Photography, Art or Craft?

As many who know me will be aware, I love to make HDR photographs. this is a technology for blending various exposures and obtaining a much richer image. In my next post, I’ll reproduce an article I wrote for a university magazine about the process. It’s a long one, but I hope you think it’s worth it. I hope to write more articles about photography here. People I know are often coming to me for advice on how to take better photos. Ultimately, you need to use your eyes more- all you can do with a camera is take photos of something you can see. Yet photography is also a very technical art, in that it is closely tied in with the equipment and techniques being used to obtain images.

It is certainly the case that better techniques and equipment can get ‘better’ results, at least results closer to your expectations when using them. In some ways this is a disappointing thing about photography- the very best lenses are priced way above our budgets. Yet there is a silver lining to this crowd- DSLRs have been gradually coming down in price to the point at which very good, or even excellent image quality from the camera itself is very affordable. Of course, in the quest for the perfect image some will disagree with this assessment, preferring to use either very high-end DSLRs, or even stay with the tried and tested realm of film. Those who can afford to and can handle the manual focus, might gravitate to a Leica M9, or digital medium format, such as is used for architecture or fashion photography. Lower down the scale, many are going for full-frame digital, despite the weight and for them, this is ‘good enough’ and incredible enough. Still, even an average DSLR from today’s selection of APS-C cropped sensors can produce incredible, award-winning images, much better than attainable from the compacts that are being upgraded from.

The affordability of DSLRs has also produced a new range of pro or semi-pro lenses that are also very good, meaning that the equipment is as good as needed. New primes like the Nikon 35mm f/1.8, or their 50mm lenses are not too expensive, and then you have bright zooms like the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 series. People don’t have to stick with the compromised kit lenses, unless they really want the convenience of their small size and range. So the next area of concern is proper technique holding the camera steady, use of VR lenses (if available) or a tripod, to minimise picture-quality-destroying camera shake. Learning good composition, pleasing to the eye when seen afterwards is a great art, in fact something that will make for unique photos. So, in terms of the equipment and techniques, there is a lot we can do to get the best results possible.

Yet at this point, the point of digital photography where we can get astounding results even with moderately-priced equipment, we start to wonder- what happened to the individuality of images? The mottled colours, the weird experiments that went wrong, the accidental misty lens, or the blurry yet satisfying fringes of a Holga photo? Where are the rich and moving colours of Velvia film, not quite the same as reality, yet more entrancing than just sliding up the saturation slider? For this, there is not such an easy answer for digital, which is generally aiming at an android-like sense of perfection in which there is total reproduction of the scene with minimal inconvenience at obtaining it. So the answer is to fight back against digital, to rage against the machine, with a plethora of filters and digital techniques to restore the ‘feeling’ to the mere ‘recording’ of digital equipment. One of the most powerful of these and one that is steadily becoming mainstream as an ‘option’ on some digital cameras, is that of HDR and Tone-mapping. In the next article, I’ll be saying something about this.

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