Photography - before you start

Think before acting

The best way to make the worst possible picture is to find a nice place, set up your tripod with the best possible camera, level the camera and carefully adjust everything to perfection, then photograph it with the sharpest possible lens with the highest possible dynamic range, resolution, colour depth and gamut, all to get the most accurate and exact possible picture.

As Ansel Adams, the famous American landscape photographer, observed, “…there's nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy idea.

Pens are all very different, but they have far less to do with writing than what's written. Would you rather have a £10 cheque written out to you with a fancy Parker pen, or a £10,000 cheque written with a BIC biro?

It's exactly the same with photography: what's in the photograph is far more important than how the photograph was made.

The message matters, not the medium. It's not about pixel size, colour space or bit depth.

It's all about line, shape, form, colour, balance, texture and tone. It's about new points-of-view, not about shooting at tripod or eye-level height.

Photography is all about what's in your frame, not what's in your bag.

It's all about moving yourself and seeing something worth seeing, in the strongest possible way. Get closer. Then get closer still. Feet are still the cheapest form of zoom lens.

Photography is all about our imaginations. It's all about showing us something new or showing it in a new way, and then designing the elements in the frame for the strongest, simplest, best-balanced and most exciting composition.

It's not about the camera. It's about vision, seeing, and imagination. It's about playing like a kid to see what you can see from new places.

It's not about autofocus menus or exposure modes. It's all about line, texture, balance, emphasis, colour, shape, curve and a million other things that actually make an image worthwhile.

You need to learn to see and compose. The more time you waste worrying about your equipment the less time you'll have to put into creating great images. Worry about your images, not your equipment.

Everyone knows that the make of keyboard or computer has nothing to do with the ability to compose a brilliant novel, although a better keyboard may make typing a little more pleasant. Yet why do so many otherwise reasonable people think that what sort of camera one owns has anything do with the ability to create an interesting photo?

Have you ever heard anyone ask an artist what sort of brushes or paints they used; did anyone ask if Michelangelo used brushes or his fingers to paint the Sistine Chapel roof? Have you ever heard anyone ask a gardener what make of spade he dug a flowerbed with? Have you ever heard anyone ask a carpenter what brand of chisel he used?

Said Galen Rowell, who was, until his untimely death, a top US photographer and designer of photo-equipment, “…anytime I go anywhere with a camera, whether it be my top-of-the-line pro body with fifteen lenses and smart flash or a simple point-and-shoot, I might take the best photograph of my life. If, however, I trapped myself into believing that success of my style would only come through in the grainless technical perfection of a cumbersome larger format or the heady fine art of a preconceptualized composition, then I would lose much of the magic that drew me to photography in the first place.

Just as one needs to know how to use a computer to write a program, one needs to know how to operate a camera to make photos, but that's only a tiny part of the process. Do you have any idea what brand of computer or software I used to create what you're reading right now? Of course not. It matters to me, but not to you. Likewise, no one who looks at your pictures can tell or cares about what camera you used. It just doesn't matter.

Knowing how to do something is entirely different from being able to do it at all, much less do it well.

We all know how to play the piano: you just press the keys and step on the pedals now and then. The ability to play it, much less the ability to stir emotion in those who hear your playing, is an entirely different matter.

Don't presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos. Learn to be selective with your kit, only taking out a couple of items at a time for a shoot. Spend a whole day with just one lens.

The more expensive cameras and lenses don't do much more of anything significant for the huge increases in price for the vast majority of photographers.