Saturday, May 7, 2011

When vision meets satisfaction

There's vision...

      I’ve been still shooting film when I began to use digital. At the time I had so much pleasure discovering the pictures that I took sometimes one month before having the roll processed, and I was keeping practicing in order to achieve the mystical “100% keepers”.

      Patience and vision were at the time the most important things for me, as I worked with what I called the “one – one” technique ; one roll for one project. Thirty six (or 24) images to summarize, to capture the spirit of a birthday, an unordinary event, a week-end with friends in the middle of nowhere, being on duty or free of anything. Identifying the key moments was a hard task. Sometimes you know that it will happen and you place yourself where you’ll be able to catch the scene as you want it. Swapping lenses, change your aperture, move, move, wait, pre-focus, focus, clac. And you know that it will be good. But you won’t be sure of that until you’ll have your pictures back from the shop. You open your folder and you make a quick overview: can somebody feel the action or the passion even if he wasn’t here? If yes, congratulations. If not, try again.

This was the relationship between me and my camera.

The camera was 30 years old and I had to carry at least two small screwdrivers because of frequent shutter jams in the middle of an event. That day I broke the shutter release mechanism of my trustworthy Minolta X-300 at the beginning of an important event where I had a dozen of precise pictures in my head to be shot throughout the day. I was disappointed, but these things happen.

      I didn’t buy another one even if I knew that the cropped sensor of my Pentax k20d couldn’t give me the same image rendition which I was used to see with my fast primes.

So I took the decision to save for a full format DSLR. This was 3 years ago.

      Today, after an endless search, it’s there. An old 5D classic. Now, fifties are fifties, 1.4’s are bokeh monsters, blur equals blur and viewfinders are bigger than ever. Photographic love is back. I've found the camera that I needed.

Rendition with a full frame camera is miles away from standard APS sized sensors
© Quiet Leaf

...And satisfaction

Many Pentax users took the Nikon way so why did I took a Canon?

This is where everyone has his own “gear philosophy”.

For me, no matter which camera; as long as it meets my shooting style, it’s good. I'm an amateur, not a pro.
I replaced my 35mm film camera by a 35 digital camera because I knew that it would meet my needs.

      I don’t expect a camera to be the best one, it has its own flaws and every photographer knows that he has to work with them, no matter what; go beyond your gear and focus on your pictures. I’ve been through this common problem of being more focused on cameras than my work, and it’s a real stopper. You’ll forget the reason why you’re here: you are a photographer.

      My Minolta was my workhorse camera; I learned the most important part of my technical skills with it. Aperture, Speed and Focus. Patience and vision. Once these are mastered, you can move forward and begin to know your camera and your lenses, be aware of their flaws and their qualities, don’t expect them to take the shot for you.

      This whole process had a significant impact on me: if one of my pictures was slightly out of focus or a little bit blurred, I didn’t really care, if it was overexposed, I would still be satisfied. Why? It wasn’t because of my gear, it was because of me. So it could be improved.

      Find the tools that suit your needs. Use them. Look at your pictures and find how you could improve them. Share your work and let it know around you. Print a dozen of pictures and hand it to your friends. They’re part of your photographic life, their satisfaction is also yours.

     If I had only one advice for everyone who wants to keep up with his passion, it would be this one. Ask yourself, when are happy with your work?

When your vision meets your satisfaction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.



  1. First off, I like your one-one concept. It forces one to concentrate and get a defined result in a defined constraint.

    Then you ask: are you satisfied with your work?

    My immediate answer is never, because firstly I would lose the impetus to improve and secondly, if I keep my eyes open I will always see work much better than my own and thirdly, I have not yet seen the end of my photographic journey.

    But I am happy with my work, which is a different thing. It means I am happy doing it. It is rewarding, fulfilling and I am consciously improving.

    Then you ask again: what is the place of your gear in your creative process?

    To answer that it is necessary to understand what is a good photograph?
    My answer is that a good photograph has:

    1. Technical quality. It is sharp, has low noise, good colour rendition, good contrast, etc, etc. I won't enumerate all the technical qualities.

    2. Emotional quality. The photo has some compelling quality that evokes emotion in the viewer, an Aha experience.

    3. Aesthetic quality. We see the photo as aesthetically pleasing and has mostly to do with the various ways we achieve a good composition. I won't enumerate all the aspects of a good composition.

    Now to answer your question about the place of gear in the creative process.

    Firstly it only directly contributes to item 1, Technical quality, and that is less than one third of a good photo. It does not directly contribute to the emotional or aesthetic quality of a photo. So, on the face of it, gear has a small contribution to make to the creative process. I am excluding specialised photography where gear becomes very important (macros, etc).

    But, there is a big caveat here. When I bought my Pentax K-7 something strange happened to me. I derived such pleasure from using high quality gear that I found a renewed joy in my photography.

    My conclusion therefore, was that there is a virtuous feedback loop where the intense pleasure of using excellent gear injects a sense of joy into one's photography and this sense of joy manifests itself as deeper Emotional quality in the photos. That sense of joy also increases one's awareness which contributes as well to Aesthetic quality.

  2. Vincent - naturally there's some overlap between the things you are discussing but I find it easier to deal with them as distinct topics.

    When are you satisfied with your work?

    There's an old expression "the perfect is the enemy of the good". While it's OK to have a notion of perfection and hope to achieve it some day, I couldn't persist with a hobby (or a job, for that matter) if I was perpetually dissatisfied because my output was less than perfect.

    I therefore keep a broad concept of what is "reasonably attainable" - by which I mean what I can attain in the circumstances prevailing at the time. Consider an instance from your blog: DOF control with APS-C - (a) I understand the difference between APS-C and FF but I hate the size and weight of FF DSLRs and (b) I know that MF gives even better control at higher cost and even bigger size and weight. So I accept the constraint and set my level of satisfaction accordingly.

    Note too that what I can attain varies through time as I gain experience and, also, my view of what is good has developed over the years. I sometimes look back at earlier work and wonder how I could have been satisfied with it: but at the time I did it I was.

    What's the place of your gear in your creative process?

    What is the place of my left leg in my walking? This is a serious point: both subject and gear are vital parts of the creative process in the same way that both legs are vital for walking. No subject, no photo no matter howe good your gear; no gear, no photo no matter how interesting the subject.

    [Yes, using crutches you can walk with one leg; yes, using a pinhole you can make a photo - although a pinhole is still gear. But I'm discussing the mainstream.]

    For most photographers most of the time just about any sort of camera will produce the sort of image required. Landscape in decent light for prints up to, say, 10x8 - you'll get pretty good results with a P&S. But ... put the sun slap bang in the frame and even a camera with 14 stops of DR will only just get you there (and, yes, PP software is a central part of my gear). Sometimes the DR is OK but what you want is creative lighting.Sometimes you want to get very close.

    Where my gear sits in my creative process varies from day to day, shot to shot.