Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Purpose of Photography

I’ve been asking myself this question in the past couple of months, maybe years even – it hit me one day then : Why do i shoot at all, why do i shoot what i shoot, what’s the purpose of (my) photography ..
Lets start with an excerpt from here which i like much :
"There are three things that drive people’s motivation – purpose, mastery and autonomy.  Being challenged to be better at something that makes a difference to others is what turns and interest into a passion.  I’ve been reflecting hugely on what drives me to make photographs.  I’ve not fully understood that in myself yet but what’s clear is that I’ve fallen into the trap of mastery – the pursuit of being better – without a full understanding of why and to what end. Making a decision about my personal photographic project has made me confront my sense of purpose.
There is no doubt that photography fulfills part of my sense of ego – who I am.  I haven’t fully worked this all out but in truth, I think that is that perhaps photography is a vehicle to help me be who I want to be."
And then, there is this uniform classification / explanation which i found here and which gave a good summary of photography types, with my interest particularly in :

An increasing number of talented, creative people find in photography a relatively inexpensive means for self-expression. Almost any subject can be photographed in an almost unlimited number of different ways, and more and more photographers seek new and more expressive forms of photographic rendition through which to share with others their own visions of the world, their feelings, ideas, and thoughts"

And this below is perhaps echoing best my recent feelings on the subject :

" The purpose of photography is not to represent objective reality, but to translate subjective impressions of the photographer." 

Many more ingenious quotes are available and can be found online .. I guess my favorite has been and still is the one which i put in my avatar (thanks Chris!) : "It's not what you're looking at that matters, it's what you see .." 

So .. After being repeatedly revisited by this "dilemma" as of recent - at night and with the early morning black coffee, i came up with my own definition, which i think i like, and which expresses best how i feel, and gives me some purpose or .. definition of purpose at the very least :

The Purpose of Photography

The need or duty to produce a snapshot of a subject(s) in space, time, light, and color and in their combinations or absences, a snapshot, which presents our own view of the visible or the invisible - as determined by our own perception or desired interpretation of it, of what is there or what is not there and the blurred boundaries in between.

Now it feels better ..

There are still questions though, i'm going to bed with and will be seeking the answers to no end :

1. How important is the camera / lens quality in the whole process ? Is great photography limited only to FF and / or "Leica" ?
2. Is there a real need for exhibition, visibiility, and recognition, if the photography produced brings joy on the photographer's and other faces, and is considered an "achievement" or at least a keeper, as we say -  by the photographer ? 
3. Why does one have to post process no end, until everything comes out “right” – isn’t this very act destroying the essence of photography – capture the invisible, the moment as it was / wasn't ?
4. What can be defined as analogue in the digital photography – what are the top qualities which turn "a digital into a film" ? See the answers here
5. Why underexposed photography looks always better - for me at least - than overexposed ? Is this something with the brain, or something to do with the things in the body which do not weigh much ..

And other there are of a lesser importance .. So what say you ? Your views on the purpose of photography ?


Mark Schaffer, 19 October 2011

For as nearly long as I can remember, I have always been a "photographer." That is not to say I have always been or am a good photographer, but I have always had a camera and everyone that knows me well knows if any event or scene is worth capturing for future enjoyment I likely will have a camera with me.

As of late…I too find myself perhaps a bit stuck in the rut of trying to be better, both in the act of capturing photographs and in the drudgery we have come to know as post processing. At times I am obsessed with it. For me this is the norm. Any hobby or interest I pursue I never like to do just "half-way." I always push myself to constantly do it better. I may never reach my desired level of skill, but I constantly strive for it. This too becomes a bit of a vicious circle. Each time I improve I raise the bar for myself, making the next click up that much harder to achieve.

I have never asked myself what the purpose of my photography is. The reality for me as a hobbyist/enthusiast is that there is not a specific purpose other than personal enjoyment and satisfaction and ability to share with others something I think they may enjoy seeing.  As a hobby, do we need more purpose than this, simply for the joy of it all?
Alas, my thoughts are not so deep here.

For the points…

1. Quality of the equipment matters in my view only to a point. First, do you find the image quality satisfying or frustrating? Second, is there sufficient image resolution (not the same as pixels), color accuracy and contrast for the image to achieve the look you want in the desired display medium?  As an owner of a nice quality compact and a DSLR I find when viewing images onscreen or viewing images that have had their resolution and color depth crunched down for Web display there is little perceptible difference in the perceive "image quality" between these two cameras under these conditions. Difference in color, yes. But merely inaccurate in their own way. There are however things you can do with specific lenses such as a wide angle, close-up, etc. that you cannot achieve with a fixed lens compact. But that is a question of capability and flexibility versus quality.

2. To exhibit or not…a not so easy question. To provide images for public viewing, be that in an exhibit or shared on the Web is to invite feedback, not all of which will be favorable. If one wishes to sell their images, exhibition becomes rather mandatory. Each week, more and more images that will never be shared beyond a handful of people find their way onto my computer’s disc. And I am content with the fact that they are not shared beyond that. That said, every so often there are those "gems" that I would like to share with a larger audience. Very recently, I have started small in this regard and I am now posting some images online in couple of places specifically for general though somewhat limited public viewing.

3. Many shoot JPEGs only and do little processing outside of the camera.  I know many DSLR owners that put their camera on Auto, shoot, and never do any post processing on their images beyond straightening and cropping. Those that choose to shoot RAW almost force themselves to post processing. Very few RAW images straight out of the camera look better than the in-camera JPEGs in my opinion so some post processing is required. To me, post processing is only a tool to transform the “captured” image into the image you "saw" when you took the photograph in the first place rather than making the image look "just right."

4. I myself am not so intent on emulating film or trying making digital look analog. There are certain qualities I like with film, as there are with digital so I tend to think more about the qualities I want out of an overall image and more often than not end up with a hybrid look. Do I want the sky blue to bright and vibrant or more subdued? Do I want colors vibrant, saturated and perhaps even over done or do I want them pale and thin? Do I want colors to be accurate or tinted in an unnatural way? Do I want the shadow areas dark as can be, or do I want to pull out details that might not have been visible when the image was captured. Do I want the image to be razor sharp or slightly soft? Do I want the image to be "real" or do I want to push it close to an HDR type look? All photographs, no matter good and accurate the equipment is, are a departure from reality and where it ends up is in our hands via post processing.

5. Slight underexposure is my personal preference as I find the colors deeper and more appealing to me. I am extremely bothered by blown highlights. I personally do not like slightly over exposed or high key images at all. That said, not everyone likes slightly underexposed look however and not everyone cares about blown highlights. Many like high key images and slightly over exposed images because they are "bright" and not "dark" as the slightly underexposed are.

All in all…a thought provoking post Ilko.


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