When you are looking at something beautiful in front of you and you want to remember it, or express it to the world the subtleties of something, you can go ahead and try to write about it. But it’s not easy. Writing requires a lot of effort on the part of the writer and even more on the part of the reader. As a writer, you have to know words, know how to put them in a string that not only makes sense but also is appealing to the eyes of the people who didn’t experience what you did. Your job is to make them feel as if they were witnessing exactly what you did and make them feel what you were feeling when you were witnessing the endless beauty.
You can make it a lot easier if you just paint an image, but that’s still not an easy thing to do. What most of us would rather do is take a picture with a piece of glass which is made precisely to mimic our eyes and in many ways, see better than what our naked eyes see. In the last few days, I’ve become a fan of doing that—clicking photos—and there’s more reason to it than it being easy. Easy would be the last thing it is; to take a good picture. And to take a great one is a matter of remarkable achievement that happens not to everyone; and not every day, let alone everywhere.
The reason photography is so naturally appealing to me is because it is technical. To a person who enjoys learning how things work and how they were built, photography is like learning to play music when you were Beethoven’s child. There’s more to it than meets the eye, and that’s where the beauty lies. Like my guru, Linda Goodman, used to say, “It rhymes, so it must be true”. It is not just clicking and watching what you shot. Although that can be done ever so easily these days. But easy shooting is much like easy writing. If everyone who could write wrote, it will be what it would be if everyone who had a camera, any camera, took pictures. There are great pictures are the top of the pyramid, good ones at the bottom. And the ones that don’t matter are like the grains of sands spread across the earth, of which this pyramid is only a tiny fraction. A freckle. A pimple on its cheeks.
They say it’s an art. And so it is. But more than that, it’s science. It’s mechanical. You have to turn knobs, click buttons, browse and make selections through menus, learn about light and its characteristics, learn about angles and measure distances, measure heights and widths of things, deal with lengths and distances; there’s a lot of physics involved. And if you were a photographer a decade or more ago, there was a lot of chemistry involved as well. People loved it, but it sure wasn’t simple. And there’s the digital equivalent of that as well. You have to learn to use a computer, which considering many people know shouldn’t be put in the difficult category, but if you consider how many people don’t, that’s when things start shifting. You have to make choices—a lot of them. You have to make strategies. Backup strategies, before you even begin to process any of the pictures you’ve taken. And it just doesn’t mean copying them to another media. A lot of professional photographers keep at least 4, and many up to a dozen copies of their files in different format, at different stages of post-processing and at different locations, logical and physical. Organizing thousands and thousands of image files on a machine is no piece of cake either. It is easy if you are good at creating taxonomy, and have a plan to tag every picture you take with keywords, and rate them appropriately and categorize them, and sort them and put them into folders. On a higher level, that also means making appropriate decisions on what kind of computer you’d like to have, how many hard drives for back-ups, how big should each hard disk be, what about off-site backups, what platform supports the software you’d want to use, how compatible are they, how long will they be there so you can be sure you can keep working the same way, what workflow is suited to the kind of work you do and with the kinds of ecosystem you live in, just to mention a few. You have to understand about colour and how what they call bits, which are nothing but in most cases the presence or absence of magnetic energy, and in others optical, work to represent the colours around us, what is the gamut of colours supported on the media we are working on. All of that of course, after we have decided if what we are shooting will go to print or web or for something else. And then there’s the issue of how big, how sharp, how contrasty, and every other little thing you can think of, that can vary from person to person.What may be perfect for you may be worse than looking at dogshit from an inch away from my face for me. You also must know about file formats, colour spaces or gamut of colours you can work in, aspect ratios, and monitor calibration, because not everything that displays the image displays it similarly, noise and how to reduce it, cropping, white balances, which actually means how well the colours are represented in the image when compared to the original view our eyes had, and a whole lot of things.
To reduce the burden and to be a little more effective at this, one can prepare before hand and try to take better pictures and perform minimal processing but most of us prefer taking a lot of bad ones, picking the best ones from them (the bad ones?) and performing a lot of post-processing which is like applying make up to an ugly woman. This was not much of an issue in the olden days when there were limitations. Limitations as to how many pictures you can take and how flexible you’d be in reviewing them before you take another. Limitations are those little angels we tend to avoid so comfortably as if they were like flies which are supposed to only mean distraction. Ask a writer what is better to write on, a computer keyboard or an old typewriter? The typewriter has its limitations but they tend to assist more in “writing” than the keyboard does with all of its features combined. With a keyboard, all you do is “type”, which is no art! The fact that you have a “backspace” allows you to make mistakes. More mistakes than you otherwise might make. With a typewriter, you have to think of the whole sentence in your head before you start typing and that means that you’d make lesser mistakes. Also because you develop a habit of thinking about everything thoroughly before typing, you become much better a thinker and organize your thoughts every time even when you aren’t “writing”. Not very different than this is a modern camera which tends to make decisions on behalf of you automatically. And if everyone let them do that, it would only mean—my pictures are better than yours because I have a better camera than yours! Great painters never painted better than most because they had better brushes. Nor did great composers compose ageless melodies because they had a better piano to play on. Taking control of the tools you use is very important. And the way you do that is unique to you and no one can replicate. You do follow rules and laws. All musicians know about rhythm and timing and about the way scales are made up and how chord progression works. And because they know how it works, they can break the rules to make exceptional music. An untrained amateur doesn’t know the rules and all he will do is break them unless he, co-incidentally, ends up following one. It’s what you do that makes you. And it’s what you know that helps you decide what and how to do what you do. Practice is important but no more or less important is theory.
There’s a final aspect to it, the delivery. Go ask a writer how printing works. Chances are high there won’t be any answer. Ask the same to a photographer and he’ll sit you down and tell you exactly the different types of printing and how each works, why one is better and how he likes it done. If it’s not printing, he’ll tell you about ways he uses to publish them online to third-party services and also on his own website, which he probably manages by himself. Right from being able to use a camera and understanding how optics work to being able to use a computer to manage, organize, process and publish for delivery, a photographer knows every little detail about his work. And that is far from easy. But to someone who is a geek that is far from boring. Photography is an art. A very technical one, indeed.
Thank you Sameen for editing the post 🙂