When I first became serious about landscape photography, I read all kinds of books on the subject, both technical and aesthetic. I wanted to learn as much as I could about it, including the history of the early landscape photographers, and how they practiced their craft. I read many books on Ansel Adams alone, including his autobiography, and all of his well known instructional books including the trilogy “The Camera”, “The Negative”, and “The Print”. I also looked at and read many books by contemporary photographers including greats such as David Muench, Art Wolfe, Galen Rowell, and William Neil.
I wanted to know how they got started, what equipment they used, and how they were able to sustain a career as artists. I was both intimidated and inspired by what I read, and still continue to re-read many of these books today for inspiration and motivation. And I continue to see their great photography in different ways as I learn and develop as a photographer myself. Learning is a passion for me, and it seems the more I learn about landscape photography, the more I realize I have yet to learn.
However, it seems today as though there is a complete saturation of information available via the internet, books, and videos on photography and the technology that surrounds it. You can literally take a workshop from one of the worlds top photographers right from the comfort of your own living room. From a convenience standpoint, this is really amazing, and allows much greater access to information that a few years ago would have been much harder to come by.
Yet sometimes I feel there is a disconnect between the knowledge and the actual practice of photography. While I became extremely knowledgeable about landscape photography, it wasn’t until I started to use the info I had acquired that it really started to make sense to me. The only way to really internalize concepts is to practice them, preferably on a daily basis. I learned this the hard way in my earlier years as I started to push my own limits with my camera, and realized I wasn’t capturing what I wanted due to lack of real-world practice.
I made a commitment to learn my gear until it became second nature, and this included not only the camera, but any other accessories I used on a daily basis. I became intimately familiar with my lenses, their strengths and weaknesses, and which would be best for what I wanted to achieve. All of the reviews I read only got me as far as a purchase, the rest was application in the field, which sometimes wasn’t consistent with what I had read in the review.
In order to achieve my goal, which was to capture and convey my feelings about a landscape, it depended on not letting the equipment get in the way. Only then did I really start to “see” more, and the camera took on less of a role in the overall mental process of capturing an expressive photograph.
The digital camera is a fantastic tool, and I continue to learn as much as I can about the technology and what it can offer. But getting out there and experimenting with it’s features, having fun, and making it a regular practice is the only way to really become fluent in the language of photography. I have grown tired of the endless websites offering specs, analysis, comparisons, ratings, and ultimately recommendations based on this information. It is certainly valuable , but ultimately your own expression and vision is what is going to make a difference. Knowledge is great, but practical knowledge is even greater. At least that has been my own personal experience.
What do you think?