The other day I was stopping by Scott Kelby's blog when I saw an interesting article that he wrote about the five stages of photography that we all go through. I wont paraphrase what he wrote and will suggest that you read the entire thing if interested.
The concept that we all go through different stages of photography, while probably completely incorrect, is interesting to contemplate. I do believe that many people follow a similar creative path as they develop (forgive the pun) their artistic side. I thought I would share my stages and where I am at in my own artistic path.
Stage 1: Buying the Camera
I needed a hobby I could take with me on our many international moves. I tried a variety of options and tripped over photography when our family camera, a digital point and shoot at the time, needed to be upgraded. I found "professional" digital cameras for a decent price. I kept looking, and my interest kept growing and I ended up purchasing a Nikon D300 over the internet while living in Argentina. I had it shipped to my mother's house and picked it up on my next trip.
During the wonderful wait, I tried to learn as much as I could over the internet. I learned about the camera, fundamentals of photography and the like. Sort of like a photography school which requires you to learn the basics before you even touch a camera. This forced separation, allowed me to learn as much as I could from all kinds of sources on line. I found out that I needed Lightroom, I should shoot in RAW and I definitely wanted to back up. I understood DOF but I had no clue how to use it artistically.
When I finally picked up the camera, months later, I knew how to work it and I began running around taking pictures of anything. The weight, size and feel of the camera made me feel knowledgeable. My pictures were crap but I celebrated the small improvements I was seeing.
Stage 2: Learning Post Processing and Loving HDR
I bought some different lenses. I bought a Sigma Wide Angle lens, a Ultra Zoom (18-200mm) and the absolute must of a 50mm lens. I loved the ultra zoom and only saw the limitations of the 50mm. The Wide Angle lens fascinated me with the perspectives I could get. So my photos bounced from a slow zoom lens to a ultra wide angle. I put a polarizer on the wide angle (what a mess), my pictures were horrible but they were 12Mp of wonderful color. I did not understand B&W and would often convert an image into B&W thinking this was artistic.
I played with Lightroom and quickly realized I needed Photoshop. So I bought Elements and between the two I began to learn about all the adjustments I could make. I would take a crap picture, and use software to make it worse. I was trying to imitate the pictures I saw on the internet in post and not getting it right in the camera.
I posted pictures on Photo forums where very talented people were far too nice in their comments. Through their gentle suggestions I began learning how to be less heavy handed in my post processing.
I discovered HDR and decided this was the perfect tool for all images. If I could add wide angle to the HDR shot I was in clover! I thought the contrasty scenes on HDR was cool. I wanted that odd effect that made people stop and really look at the image. The fact was that people did stop, and did stare as they wondered what was giving them such a headache!
I had my images printed massively. The bigger the print the better the photograph! I spent tons of money on frames for these massive, awful eyesores. I was awful but on a bigger stage!
Stage 3: Bigger & Faster is Better
I need better glass. I still love the zooms and dream of the Nikon Trinity. These three fast lenses, 12-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm was a great deal of money to spend on glass but they would be lenses I could use for decades to come. So I saved and bought all three.
I was waiting for a Full Frame camera, as this would allow me to take advantage of that wide angle lens and not worry about the cropping factor. This would make me a more serious photographer. When the Nikon D800 came out I knew I had to have it. I saved and bought it.
I went out and shot with this professional beast of a camera and realized how terrible my photographs were. My fundamentals were sloppy and the results were crap. I bought Photoshop to help take my photography to the next level. I bought classes at Kelby Training and I began taking better pictures.
My images were beginning to look like the shots I found on the internet. I began seeing my pictures being selected as the weekly winner on the Photography Forum I was still posting to. I knew how to "bring out the best" in my images, how to hide the evidence of my post processing and what to choose as subject matter to get the most number of likes.
I was using a tripod, filters and long shutter speeds. I abandoned HDR and was now looking for that single image the captured the light and color that are so popular online. I was using remote triggers and trying star photography, time lapse and macro lenses.
Stage 4: Film & Books
My father gave me his OM-1 camera. I loaded it with film and took it out to shoot and took the film to be developed. My shots were crap but I did see real B&W. Not the crap I was doing in my own digital conversions but real, organic B&W. I began to look at contrast and sharpness completely differently. I bought more film and took more images. I was spending too much on development so I bought all the chemicals and equipment to develop at home.
That was stressful. I had not idea how to use this gear and chemicals. I went to the internet and found "The Art of Photography" where Ted Forbes walked me through the process. I bought more film cameras, they were cheap through Ebay. I realized I could buy film cameras for relatively little money compared to their digital counterparts.
I needed a darkroom to make prints. I kept looking on Ebay for months until I found someone selling a kit near home. I bought it and drove right over to pick it up. He was a nice older man who threw in a bunch of old paper and more odds and ends. I began printing my own images, they were crap. I had not idea how to print in a darkroom but I was loving it.
Ted Forbes introduced me to Photography books, not how too books, but art books. I bought a few, I dived into each one, I LOVED them. I began to see photography in a different light. I began looking at the image as a work of art and not an oversaturated sunset that gets 100's of likes on Facebook. I began to read of Edward Weston, Sabine Weiss, Josef Sudek, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Strand. I was seeing the love, attention, effort and skill they poured into a single image to make it a work of art.
I began studying the different historical evolutions of photography from Pictorialism through modernism and post-modernism. I was looking at the different schools and how they influenced the perception of art, from the f64, the Photo League of New York through to their European Counterparts. I could see the impact the second world war had on photography and began to look at fashion photography with newfound respect.
Stage 5: Art is Simple....Good Art is Divine
Now I am in my fifth stage of my artistic path. I have plenty of camera gear because I love cameras and have begun collecting them. I understand that my passion for film photographs stems from the post processing restrictions that it gives me. I am critical of my photographs and no longer care to share them on line. I do not pursue the heavily filtered images that are so popular (I like them as well) and instead I work on that delicate balance between camera capture and final image printing.
I know wonderful art when I see it, I also know luck when I see it. I am fine with luck as I fully appreciate that I do not have talent but this does not prevent me from loving the attempt to make art through photography. It does not prevent me from appreciating those who do have a talent.
I mostly shoot film but went back to digital with a new outlook. I no longer need they latest gear or lenses. Any lens I can grab will work. Any camera I have will outshoot me. I found a Leica ME used for a good price. Less Mega Pixels but that no longer matters. The images are wonderful even if the technology is old for digital users today. The camera changes the kind of pictures I take, and I like the pictures I can take with this.
My goal now is very little digital post processing. I do the basics but I do not create the image. I do what I would normally do in a darkroom, I burn, I dodge and I crop. I also convert to B&W but now I know what I am after.
I want to print small and love the subtle touches in a photograph. I realized that subtle is where the brilliance is and in modern, Instagram photography, few people shoot subtle. It is too easy to overlook, you have to dig for it, you have to find it in the image, deep within the image.
The smile that the bubble string makes, the birds on the floor, the bubble man's bags in the bottom right. The magnificent and timeless Thames and St Paul's in the background with the instant bubbles in the foreground.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.