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A refreshing post from The Lesser Photographer:

They’re popular because they deliver the junk food of photography world; yummy and empty.

The tips are as predictable as they are boring:

  • Rule of thirds
  • Shoot raw
  • Use a tripod
  • Use filters
  • Rule of Thirds
  • Kneel down
  • Rule of Thirds!!

First, realize you don’t need tips. They’re built for page views, not education. They’re often full of incorrect information or information that’s incorrect for you.

No tip can tell you the only thing you need to know and it’s something you already know: what you love about photography. If what you love about photography contradicts the tips, the tips can’t be right.

“The junk food of photography”.  This gets it perfectly right, although I prefer to think of them as the “Cosmopolitan Cover’ of photography. Catchy numbers designed to draw you in. And just as reading “Cosmopolitan”, or any other popular magazine for that matter, leaves you with a feeling of wasted time, so do popular photography websites.

Yet I still visit them. I’m as susceptible to junk as anyone. It’s just that I’m a bit more aware these days, and can pull away before I get too involved.

Currently I’m dipping into Ansel Adams’ “The Camera” and “The Negative” for knowledge of technique and into “The Architecture of Vision”, a collection of interviews with Michelangelo Antonioni, for aesthetic advice.

Dipping in this case actually means reading, and without the benefit of bullet points or numbers to powerpoint the message home. But there’s a depth there that is wholly absent on the websites, so much so that it makes me wonder exactly what makes a popular photographer tick.

Is it collecting ever more and sophisticated gear? Is is emulating (aping I prefer to call it) the currently fashionable trends in photography? Is it spending hours massaging an image in Lightroom or Photoshop?

I don’t really know the answer. They’re just questions. But they do speak to a way of making photographs that does not appeal to me.

It’s somewhat isolating, this way of thinking. I feel myself feeling more and more out of sympathy with my friends in my photography clubs, admiring their technical improvements but not finding much kinship in vision. The great photographers – Adams, Cartier-Bresson, Arbus, Capa, Ray, Gursky, Mapplethorpe and many more – these I relish. Primarily because each has a distinct vision of how he or she wants a photograph to look, and that vision stamps an individuality on the resulting image.

That’s what I like. It’s what I would like to aspire to, but I’m a long, long way behind the great photographers. And doubtless always will be.

But that’s OK. At this point I know enough to know what interests me and what does not. That, in itself, is a mark of progress. What has become clear to me, beginning over the past couple of years, is that I am interested in light.

Using film has been a way to getting to know light in a way that is much more visceral than using digital. As an example, I find myself frequently using color filters with black and white film, usually yellow-green, yellow, orange or red, to get a specific range of intensities on my film.

Digitally, it is possible to emulate this using color mixing tools in Lightroom or Photoshop. But there all I am doing is altering the balance of color information recorded as bit and bytes and translated into the colors you see on a screen. With a filter on a lens, I am altering the makeup of light that impinges on that film, and by doing so, I set up subtle variations in the photochemical reactions of that film.

So what you might ask? One way is via electrons in a microchip, the other via silver deposition on a piece of cellulose or polyester.

It’s a fair point. The results, as seen on a screen anyway, may be very similar. But I find a deep satisfaction in working with light itself rather than bit and byte values, even as I acknowledge that those very same types of bit and byte manipulations present my scanned film on screen.

That satisfaction has kept me working with film over the past year. Probably it will for a long time to come. It’s, these days, an offbeat path to follow but it is fun and involving. Where I want to be.

Where I did not want to be was scrabbling through the undergrowth in Forest Park looking for a detached eye piece hood. But every journey has its rewards.

Photograph Frog by Richard Keeling on 500px

Frog by Richard Keeling on 500px

Never did find the hood though.

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