“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.“
– Ansel Adams
My passion for the art of photography began quite suddenly and unexpectedly in the winter of 2010. As a self-taught photographer, I’ve had no traditional or formal education in photography (or in any form of art, for that matter). Never taken a class, no private instruction, no degrees or certificates. In all honesty…before 2010, I had never considered the possibility of being able to create anything artistic.
I developed my skills in two predominant ways: 1) Reading various online blogs and watching Youtube videos about the fundamentals, and 2) Good old-fashioned failure. Especially in the first year or so of shooting, the single most helpful part of the process was to for me to screw up the shot.
Botching the photograph, and subsequently analyzing why and how I messed it up, greatly accelerated my learning process. And, make no mistake about it, that process will never end no matter how many years I rack up in experience. I used to fear messing up. Now I embrace it. That’s how I learn.
As a beginner, I was satisfied with a photograph because I didn’t know enough to know that I didn’t know enough. The biggest challenge for me, especially early on, was overcoming my fear of making a mistake and not picking up on it due to a lack of knowledge and/or experience. The only way to handle that fear was to keep grinding…keep making mistakes…and eventually acquire enough experience to anticipate potential issues before taking the photograph.
Eventually my fear transformed into a major part of the pure joy in creating a photograph. It’s the journey that matters, not the finish. Every photograph I take has a story behind it. Experiencing and remembering those stories is probably the most enjoyable aspect of being a photographer.
If you are beginning your journey into photography, try not to concern yourself with any preconceived notions or conclusions about what you may or may not be able to do. Keep your mind wide open and don’t limit yourself or construct artificial boundaries which could dampen your creative instincts. (Clichè warning) You have no way of knowing what you’re capable of unless you try it, mess it up, learn from it, and keep trying again and again.
When I look at my photographs, I don’t usually see the photo, I see missed opportunities to improve the shot. That process of “self-scouting” never ceases; there is no such thing as a “perfect” photograph, subjectively or objectively. Every photograph we take is perfectly imperfect.
I struggle with defining what makes a “quality” photograph. How does anyone, regardless of their experience level, determine when or how a particular photograph reaches some abstract notion of “good?”
We all have a deep well of emotion shaped by our lifetime of experience, passion, love, and relationships. “Quality” art reaches out and personally engages with those emotions and experiences, regardless of whether or not the photographer followed any predetermined, objective rules of what makes a “good” photograph.
Rules and technical fundamentals help us figure out how to create something interesting…but they alone mean nothing. A fundamentally perfect photograph offers us nothing without the very unique and special elements of human imperfection.
To me, art in its purest form is nothing more (or less) than two main concepts: 1) the creator’s expression of self, and/or 2) the viewer’s personal connection with the creator via the photograph (projection of the viewer’s feelings into the work).
Is the front door of a house considered art? I think it can be. A custom built door created by a carpenter could be considered a personal expression of both the carpenter and the homeowner. And, even if the door is simply your common variety cookie-cutter front door purchased at Home Depot, it could still be viewed as art by someone else. If an individual closely examined the door and noticed interesting patterns in the wood which captured the viewer’s imagination and emotion, then you’ve got art.
Basically, anything and everything can be a form of art, regardless of why it was created or who created it. A cloud can be a form of art…or the sound of rain on a metal roof…or the drawing of a sunset. Even industrial corporate art…those random collections of recycled steel support beams welded together in an office building courtyard…is art.
My favorite genres are Landscape Photography (especially long exposures and waterscapes) and what I call “walk-around” photography: taking random shots as I go about the day…of my kids, of Sebastian The Cat…of things I see on vacation…of pretty much anything which catches my eye. It’s basically amateur photo-journalism.
The vast majority of my landscape photographs are taken with a Nikon D810, and almost always on a tripod. For “walk-around” photography I typically use the Leica M10 rangefinder, which in my humble opinion is the crown jewel of digital cameras.
While I use Adobe Lightroom to categorize my photographs, and use Adobe Photoshop to develop the photographs in post process, I try very hard to avoid messing with the image digitally. Put simply, I do as much as possible in the field, and as little as possible in post-process.
In my opinion, Photography and Graphic Design are two completely different universes of visual art. One relies strictly on the use of a camera to convey imagination, the other does not. As a Photographer, I believe maintaining a clear line of delineation between the two genres is vital. That said, there are situations where Photoshop is necessary to develop the photograph (i.e. dodging/burning, adding a watermark, etc…).
I am humbled and extraordinarily fortunate to have several of my photos showcased in National Geographic, on The Smithsonian Institution website, in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, and in Landscape Photography Magazine. In addition to my blog here on my website, I also write instructional columns for Digital-Photography-School.com. If interested, you can find those columns here.
I have never set any personal goals throughout my adventure in Photography. While having goals or striving to reach specific levels of achievement can be of great benefit in many facets of life, at times I believe they can be limiting for an artist. I gave Photography a try simply because it stirred up something inside me. I didn’t know what intrigued me so much about trying to create photographs, I just knew I loved doing it. And, having that “it” is the only ingredient one needs to become an artist. You don’t need to possess the talent of Ansel Adams, you don’t need the approval or acceptance of others, you don’t need experience, and you don’t need a degree from a school. All you need is passion and drive to explore what “it” means to you.