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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Principal Principles...

I find myself constantly torn between two kinds of photography that are very dear to me - Natural Light portraits and Strobist work. Natural, available light presents a challenge to a photographer. It is what it is and there is little chance of changing it. Personally,  I do not believe there is any such thing as bad light. There is only the bad use of it. Light is required for every photograph, but it comes with many faces. Those faces set the tone and feel of the images you create within the moment and in that you are at the mercy of the light you are given. 

Learning the nuances of natural light and working within its allowances is a liberating process for any photographer as it means never being stuck for a creative option. There is always an answer, an image, an opportunity. A photographer who knows available light can shoot anyone, anywhere, anytime. This photographer doesn't need exotic locations, beautiful brides, unique subject matter or anything particularly overwhelming or dynamic to create from the given situation. This photographer knows the power of writing with light and knows that  brush well. That is powerful stuff, and simply good for business if you are a working photographer shooting his share of weddings and location based portraits. There will never be a situation in which you will throw up your hands and surrender for lack of ideas, control or options.  Photographers who work - or intend to work - in these arenas cannot afford to go in without knowledge of their craft, the light and the need to work with it, beneath it, around it and within it. A rainy day does not scare a wedding photographer. It simply changes his approach and gets him a little wet. The same is true of harsh sunlight or cloudy days. The light will be what it will be and the photographer bows to its will. Once done, he knows where he stands and what can be achieved. There is little point arguing with the nature of the light or hoping that some other kind of light had been available. No amount of cursing, hoping or wishing will change what you are given.

Strobist based photography, however, is about control. It is about putting your light anywhere you want it, and, if you know how, transforming reality with the turn of a dial. That is a very rewarding process indeed. What it means for the photographer is the chance to create ethereal images from very ordinary circumstances and surroundings. It means that you can take a concrete slab, an old chair and a model - like these images here - and create images that astound you - and you're the one creating them!

In the end, I am glad to have acquired over the years a deep working knowledge of principles and techniques behind the creation of all kinds of images whether they be naturally or unnaturally lit and created. My first camera was a Minolta SRT 101, a clunky classic with a full metal jacket and million cogs and springs that made images possible inside it. It was the best introduction to photography I could have ever had. 

Perhaps one of the greatest crimes of the digital era is that the neophyte photographer can become hypnotised by the power of the technology and fooled into believing that the principles and sciences behind photography no longer need to be learned. However, they soon find themselves twiddling dials ad infinitum wondering why the images in their heads do not become the images in their cameras. The old 'fix it in PhotoShop' option is hoped for, but not even that can do it all the time. 
Creative Photo Workshops deal in time proven principles such as refined metering techniques, lens perspective, depth of field and composition - all the things needed to create the image in camera. We teach guide numbers, spot metering, incident metering and other time honoured principles that are becoming lost to photographers who have only joined our ranks in the last few years. These time honoured principles are the life savers, however. While I love the potential that PhotoShop and Lightroom add to my images, I still believe in creating in camera. I am a photographer, not a PhotoShopper. I create images in the camera and enhance them in the digital darkroom. But I work towards being as happy as humanly possible with the image straight from the camera. That doesn't always happen of course, but then no photographer can say that it does - all the time. However, its nice when the odds turn in your favour.

Today's photographer needs to understand what the older generation of photographers has known since the inception of this deeply satisfying endeavour. They need to understand that there is more to photography than an idea. There is the need to able to produce the idea. Herein is the challenge - and one that technology does not meet completely. Photography is 5% Creativity and 95% Problem Solving. An innately creative individual can envisage a photograph and burst forth in an endeavour to create it. That is the creative part. We could say that is the easy part. The successful photographer knows how to solve the natural problems that will undoubtedly arise in the creative process. Without that knowledge, photography becomes frustrating when it needn't be. Learning the principles and using even the most average intelligence will result the satisfaction of being able to create and complete any image that arises within the eager imagination.


Greg Earl said...

Oh so true Shelton, the camera is but a tool, as a brush is to an artist. Greg

Susan said...

Wonderfully express Shelton! Susan

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller