I've taken to walking a lot recently, roughly an hour a day. It's the first thing I do in the morning, right after getting up. It's quiet. It's relaxing. I'll listen to music, maybe a podcast. Or maybe walk in silence. I like the silent walks... plenty of time to think. It's remarkable how a mind can wander from topic to topic, making connections between what otherwise seem completely unrelated memories and experiences. Alas, the exploration of my psyche is a topic for a different day. Maybe.

It was on one of these walks I found myself lightly thinking about photography. My mind skimmed over things like camera settings, compositions, favorite photos both mine and other photographers, motivational quotes. A mish-mash of incomplete thoughts at best. The thoughts abruptly stopped. My conscious brain shifted gears and asked "What is the center of your photography?"

That's an interesting question. What's the center? My mind was racing again. It jumped all over the place. Composition. The exposure triangle. Gear. Capturing a moment. Scouting. Post processing tools. ISO settings. More gear. Shoot planning. Delivering feeling and emotion.

Pause. The logical part of my brain kicked back in. Slow it down, Scott, take it one piece at a time.

Feeling and Emotion

Delivering a feeling or an emotion is always something I strive for in my photographs. As a landscape photographer, I try to capture inspiration in a brilliant sunrise ushering in a new day. Or solitude with a vast, open landscape with just a small touch of human presence. Or serenity, such as gentle wisps of water spilling through a lush, green forest. Or sometimes anger with dark, stormy skies.

Emotion is important. When I'm on location, I pay attention to how I'm feeling, both physically and mentally. In addition to what's captured by the camera, I try to channel those feelings into the processing. The goal is that the viewer can experience those feelings through the photography.

However, I can miss the mark with feeling and emotion if I choose a weak composition. Or my exposure is off. Or my focus. Or a number of other technical things.

Technique & Technical Correctness

Technique is important. I've studied all the "rules" of composition and I think I know when they apply and when I can break them. On each of my shoots, I spend considerable time walking the location, considering different vantage points, deciding what I want in the frame and what I want to exclude. All before I plant the tripod and take the first shot.

There's also the technique in how I take the shot. For landscapes I'm on a tripod always and use a remote trigger. Less camera shake, a sharper image. Also where I focus. At smaller apertures like f/8 and beyond, my focus point is typically about 1/3 into the frame. Sometimes tweaking to that is necessary. Occasionally I'l break out a hyperfocal distance app on my smart phone for a second opinion. 

Then there's the technical settings of the camera. They are important, too. I most often shoot in aperture priority mode so I have control over the depth of field. That tugs on the other two points on the exposure triangle, shutter speed and ISO. Will my exposure be "correct" by adjusting aperture alone? I'll read the histogram. Exposure compensation may be in order. Sometimes in a pinch I'll raise the ISO so more light is gathered and I can capture the scene without taking too long of an exposure. I may want motion in the shot... but not too much motion.

Then there's the choice of lens. Did I choose the right lens for the shot? The wide angle will make foreground objects look large and exaggerate distances. Longer lenses will do the opposite, compressing distances – sometimes miles of distance – to the point tiers of mountain ranges can look to be right on top of each other. Each has their place, and when used in the right shooting situation will produce a more compelling photograph.

Although, a better camera would give me a leg up. Or better processing. Yeah...

Gear & Processing

Gear is important, or more accurately good gear is important. Good glass is important. Quality lenses give sharper images. Newer sensors have insane dynamic range, capturing a wealth of light data that makes your final image better. Processing software is important. Good software can recover shadows, eliminate noise, make your photo really pop. The tools give you incredible control over crafting your image exactly how you want it – pixel by pixel if you're so inclined. I need these tools to make a good photograph.

I think it is true that some gear is better than other gear. You will not get the same photo with a point and shoot as you will with a DSLR or a mirrorless system. The problem with gear is there is always something newer. A new lens. A new camera. A new sensor. New filters. New software. The list goes on and on.

Newer is equated with "better". What does "better" mean? More advanced technology specs, probably. However, will the technological advancement help you make a better photo? Maybe. In-body optical stabilization might if you handhold a lot. An addition 10MP of resolution might be less intriguing. The extra resolution may help you print a bigger photo, but will it make the photo itself better?

Even the line between point and shoots and so-called professional cameras being capable of making a "good" photo is blurry. What's "good"? Growing up, a grainy, color casted photo from the 1970s was "good" for my Mom and Dad. The gear didn't matter. What was in the photo did. And the great masters of photography that have come before us used far less technologically advanced equipment than most of us carry in our pockets now. And they created unforgettable photos.

I've Come Full Circle

I'm back to the beginning... riding this never-ending mobius strip trying to find the center of photography. And then it dawned on me. All of the above are important, all play a role in making a great photography. And none of them ultimately matter on their own.

Emotion, technique, gear, processing – none of them are the center. They're just planets that revolve around something else, something far more important....


The center of photography is you.

/ August 2015 /