Photography has two very important and pretty well defined sides, one technical and one artistic. Almost any normal person on this planet can learn how to use a camera and how to technically take really good photos. Camera has buttons and dials and lenses that do very clear and logical things, all specified in the manual. The way the light works with the lenses is physics. Simple composition has basic and easy to understand rules which are basically math. If you study for 3-5 years on your own and/or with a teacher, using Internet resources and/or friends, you will become a photographer. That is because the only limitations we have are usually self imposed. I know what you are thinking but I will get to the talent issue later…
At the very top of the whole technical side of photography, it comes the artistic side. Some people are intuitively artistic. I chose not to think about “talent” because I strongly believe that knowledge can replace anything. Excellence is acquired mostly through study. “Talent” cannot replace knowledge, ever.
When it comes to art in photography, there are another two sides – technical, and by that I mean composition, and the second one is visual story-telling (which is difficult as hell). Visual storytelling is a very complex subject because it touches so many other aspects of life. I will not touch this subject now.
The first step I took in understanding composition was to read the trash Internet literature about it – Rules of thirds, Golden Ration, Leading Lines, Depth etc. It is a great place to start for anyone. The problem is that these rules should only be followed up to a point. At a certain point I had to step up and make sense of this “There are not rules in composition.” sentence that I kept bumping into.
This is.. was very confusing… How do you get to do something without rules?! Apparently, intuitively. How do you get to acquire such awesome intuition? By learning and applying the rules. Like, seriously?! How does this even work?! Well, according to brain scientists, it works. If you do something for long enough but only by calculating and thinking about what you are actually doing, after a while it will become an automatism. Even more, in art it becomes the muse, the intuition, the burning desire and all that shit. Because artists always add feelings on top of everything… Poor bastards… Anyway, the point is that you need to know a lot of theoretical stuff and apply it on the field a million times. In time, the eye, the brain and the hand start working by themselves while you think about what will you eat for lunch.
The Internet trash might end after 3 years. But there is a next step which is easily acquirable. There are 3 books that I find remarkable when it comes to composition in photography:
- The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman – in my opinion this is the best book about composition in Photography
- Photographically Speaking by David duChemin
- Within the Frame by David duChemin
On top of this I would add this crazy collection of short cheap books about everything – Craft and Vision – same, owned and curated by David duChemin. And yeah, unfortunately there is no free lunch, but at least you get what you pay for.
And finally, there comes that moment when self developing must go beyond what the world can offer terms knowledge. The unknown path of personal touch. This is the point where a person can actually talk about having a style. Also, this is where the talent, if any, kicks in. Having a natural tendency of developing artistic intuition might truly accelerate self development. When you reach this level you already know a lot about the craft and the rest is almost in the realm of metaphysics. That is why most of the world is confused about the subject.
Some people get to this point faster, some slower. There are prodigies who can reach this level in less than an year and they become so much more than normal people can even dream about. But it is best not to think about those gifted ones. Some others take 20 years of practicing craft to acquire excellency. But for them it doesn’t matter because the passion of practicing art is so big that the trip is more important than the end of the road, if any.
I am there, somewhere. Hard to tell from inside myself. I hope I am closer to the final step, but things are not that easy. I know I am beyond the Internet trash, but am I, really? And, does it matter since I am doing it out of passion, mainly?
Maybe I lack a lot of knowledge about the knowledge that I lack.