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Have you discovered what type of photographer you are? Doing so will make a big difference to your photography, allowing you to improve faster. If you don’t know right now, read on and I’ll help you find out.
Okay so the first thing to understand is that Holistic Photography is both a Craft and an Art. The earliest photographers were often skilled in both painting and chemistry; an unlikely combination today.
We will see that you develop competency in craft and art separately. This understanding gives us the four Types of photographer which we’ll cover in this article.
Times have changed. Digital cameras do almost everything for you now. To take a photo on the iPad you simply press on your subject, then take the picture!
For a photographer who grew up developing film and making prints, this is amazing. Sepia-toning a photo to make it brown took ages; now there’s an Instagram filter which does it, well, instantly.
So realise that for most people, learning the craft of photography isn’t necessary to get started. Sometimes some very famous photographers know next to nothing about cameras or lighting; they just have a good ‘eye’ – and great assistants! What is this artistic ‘eye’? Simply put, it’s the ability to ‘see’ a picture that others might miss. Cartier-Bresson had it; so did Avedon.
A photographer with a good eye can make better photographs with a phone than an untrained person could with the best camera in the world.
There’s a hint in the last paragraph; I used the word ’untrained’. Yes, it’s possible to get this elusive ‘eye’ for yourself. How? Well the best place to start is with the principles of Aesthetics.
Of course Art also requires an oblique approach to learning, covering psychology, philosophy and heightened self-awareness; but this is beyond the scope of this article.
Unless they’ve developed themselves in different fields, most people begin at square one. This is our first type of photographer.
The untrained photographer is someone who takes pictures. That’s all. They don’t really know what they’re doing or what they’re looking for. Of the billions of images of Facebook, most were taken by the untrained.
Of course there is no shame in this. Photography need not be part of anyone’s life. A camera can just be a useful tool to save and communicate life’s little attractions. And just by the law of averages, if they’re out and about and take enough pictures, maybe one or two will be great.
So how do we move on from this average state? We develop our technical skill, which we’ll deal with later, or we work on our Artistic ‘eye’.
Designers, painters and the fashion-conscious have a head start. I have a friend who finds no interest in sunsets or people’s faces. Don’t take your fascination for the world for granted; a lot of people don’t have it.
A large part of having a good ‘eye’ is colour consciousness. You can study which colours work well together. A combination of blue and yellow or red and green works well, for example.
It’s also very important to be aware of the world around you. The artist really looks at the world. They want to see what’s there, not what they think is there. Practice this.
As with most creative endeavours, experiencing what’s been done before is a catalyst for improvement. It therefore pays dividends to visit art galleries and study great artworks.
You may be doing all of these things already. Perhaps your childhood encouraged an artistic temperament. If you have a good eye already, well that’s half the battle won.
The artist doesn’t really know anything about photography, cameras, lenses or proper technique; but they do have a good eye. This takes them quite far, especially now with Instagram, Photoshop and the ever-improving ‘auto’ modes on digital cameras. They know what they’re looking for, but not how to get there.
It may be worth buying their finished work if the quality is good, but they’re unlikely to have enough consistency for you to consider commissioning them. They focus on the world too much and overlook the camera. Serendipity and clever dSLRs can only take you so far.
Photography can be technically complicated, especially if you want the best image quality and need to use artificial lighting and post-processing. To develop a high degree of skill takes time and effort; so camera operators can be in demand.
Specialised equipment can also be prohibitively expensive, further limiting the supply of reliable image-makers. They’re a safe bet, but you can’t expect too much soul or originality.
Don’t assume because the subject is interesting that there’s much going on behind the camera. It’s perfectly possible to take uninspiring pictures of beautiful people or sublime landscapes if the focus is on niche techniques and maximising sharpness.
As in most things, a balance produces the best results. I’m talking about the balance between the Artistic ‘eye’ and technical mastery of photography. The Holistic Photographer knows what they want to create, and they understand how to control the camera to achieve it.
While very aware of the principles of aesthetics, they also have enough trust in themselves to break the rules when necessary. The camera becomes an extension of the mind’s eye, and the focus is on preserving moments or expressing ideas and feelings.
So where are you at on the journey? If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re already more advanced than most people, who are untrained. But are you focussing on developing your Art, or your Craft
You can see that you will supercharge your own progress by balancing both. What do you need to concentrate on? Are more visits to exhibitions in order? Or would you benefit from a month spent shooting in Manual mode so you can master exposure? Why not have a look through your photographs with a friend and find out?
And the takeaway? You’ll get the best results by learning both the art and craft. Holistic Photography involves learning to See and communicating what you’ve seen effectively. It is having something to express, and understanding how to work with the realities of photography to create something tangible. Skilled artistic creation is worth striving for; you will find that it is its own reward.