Photography . . . do it matter?

I recently wrote a post about buying the soon-to-be-released Nikon P1000.

Some of the comments had me thinking about photography in general and my photography in particular. That’s right . . . I did some thinking.  

One of the best ways I know to sort out my thinking is to write my thoughts down, so this is a stream-of-consciousness post about my thinking about photography. 

Ready? Here goes nothing . . . 

Let me tell you about my photography . . . it’s casual. Meaning, I don’t do planned shoots, worry about lighting, the time of day (lighting related), the weather (lighting related) . . . I don’t worry about any of those things.  

But, probably the most important thing I don’t worry about is . . . intent. 

I don’t take photos with a purpose. I don’t have a message to share, an emotion to trigger, or aim to inspire anyone. I see something interesting (to me) and I photograph it. 

Professionals are the opposite . . . they have something in mind; a look, a message, some purpose that will shape their process in pursuit of their goal. The reasons a professional does that is because they plan to make money from the shots they take. 

Enough money to pay for the time spent photographing stuff, the time spent processing the photographs they took, and enough money to pay for the equipment and programs they use.

While I don’t make money from my photography, I do spend a fair amount on equipment and software. I also spend a fair amount of time processing the photo before sharing them on the blog. But, it’s not a focused effort. I learn stuff when I need to learn it. I learn by doing an only resort to reading and studying when I’m stuck.

That’s one thing I share with professionals, albeit for different reasons; I care enough to try to present the best quality photo that is within my ability (and desire) to produce. That said, pros worry about their livelihood whereas all I have is a measure of pride that motivates me to achieve a certain level of quality. But, it’s not exceptional quality. 

People often comment favorably about my photos but a simple Google search for a given subject I might present will get you literally thousands of images and a majority of them will be better than mine, or more interesting than mine, or both.

That’s not false modesty and it’s not me playing the hapless victim and it’s not me complaining about not having the right equipment or the opportunity or the skill to capture beautiful and interesting and striking photos.

The truth is that with something like 2 billion photos hitting the Internet every day it’s no exaggeration saying there are likely hundreds of millions of photographs better and more interesting than any of mine. That’s because there are a lot of amateurs who take photography seriously. That’s not me, Bob.

Again, not false modesty or subtle pleading for an argument otherwise or praise for my work. 

Know this: even if you offer it, I won’t believe you.

I’ll accept the notion you might be sincere and not just wanting to stroke my ego — and I’ll be thankful — but I won’t put any stock in what you say beyond accepting you like something I did. Meaning, I won’t start thinking of myself as a photography guru just because you like my photos.

Please, please, please, understand I’m not minimizing your opinion, but it is your opinion and you are likely not an expert in photography or digital manipulation; you’re likely not a professional photographer or someone who regularly evaluates, judges, and/or chooses photographs for publication.  

If you were an expert on photography, you would probably see twenty flaws in each of my photos; anything from composition to cropping to processing to dynamic balance to color continuity to etc. etc. You would also know how the photo could have been better. 

Here’s the part where I might anger upset some of my readers . . . I follow about 70 blogs and many offer up photographs as part of what they publish and the majority don’t take great care in the processing and presentation than the photos they share. A few take exceptional care and work “at photography” much more than I do.

But, of the people I follow, most photos may be interesting, but they’re not great. 

The reason I still follow those blogs is that I’m interested in the experiences of the people who write them. The photos they share are a part of their experiences. The quality of the photos is secondary to the sharing of the experiences. 

If you see a photo of an amazing event or scene, the photo quality takes a secondary role to the subject or event depicted in the photo.

Meaning, I would rather see a blurry poorly lit photo of something I’m likely to never see again than an amazingly detailed, well-lit, perfectly composed photo of a rock like the ones I see when I go for a walk. 

In one type of photo, you marvel at what you see . . . in the other, you admire the presentation and mastery of the photographic art. Two entirely different things.

Plus, there’s the familiarity aspect . . .

So, let’s say someone — me — takes a photo at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton NP. Let’s say it’s this photo . . . 


My readers might comment on it (ignoring the fact I was in my vignette period) and say something like “Wow . . . nice photo; amazing capture of a dramatic scene” or something along those lines but maybe more or less effusive. Maybe, they’ll just hit “like”. 

Let me now show you this one . . . 


Same photo, different processing. If I ask someone to choose one over the other, a more refined measure of personal preferences emerges. Does that mean one photo is “better than” the other?

Want to see something else? Click HERE.

Almost every one of those is “better than” either of the above photos. But, they are by people you probably don’t follow.

Oxbow Bend ranks as one of the most photographed views with photographers visiting the Grand Tetons NP specifically to capture this view. When I post a photo, I don’t expect my readers to jump on the internet and do a search for either better or worse photos. All I’m really doing is sharing an experience, letting you know I was there.

You likely have seen that spot before and we now have something that connects us. All them other photos, them better photos? . . . you don’t know those people. You might admire the composition but you don’t know the person who took the photo. For all you know, they’re jerks who like to kick their dog and pull wings from helpless flies.

We humans can’t help ourselves . . . we’re not impartial observers. You will care more for something if you have a connection to it. So, the reason I follow someone and will compliment them on a photo they took is not that it’s the best photo I’ve seen of the subject. It’s that I know them and appreciate them sharing something that interested them and likely interested me as well. A shared experience, if you will. 

I don’t know them other one-hundred-thousand photographers and I don’t look at their photos with the same interest that I look at the photo from people I know. 

By the same token, I look at my photos with more interest (and critical eye) than any other photos. It’s unlikely your technical opinion on one of my photos trumps mine. In rare instances, you might like it more than I do, but you don’t know the photo like I do nor will it have the same meaning — or any meaning beyond the subject — for you as it does for me. 

Where am I going with this? Well, we’ve now established I’m nothing special when it comes to photography (or anything I do).

Let me now mention the photos above. When I originally posted them, only a few individuals went to SmugMug and gave them the pixel-level-look. Had you gone to SmugMug, that Muscovy Duck image is sharp enough that you can discern all manner of details if looking at it at the pixel-level resolution. 

I knew perfectly well only a few people would do so, but I was one of them. I cared. I wanted to have that kind of resolution and quality. 

At one time, it even mattered. These days, it matters less, even to me. 

The point is, I know I can do it. I can take photos that would rival work done by professionals, or at least compare favorably to the lesser-capable professionals. 

I mean to say that I’m satisfied with knowing that I don’t suck. Not even that other people think I don’t suck; that I think I don’t suck. 

I also know I’m not at the level of a professional or someone really dedicated to the craft and I’m fine with that as well. 

So, what does that mean? Easy . . . it means that I can slack off the effort, slack off the equipment, and be more generous with myself when it comes to taking, processing, and presenting photos. 

I can enjoy photography without having to prove anything to myself. 

The reality of things is this . . . in the past year, I’ve taken ten times more photos with my Nikon P900 and Samsung Note 8 than I’ve taken with my Nikon D7000 and any of my expensive lenses. 

Some of this is because the alternatives to the Big Rig have proven up to the task, at least as far as the type of photography I do. I can concentrate more on sharing the experience (photos and words) than making sure the photos are the absolute best I can present. Mind you, I still have standards. I still recognize the P900 cannot match my D7000 and dedicated lenses. For one thing, it has a small sensor . . . for another thing, it has a small sensor.

. . . and so does the phone . . .

That means there’s less information captured and that limits the quality of the photo.

But, the other part of the equation is that the way people consume blogs has changed. 

Most photos are now viewed on a small screen (phone or tablet). Realistically, even on a PC, the vast majority of readers don’t color-calibrate their screens; I have no idea what they’re actually seeing when they look at my photos.

Basically, it’s as it always was . . . I have to please myself first. If my efforts please someone else, well, that’s just a bonus.

I mentioned that my next trip will see me leaving the 15 pounds of DSLR and expensive lenses at home and I’ll be traveling with the Nikon P900 and the Samsung Note 8 as my only photo-capturing equipment. 

If the P1000 offers some advantage that aids in the task of capturing and producing photographs I like, I’ll buy it.  

I have no illusions about the P900 — as good as I’ve learned to use it — rivaling the output of the D7000 and expensive Nikon lenses. It still bothers me when I’m processing a photo and I look at the pixel level and I see all sorts of ugliness.  

The P1000 *may* offer some advantages primarily because of the RAW capture. Meaning, I don’t know if the ugliness of the P900 JPGs is due to the small size of the sensor (likely) or because it’s a JPG (possibly). If I can retain the functionality of the P900 and improve the output, I’ll be one step closer to having a single camera that does it all. 

. . . I just wish they would have put a larger sensor in it and increased the resolution . . . then again, if they did that, people like me would never consider the prosumer cameras. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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