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The Art and Craft of Photography

I did a seminar yesterday with David Duchemin. Sponsored by Manfrotto (I wish I could afford Manfrotto gear!), the seminar was titled “Confessions of a So-Called Pro.” It was thought-provoking and has me thinking a lot about what the craft of photography means and what’s important about it.

The Pixilated Image Blog: David Duchemin's Site

→David Duchemin is a photographer I have admired, and I have posted about him here before. I have long admired David for his work as a “humanitarian” photographer, serving the photographic needs of Non-Governmental Agencies (NGO’s) and other global needs. In his writing, David has articulately and compellingly made the case for uniting vision and craft in personal photography.

The first point that David made that I found important was a comment about the nature of “amateur” vs. “professional.” Explaining his title of “So-Called Pro,” David confessed to being uncomfortable with a distinction. “Professional” should just refer to the business aspects of a photographer’s work –  photographing for clients – and there are many “professionals” whose work is not art. “Amateur” – literally, one who loves – should refer to our work in a field that we love. Being a professional photographer does not insure that what we produce is art. Nor does not being a professional preclude a commitment to our craft, to high standards, to developing and cultivating both vision and skill, and to making photography that is art.

More after the jump …

David Duchemin Postcard from Roatan. Copyright David Duchemin. Posted on David Duchemin's blog 10 November 2011. Absolutely transcendent, beautiful image! From David's blog entry: "Mangroves in the waters just outside my front door in Roatan. Spent 20 minutes last night sitting in the warm shallow waters. Gitzo Ocean Traveler tripod, small aperture, long exposure, Singh Ray Gold’n'Blue Polarizer, and a gin on rocks waiting for me beside the hammock 30 feet behind me. For all my bitching about how hard this craft can be, including my last post, there are days it just all comes together. Hard to do anything but be grateful right now. These are the days I love my art more than almost anything."

David’s next point to which I said “Yes!” was the maxim: “We do not serve photography. Photography serves us.” Photography is not an objective external entity. If we’re not producing images for a client, to a client’s spec’s, photography is a form of personal expression, which exists for the purpose of personal expression. We make photographs to say something, portray a vision, express an emotion or feeling. Photography is creative self-expression. There are no rules but our own.


We have some differences of view, though, that follow on David’s pronouncement that “Photoshop is not Photography” (with which I do not, fundamentally, disagree).

David’s position is that the sole purpose of Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, and other software is to refine or tweak an already good image. I don’t disagree completely; if you can’t take a good photograph, Photoshopping probably isn’t going to create good photographs either. As David suggests, photography is about observation and perception in the moment, finding the right framing and composition, the precise angle that presents the subject in the interplay of light and shadow that makes the image, capturing the image at a precise instant. Doing that can make a good photograph; not doing that probably won’t make a good photograph. I agree that it’s important – indeed, essential – to develop that craft of camera-handling.

Ceramic Colors. Copyright © Joanne Mason 2011.

But as I’ve said a number of times in this blog, what the camera gives us is often just the start. In making a photographic image, we are painting with light and color and shape and persepctive and texture, and the image from the camera is just the canvas, the raw pixels (literally), on which we work.

Valley of the Acamo. Copyright © Joanne Mason 2011.

When we make a photograph, there is no such thing as an objective reality. There are only layers of perception and imagination. When I first capture an image in the camera, I may see things in the subject that no one else sees. Some measure of that “perception” may even be imagined. Then, in capturing the image, I make choices, some conscious and intentional and others less so. Then, my aim is to mold and manipulate the image further to make a creative statement. Finally, there are the layers of perception and imagination that the viewer brings to the image, the reactions and feelings that viewing invokes and that may or may not have been what I had in mind or what I “saw” in the original scene. To me, practicing the craft of photography implies an attentiveness to all these layers of expression and perception.

For me, creating a reaction in the viewer is a big part of what photography is about. I want to create images that have an impact. If the viewer looks at a photograph of mine and goes, “Oh, wow!” then I’m happy. Making such a work requires craftful and attentive work in the field and also craftful and skillful – and creative –  work in the lab(computer).


David Duchemin’s seminar was sponsored by the →Manfrotto School of Xcellence. Their profile of Duchemin is →here.  Recorded archives of past seminars are available as podcasts →here. Highly recommended. David Duchemin’s blog, The Pixilated Image, is →here.

Many of David Duchemin’s writings are available at →Craft and Vision. These are excellent inexpensive PDF-formatted ebooks. I have found them very useful and stimulating. Many of the points made by David in the seminar I’ve discussed above are addressed in his latest ebook, →The Inspired Eye, Part 3 .

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2 Responses to The Art and Craft of Photography

  1. Matt George says:

    Nice observations. I think some of the things that make for a great photograph would include the elements of art and the principles of design. Photoshop certainly does help with things such as value and color and contrast and even adding and subtracting elements that we desire. But there’re some things that Photoshop will not be able to do. Such as go out and take a photograph for us. That’s what we rely on I think as a photographer.

  2. Joanne says:

    Thanks for visiting and for your comment. I think that’s what David DuChemin’s saying, and I don’t disagree with that. You have to be able to take a good photograph first. I’m just willing to spend a lot of time with the computer shaping an image and see that as much a part of the creative process.

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