In the last little while, I have been doing some thinking on what makes photography into an art form. I started pondering this as I happen to be the founder of Photo-n-Art-Lovers here on DA. I get to see many pieces of work, many of them are photos. Now, I am also a photographer, so I look for how to make my photos into artwork. Frankly, that is not something that is easy to do. I have to work on making a piece of artwork. It is more than just pointing the camera and pressing the trigger.
This is what I have come across, as a photographer, a user of DA, a user of the internet and as a group admin here on DA. Though art is “in the eye of the beholder,” there is a lot more to it. So the question that comes to mind is, how do you make an image into artwork and make it memorable?
First, what is the reason you are taking the picture?
Are you doing it to remember something or someone in your life? Is it for sharing with others, or maybe to sell and grow a business in photography/art? If it is just a memory for you and you don’t wish to share with the public per say; you have a snapshot. So what is a snapshot? Well, I feel that a snapshot is an image that you take with your camera with little thought or preparation. Think about it. You are out on a family vacation and you take a picture of your love ones. Do you set up how the light is? What about the background? Have you picked a special or creative item of clothing for your subject to wear? What is the type of camera that you are using? If you don’t think about any of these things, you are going to be doing a “Snapshot.” It is something that is going to be an image that if you do share, it is only with those close to you, or on some social media site with your friends.
Second, what is the story you are telling with the image?
Now it does not have to be some fancy, complex story about it, but there needs to be a greater reason for the creation of the work. There needs to be a story; a vision to the image to give it higher artistic value. If you are not creating to share your vision and story, then what is it? It becomes just another snapshot.
Third, what kind of preparation went into getting that image?
Now, a photo needs some preparation to be taken. It is more than you saying, “Oh that is interesting.” and pulling out your camera. In most cases that would be your smartphone if you do this. What thought went into taking that shot? I feel, as a photographer, I need to plan the work I am going to photograph. I don’t just go out on my errands, see something and pull out my smartphone to take a shot. Nothing against the smartphone, but that is not the device that I automatically think off as the camera of high quality and art worthy photographs. Is it a tool that you can use? Yeah. But it is far from the principal tool. For me, I use my smartphone more for social media posts of what and where I am out doing photography, or to do business as I am out of my home office. If you need to get me, it is the best way for you to contact me for work related ways, be it phone, email or sometimes social media. But I don’t use the phone for marketing my artworks. Have I used it for doing photography? Very rarely. I can count on one hand the number of times that I have used the phone’s camera to make an image that becomes a piece of artwork.
So what preparation do I do? Well, here is what I do.
1. Set up a time to do the work. Yea… I use my planner to set aside time to do my work; to go out and enjoy photography. Why? Simple. If I set aside time to do it, I will go out and do it, and do my best. It also lets my beloved wife know I will need the car.
2. Research. I go online or look at maps or even just scroll about in Google Earth to scout out locations and ideas. Read magazines, books, e-mags and blogs. I go and learn from others that share my interest in the artwork I enjoy, or even wish to emulate. Talk to your fellow human beings that share your interest.
3. Scout your location. Get out there and see the areas that you are thinking of using for the photoshoot. This is a good time to use your smartphone camera to remember what it looks like and remember sites that are most inspiring to you or provide the setting for the subject that you wish to photograph. You can use the phone’s GPS with those recon photos to find the location when you record the location and go back.
4. Get your stuff ready for the photoshoot. Oh yeah. It needs to be said. To often people think everything is ready to go, but the BATTERIES are DEAD!!! Yeah. I said it. If you don’t maintain your equipment, how on Earth are you going to do the photo shoot?! Get your equipment all together. Have extra batteries charged and ready for all the equipment you need to take. Get all the equipment in one place, the night before, ready to go out to the car. I know what you are screaming into your monitor. “WELL, DUH!” But how many of us forget to do these simple things to ready yourself? Point made.
5. Be prepared to adapt to whatever happens at the photoshoot. If you are going to do outdoor photography, be ready for changes in weather. If the weather is a problem that day, you can adapt to the inclement weather. So you want a wonderful sunny day, but you got a downpour instead; you can still adapt. You can get a simple fix that will let you use your camera in the rain. It can be as simple as a clear plastic bag or the cheep plastic shower cap in your hotel room. I have in my kit some cheep yet very handy clear plastic camera covers that cover not only the body but the longest lens I have for my camera and still let me adjust the functions. Or if you really fancy, you can get a camo neoprene weather cover that will cover your whole rig. Trust me they are sweet. But you don’t have to spend mega bucks. And that brings me to the next item.
6. Camera... and equipment. Yes, the camera is very important. But you don’t need to spend a fortune on one. In my dreams I would love a 100 MP Hasselblad digital camera (H6D-100c) with a tonne of lenses, and I would love to have 1600 mm super telephoto lens. Oh in my dreams! But that is not really something that I will likely, ever be able to afford. But I do have a few cameras that do what I need and use frequently. Are any of them a fancy DSLR? Well, no. But that is more to do with cost. But I would love a nice DSLR camera and a good set of lenses, filters and such in my kit. But you don’t need to have one. What I have is a mirrorless superzoom that gives me 800 mm (50X optical) on the zoom and also does macro too. Not bad. It cost me $700 Canadian. I also have a $100 point and shoot (or P-n-S) camera. It is small, has basic functions like timer, macro and the likes, but it is handy. I even use a small, old 4 megapixel Kodak camera with a one gig SD card, that I sometimes use, that I got for free from a free-cycle group on Yahoo. So what am I saying? You don’t need to spend an outrageous amount for a camera and the equipment. What you need is equipment that you can afford, use and get you the results you are looking for and can work and learn with. If you can get the latest Canon, Nikon or Olympus camera; or that Hasselblad I mention, great, but you don’t need to have such wonderful cameras to produce photographic art. Same is true for equipment. Generally, the more expensive gear may do the job better, but do you need it? No. You don’t need to go out and buy a $500 carbon fiber tripod and $500 ball mount. My first one was $10 aluminium tripod at a discount store, and it served me for a couple of years. The next was a $70 one from Princess Auto, (a great tool store with a cool surplus section.) It lasted for almost six years. Now I have just upgraded to a very well built one that I paid $120 for from big box store. So what is the point to this. Two things. You don’t need to pay MEGA BUCKS for equipment and you can get better equipment over time, as you can afford it and need it. You don’t need to buy it right off the bat.
Forth, what do I need for equipment man?
Well, what you need for equipment depends on what you are doing and can afford. As I have said, you don’t need to spend a large amount to get art worthy photos. If you are just starting, a basic P-n-S (point and shoot camera) will do you. You can pick one up at Walmart for like fifty bucks. It won’t be fancy, but you can learn basics. First of all, “Do I like photography?” It is an important question. If you find that using the camera and photography are not your thing, you are just out the cost of that camera. No skin off your nose now. But if you sink over a grand into a DSLR camera body, even more of lenses and find out you don’t care for photography, that is a much bigger hit now. But what about other equipment. Believe it or not, much of it you can get for little or nothing. You just need to know where to look. Be it friends or family that may have equipment they don’t use, or on the web where people advertise to get rid of stuff (especially the ones that are free to advertise on.) You can even go online and pick up some “Life Hacks” to make what you need for next to nothing. I have four flash diffusers that I use on my camera, depending on the photos being taken. All of them are made using life hacks. I have a modified film canister from a camera store that I got for free, a handle from a four litre jug of milk that just slips over my pop up flash, a business card and blue-tac one that gets stuck in front of the flash to bounce the light up, and lastly one made from the side of a four litre jug of milk. What did it cost for these? Little or nothing at all, just some time and effort. You will find that many of these life hacks work even better than buying the real item from the camera shop and for a lot less. So being creative and cheap can make it easier for you on equipment. Here is another good hack. You need to stabilize your camera as you take photos in a museum and you can’t use your flash or tripod to take the shot. What to do? Use a bean bag or a bag of rice to hold the camera. I have used the latter one when I have been needing to stabilize my camera in my car to take a shot of a whitetail deer from the road. I rolled down my window a bit, put the bag on the top of the window glass and placed the lens on the bag as I looked through my viewfinder for the shot. AND IT WORKED! So if you need equipment, look around. You can even use a long piece of string to stabilize your camera if you don’t have a tripod.
Fifth, is my smartphone camera a good camera?
If you think that your camera on your iPhone is any good for taking a proper artistic photo, do me a big favour, kill me. The only thing your (cringe) iPhone or other smart phone is good for is… a bloody selfie. Well, most of the time. The camera that comes with your cell phone is really only good for snapshots and selfies. It is just a very, very basic camera (despite what Apple will tell you.) If you are hanging with friends, or need to take a shot of the damage to your car after a car accident, it will do. But the true ability of such a camera is very limited. Here is why. The camera only has a digital zoom. That means that rather than using optics (lenses) to “zoom” in on an object, they just make the pixels bigger and blurrier as you zoom in more. Next problem, the aperture is fixed. This is the device that allows you to adjust the amount and focus of light to the CCD (Charged Couple Device.) If it is large, like it is on a smartphone, then it is only really any use for “portraits”/selfies, where your subject is in focus, but behind the person is just a blur. If you want your camera to take a nice landscape that aperture needs to be much smaller. What does all that mean? Your phone comes with an aperture with a f-stop of about 2.0 and lower. Now if you are doing a landscape that f-stop needs to be 11 or higher. Remember the larger the f-stop the smaller the aperture, and the more detail at distance. There is another problem. Most smartphones do not have anyway to adjust how long the shutter is open to let light on the CCD. So if you need it open longer for low light photos, your phone will not hold a shutter open, it will instead increase the sensitivity (ISO) of the CCD. Okay, but here is the problem. The higher the ISO that the camera is using, the more “grainy” the image, so the image is of much more poor quality. Now you can get apps that give you control of the “shutter” and ISO of the camera, but they cost money and are still very limited in ability compared to a P-n-S camera. The other problem is how do you keep the phone stable in low light situations as the camera takes longer to take the image. It is not like you can strap it on a tripod. Also the flash LED is right next to the lens. This makes it so that the light from the flash shows up in you image as a very harsh light that blurs out detail of the central subject. That and it looks stupid when you do selfies in the bathroom mirror. This is why it is better to have the flash farther away from the lens, and if it has a diffuser in front of the bulb, it is even softer light making a more pleasant image. So in short, a smartphone camera is not in anyway a good camera. Even if it is an Apple iPhone. Also, tablets like Apple iPads, or Samsung Tabs, or whatever you have… they also have very poor quality cameras. If you use a camera on a phone or tablet, use it only for documenting your doings, like scouting a site for the photoshoot.
Lastly, what makes a photo an artistic photograph?
There are a number of factors that make a photograph artistic. The greatest of all of them is a combination of having “The Eye for Photography” and imagination. I don’t care how great your camera, lenses, filters, photo editing software or even if you are the greatest personality ever; you have to have imagination and “The Eye.” Some are “born” with it, but they are few and far between. What it takes is practice, perseverance, research and experimentation. If you don’t put in this work, you won’t ever gain “The Eye” and the imagination. If you don’t do this, and think you will be a great photographer, do yourself a BIG favour. Take your camera, all the camera equipment, software and computer equipment you have bought to do photography, put it all back in their boxes and take them back to the store, or better still, just give it to someone that wants to truly be one and needs the help to get going in photography and advancing their skills and most important… PASSION!
Remember this. All photographers and artists, regardless of who they are or medium used, all copy or are inspired by another artist. We all create and recreate images to show the glory and greatness of the works of the greatest artist of all. All of us do their work because of God, and the marvellous miracles and creations He has made and given us. The same creations that inspire us to create, share and bring joy to our fellow man. Just as He does for us each and every day.