While good equipment helps, there's no replacement for plain old practise

  • SME
  • Saturday, 25 Jan 2014

WHEN I was a lad during the time of dinosaurs and before the invention of the Internet, taking photos was the domain of professionals — people with huge expense budgets, massive equipment (in more ways than one!) and a long period between shutter release and publication.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and a social media account can be published with no limit and in almost real time. “Selfie” just made it as a word in the Oxford dictionary.

Does this mean therefore that the art of photography is dead, buried forever beneath the endless detritus of out of focus, grainy, badly lit and just plain bad images? Does the widespread availability of the tool diminish the art?

There are parallels and precedents to consider. Take the simple game of tennis, where a racquet, ball and open space allow you to play tennis. Does this make you a Nadal, Federer, a Venus Williams? Perhaps. Any stationary store will sell you paper, paints and brushes. In the time of Leonardo, artists ground their own materials, mixed their own formulae and guarded their techniques with a level of secrecy only achieved by the NSA in modern times. Now, for a few dollars and a couple of hours you can bang out your own masterpiece.

Does this level of access to the tools diminish the art? There is a long and energetic discussion possible around this, requiring comfy chairs, good friends and hours of point and counterpoint.

That’s not really possible here unless you’d like to meet up at a convenient coffeeshop and argue the toss over a few espressos.

Fundamentally, the realisation of art depends on the artist, on their application, on their willingness to become involved, immersed, impassioned by their pursuit. This does not only apply to hunched figures in darkened rooms tapping away at pieces of marble. It applies equally to game developers, program coders, architects, builders, car detailers. Malcolm Gladwell observed in his book Blink that competence approaching expertise comes after about 10,000 hours of practice.

So what the difference between the images produced by one photographer over another?

There may be differences in equipment, sure. The major difference will be time spent with the camera in hand, peering through the viewfinder. The other difference will be the amount of time spent before capturing a good, well composed, well lit image. A good friend who has been a professional photographer for 30 years sets up lights for a portrait in moments, almost unaware of how he positions them and the subject.

That’s the difference no tools can provide. It’s called experience and with it comes an almost mystical connection to the tools. Degrade them, reduce them, replace them and the result will be almost the same. The result that comes from art.

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