I got the idea of writing this post after a short conversation with fellow photography enthusiasts. What I came out with from the talk was that they believe that equipment is what makes a good photograph. I used to believe that too. I still do but within my own understanding of photography, I place equipment, quality and technique to be third after content and communication (which I think they go hand in hand) and composition.
Content, Communication, composition then equipment are what I believe to be the most important pillars of photography. I might be wrong, of course; that doesn’t change how I see things at the present. Perhaps after a few years of experience, I’ll possess more insight and wisdom to see things differently. For now, This is what I believe.
Content & Communication
A good photograph is a photograph that tells a story or communicates an idea, a feeling, a message, or a state of mind etc. it is safe to say that communication is photography’s most important purpose. A father takes a photo of his newly born son with his smartphone and shares it with the world because perhaps his happiness at that moment is too great to keep to himself. Communicating that moment is the photograph’s purpose. A photographer takes the notion of communication even further by creating a photograph with depth and careful consideration of what they’re trying to say through the limits of the frame.
Despite my bias towards black and white photography, I still go through all the photos that are in front me without prejudice and with only one goal: meaning. Whatever the photography type is, I’m always looking for the meaning behind it and/or the emotional reaction I’d get from it. If I can’t find that then the photo failed to communicate with me. In my opinion, those photos are not good enough even if they’ve been taken with state of the art equipment and show great technique. I believe that that link between the photographer, the photograph and the audience is achieved through careful composition.
In almost every good photograph I’ve seen, I found that composition to be a key element in passing on the photograph’s message to me. Without good content and communication in mind, composition alone would only produce a beautiful photo. However, a photo with good content and without good composition ends up wasting its potential. Composition makes sense of everything inside the frame. It is also, in my opinion, the channeler of the photographer’s view of the subject.
The beauty of composition is in its unlimited variety of perspectives through which one can present the subject. A near-endless reservoir of angles where each one pulls a different reaction from the viewer. After I learned about composition, I finally understood the difference between relying on high-end equipment and focusing on composition first. And I asked myself “why would I lament not having enough equipment when there is a skill that only needs my eyes and my hands to apply on whatever camera I have?” From that moment on, I stopped blaming the lack of equipment (i still do actually but not as much) and I kept on improving my composition skills and photography sense with only a mirrorless camera and a kit lens.
One more advantage of composition is that you don’t have to follow rules. There is no right or wrong as long as your frame arrangement gets your point across. It is also easier to experiment and innovate with composition than with other aspects of photography. Experimenting with equipment such as lenses requires quite the technical knowledge but you don’t need that in composition. You’re pretty much free to do as you please. In short, if you’re a beginner like me, composition is our best ally.
Equipment / Technique / Quality
After content/communication and composition comes quality which is mostly achieved by good equipment. So far, I’ve been focusing so much on the first two and treating the technical aspect as if it’s not needed at all but that is not true. It just means that at this point, I believe that technical quality of the image is less important for me than the quality of content.
Good cameras, lenses, filters etc offer even more ways for the photographer to put his/her vision into a physical photograph and also assure good technical quality. Sometimes, what I have in mind can only be achieved by possessing certain equipment and I’m left wishing I have money to buy that but at the same time, I don’t want that to extinguish my passion for photography So I keep on creating photography the best I can with what I have.
This is just my own opinion but I don’t really like “perfect” looking photographs! They feel too clinical and meticulous, they leave me wondering just how much processing has been done! I like my work to be imperfect. Nothing is perfect, after all. I guess that’s why I chose a rough look for my Ingrained in the Night series. It just fits within my view of the world. I’d really love to have more lenses, filters, lighting equipment and maybe even have my own studio, that will definitely expand my plans on exploring all types of photography. For now, I’m trying to look at this lack of equipment issue as a challenge that will eventually force me to be more creative. I even went to shoot a football (soccer) match with a 18-55mm kit lens! Obviously, it didn’t work out but I still went and I got myself a couple of decent shots. What I’m trying to say is that equipment isn’t everything and that there are more important things to focus on in photography than how many lenses or cameras I have.
Many street photographers take photos using their smartphones when they don’t have their cameras. When they see an interesting subject, they don’t disregard it and move on just because they’re not carrying their best camera, they grab whatever they have on them and capture the moment and that’s the essence of photography in my opinion.
Although this article lacks details and examples, not to mention it comes completely from a personal point of view, I still hope it makes sense to you. I’d also love to hear your opinions on this matter. So feel free to state your opinion in a comment or two.