I overheard a conversation the other day where one person said to the other, “Anyone can be a photographer today!” He went on to explain how in the film days you really needed to know your stuff. Film limited how many images you could make, and the darkroom required technical skill to achieve good results. Now anyone with a digital camera can shoot thousands of images and choose the best ones from the bunch, apply some presets in Photoshop, and presto, great results.
But is it really that simple or easy? And more importantly is that the point of photography? To make great images regardless of how you achieve the results? How do we define “great,” the most popular? The highest number of likes on Facebook or Flickr? Is great more important than original or personal?
There are those that say original images are all but impossible to make today. I have two thoughts on that.
First, I think that’s a way to avoid the fear of failure, the very real possibility that the images you make may not work. Or others won’t like them and let you know they don’t. It’s the equivalent of being booed off the stage, and who likes that.
Second, I think the question is meaningless and distracts from the real question. Do you have something to say, to contribute, to add to the world that will deliver value or make a difference, regardless of how small? Surely that can’t be measured and as long as we retain our individuality, there will always be original images.
But to have any chance of making original images, you must consider why you photograph and what it is you want to convey. Maybe that’s simply a beautiful vista. Or perhaps it’s a unique and dramatic moment in nature. Or perhaps the way the ocean moves you emotionally to consider the meaning of life and what your purpose is.
Whichever of those it is, rapid-fire shooting and presets is not going to get you there. That’s not to say you won’t get lucky and make a meaningful image that way. But the only way to achieve success and move yourself forward as a photographer is by careful consideration of composition, image design, light, and a keen sense of awareness, both of the environment and your response to it.
These are all skills that have to be learned, practiced, and used with sensitivity. When do you break the rules? When you know that breaking them makes a better image. That also takes lots of practice, and failure.
I love Seth Godin’s recent post about bouncing forward. We often get too focused on recovering from failure, but Seth suggests that instead of bouncing back, we bounce forward. That puts us on a better path than the one we started on.
None of this is predicated on the equipment or software we use, or how easy technology allows us to make a good exposure.
It’s about the creative path you choose to follow. Sure, anyone can do that, as long as you commit to being yourself instead of following others.