It’s 2019 and lets face it…the capacity to take a photograph is within almost everyone’s means. Whether it’s a large format camera, medium format camera like a Hasselblad, SLR like a Nikon F5, a DSLR like a Nikon D5, an Olympus Tough point-and-shoot, or an iPhone…the capacity to take a photograph is there.
But is that so different to, say, the 1980s? Compare the 1980’s to the 1930’s, and I suspect serious photographers of the time would be thinking the same then as I do now. Despite the fact that that the means for photography has grown, the number of truly remarkable photographers, and truly remarkable photography, has not. In other words the scale of photographic means has grown, but the scale of photographic talent, I think, has remained a steady ratio of population to ability.
I say that off the back of my years experience in just observing people and their behavior. I’m not only a photographer, but I am also a person who likes to ‘surveille’. When I go on holiday, I spend most of my time entertaining my kids of course, because that’s what a good dad does on holiday, and I enjoy watching their happy faces of course. But in truth, given the choice between trekking up a mountain with my Hasselblad or sitting on a baking hot beach in my budgie smugglers getting blinded by searing light, feeling stickier than a peeled rotten banana that’s been lubed up with extra baby oil before being rolled in a pot of flour that’s about to have a stroke from the unbearable beating sun, and it’s fair to conclude that beach holidays are not really my thing. So in those few moments between exhaustively pushing my kids out into the sea for the 100th time on their inflatables, I sit, and I watch people. Not in a weird way, but in an observational way, because humans fascinate me.
What I notice is that literally EVERY person on the beach has a smartphone, typically an iPhone. These people photograph their kids, their families, their partners, themselves, their own boobs, their own bottoms; they try to photograph landscapes like sunsets and midday sun and so on. These people walk along the beach recording movies of their perfect lives, on their iPhones, and often then spend the next ten minutes uploading to social media before they have even sat down to adore their own vanity. And yet, nobody blinks an eye at that anymore. It is acceptable, today, to record literally everything as a photo or a video, if it’s on an iPhone. But are their photos that much different to the thousands we all used to take in the 1980’s with our Kodak and Olympus point-and-shoots? Not really from what I can see. People still don’t compose shots properly, or consider focus, depth of field. People still don’t consider light, front light, back light, side light (by people, I obviously don’t refer to serious photographers). They just point, and shoot. Just as we all did back in the 80’s and 90’s too and the photos look similar today, as they did then. The medium used to store it has changed is all.
What time has taught me is that there is no overcoming photographic skill. No matter what camera is placed in your hands, the creative vision is what makes a photograph. I understand light, period, and I understand how light reacts with different film types.
I’m teaching my son photography currently. He is only 7, but he can use an Olympus OM10, set the correct f-stop and shutter speed, and aside from some focus difficulties, he takes good pictures. He is developing an eye for composure and light balance. Why? Because I am teaching him the difference between photographing something, and photographing the light that is falling on something. They are world apart.
Take Niagra Falls (I’ve never been there). Do a Google search, and there’s thousands of pictures of them. Some look amazing. Some just look like a big waterfall. What’s the difference? The camera? Yes; they’re all different cameras but many look vaguely similar still. The lenses? Yes, but same theory? So why are some amazing and some just “Meh”? The answer is the light. Visualise the light, measure it properly, and a subject that s boring at 13:00 could look magical at 19:00.
An example of that is my 2019 wall hanger. The picture at the top of this post is one of the best photos I’ve taken in the last 12 months or so. Certainly the best landscape for a few years. And yet, most of the time, the wooden delapatated pier in Es Canar in Ibiza just looks like a health and safety concern gone mad. But, during my frequent passing of it during my ten days there this past summer, there was something about the way it reached into the water with the islands in the distance. I knew that it also faces east, which is obviously where the sun rises. I knew that in the right light, this little wooden assembly could make for a great shot.
My son and I headed out one early morning before dawn to try and get a sunrise shot. We were in position by 06:30, 30 minutes before sunrise. With every minute that passed, the sky changed. Gradually, the sky warmed in tone and there was the gradual appearance of the most magical light over the horizon, about 4 minutes before the sun breached it. I had my Hasselblad loaded with Fujichrome Provia 100 and attached to my 80mm standard lens. And I began shooting a few frames. And then, at sunrise, on frame 12 of 12, I captured the shot above. So of all the thousands that have been taken and will be taken of this particular spot in Es Canar, I am happy to know that shot will, for me at least, be one to remember. It reminds me very much of a photo by Mel Allen called “Ullswater”. Some of you will know it. It’s a famous image. Anyway my photograph above is my 2019 wall hanging piece and will soon be printed large for my walls and is proof for me that no matter the subject, it is the light that makes the photograph. As a photographer, capturing a shot like this from time to time is the photographers purpose. It’s what drives me, as a photographer. It is my photographic purpose.