Photographer Olivia Bee contends that “it’s way more important to know how to take a picture than use a camera.”
I tend to agree. Here’s why.
Using A Camera
Obviously, one does have to know how to use a camera. I’ve said on numerous occasions that one of the pitfalls of frequently upgrading camera bodies (or changing systems entirely) is that you never really establish an intimate working relationship with your camera.
That intimacy plays a vital role in your creative process. Knowing the ins and outs of the tools with which you work simply frees up mental bandwidth that you can dedicate to creating.
Your camera should be an extension of both your brain and your arm. It shouldn’t be something you fiddle with incessantly like a video game controller. Any time spent trying to figure out which button does what and where some setting is located represents potential shots missed.
You also need to know everything that your camera is capable of. How far can you push ISO before the image falls apart? How is autofocus performance? Would you be better off using manual focus? Does your camera tend to overexpose or underexpose?
These are things that matter to the basic image creation process. In terms of creating art, none of these things have to perform perfectly, but you do need to know what impact such potential flaws will have on the final shot.
Know your gear so that you can forget about it.
Taking A Picture
A photo that is technically sound in every way is some kind of achievement, I suppose. But if all a photo has going for it is perfect exposure, it won’t be remembered beyond the initial glance. If the only message a photo conveys is, “Whoever took this sure knows how to use a camera,” that photo altogether misses the point of photography.
While superior dynamic range and excellent high ISO performance and snappy autofocus can all contribute to the making of a good photo, good photography is not about those things.
Good photography happens with iPhones and Holgas, Hasselblads and Sonys, 100-megapixel sensors and black and white film. Anyone who knows how to take a picture can use any camera, any medium to create something good.
Good photography is just as much the result of how you see as how you think. If you hand an experienced photographer and a novice photographer each the same camera and place them in front of the same scene, there’s not much mystery as to who is more likely to produce a better photo.
Expert decisions about things like depth of field, use of light and composition will be apparent in the photo made by the more experienced photographer, no matter how basic or how advanced the camera.
If you know how to use a camera, great. But do you know how to take a picture? Do you see and think about a scene in an artistic way? Whether the photos you make ultimately rise to the level of art, or whether you’re even consciously attempting to make art are issues of secondary importance.
The act of taking a picture bestows upon the picture taker a sense of satisfaction and inspiration that cannot be acquired by simply knowing how to use a camera. Questions of what is and isn’t art can be answered later.
Now go take some pictures!