While it would be silly to pretend that digital photography hasn’t changed my photographic life, at heart I’m simply a film shooter with a digital camera. If you read my writings or have attended my workshops, you’ve no doubt heard me say that photography, at any level, must be a source of pleasure. How each of us derives our pleasure varies greatly, from what we shoot, to how we shoot, to what we do with (to) our images after we shoot them. From what I’ve observed, many photographers relish their time at the computer, scrutinizing corner sharpness, high ISO shadow noise, and working Photoshop magic to take their images to the next level. I’ve always been so much happier outside, simply enjoying, and making pictures of, the things I love—the computer, while necessary, always feels too much like work.
That’s probably because I came to photography as a career after twenty-plus years in the high-tech industry. During those twenty years my time with my camera was pure pleasure, a creative escape from the technical geek-speak of my everyday life—what would be the point of leaving a good job with a great company (Intel) only to turn my joy into just another job? So when I decided to take the full-time photography plunge, it was with the very conscious personal commitment that I’d only photograph what I want to photograph, the way I want to photograph it. For me that means the natural light, color landscapes that I’d been photographing since the first shutter click of my Olympus OM-2, over thirty years ago: no people, no wildlife—basically, nothing that moves.
Ensuring my photographic pleasure also means doing things the way I’ve always done them: in addition to all natural light (I’m probably the only pro photographer alive who doesn’t own a flash), I choose to do no multi-image (HDR, manual blending, stitching) captures. I also rarely deviate from the 35mm 2/3 aspect ratio I was weaned on. But that’s just me. And just because I don’t do it, doesn’t mean I don’t marvel at other photographers’ monochrome, HDR, and artificial light wizardry.
I’ve also grown to become a huge fan of Photoshop, and the control it gives me: After all those years envying black and white shooters for their darkroom magic, it’s nice to see the playing field leveled a bit for us color shooters. In fact, many of my most successful images wouldn’t have been possible with the color transparencies I shot in my OM-2 days. But ultimately, despite Photoshop’s power, I still want my creativity to be in my camera, not my computer. On the other hand, I have no problem with photographers who use Photoshop creatively (as long as they do it honestly).
What I do have a problem with is the people who have so thoroughly embraced photography’s technical side that not only have they lost their joy, they seem bent on sapping the joy from anyone with a different idea or approach. These are the blog posters and forum contributors who will go to the mat for Canon vs. Nikon, Nik Dfine vs. Noise Ninja, or whatever their technical pulpit might be (I once witnessed a heated online debate about how to sign a print). So here’s a tip: If you find yourself arguing with somebody about some piece of photographic minutia, step away from the computer (these things rarely happen face-to-face), grab your camera, and go take some pictures. In other words, turn off your inner geek and connect with your creative side—the world (yours and mine) will be a better place for it, I promise.
I had no illusions of making money when I snapped the autumn leaf in this post. Nor was I wringing my hands about about shadow noise or corner sharpness. I was simply doing what I love, in this case scrambling on creekside rocks in the forest beneath Bridalveil Fall on a crisp autumn morning. Completely alone among rocks, leaves, and gentle cascades, I knew I was surrounded by far more images than I’d ever be able to find. The emotion I feel at these times is closer to the pure joy of a childhood Easter-egg hunt than anything else I experience in my adult life, and it’s no different from the feeling I used to experience when I was out with my Olympus. I never want to lose that.