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Beyond the Technicals

It’s time for the blog carousel again! If you like to read about photography, this is the month to follow along. Each of us has written an article about a different aspect of photography. Earlier this month, Professional Photographer Magazine published an article of mine, It’s Only Natural. This article gave me the opportunity to talk about how technical competence and individual style can co-exist. And much of the work we do for clients should generally include both. But does it always need to for an image to have value or be considered art?

I don’t think so. Photography is an art, and by definition, that allows for freedom from rigid rules and formulas. I think it’s entirely possible for a technically good image to also be extremely artistic, and I believe that it’s possible for a technically poor image to be extremely artistic too. So can you call anything art then, even when it’s just plain bad? Well, someone might try. ;) I recently viewed the results of a photo contest where all of the best, most stunning images, both technically and artistically, we’re passed over and the winning images, chosen by a panel I expected more from, chose as winners the most mediocre amateurish snapshots with kitschy effects added with a heavy hand and definite lack of skill. Images that I would never consider art. But then I’ve seen some iPhone photos using the same effects and they were works of art. So where do we draw the line?

I don’t think a hard line can be drawn. No matter where I would place that line, there would always be an image that belongs on the bad side by definition, yet strikes a chord with me and ends up on the good side. This ambiguity is so hard to accept, because we have this tendency to want to put everything in nice little boxes. This should be done this way, that should be done that way. Baby portraits should be done this way, maternity portraits should be done that way. There are baby photographers out there who are virtually brand new to this craft but are out there teaching newer newbies, and they tell them these insane rules like you should never see a fold or ripple in a baby blanket; that evidence of such should all be smoothed out in photoshop to make it disappear. Is that what truly makes a photography have value? Of course not. That’s how one photographer likes to do her work. It’s her style. As much as those newer newbies believe her, that is not a legitimate standard in photography by any means.

There ARE things in my life I like in nice little boxes. Art just isn’t one of them. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve encountered many new photographers, who don’t want to take the time to really learn the the fundamentals, put out some seriously questionable work and defend their lack of skill as art. And it drives me crazy when they do it. And it especially drives me crazy to see work like that recognized by a panel of credentialed judges. Instead of recognizing outstanding photography that others can aspire to, they only encourage the creation of more mediocre photography.

But photography has so much more potential as an art form than it does as a mere skill, so we can’t let that kind of thing bother us to the point that we don’t step out and let our vision and our hearts be what rule our work. When I view a photograph in a museum or gallery, I’m moved by pieces that speak to me on an emotional level. Not by seeing technical perfection. Learning how to shoot with “perfect exposure”, “the rule of thirds”, or “tack-sharp focus” shouldn’t be a means to an end. We learn those skills because they allow us to create great images…but the images shouldn’t be ABOUT those skills. It’s often the images that make me forget any consideration of technical skills, that are the ones I’m drawn to and would spend money on.

How do we bring that into our own work? Well, I’m a firm believer that we learn the fundamentals first. Just like a painter will learn all the different ways to use a paintbrush, and then choose whatever methods works best for what they want to achieve, a photographer learns the fundamentals, and then has the skills to create whatever they can imagine. The reason I think this is important for any creative person in any artistic field is that you can have great artistic vision and frustrate yourself to the point of burnout if you don’t have the skills to carry out that vision. But once you do have them, your creative options are endless.

When creating photographs, or viewing them. Think in a new way. Sharpness and blur are not good and bad; they are two possibilities. Not every photo has to have white and black and every shade of grey in between. Color doesn’t always have to be true to life. It’s a matter of what is right for each individual image. I can’t say that every client will understand work that doesn’t fit in a popular, mainstream view of what’s considered good photography, but some will.

Next up on the carousel is Grand Rapids maternity, newborn and womens photographer, writing about taking great photographs of your own children. Because your photographer can’t be there every day! :)

April 29, 2012 - 10:15 pm

storing and printing your digital files » Milwaukee Photographer Christine Plamann Photography – High end children, family, baby and maternity photography. - […] to read about the aspects of photography that go beyond the technical skills, visit st. louis and dc photographer lauri baker! […]

April 29, 2012 - 10:57 pm

Danna - AMEN!! Love this post and everything you have said.

April 30, 2012 - 8:29 am

Blog Carousel–The Photographer’s Portfolio | Dena Robles | More Than Words | Baby and Child Photographer - […] | Lauri | Allie | Danna | Julie | Melody | Corey | Tara | […]

April 30, 2012 - 8:36 am

dena robles - “Well, I’m a firm believer that we learn the fundamentals first. Just like a painter will learn all the different ways to use a paintbrush, and then choose whatever methods works best for what they want to achieve, a photographer learns the fundamentals, and then has the skills to create whatever they can imagine. The reason I think this is important for any creative person in any artistic field is that you can have great artistic vision and frustrate yourself to the point of burnout if you don’t have the skills to carry out that vision. But once you do have them, your creative options are endless.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Thank you so much Lauri for your well-thought out and poised post. I am such a messy abstract artist confined inside a box of rules, it’s always a struggle to know who to listen to.

April 30, 2012 - 9:14 am

Corey Sewell - Beautifully written, Lauri!

April 30, 2012 - 10:04 am

Julie Tauro - Lauri, what a wonderful essay on the art of photography. I agree with everything you said, in particular about learning the fundamentals first so that you can be free to create work that is NOT about the fundamentals, but about the image alone (whether if follows the rules or not). Love it!

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