Saturday, February 13, 2010

Are You Over-Geeking Your Photography?

First, sorry for the lack of updates. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Anyhoots, question for the day: Are you over-geeking your photography?

In spite of turning the noun, geek, into a verb, geeking, I'm pretty sure most of you know what I'm talking about. I've written about this before, i.e., spending way too much time concerning yourselves with the technical stuff rather than the creative elements. To paraphrase the late, great, Helmut Newton, cameras don't make beautiful pictures, photographers make beautiful pictures.

That's a fair amount of dramatic license with the paraphrasing but I think Mr. Newton would also agree with my version of his words. My paraphrase also sounds a little like the saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Oh well.

If there's another thing the digital revolution is responsible for, besides giving just about everyone the ability to make beautiful pictures less effortlessly and, seemingly, with less traditional know-how, it's that it has increased the geek factor.

I don't think that was intended.

I think digital cameras were intended, in many ways, to flatten the learning curve and put less emphasis on traditional skills and the geek stuff. I suppose I shouldn't give all the credit to digital photography for this. Film SLRs and film point-n-shoots contributed their fair share to this (r)evolution in photography. But it seems that, rather than making photography more no-brainer, especially in the world of dSLRS, the opposite has happened: Many photographers seem more focused than ever on the tech stuff. More so than, well, than focusing on developing their abilities to simply and creatively and spontaneously snap awesome pics.

If you're spending most of your time futzing with your camera and your lights and practically everything but your subject, you're going to miss snapping many great pictures. Sure, your technical prowess may be evident in the results but someone please name a truly great people photographer who was primarily known for his or her technical skills? I can't think of one.

I'm not bashing technical skills. They're important. They're necessary. They help make great pictures. They aren't, however, mostly responsible for great people pictures. Photographers' eyes and imaginations are, along with their ability to get what they're hoping to get from their subjects, chiefly responsible for great pics. And great pics don't often happen because you spent oodles and oodles of time messing with your cameras and lights. Yeah. Some big-time pros seem to do that but, mostly, it's their assistants taking care of the tech stuff. The big-time photographer spends his or her time focusing on the subject.

Here's a good YouTube video made by June Newton, Helmut Newton's wife. (Special thanks to PGS reader, KS, for sending the link!) It's in 5 parts and includes much insight into how Newton worked. CLICK HERE to see Part One of the series. YouTube will show you the links to the subsequent parts. I think you'll notice how low-tech Newton's approach to his work was-- There's not much in the way of complex lighting and the geek factor is barely apparent.

The pretty girl at the top, I forget her name, was from a shoot outside of my usual stuff-- Some fashion work for my cousin, Tracy, a working NYC fashion designer. The model's dress was designed and built by Tracy. Tracy is, right now, in Shanghai representing the clothing company she works for. Lucky her! All natural light on the model employing the sun and two reflectors. Very low tech. Not much geeking while shooting.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jimmy,

Helmut Newton by June is a five part series, not four. Here's the fifth:

I'd just adjust your text and not publish this comment as it doesn't add much.


jimmyd said...


Thanks, Kev! Somehow, I brain-farted on #5. Now I gotta go watch it. And thanks for sending me all those links! I'm sure PGS readers appreciate it too!

Anonymous said...

I'm a reluctant 'geek' (geeker?). On my latest DSLR, there are at least 14 buttons and dials on the rear deck alone, not to mention a whole bunch of user-programmable functions for configuring the autofocus and metering.

In the dark ages (when I shot film), it didn't take long to get comfortable with a new camera. I'd just set the shutter and aperture from the readings on my (separate, hand held) meter, point the lens at the subject, and twist the focus ring until the image was sharp in the viewfinder. Now, with digital, I spend hours reading cryptic manuals and taking pictures of pigeons in the park before I feel I understand a new camera well enough to use it for 'real' work.

Sure, it's easy to use a point and shoot on 'green square mode', but to do pro level work with a modern DSLR, you really need to spend a lot of time 'geeking' before you understand all the automation well enough to get back to the 'creative' side of making pictures.


PS: I hate it when you omit the model's name for one of your blog images. Props to you for the nice pose and great light in your latest pic, but you couldn't have done it without that unidentified (and very photogenic) subject!

Bill Giles said...

Absolutely, but that's the way my brain is wired. I don't see the photographs in my head. That is one major impediment to my advancement as a photographer. If I get a great photo, it's through serendipity, not vision. I seldom see the picture before I take the shot even with landscape or still life. When it comes to technical things, it's the opposite. I can see the solution in my head and I know what I want to do before I do it.