Lot­tie Davies

Peo­ple think that be­ing a pro pho­tog­ra­pher is all about buy­ing the right equip­ment. They couldn’t be more wrong

Professional Photography - - Contributors - LOT­TIE DAVIES

Peo­ple think that be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher is all about buy­ing the right equip­ment, says Lot­tie... and ex­plains why they couldn’t be more wrong.

You must have a great cam­era,” peo­ple say. Or, “I’d love to be a pho­tog­ra­pher but I don’t have a good enough cam­era.” My in­ter­nal re­sponse is nor­mally: “Yeah. sure, I could be a mu­si­cian if I had a gui­tar like Jimi Hen­drix. And, come to think of it, Shake­speare must have had a re­ally good pen.” The per­cep­tion that pho­tog­ra­phy is sim­ply press­ing a but­ton has al­ways been there, and the chal­lenge to prove it­self as more than a tech­ni­cal skill be­gan with Da­guerre. But now, the tech­ni­cal skills aren’t re­quired ei­ther. Thanks to dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, it is def­i­nitely, 100 per cent true that any­one, in­clud­ing my three-year-old nephew, can make a pho­to­graphic im­age with a de­cent ex­po­sure and enough de­tail to be used, at the very least, on a web­site, and prob­a­bly also in a half-de­cent mag­a­zine. So where does that leave us, the work­ing pro­fes­sion­als? In the early 1950s, Bert Hardy con­sid­ered the ques­tion of equip­ment and went out with a Box Brownie (ar­guably the equiv­a­lent of an iPhone then, the am­a­teur’s ac­ces­si­ble cam­era of choice) to demon­strate that an ex­pen­sive cam­era was not nec­es­sary for tak­ing great shots. Re­mem­ber that one of the two girls on the rail­ing in Black­pool? That was a Box Brownie shot. It’s pretty good, right? Be­ing able to use equip­ment has only ever been a very small part of be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher. The cam­era, how­ever ba­sic or fancy it is, is just a tool. Put very sim­ply, a cam­era can’t do any­thing by it­self. I’ve been con­sid­er­ing what it is that we ac­tu­ally do, we pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers, now that we’re not re­quired to have much tech­ni­cal knowl­edge any more. (Most of us still do know a lot of the tricky stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there are plenty of work­ing pho­tog­ra­phers out there who gen­uinely don’t know, and don’t care, about stops or how fo­cal length works; they just take pic­tures.) We’re gen­er­ally agreed that much of be­ing a pro­fes­sional is about run­ning a busi­ness suc­cess­fully; that’s a clear dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor from an am­a­teur. That’s rea­son­able, and true, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. Aside from the mak­ing money side of it (given that some­one tak­ing bad pic­tures can make a good liv­ing, viz that go­daw­ful Aus­tralian guy, and vice-versa), do our pic­ture- mak­ing skills still have a role? Do we ac­tu­ally make bet­ter pho­to­graphs than non-pro­fes­sion­als? I was dis­cussing this with a friend re­cently, and he ob­served that “every pro­fes­sion nat­u­rally tends to­ward an el­e­va­tion of the value of their craft”. And of course, he’s ab­so­lutely right. When chal­lenged, we nat­u­rally tend to jus­tify the qual­ity of our out­put by say­ing how dif­fi­cult it was to do, how much it cost to make, the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges, but that doesn’t ex­plain why it’s a bet­ter pic­ture. It sim­ply speaks to how dif­fi­cult it was to make. Tech­ni­cal abil­ity, time, money, ef­fort and ex­pen­sive cam­eras do not nec­es­sar­ily make great pho­tog­ra­phy, and con­versely, great pho­tog­ra­phy does not need any of those things ei­ther. What it does need is the pho­tog­ra­pher. Go­ing back to Bert Hardy, he prob­a­bly en­joyed us­ing a nice fat 10 x 8 as much as the Brownie, but it was his abil­ity to take a pho­to­graph that made his work stand out, which was of course the point of the ex­er­cise. I sus­pect that the com­mon con­fu­sion of ‘ex­pen­sive cam­era = bet­ter pho­to­graphs’ is mixed up for the gen­eral pub­lic, who of­ten don’t, or can’t, see a dif­fer­ence be­tween an av­er­age im­age and a great one. But a use­ful shorthand for them is ‘more pix­els per inch = higher qual­ity of im­age’. It seems that the use of bet­ter kit is a short­cut to say­ing with some con­fi­dence, ‘That’s a good shot’. And so it log­i­cally fol­lows that, ‘If I want to be a good pho­tog­ra­pher, I must buy a good cam­era’. Any pro would say that that’s just not true. Most of us don’t re­ally care about what our cam­eras are, sim­ply that they are ap­pro­pri­ate for the im­age we wish to make. We just choose the right tool for the job. Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy has def­i­nitely af­fected our in­dus­try, but it hasn’t made us re­dun­dant. To quote an old friend, ‘Not ev­ery­one with a span­ner is a me­chanic.’

Tech­ni­cal abil­ity and pricey cam­eras alone do not make great pho­tog­ra­phy.

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