There are two ways to approach photography, maybe more, but two that dominate. One I think of as a picture taker, the other as a photographer. Okay, you believe that if you take photographs you are a photographer. Fine, but hang onto that idea, you may need it at the end.
One, is to approach photography as a craft. These are the camera owners who see photographic technique or photographic gimmicks as art. They are wrong. That is craft. These are surface elements that use technique the same way a woman uses face powder, rouge and lipstick well applied.
The photographs can be beautiful, technically accomplished, adored and praised but there is no depth, no soul, no art to a technical photograph. Just like a woman, the true worth of a photograph comes from a greater depth than simply the surface. Surface quality is no more nourishing to the soul than a plastic apple to the body. For some photographers that is all they need—if they would just quit thinking of themselves as ‘artists’ and giving photographic art a bad taste I would have no qualms with them.
There are a number of basic reasons why photographers fall into the ‘technique’ trap.
Some because they simply have no soul for photography. No matter how long they pursue photography they will always be picture takers. They do not have courage to be themselves behind a camera so they don the persona of the masses shooting acceptable subject matter in order to blend in, to feel accepted. Their only accomplishment is though the technical skill they acquire.
Some just never understand that there is anything more to photography. A person can pursue photography for a lifetime and still remain ignorant of the art of photography. They are capable of mastering a craft but they are incapable of pursuing an art.
And some, the more self aware, because they understand how much a photograph can reveal of their inner most secrets, hide behind technique.
None of these are truly photographers, they are craftspeople, they are picture takers. A camera no more makes a photographer an artist than a brush makes a painter an artist. No matter the expense or quality of the equipment they use they are no closer to art than if they were using a paint-by-the-numbers kit. In many ways they are. Technical photography is as rule bound and formulated as applying the numbered color and staying within the outlines.
Do not be fooled. Those that rail against technique, who make sloppy, out of focus, poorly composed, confusing photographs and print them on the most expensive materials, frame them as if they are Rembrandts, store them in expensive archival sleeves and boxes can also be no closer to art than the technical perfectionist. Sometimes they are just lazier, not more artistically astute.
Those that follow the ‘trends,’ the digital gimmicks in vogue fall just as deeply into the minutia as the perfectionist.
It will take much less time to describe the second approach to photography.
The second approach comes from understanding the visual language of photography. They understand that every photographic technique has meaning within the context of the photograph. There is no good photographic technique. There is no bad photographic technique; only technique applied appropriately or inappropriately. We use words arranged into sentences to convey verbal or written thoughts. Technique is the sentence structure of photographs; it is the way we put the elements, the words of the photograph, together to clarify the photograph’s statement—the story that the photographer wants to convey. Just as words do not mean exactly the same thing in every context, technique does not mean the exact same thing in every context but they understand what the technique means within that specific photograph..
These are also photographers that bring their photography from within themselves. Art never comes from formulas or following. And there is the simplest explanation I can give you for the difference between the picture taker and the photographer.