Photographic Vision: Created or found?

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by Travisennis, May 12, 2011.

  1. Travisennis

    Travisennis Regular

    Jan 17, 2011
    As conversations sometimes do, Don and I were having one that quickly got away from the original topic. So we had started out talking about the rumored, new Nex cameras, then touched upon love of the cameras we do own, with a brief foray into the reasons for naming said cameras, until Don said this:

    To which I responded:

    At that point we will really weren't talking about the Nex-C3 anymore and Don recommended a new thread. :smile:

    I'm curious to see Don's answer.
    • Like Like x 5
  2. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    It seems that photography found me. I never looked for it and didn't understand it.
    Without going to deep into my history, I'll try to explain what happened.
    I built a darkroom at 13. I processed my deceased fathers negatives and undeveloped film.
    I loved it an yet never connected this processing to a camera.
    I just didn't think about cameras. I loved the alchemy and felt like a mad scientist.

    Years passed and then I happened upon a camera. It was a Mamiya Sekor with a 50mm.
    I started making family snaps because I wanted to preserve their image before they died.
    Enter Viet Nam. I was given an M4 and a 35 & 50 Cron.
    Herman Kosmin, the store owner who gave me the camera told me that I could pay for it on return and if I didn't return, the debt was cleared.

    The Phila Museum of Art. Enter Ding McNulty. Ding was the curator of prints and photographs at PMA. The first time we met he took an immediate interest in my vision.
    He taught me through images, books and meeting the masters that came to the Museum about seeing. I am his vision child.

    I learned that in a given spot of time and space, there lived a photo. I just had to see it. Lucky for me, I never went to art school or college.
    So, I started to look at what's around me at all times. I looked for the image waiting to be born. It was my responsibility to find it and give it birth.
    Quickly I realized that lenses, prime or zoom could influence my vision.
    The selection of elements in the image could be effected by the lens.

    So, I started to make photos without a camera. I would just look at things and make a mental frame around the scene I was viewing. Then, I would go out and recapture the scene with a camera. It turned out that almost every image was in perfect alignment with a 35mm lens.

    It always framed right, it always provided the proper distance for the perspective I wanted to be at and it just felt like an extension of my vision.

    I won't drop names of who I met and talked with but I will say that I felt at one with myself in their presence. I guess because I realized that they do what they do because they have to and so do I.

    That's how photography found me and it never let me go.
    Without it, I'd cease to exist.
    • Like Like x 8
  3. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    This is a good read. I have a few related questions based on how our fondness for a particular camera over a period of time:

    Every so often we change cameras, be it to upgrade, downgrade, or sidegrade. Often the camera we are parting ways with is one that may have been an absolute favourite. Yet, despite this, there must come a time when we start to feel that a camera is limiting us, else (reliability willing) we would never buy anything else. So, why is it that a camera that we once felt so attached to starts to feel like it is holding us back. Did we just ignore or compensate for it's shortcomings because at the time there was no reasonable alternative? Does the standard of what is acceptable image quality change? Is it the way that it operates and interfaces with us has been superseded? Or is it that we just get bored and want something different?

    Hmm, sorry that ended up being a lot of questions, but perhaps they are more just suggested answers to: How does a camera cease to be an extension of our "vision"?
    • Like Like x 5
  4. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Top Veteran

    Jul 6, 2010
    This may sound pretentious or crazy or both, but never one to let that stand in my way here goes.


    I see and use various camera lens combinations like musical instruments. (I did warn you!!)
    Sounds a little Mmmm.... but then there was a thread about what name you give your camera and what sex it is so we'll discuss who is in the most need of therapy later!

    It goes roughly like this. Big DSLR with zoom lens is like a Piano. All the notes, all the harmonies but big and unwieldy. Tends to push you in a certain direction and no chance to do some of that bluesy string bending and add a little sweet vibrato.

    Small camera with fixed prime is like a Saxophone. Only one note at a time but the ability to be flexible and to inject a little soul into the melody. (Don't worry, they are coming with my medication soon!)

    Just as its possible to create beautiful music with a monophonic musical instrument, its possible to create beautiful images using the equivalent camera + one lens combination. Its all down to how you approach it, and what you're trying to produce. Photographically I'm usually trying to produce something simple, something thats immediately acessible and understandable and hopefully in those rare cases, something that tugs at your heartstrings.

    Just as I prefer blues to jazz, and rock to classical, my tastes in photography are the images that provoke an immediate emotional response. This can be anything from a great portrait to a beautifully lit landscape. I have no time for tricks, for odd angles, for excessive manipulation, for the deliberately shocking and provocative or for the glorification of ineptitude resulting from the deliberate use of sub-standard equipment. What inspires me and what spurs me on to go out and do it for myself, is the focused "vision" of someone who knows what they are doing, who has taken the trouble to explore all avenues and is therefore in the position of being able to make a real choice about what they present to the world.

    I do, as you proably guessed have a musical background, and the two things do cross over quite a lot for me. The end result of both is something that entertains (in the best sense of that word) the senses and hopefully stirs our soul. I like to listen to and look at (and attempt to create) work that comes not from the head and the intellect but from something more difficult to define, that is based on the feelings that we carry around with us and how they are affected by what we see and hear around us. Instinct rather than intellect if you like.

    To that end I find my own attempts at this are best produced by using equipment that doesn't restrict me and allows me the freedom to explore. In terms of cameras, somewhat perversely I prefer to cut what I carry with me down to the bare minimum, in order to explore the possibilities of that rather than let the equipment dictate to me. Just as I prefer playing the guitar to the piano I prefer photographing with smaller, lighter simpler cameras which allow me the possibility of more flexibility and more "soul".

    So is this pretentious? Probably. Is this crazy? Possibly. It is in fact quite difficult to set down what you do and why you do it. Somewhere in these ramblings you may get an inkling of what I mean. I can feel it, but find it difficult to express, which to me is the greatest difficulty in the whole creative process anyway.
    • Like Like x 7
  5. ajramirez

    ajramirez Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    My personal experience would lead me to answer "yes" to all four of your questions. I recently found myself thinking about how different it was (at least for me) in the analog era. I replaced my camera every 7 years on average, and only because either the camera was lost or significant new technology (auto focus) was introduced.

    I made the switch to digital in 2004 with the original Canon Digital Rebel (300D). The camera had wonderful image quality, but some quirks that made it very annoying to use: no control over metering or focusing modes, very slow startup and wakeup times, no flash exposure compensation, and a couple other things that I have forgotten. Within a year, I had replaced it with a Canon 20D (which was not available when I bought the 300D). So, in this case I could say that for the short time I used the 300D, I compensated for its shortcomings because there was no reasonable alternative.

    The 20D I used for over 4 years, until I bought a 50D in late 2008. Even though the 20D had (and has) beautiful image quality, I felt the increase in sensor resolution from 8MP to 15MP was significant and worth pursuing. As it turned out, it did give me significant leeway for cropping. So, I could say that this time my standard of acceptable image quality did change.

    In addition, the 50D has features that although I did not miss when I was using the 20D, I would not want to do without now. In particular, the high res LCD and live view. So, I could also say that the 50D superseded the 20D in its operation and interface.

    In late 2009 I bought my Olympus E-P1 not to replace the 50D, but to complement it. The E-P1 gave me what the 50D could not: acceptable image quality in an easily portable package, something that in my opinion was not available before m4/3 came out. Again, the E-P1 was purchased because until that time there had been no reasonable alternative.

    I bought the Lumix G2 in mid 2010 mostly on a whim. A good deal on a like-new body from a very trustworthy member of this forum came up and I grabbed it. To my surprise, the camera just felt great to me in a way the E-P1 never did. A matter of taste I suppose. So, you could say that the E-P1 has been superseded, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I just wanted (or ended up preferring) something different.

    And now, the announcement of the G3 has me very intrigued. If I do end up buying a G3 it will only be because of demonstrable improvements in IQ over the G2. So, another yes to your second question.

    Through it all, I do not believe camera changes have significantly changed my "vision" (or lack thereof :smile:).

    Interesting questions, Nic.


    • Like Like x 3
  6. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Thanks David, Antonio.

    I guess I should answer my own question as well, and to be honest I think it is very similar to Antonio. A Canon 350D was my first and only SLR from 2005-2009 until I replaced it initially with a 450D. I loved that 350D, I still have it today (slightly dog-eared though it is), and it still works perfectly, but...I would not consider using it seriously again. I think it is also a victim of the rapid increases in camera technology. A few extra megapixels wouldn't hurt, but the big killer is that dinky little 1.8" screen vs the amazing 3" 920k screen on the 50D and 500D. Instant and accurate feedback is very important to me.

    What I will add though is that I believe all of my current cameras are (at the latest) 2009 models, and there has been nothing made since then that has truly made me think that I am missing out on any major advance in technology that would suit my purposes...yet.
    • Like Like x 2
  7. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    For me, photographic vision is neither created nor found. I prefer to think of it as something that evolves. Sometimes it can evolve through a deliberative process of reflection on my part or in response to external factors like viewing photographs by others that strike me or by being part of a photography group and shooting with other people. A lot of the time though the evolution of vision is unplanned and unconscious and only recognised retrospectively.

    A camera can certainly facilitate a particular vision but for me that's as far as it goes. The camera itself has no real role in shaping that vision. I incline to the same kind of images whatever camera I'm shooting with. My current DSLR is more than three years old and it has travelled with me as my vision has evolved. But it hasn't itself shaped that vision. I followed it up with an LX3 about a year and a half ago, mainly because I wanted something compact, but I shoot the same way. I followed that up with the NEX5 a few months ago because I liked the combination of light weight and DSLR quality. Again, though, it hasn't changed the way I shoot or what I shoot.

    I think the only limitation I have ever had to work against is the relatively weak high ISO (1600+) performance of my DSLR. Since I spent a lot of time shooting on the Munich metro with that camera in available light this was sometimes a significant challenge that I had to work around. On the other hand, having to do so helped my technique for holding the camera and maintaining maximum stability while shooting.

    From my perspective another factor has been the change of location that is a routine part of my life. Where you are has an impact on your photographic vision because different places offer different possibilities and as you get to know a new place it shapes your vision - or at least the way in which your vision can be expressed.

    I don't buy many cameras and I don't change camera that often. If I had the inclination - and the money - to do so I know exactly what I would get and why and it would be little different from what I currently have.

    None of this means that as my photographic vision continues to evolve - in directions as yet unknown to me - that the camera might not become a more critical factor. But for now I feel that all my cameras (which are gender free and unnamed:smile:) work with me and not against me.
    • Like Like x 7
  8. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    That's a very good point and one that I thinking about only recently, being that while there may be a difference in the quality or the physical nature of an image depending on what camera I was using, there is no real difference in the style of image. The difference is in the interface and how hard or otherwise a camera requires me to work to achieve what I want, but more than that it is whether a camera feels right and that is working for me and not against me. Of course that is all a matter of personal preference, and I can't tell anyone else what will feel right to them.

    Now that's weird :wink:
    • Like Like x 4
  9. mmacleodbrown

    mmacleodbrown Regular

    Oct 10, 2010
    OK, from someone who is finding their feet in photography I would say that the vision comes from within and has nothing to do with the camera. How we see the world is unique to each one of us, and Im a believer that we can capture that vision with pretty much any camera. Some camera's will make it easier to capture, or more accurately reflect what you see, so I suppose the camera helps in a way, but the vision is unique to each one of us..
    I think if people look back over their photo's from the last 20 years, are the pictures any better now?
    If they are, is it because you have developed as a photographer, or the camera is better?

    I say this as one of my favourite ever photo's was taken at 40mph with a Canon Powershot G2 from the back of a taxi back in 2001.
    I think the vision is found within you and refined over the years by experience and maybe camera's
    • Like Like x 6
  10. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    It seems like most of my best photographs have a certain commonality about them. I'm starting to be able to spot my own work. But the basic character of them is pretty much the same whether I took them with the EP2, LX5, Nex, or X100. Some cameras make it tough to shoot in a way that feels natural to me. I had a Sony A33 for a few days last winter and it is an amazing and wonderful camera - I was enormously impressed with it. But I couldn't shoot with it. It felt too big and cumbersome and that affected how I shot with it. And all I came back with from a few shoots with it were crystal clear and beautiful but boring landscapes. The handling got in the way of me shooting the way I shoot - too busy fighting with the beast to find the odd angles and perspectives. So I returned it for the Nex - not as impressive a camera in a number of ways but I felt IMMEDIATELY comfortable with it and was shooting MY kind of shots with it within literally minutes. I have a GH2 - I don't love it but it does everything I've asked of it and doesn't get in the way too much. And it has a fast enough AF and good enough low light to do some types of stuff I can't do with my other cameras, so I put up with it - maybe it was the equivalent of a highly capable digital amp I could play my guitars through and had every sound and possibility in the world, but I could never get to sound even near as good as my old Fender tube amp that had about two sounds and a reverb.

    So, I guess that I'd have to come down on the side of the vision being your own and the camera either making it easier or harder (or maybe even impossible) to realize. I kind of like David's analogy with musical instruments. I had a very limited type of music that I was capable of producing and the only instrument I ever came close on was the guitar. A DSLR may be like a piano. I could never play a piano (and I've lived around them for all but a few years of my life) but I could sort of play a guitar. I can't play a DSLR either, but I can sort of play a Pen/Nex/X/LX, etc. They all work a little differently and have different strengths and weaknesses (like a Martin, a Strat, a Les, a Tele), but I can more or less do what I do with any of them. To the extent a cell phone camera or a really cheap P&S is like a blues harp, I could sort of get a sound out of those too, but I wasn't in my comfort zone with 'em...

    • Like Like x 6
  11. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    Different twist: Reactive or Proactive Approach

    I think technology helps, but creative vision comes within yourself. Also it might depend on what type of photography you do.

    Bob Krist has a nice article about photographic vision as a travel photographer in June Outdoor Photographer magazine. I recommend as a good reading. He is also a NG photographer and I attended 2 of his seminars. His emphasis on those was 6MP was enough for NG and the current cameras are more than good enough for most of the people. So he was making a point on telling a story while differentiating yourself from others. I think he was taking his photos with 2 Nikon D90s at that time.

    This new article is also in similar topic as photojournalistic approach vs creative approach. His point is everybody is a travel photographer these days with the available technology such as cell phones, web blogs/sites, etc. So he is recommending the proactive approach (be more original & thoughtful) for making photos to differentiate yourself in comparison to just taking photos like everybody else. I am not there either, but I think photography vision develops by trials and experience. Here is the article:

    On my other interest area such as landscapes, photographer cannot maybe create a shot but being there on the right time might help, meaning different times, days, etc. The technology with smaller serious compact cameras gave me that option. The OP landscape photographer, William Neil, said in same issue "When you have your camera with you, good luck tends to happen."
    • Like Like x 5
  12. Country Parson

    Country Parson Top Veteran

    Apr 5, 2011
    North Carolina
    Streetshooter said: That's how photography found me and it never let me go.
    Without it, I'd cease to exist.
    With apologies to Descartes: I photograph, therefore I am. :thiagree:
    • Like Like x 5
  13. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I do really struggle with the idea that there is something "not creative" about landscape photographs, or that "photojournalism" is somehow different or "more real" than other sorts of photography ... it's as if there is a belief that some images "just record reality" whereas others are "acts of creation" ... I'm inclined towards the thought that every photograph is a creative act by the individual taking it ... which is not to say of course that the results don't vary in their impact or aesthetic "value"
    • Like Like x 4
  14. EasyEd

    EasyEd Regular

    Dec 22, 2010
    Hey All,

    Olli absolutely nailed it for me when he wrote...

    I couldn't have said it any better. As a result I spend lots of time studying other peoples work and then looking at what I create looking for "tendencies".

    • Like Like x 2
  15. olli

    olli Super Moderator Emeritus

    Sep 28, 2010
    Metro Manila
    Ed, you're obviously a man of great insight and discernment:smile:
    • Like Like x 1
  16. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    I think I am an evolutionist with a creative streak, at least I hope I am. Or perhaps I am a creationist who is evolving?
    • Like Like x 2
  17. Grant

    Grant Veteran

    Nov 12, 2010
    Lunenburg Nova Scotia
    Photography for me is not about found it is all about creative. Well, maybe at times it is creatively founded.

    Although there are a few exceptions, almost every image I make has been preconceived. Generally I seek out a subject, be it a water stream or a politician and I research my subject to help out in my final choices. I select my gear I am going to use, I trek to where I am going to shoot, I wait for the shot to develop, and then I trip the shutter. As I am very methodicalI, don’t make many images of a subject. I may take a few more extras “just incase” but they invariably end up on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

    If it is a creatively founded image, first I am walking around with an idea in my head, and I click that one image that will be the template for my final result. An example would be if I were doing some street photography I would select all that doesn’t change in the scene and wait for that moment when someone would walk into the place that makes the image strong. Again I may then take a few more “just incase” shots.

    Generally, In both cases I know once I trip the shutter that I have the shot. If I get back and that one shot is not up to expectation I’m usually upset with my own stupidity.

    For me the creative process it the most complex aspect of photography. While I do know the rules and often how to get what I want that is just the mechanics of creativity. What I want and how I see it are the mysteries, as I don’t know where these ideas come from or how they enter my brain, they just do. In this process I am often trying to analyze what is going on, should I do this, should I do that, and how can I make my next image better. The only real downside to this “method” is that there are times I question my creative ability and then I go into a photographic slump. It comes on quickly, usually last a bit of time and then for nor apparent reason leave me and I am back shooting again. In the long run I do know that my creative point of view is evolves and that keeps me fresh.

    Selection of cameras are a bit easier. I demand good equipment but not to the extent of diminished return on value invested. I select cameras that are capable of excellent results, but avoid getting tied up in techno mumbo jumbo. Because of my methods I want my cameras to be unintrusive in operation, therefore simplicity is more important to me than option richness. Mechanically, because I know what I want, I preselect all the variables my camera has to offer befor shooting. Because of this I spend a good deal of time with a new camera set it up as to my particular needs, I want to be able to select, aperture, shutter, ISO, metering and focus methods with ease. Once this is done I pretty well forget about all the other options my camera possesses. When I shoot film I use to keep my cameras for a very long time, in one case 25 years, but now with digital it seems three to four years is all the love affair lasts, and that is a pity.
    • Like Like x 2
  18. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    Grant, as usual...we are one and the same.
  19. Grant

    Grant Veteran

    Nov 12, 2010
    Lunenburg Nova Scotia
    Of course we are brother, all be it from different Mothers :smile:
  20. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Thanks for taking part, Grant - you've been greatly missed.