In the past two days I’ve read two blogs with dismissive attitudes toward photographers like me who strive to learn to take better pictures with their DSLRs. They may not have meant it that way, but I certainly interpreted it that way.
One talked about “bokeh” as if it were a dirty word, one that camera snobs bandied about to make themselves sound better-than. I personally love bokeh. I didn’t always know what the word meant; the first time someone said “nice bokeh” about a photo I’d posted on flickr, I thought they didn’t know how to spell and meant “bouquet.” I liked bokeh before I knew what the term for it was. (For those who aren’t familiar, I wrote an article on bokeh and depth of field here.)
Another talked about how far camera phones have come – which I can’t comment on, because I don’t have one – and how he cared for some of the photos he’d taken with his camera phone more than ones he had taken with his D90.
I worked my way up to my first DSLR – a Sony a200 – from the most basic point-and-shoot camera I think there is – a Sony Mavica that recorded data onto a floppy disk(!). I will admit that, with that first camera, I took some images that I am still pleased with. However, I can’t have any of them printed, even as 4x6s, because they have unbelievably low resolution.
Each point-and-shoot camera I moved up to, from my Kodak Easyshare to my Panasonic Lumix, served a worthwhile purpose in that it gave me experience. I was taking better and better pictures, but the only thing I was controlling was what I was looking at, not how I was achieving the final product.
One of my very favorite photos, taken with my Panasonic Lumix, is a twelve-spotted skimmer with wonderful dof and bokeh, but it wasn’t intentional.
After the Panasonic Lumix, I had another point-and-shoot, but only for a short while because I realized I had outgrown it. I wanted more than, well, to point and shoot. When I got my Sony a200, it was like learning how to take pictures all over again. Not even “like” – it was. I got some books out of the library – Photographing the World Around You and Photography and the Art of Seeing, both by Freeman Patterson – that were incredibly helpful in teaching me about aperture. Now I know that the photograph above has a shallow depth of field because the aperture was wide. Now I can take a photograph with a shallow depth of field intentionally.
This is one of the first photos I took after reading Patterson’s books where I applied what I’d learned to achieve a specific effect:
I am proud of this image because it wasn’t luck or some magic the camera did that I was unaware of. I studied and I practiced and I made it.
I have since learned about spot-metering, which may have helped the above photo be less dark. Every new thing I learn and incorporate into my photography is another tool in my toolbelt; it gives me greater control over the images I produce.
Of course, control isn’t everything. Learning to ignore what you’ve learned in certain situations is also important – and may be part of why iPhone photography appeals. There is a transient quality to a photo that isn’t perfectly in focus or perfectly exposed, that allows for more interpretation on the viewer’s part. But I still feel that if it’s something you have purposefully made, and not gotten by just pointing and shooting, you have more reason to take credit and feel proud of it.
Do I shoot in RAW? No, I’m not there yet. Do I have a Canon D90? No, but only because I am not in a position to fork over a couple grand for one plus lenses, and because I haven’t won a photography contest yet where a new Canon is the prize. Am I intimidated by photos I see on flickr by people with the means to have better equipment than me? Yes, but that’s my problem. It drives me crazy when someone with zero knowledge or experience buys the newest, priciest DSLR and then uses it as a point-and-shoot – which, of course, you can – because it’s like buying a Jag and not knowing how to drive a standard. If that makes me a snob, well, I’ll cop to that.
What I won‘t agree to is the opinion that wanting to learn and master your medium in order to take better and higher-quality photographs is a shallow goal. While I may not personally care for iPhone photography or the aps that allow you to add special effects to your photograph, I don’t go out of my way to trash it. I don’t care for HDR photography, either (with a few exceptions like this), but what should that matter to you if you like it? Your art is your art. My art is my art. If you are taken outside of yourself and are fulfilled by taking photos with your iPhone or your DSLR, you are an artist. And artists shouldn’t be on different sides of some unimportant, trivial fence when it’s what they do that matters.