Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Knowledge is Power

The famous English author and philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon, coined the term, "Knowledge is power." Sir Francis wasn't a photographer. Hell, there were no photographers back in the 16th century. Photography had yet to exist. But Sir Francis' phrase is well applied to the art and science of snapping photos.

Try as modern cameras might, and no matter how automated they become, powerful photography will remain a product of knowledge, not gear.

Sure, there are other factors beyond knowledge. Stuff like creativity and imagination are critical components to powerful photography. And yes, the right gear often goes a long way towards creating photos which resonate in powerful ways with viewers. But knowledge remains, as always, the primary key to powerful photographs.

I don't care how creative someone might be. I don't care how high-end their gear might be. If they don't have the knowledge to transform their creative visions with that gear, the photos they're hoping to create will not result unless Lady Luck smiles on them. Personally, I've never counted on Lady Luck to help me make my photographs.

More than a few people, that is, those who call themselves photographers these days, seem to count heavily on gear and luck to achieve good, if not great, photos. I don't really blame those folks. Equipment manufacturers and their marketing teams have been working overtime to convince the masses that good photography is a product of gear, their gear, rather than knowledge. A more recent term, certainly much more recent than Sir Francis Bacon's "Knowledge is power" quip, is "no brainer."

I don't know about any of you but, when it comes to my photography, I prefer not to think that what I'm doing is no brainer. I'm fairly proud of my brain. I don't know what I'd do without it. The term, "no brainer," seems to infer I don't need my brain. When it comes to things like photography and my ability to use and apply my brain, not merely some camera's computer chip, is something I take pride in. And what would my brain be without knowledge? Not much more than a computer chip regulating the functions of my body.

It's the knowledge packed in my brain which allows me to use my brain in photographically creative ways. If photographers don't need knowledge packed into their brains, everyone and anyone could be a photographer. I think, in fact, we've been seeing more than a little of that these days.

While it's true anyone can snap a picture, even a baby if their finger finds itself pressed to a shutter button, snapping terrific pictures requires brains loaded with some amount of photographic knowledge stored in them. Unfortunately, these days, there's plenty of people calling themselves photographers -- worse yet, some of them calling themselves professional photographers -- who are seriously lacking in much actual knowledge of photography. Instead, they count on no brainer gear and, I guess, luck and/or dim clients to achieve the results they're hoping for.

My advice? Anyone serious about photography should seriously strive to pack as much photography knowledge into their brains as possible. I'm not talking about knowledge resulting from questions like, "What's the best camera or lens?" I'm talking about knowledge that goes way beyond that: The kind of knowledge that serves photographers in ways that consistently helps them shoot terrific pics even if they might be using the worst camera or lens... if that makes sense.

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge makes better photographs.

Knowledge makes the photographer; gear doesn't.

The gratuitous, freckle-faced eye candy at the top is Faye. (Click it to enlarge.) I snapped this one in some sort of procedure room just down the hall from the old morgue in the basement of an abandoned hospital in East Los Angeles. It was kind of creepy down there. Snapped it with my Canon 5D w/ a 24-105 f/4 L mounted and zoomed in to 70mm . Shot at ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 100th. I used three lights: Main light modified with a Photoflex 5' Octa and a couple of kickers, either side, using small shoot-thru umbrellas. The shiny tiled wall made controlling specular reflections on it a bit tough but, you know, knowledge stored in my brain helped me out a bit in doing so.


West coast Jim said...

Geez. We in America can "practice" photography by simply announcing we are a photographer. No business license and certainly no professional or governmental certification. None. Nada. Western Europe requires certification to claim to be a pro shooter. We just need a cheap business card or an even cheaper v-card. Though now days a website of some sort or at least a Flickr account seems to be enough to prove your pro chops.

We are pathetic and that is certainly one reason the level most photography and most client's expectations are
continually being eroded or dumbed down.


jimmyd said...

@WestCoastJim: Let's not forget all the schools pimping degrees in photography, offering to help kids get saddled with heavy student loan debt, knowing full well the outlook for the vast majority of them becoming able to pay those loans back via photography, much less make a living with it, is dismal.

But that's not what bugs me as much as accomplished professional photographers who can no longer make a living, solely with their photography, setting themselves up as gurus and teachers for areas of photography they have no real and meaningful experience with.

It's not they can't or shouldn't teach what they truly know how to shoot. Or even the basics. Hell, I could teach a Photography 101 class. But I certainly wouldn't try teaching a class in food photography or shooting landscapes.

For those shooters who spent most of their lives shooting, as an example, wildlife for rags and stock, please don't suddenly act like you know what you're talking about shooting portraiture simply because there are people who are stupid enough to pay for you to get up there and fake your way thru a course or workshop.