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Friday, 19 April 2019


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There is a lot of wisdom wrapped up in this post. Great to have the skill to put the words together in such a neat package.

Speaking of Michael Kenna - can anyone recommend any of his currently available books? Wondering what "images of the seventh day" exactly is?

People ask me about what camera to get - I tell them I have no idea. I don't know what's out there. I only know what I need. Thanks for posting this. Sometimes I feel inadequate because I'm not up on everything. :-)


"Find your way of working; figure out what you need to know; and work as hard as you must to master it. Unless you want to, you don't need to take it any further."


Absolutely right. The most lighting I ever owned at any one time in my career was two monoblocs and one Metz shoulder unit. Oh, I owned - still do! - a large, circular gold/white reflector that most of the time stayed unused and asleep, coiled within its holder. It defeated me every time I took it out and couldn't remember the trick of how to fold it back into three circles again in order to stow it away until the next time.

It's up to the photographer, his style and the work for which he looks. I couldn't imagine an architect's go-to guy living long with that little group of friendly elves!

This is a gem.
Every day there is more to debate about cameras, lenses techniques , ways of working, methods of seeing.
Most folks come to photography and are overwhelmed by all the possibilities. They search for inspiration.
The real artists put the work first, then vastly simplify the rest by learning only what they need to know to deliver the picture in their mind.

chuck Close said “Inspiration is for Amateurs, the rest of us just show up and work”
What you want to say, comes first, then you go out and find it.

If one were a guitar teacher they would need to know a bit about blues, jazz, rock etc. and be able to demonstrate to the student the basic chord and rhythm structure of each style. Does not mean they themselves have mastered any of it.

Someone could be quite impressive playing a few different styles yet not as impressive playing say blues as someone who decides they will be a blues guitar master and that's all they practice and think about.

PS I forgot how nice Michael Kenna's often simple but effective compositions are.

This sometimes gets interesting when one tries to get excellent photographers to teach; depending on exactly how narrow a class.

Layer masks in PhotoShop is scut work. Scut work is routine and often menial labor. Menial, non-Pt care-related activities is passed to medical students–externs or interns, although they may be the duties of other health-care workers.

Many, if not most, professional don't master scut work—they hire assistants to do it. Some pros don't flit around from brand to brand, so no need to master and re-master constantly.

I've never used an off-camera speedlite. But I have lit the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles using 250 incandescent fixtures. Flash was always Profoto packs—as many as needed.

For a feature I lit an amusement zone. We were shooting Super35 Eastman Color film using an Arri. As the couple talk, the lights go off on the rides. The last minuet of dialog was filmed using the light of a full moon. You can't learn to do this by taking guru-camp 101 on-line. I didn't learn it in film school either—I learned advanced lighting from two Hollywood experts who took an interest in me.

And there is the rub. What constitutes mastery?

Agree. There are so many features, menus, settings, etc on dSLR cameras these days - one could argue too many. I operate in manual, use the spot meter, shoot in RAW, autofocus and image stabilization on... and that’s about it. That’s enough. ACR is used minimally to tweak the image, photoshop to finish it up. I started in film and used a simple, manageable process.

Process (the how something is made) is of primary interest to the maker. I remember watching a documentary about a famous movie writer/director. He did not use a computer, but used an old manual typewriter, literally cutting and taping changes and edits directly on the script. Would a viewer watching his movies know that’s how he wrote the script? Would they care? Would they be more impressed or give the movie higher regard because he used this time and labor intensive process? I’d guess the answer to always be “No.” But of course it made a difference to this director. It made sense to him.

Keeping my process simple allows me to devote time and energy to the (for me) much more interesting and challenging part of photography: doing my best to capture the raw material in front of me to make an interesting photograph!

Frank sounds like a photographer after my own heart.

As I commented yesterday on Kirk Tuck's blog, one of the things I especially like about commercial photography is that it's an endless process of solving interesting, often fascinating, problems -- but none is so important that the world will end if you fail to solve it. (Could be bad for business, though.)


Actually, photo journalist or art photographer, it’s simple, like Weegee was purported to have said,

“f8” - know Your gear

“and be there” - know Your subject

I like the expression “He has already forgotten more than you will ever learn about that subject”.

I'd have to agree - if there's a technique or a type of shot that you crave to have in your repertoire, then anything not necessary for that knowledge/mastery becomes a distraction... I don't need to know the "why", just the "how"....

I think in both your examples they mastered their tools early on so they became an extension of themselves. And since their tools were second nature it allowed them to concentrate on their aesthetic points of view. Perhaps a corollary to your one camera, one lens, one year practice. In their case a lifetime of practice.

Oh, btw, Kenna has also mastered the very basic Holga creating a great body of ongoing work (and book) that is both distinctive from and inclusive of his Hasselblad work.

Hear, hear!

This is a tough one. I shot for my food for 22 years. I eventually shot from 35mm to 4x5 (some rare 8x10) because I'd use the largest format that made sense for every job. I felt I had to. I was very good with artificial light and had tons of gear. I love natural light but it isn't always lovely and you had to please a client. So in a nutshell I was a generalist getting calls for architecture, people/heads and product. I really had little identity.
The proposed "know what you need" works for some in the pro field but it was hard then 80's to 2k's to really be a specialist and I'd bet its harder now. I would have loved to just do work that was interesting to me both technically and visually. Truth is, most paid work isn't.
Fine Art shooter? Hell yes do what you know and that you love. Focus.

Just so I learn what the photo community literati think... Is that shot of a bull on the edge of the road in NV by Henry Wessel Jr. considered high art photography?

[No, it's just considered a shot of shot of a bull on the edge of the road in NV. --Mike]

Dear Mike.

Thank you.

With best regards.


Sometimes you have to try (and learn) a lot of different things before you find what works best for you. I would be less accomplished (and certainly less satisfied) if I only did what I did 45 years ago.

It's one thing to use minimal gear, but quite another not to know how to take your photographic idea through concept, click and to its final iteration as print or whatever. If you can't do that, then at best you're some kind of art director. Period.

Having assistants doing everything for you is fine just as long as you know more about what they are doing than they do. Using them to make up for your own deficiencies is not fine. There's no way you can be competent unless you know your stuff inside out. I'd go further than that and say that in my opinion, those guys who delegate because they don't know how are shams, pro or "art".

Things you need to master to use a camera. Focus (if you don't have eye autofocus) and shutter pushing—that's all 8-) But, but, but ...don't you need to master the menu and assignable buttons? Set up C1, C2, etc using the camera's manual for guidance—easy-peasy. If you are feeling lazy, you can use P or A 8-)

Artistically some things can be learned, and some things can't. Don't waste your time trying to master the unlearnable. Me, I'm colorblind—so it would be a waste of my time to try to master color correction 8-)

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