Photography is more than the HOW

[NIKON D100, 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 , ISO 400, ƒ/6.7, 1/180, Focal Length = 67]

Cameras have improved a great deal over the years. With digital cameras and all the new improvements, one might think an idiot could make a photograph.

However, a good photographer is someone who is no longer satisfied to produce pictures that are merely correctly focused, exposed, developed and printed. Such technicalities are nowadays taken for granted. No matter how sharp a photograph and how natural its colors, it still can be the world’s most boring picture.

Why? Because the How—the “technique”—is not the end, the standard by which to evaluate a photograph, it is secondary to the WHY, the WHAT, the WHEN. It is the impression the subject makes on the photographer that decides the approach. And as a good writer knows grammar-and-spelling, synonyms and different literary forms of expression, so a good photographer must know the devices and techniques that will help them communicate with an audience their emotional impressions of the subject. To be able to do this the photographer must know the technical and aesthetics to make more than a memory jogger, but a powerful message.

Recording artist Soulja Boy poses for a portrait at his Atlanta Buckhead Penthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2009.

To produce interpretations instead of representations, a photographer must possess two qualities: vision and craftsmanship. Vision—the power to recognize the essence of a subject and translate it into graphic form—is a mixture of perceptiveness, sensitivity, imagination, interest in the subject, and that intangible quality called “talent.” It is a gift a person either does or does not possess. It cannot be taught. Craftsmanship, however, can be acquired by anyone willing to make the effort. Craftsmanship is the use of things like:


The first thing a photographer does is observe with all their senses. The good photographer then takes all these impressions and emotions and isolates the subject using only the sense of sight. How does the passionate photographer communicate all these emotions of all the senses with just the sense of vision?

A good photographer is aware that the camera’s vision is objective, uncompromising, and matter-of-fact in contrast with the human eye which is subjective, selective, and unreliable. The camera is a machine and the eye are part of a living, thinking, and feeling being controlled by a brain.

People are susceptible to a multitude of sensory stimuli. The camera is only a light sensitive machine.

Fire Dancer [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/100]

You must understand how to use the symbolic forms which the camera can capture to excite the observer to respond emotionally. You may want to choose to change a color photograph into a black and white photo so as to emphasize graphics. You may choose black and white to force the viewer to look beyond the beauty to the content. The famous LIFE magazine war photographer David Douglas Duncan preferred to photograph war in Black and White because he felt the flowers in the countryside took away from the horror of the dead soldier in the photograph.

You must feel passionate about what you are photographing—negative or positive. The emotions of the war photographer who hates seeing how much death is caused by war is as powerful of emotion which can be captured by the camera as the wildlife photographer who captures the beauty of an animal in nature.

Reach for the camera when you feel something about a subject. Before you push the shutter release mute all your senses except for what you see in the viewfinder. Look all around the subject and eliminate or include those elements which help create a mood and capture what you feel. Pay attention to the background and be sure that it is secondary to the subject and helps just as adjectives in a sentence to draw to the viewer into the photograph as you would want to do as writing does for the reader.

She Kills Monsters [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4500, 1/250, ƒ/4, (35mm = 38)]

When only those things you see in the viewfinder start to evoke the same emotions you felt before reaching for the camera are attained should you push the button to capture what you intended. This is when you are then able to communicate with others more than a memory jogger. You will be creating new memories for your audience.

With a lot of practice a photographer learns how to isolate how the camera will see. This craftsmanship is how they will interpret the subject using various techniques to create emotional response from their audience.

The more passionate a photographer is about the subject, the better the chances of obtaining a successful photograph. If the subject has no appeal to the photographer—it is better for the photographer not to waste the time of pushing the shutter release to make the photo.