10 votes

What is your philosophy on photography?

Photography is a bit of an odd form of art, especially if you're not doing anything 'weird' with it. Occasionally I'll be thinking about photography as a hobby and a bit of dread sets in about how every photograph I could think of has already been taken and done better than I could. And so I think, what is the point? Why do I enjoy photography?

So, after a few highly coherent 3am thinking sessions, I have come to my conclusion. My "philosophy", if you can call it that, behind why I enjoy photography is that I use it as a way to appreciate what I see and the world around me. I don't consider myself an artist because I just use photography as a way to display something beautiful that already existed. (Not that I don't consider other photographers who do similar stuff to me artists, that's just how I view myself.)

If there are any other photographers on here, amateur or professional, I am interested in hearing your beliefs and what meaning you put towards your photography, whether its general or for specific photos.

16 comments

  1. PetitPrince
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    Photography is like food and cooking for me. It can be strictly utilitarian like an energy bar, automated like a microwave dinner, or casual like a regular week-night meal. But it's also a craft...

    Photography is like food and cooking for me.

    It can be strictly utilitarian like an energy bar, automated like a microwave dinner, or casual like a regular week-night meal. But it's also a craft and I can pour a lot of effort in making stuff from scratch. I like both the process and I mostly like the result of what I'm doing. There's certainly people doing this than me, but I like to know that this thing I made in mine. At the very least knowing how the sausage is made make me appreciate more the things that are brought to me.

    7 votes
  2. Grendel
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    @cfabbro thanks for the ping! I've shot professionally in the past but now I'm strictly shooting for enjoyment. I used to shoot for fun and didn't really care about the results, but since I built...

    @cfabbro thanks for the ping!

    I've shot professionally in the past but now I'm strictly shooting for enjoyment. I used to shoot for fun and didn't really care about the results, but since I built my darkroom (I shoot analog exclusively now) it's gone from a casual hobby to an intense passion. I still have fun with it for sure, but I now see it as a craft to be mastered and I've started investing a lot of time and energy into doing my best to master it (no one ever really get's there).

    I started a book recently about a method called the Zone System. It's pretty specific to film, but the first few chapters did cover philosophy. These are a few things that I took away from it.



    It's not about taking a photo, it's about creating a picture



    Photographs aren't a perfect representation of reality

    We tend to think that photos are a direct representation of reality, that it's a perfect record of what was. This isn't the case. I'm not referring to crazy manipulation via photoshop, I mean simply taking a picture in and of itself is different from reality. Cameras do not perfectly mimic what the human eye sees. Sometimes the goal (such as during an investigation) is to get as close to reality as we can. When shooting for art though it's important to get away from that mentality. That doesn't mean you have to make crazy edits (though that's totally acceptable), just an awareness that this is closer to an artist making a painting than we might think.


    Pre-visualization

    Because I used to go for reality, I really only thought about using camera settings that would achieve that. This book talked about pre-visualization. How do YOU want the photo to look? Maybe the reality is a happy theme, but our photo doesn't have to replicate that. Maybe I want something sad and evocative, and regardless of the "obvious" or "real" theme, I can choose to try and create that. The best way to practice this is by pre-visualizing the photo. I'd encourage you to turn your camera completely off, and when you see something you'd like to photograph pre-visualize the photo before looking through the lens. This is especially important when using a camera that shows a live feed on a screen of what the image will look like. Don't look at that, look at the scene. Think about what different exposure settings would look like. What parts should look dark and what should look bright? Think about the framing and composition. How do you want the photo to flow? Where do you want the viewer's focus to fall? Think about the depth of field. Close your eyes and actually try to see the picture you want in your head. Then turn on the camera and take the picture. Ignore what the camera shows you on the screen after taking the picture. A photo isn't done until it's edited in its final form. This applies to film as well. Once you have gone home and edited the photo, see if it matches what you visualized.


    Does it give the vibe you were going for? Is the lighting the way you wanted it? Does the composition flow the way you intended it to? The more you practice this, the better you will get at taking the photo that you really want to take.


    Less is more

    I used to try and get the most pictures for my money when I switched to film. Slowly I moved away from the "shoot first ask questions later" mentality. I got to the point where I could go on a photo walk for hours and not finish a roll of 24 pictures. Then I moved to medium format film and struggled to finish a roll of 12 pictures. At this point, I shoot in large format, and I average one picture for every hour I'm out shooting (sometimes less). I'm not saying you should go to this extreme, but there is value in a little self-discipline. It ties into pre-visualization. If I'm only taking a few shots, I want to really think about them a lot. It's also less overwhelming to sort through after the shoot. I've read photographers that talk about taking 500+ pictures in a couple of hours' time, then they never edit them (or really look at them) after because it's an overwhelming amount of pictures to sort through. Also, the pictures matter a lot more to me when I'm only taking a few. They are more important and I feel much more invested and connected to them.


    Sorry for going on for so long. I hope this helps out, but it's also important to develop a philosophy that works for you. Take little bits from different places and build your own purpose for looking through the lens :)


    Resources

    • Photography by Bruce Warren

      • I picked this up from a yard sale. It's all good stuff, But Chapter 9 is especially helpful. I think it was used for a photography 101 college course. It is an excellent book. I've been shooting 10+ years and I still go back to it every so often. You're never too experienced to review fundamentals.
    • The New Zone System

      • Unless you are shooting a large format film, only selected parts of the first chapter will be helpful. Ignore the technicals in this chapter and read over the philosophical aspects that it goes over. Doesn't take too long to read and is totally worth it, especially since it gives some awesome examples of how different the same photo can look when shot differently
    • Reddit Community: Photo Critique

      • This is a very kind and open community to get feedback on your photos. It's well moderated and the feedback has always been constructive in my experience. You may even see my username from time to time ;)

    If you ever have any questions about photography or would like some feedback, feel free to DM me any time. If you ever try film, definitely reach out as this is an area I can be especially helpful in. Good luck on your journey, and make sure to enjoy the ride :)

    6 votes
  3. autumn
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    I’ve dabbled, and I mainly use it as a means to document my holidays and special occasions. Sure, somebody has taken a photo of [landscape/flower/lake/friend standing in front of X], but this is...

    I’ve dabbled, and I mainly use it as a means to document my holidays and special occasions. Sure, somebody has taken a photo of [landscape/flower/lake/friend standing in front of X], but this is my memory of it, and I can freely use it however I please.

    4 votes
  4. HotPants
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    Photography is a skill and an art form. It combines technical mastery with artistic flair. My goal isn't to innovate the photographic art form. My goal is to improve myself and have fun along the...

    Photography is a skill and an art form. It combines technical mastery with artistic flair.

    My goal isn't to innovate the photographic art form. My goal is to improve myself and have fun along the way.

    I've spent significant time learning the technical skills, and also spent significant time studying various photos that I liked artistically.

    I used to plan my trips around cool photo opportunities. I got to see some cool stuff and take some cool photos.

    Mostly now I enjoy taking the occasional stunning photo of children and animals. Portraits. Action shots. Silhouettes. Funny cat photos.

    E.g. I was hanging out with my cousins and nephews once, and my nephews were waving sparklers around in the dusk. I grabbed my cousins SLR, turned on the flash, set the exposure to 5-10 seconds, F30, and took some photos of the kids big smiling faces and the light drawings they were making with the sparklers. I used the SLR screen to show the kids what they were doing, and they couldn't get enough of it. My cousin later asked me how I did that, but he couldn't replicate it. Technically, the photos were mediocre. I had 5 minutes with a strange camera to figure things out before the kids ran out of sparklers. But the photos were priceless.

    Sometimes, it's not the destination, but the journey, and the friends you make along the way.

    4 votes
  5. cfabbro
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    Paging @Grendel, since this topic might also interest you.

    Paging @Grendel, since this topic might also interest you.

    3 votes
  6. [7]
    soks_n_sandals
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    My personal philosophy is that photography is fundamentally an art form, unless the image being considered is a "snapshot". The snapshot has some of the characteristics of a photograph, but is...

    My personal philosophy is that photography is fundamentally an art form, unless the image being considered is a "snapshot". The snapshot has some of the characteristics of a photograph, but is ultimately less thought out and more spur-of-the-moment.

    The photographer has a litany of tools available to warp the photograph as they see fit to convey some point. This is most well-exercised in black-and-white, and particularly film. As a photographer, my ultimate goal is to capture an excellent negative/initial image with some eventual "print" in my mind's eye. Thus, the process is holistic, beginning with how I intend to capture the negative and what I want the eventual print to look like. Making technical selections is a byproduct of the artistic process, though the technical selections are my favorite part. In this way, I look to the great photographers specifically for inspiration. As an example, consider photographing a tree with significant areas of dark along the ground and light higher on the trunk. There's a technique to pre-expose the dark areas on the ground, then follow up with a complete exposure of the scene. This pushes up the dark areas without blowing out the light areas. Another example is using filters to turn a bright sky black (on B&W film). Or, using density filters to remove moving subjects from a busy area via long exposure. Sure, all of these photos have been done before. But it's no different than learning painting by making a copy of a masterwork. You'll learn something if you apply yourself seriously.

    Ultimately, I don't see making a photograph as a way to help me see the world, but rather as a way to help you see what I see in the world. Or, perhaps I want to show you how a subject could be seen. It's precisely in this way that I think photography is best appreciated as an art form. In the same way that one may interpret the colors, framing, scale, detail, or technique in a painting, we can so interpret a photograph.

    3 votes
    1. [6]
      Grendel
      Link Parent
      It's great to see a fellow analog photographer here 😊 What formats do you shoot? Do you darkroom print? I'm just getting into 4x5 and I've only got about a years worth of experience in the darkroom.

      It's great to see a fellow analog photographer here 😊

      What formats do you shoot? Do you darkroom print? I'm just getting into 4x5 and I've only got about a years worth of experience in the darkroom.

      2 votes
      1. [5]
        soks_n_sandals
        Link Parent
        Howdy! I shoot on 35mm and 120. I learned from a handful of textbooks and technical prints, just out of fascination. Increasingly, we use Instax cameras! Hard to beat with friends for a snapshot....

        Howdy! I shoot on 35mm and 120. I learned from a handful of textbooks and technical prints, just out of fascination. Increasingly, we use Instax cameras! Hard to beat with friends for a snapshot. I've never had the opportunity to print in the darkroom, sadly.

        I've done some fine art printing with a really high-end printer, which is sort of the digital version of the same process. That printer was actually a crazy happenstance. I was working on a project with my partner at the time, and we found this super nice Epson 13"-wide printer in a thrift store in the most random small town. We were shooting 120 B&W portraits and landscapes and need to make prints for a show. But, we couldn't really afford to make as many gallery-quality prints as we wanted, until we saw this printer. It worked perfectly, and it's still sort of unbelievable.

        That's part of the reason why I put "print" in quotes. Sometimes a print is a photo for a friend to share digitally, and sometimes it'll actually be on paper.

        What got you to transition to shooting on film?

        2 votes
        1. Grendel
          Link Parent
          That sounds awesome! It's amazing what you will find in second hand shops. So I kind of started that way. My first time with a camera was a disposable one during vacation. After that I had a...

          That sounds awesome! It's amazing what you will find in second hand shops.

          So I kind of started that way. My first time with a camera was a disposable one during vacation. After that I had a crappy digital from about 10-13, but it was about 3 megapixels and was mostly just playing around.

          In high school I wanted to get seriously into it with a good camera. There was no way I or my family could afford a DSLR, but my grandfather passed down a Minolta SLR from the 70's. This was after the digital explosion but before the hip film revolution, so most film was cheap and on clearance.

          It's what what taught me to go beyond point and shoot. It didn't have an auto mode, so while the learning curve was steep it paid off for sure. I couldn't just take 600 pictures and hope a few were good. Of course I used digital when shooting professionally, but my heart never left film.

          All of this accelerated after I built a dark room. The joy of manually printing your negatives on photo paper is indescribable. Seeing the image magically appear on the paper never gets old. 😊

          3 votes
        2. [3]
          Grendel
          Link Parent
          I almost forgot, what medium format camera do you use?

          I almost forgot, what medium format camera do you use?

          2 votes
          1. [2]
            soks_n_sandals
            Link Parent
            I use a Mamiya RZ67. I opted for that camera because of the outstanding stock lens and the waist-level viewfinder. It has produced some really great images for us!

            I use a Mamiya RZ67. I opted for that camera because of the outstanding stock lens and the waist-level viewfinder. It has produced some really great images for us!

            1 vote
            1. Grendel
              Link Parent
              I haven't used a mamiya but the 67Z seems to be well liked. I have a "Hasslebladsky" USSR knockoff. They have a quiky reputation but I love making ne. I hardly shoot roll film anymore though, I've...

              I haven't used a mamiya but the 67Z seems to be well liked. I have a "Hasslebladsky" USSR knockoff. They have a quiky reputation but I love making ne.

              I hardly shoot roll film anymore though, I've switched over to 4x5 almost exclusively

              2 votes
  7. stu2b50
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    As a preface, I am so casual at photography that even calling it "amateur photography" seems to be giving it too much legitimacy. I've had a major shift over the years in what I take pictures of...

    As a preface, I am so casual at photography that even calling it "amateur photography" seems to be giving it too much legitimacy.

    I've had a major shift over the years in what I take pictures of on travels and vacations. For instance, I use to be part of the crowd that was dismissive of selfies - we're at the great pyramids, take a pictures of the pyramids, not yourself!

    But then I really thought about it - it's the age of the internet. Within minutes, you can find a infinite number of infinitely superior photographs of any particular landmark. Am I ever going to actually look at my poorly framed, poorly focused picture of a world wonder? There's probably thousands locked away in iCloud photos, never to be seen again.

    Rather, what's actually special in the moment is my own presence and the presence of the people I'm with. The clothes and expression we're wearing, and the connection that those have with my own memories - that'll draw me back into iCloud photos.

    So now I almost exclusively take photos that have people in it - myself, from selfies, or friends and family - when I travel. I also lost pretty much any resistance I had to selfies.

    Of course there are exceptions - sometimes a moment can be beautiful in a transient and ephemeral way, and in that case it is unique and capturing it with photography is valuable for future me.

    3 votes
  8. lou
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    I don't have one, but lookup Susan Sontag's On Photography. It's pretty great.

    I don't have one, but lookup Susan Sontag's On Photography. It's pretty great.

    2 votes
  9. symmetry
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    My honest opinion is that I find photography at best an interesting medium, at worst a plaything for rich folks. I'm a fan of photojournalism (people with jobs to document historical events or to...

    My honest opinion is that I find photography at best an interesting medium, at worst a plaything for rich folks. I'm a fan of photojournalism (people with jobs to document historical events or to tell a story), but just like real news, it can be biased and at times, staged.

    I generally roll my eyes at travel photography or amateur photography. Somehow it feels disconnected from the everyday life for people that can't afford to travel or take up a hobby like that to make cliché photos. It feels like a rich folks flex like expensive cars, golf, and sailing. Maybe I'm just being a negative nancy, it's just hard to not associate an activity with the typical group of people you see doing that activity.

    2 votes
  10. tomf
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    I only do geometric photos (e.g. stairs and shit that line up with other shit), product photography, or portraits... but mostly portraits. I like portraits because I have a natural gift for...

    I only do geometric photos (e.g. stairs and shit that line up with other shit), product photography, or portraits... but mostly portraits. I like portraits because I have a natural gift for capturing the essence of a person, if that makes sense. I'm also good at getting people to relax and hit their angles.

    I'll shoot either with an SLR, TLR, or a phone.

    My philosophy: never share a bad photo.

    2 votes