Photography is Life
I haven’t really talked about photography on my blog yet and since this is also a photo blog, it is only natural that I should share some thoughts on the art of photography. I only began to think about this post when friends on Google Plus said that they would like to hear my thoughts on post-processing. There is a reason why I did not focus on photography techniques on my blog and I will explain.
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
Photography, just like any other art form, is not really about the tools. It might be nice and essential to own tools that helps you in realizing your creative vision but to give a pencil to one who doesn’t care about drawing, it becomes pointless. It had been said a countless time that a good photograph does not depend on the camera but on the visionary behind the lens.
I have done art for many years although I have only been doing photography for slightly more than 2 years. I started off on the foundations of art a long time ago working on lots of drawings, painting and sculpting. Upon learning the basic foundations, I moved on to what I have always loved, 3D modeling for video games. There are like countless sophisticated tools in 3D computer graphics in terms of software and it goes on updating forever as modern technology advances. You have so much power in your hands as a 3D artist that the arsenal of tools you have to realize your vision in 3D space is just purely insane. It felt like being god and you are only limited by your imagination to create anything you want. The thing to realize is, with so much tools at your disposal, you as the creator becomes the only weakest link towards creating beautiful art.
Light is everything in photography. Without light there is nothing to see and no image to capture. Let there be light and there is light—easily done with a click of a mouse in any 3D programs but what to do with the light? Where to place it so that it will look best on your subjects? The knowledge and understanding of where to place the light comes from your observation and experience. We all see things differently and this difference is what makes photography beautiful in the first place. Everyone has a unique perspective on the world around them and no matter how hard we try, there is no 2 shots that are ever the same, just like snowflakes. The value of each photo is as precious as the moment it captures, it will not happen again in the same light.
In order to realize this difference, forget about all the tools that seeks to confuse you for the moment and keep things really simple and basic. Almost everyone owns a camera today, why do you even click in the first place? Anybody can touch to focus and capture photos on their cellphones, so easy that even babies could do it. What resulted from that click is the difference. What you decided to capture is a reflection of what you focus on in life. This is precisely the reason why I write so much on understanding the wisdom in life rather than on tools and techniques—you are what you see and what you choose to see in life is who you are. Your images reflect that. It is harder to learn to see than to learn to achieve technical excellence.
Photography is visual communication, the images you took tells the story about you. I disdain war-torn images or images of poverty and suffering. Those have their uses but it is not something I like to focus on that’s why I can never be a typical news photo journalist. Most news-worthy articles are generally negative in nature if you haven’t yet realized. The point is you produce images that is a part of you and that is what makes it unique. I prefer things that are beautiful such as flowers, nature, animals, places; things that connect and uplift the human spirit. We are only here but for a short time, why focus on stuff that makes it worse? In this temporary existence that we are, there really is only 2 things we can think about. One is the person we would like to be shaped into—this includes your values as a human being, your responsibilities, etc. The other is your craft—what you bring into the world for being you. These two things will greatly affect and shape your images. To be able to create beautiful images, you have to live life by unleashing your greatest potential, unleashing the part of you that is pure and not tainted by opinions.
Being a creative artist and now a photographer, there is a major difference. Artists starts on a blank canvas and produces their work from the mind and imagination, photographers creates by capturing from reality itself. In a way, artists are their own creators and photographers create from the works of the creator. One lives in the head, the other gets out there and live in the world; one creates beautiful things by willing it out from the mind, the other single out beautiful things that is already existing in the world. Having been through this transition, I am glad I made the choice. Being able to really see our world with clarity for the first time, without the clouded vision of the mind, is a reward by itself. The greatest benefit for taking up photography is that it allows us to see our world in a different perspective and we will start to pick out things that are beautiful but wasn’t there in our sights before. When you start to see things through the lens in order to compose a beautiful picture, the things around you will take on a different quality; the greens of the leaves will sing to you, the flowers will start calling for your attention and the animals bare their souls to you through their eyes, united as a single source of life itself.
When I first started photography, I was like many others. I slowly became a gear geek. What is there not to like about the latest camera bodies and oh, lenses are all so beautiful. If only it could be a tad sharper…wow f0.95, imagine how bokehlicious that will be—until my bank account dwindles. That is just plain crazy. I agree that it helps to have good gear but the best gear is the one that goes out of your way to create the image you want. If I have any advice on gears, I would say that pick a camera brand based on the lenses that you love and would use—to my surprise, some of my best images are shot with kit lenses. I started off as an artist, became a gear geek and I am glad I returned to be an artist again. Do not fall for the trap because it will cost, use what you have and realized that your artistic vision is the main point.
Photography connect souls as a visual conversation.
For those that are interested, I will share some concepts of my workflow. Personally, being at the spot and clicking the shutter is only about 20 percent of my work for creating the images. This 20 percent is by no means easy. It involves so much time and money to travel and wait for good light that the effort that goes into creating the image might be hard to top in terms of returns. The only way to do this is that it becomes your lifestyle and the love for photography and sharing is a part of you; you will do it anyways even if you get nothing out of it at the end. I believe lots of photographers can attest to this. Even after you made the trip, epic shots are not guaranteed because there are uncontrollable forces at work such as weather and lighting. The ability to see, compose and frame is also done at this stage, I try to work my surroundings and hopefully I will not regret the choices I made in compositional elements when I review my images, sometimes it might be the last time you ever get to visit the scene.
Once the images are captured, I will then have to worry about the storage space on my drives. Storage space are cheaper now but by no means really cheap. Once the images are stored, the process of selection starts and this takes up the next 20 percent of the workflow. I have to decide what to keep and what to delete in order to keep my storage space efficient. As I do a lot of hand-held shots, blurred shots are the first to go then followed by shots with similar compositions. At this stage, the aesthetics of the shots is what I am most concerned about.
The next 60 percent is on finishing up the image with post-processing. That is the core of my work. I use different techniques based on the demands of different images. It is more like an intuition thing on what works best on each image. It is this intuition that I have explained about and it comes from your experience and how you see the world. This is also the stage where you can input your greatest creativity and truly make an image your own, through the style that you have developed over time. The hardest journey for me on this step is finding my unique voice—the unique style that differentiates your images from all others and the ability to keep it consistent in all your images. It kind of develops the more you work on your images and for me it took like 2 years and it is always changing.
As you can see, the pushing of a shutter is but only a small part of the process. Photography is interesting in that it is easy to learn but difficult to master. The more you delve into it, the more there is to discover. It is a never-ending learning process very much like the process of self-discovery, that is what makes it amazing and the most beautiful part of photography is—it connect souls as a visual conversation.
There is no secret formula to creating beautiful images, just lots of hard work, perseverance and the will to want to learn and try new things. If you have the will, you will have the way. There are tons of resources out there for the truly inspired, resources shared by so many great artists. If you are serious about doing great photography, I will suggest starting as soon as you can because it really takes time to build your craft.
Photography is Life Part 2: It is harder to learn how to see.
Photography is Life Part 3: Looking through the Eyes of the Photographer.