been happening forever, but more recently, I like to blame it on Nikon and Ashton Kutcher.

Andrew said...

true, also lets not forget the importance of a tripod....

Also a question to you is why always black and white?

For example I have noticed a couple photos like from nubble light and other landscapes that I personally think would be way more interesting in color. It is just that we are in a digital age and it is so easy to convert and sometimes I feel is over played.

Last question do you do any of your work in b&w film?

Scott Bulger Photography said...

Andrew, I've always been a black and white shooter since way before anyone had ever thought of a consumer model digital camera. I still shoot a lot of B&W film and shot exclusively B&W film for over 20 years prior to switching to digital capture and output in 2004.

I shoot in black and white because that's the way I see things. I've seen too many photographers that use color as a crutch to make up for poor composition and content and I'm just not interested in working that way. Black and white makes both the photographer and the viewer work harder since there is no "wow, look at all those pretty colors!" In my work I use shapes, textures, contrast, and tonal range to express the feelings and emotion that I see in my images. I'm just not wired to do that with color imagery.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

And...good conversion is much more difficult than people think. While current advances in software have made it easier for the novice to get a decent conversion, a truly excellent conversion is still about the vision and not about pressing a button.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. The only thing i disagree with is a lot of the cheaper digital cameras don't have ways to alter the ISO, f-stop and shutter speed. Not being able to customize those settings can seriously hamper a photographers ability to capture their desired image.

KathrynAntyr said...

Great post Scott. About 10 years ago I came back from a trip to Honduras. I was showing an acquaintance some photos I had shot with a cheap digital camera at the time. The color and composition were great but the resolution was really only good for web. To this man though all he saw was the composition and he asked what camera I had used. He replied, "Oh I need to get that camera." I said return, "No you need my eye." He also needs my patience. I'll sit in a spot and wait patiently (like a person waiting for a fish to bite) to get the shot that I want. The average person doesn't stop long enough to really look. They snap and go.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

Anonymous, you can create great art with a shoebox that has no shutter speed, ISO, aperture, or even a lens. It's about the artists vision ans understanding the tool that the are using.

Lucy Corrander said...

Black and white is my favourite kind of photograph. One of the best things about black and white pictures is that they fade gracefully, change their interest as they go whereas aged colour photographs are . . . ,well, grim!

This question of 'what camera' - maybe it depends who is asking. Sometimes the questioner may intend to show s/he is 'in' and technically knowledgeable, part of 'the club'. At others, it might be that someone is looking for guidance in what to aspire to.

As for it being a matter of what you see . . . I used to think I could point my camera at any old place and any old thing and a good image would result. Then I was unwell for a bit and had an operation and . . . my pictures were suddenly rubbish. As I got stronger again, I found my vision cleared and the pictures came back. Through this, I realised I can't just be pointing randomly after all.