A few days ago a buddy of mine commented that he had come across my Google+ profile and didn’t realize I was into photography. He continued on to say that I had some really nice professional looking images.
I thanked him for his compliment and stated that photography isn’t something that I talk about much. At that point I wanted to explain why, but simply couldn’t conjure the reasoning behind not discussing it openly or often. The odd thing is, that there are some people I discuss photography with, but not many. Knowing that fact I set off thinking about the reason behind my lack of talking to others about photography.
After thinking on it for a few days, and mentally reviewing the discussions that I recently had about photography, the reason behind my hesitation was finally determined.
The reason is simply that most people only want to talk gear. Not even the sharpness of lenses type of gear talk. More of what do you own type of gear talk. The most common question in a photography conversation is “What camera do you have?” That is because most people honestly equate a nice photo only with nice camera gear. Thinking that a nice camera is the only thing someone needs to produce a stunning picture. [To my buddy’s credit, at no point did he state anything remotely close to: “You must have a nice camera.”]
At this point talking about camera gear simply doesn’t interest me. There is very little, if anything, to be gained from discussing Canon vs. Nikon for the 1,000,000th time, or “what’s your favorite f/stop?”, etc.
The recent conversations had all centered on other aspects of photography that weren’t gear. That meant talking about everything else does interest me however.
This post isn’t a slam on the “nice camera” people, because at one point I was a member of the “nice camera” crowd. This is rather a post to discuss everything else that goes into making a stunning image. Hopefully it will help a few people cross that conversational/thinking bridge.
The truth is that a good photo is only about 1/7th gear. With the camera only being a portion of that 1/7th. There is simply too much else that goes into an image. There is: research, fieldwork, experience, gear, knowing your gear, luck, and post production. Those other non-sexy non-flashy items have much more to do with making a great photo than the gear.
David DuChemin says “Gear is good. Vision is better.” He is right.
For the above photo I’m going to run down the details in an effort to explain why gear is only 1/7th of the process.
Research: The waterfall is widely known and easily accessed from the road. It has it’s own pulloff and is visible from the road for goodness sake. Before arriving no images were researched. Fieldwork and experience were going to cover the composition portion. This waterfall was part of a 8 waterfall loop trip around Brevard. The others weren’t as easily accessible, so time was put into finding trail information for those. Weather forecasts pointed to clear skies.
Fieldwork: Good light is key, especially when clear skies are forecasted. Research revealed the sun rises behind the falls. That meant an early morning photo or late afternoon photo would be ideal. The loop trip was going to end around 3ish, so the loop direction was chosen to put this at the beginning. There were four people on the trip (me plus 3 non-photographers). To get to the falls in good light, and to fit all of the waterfalls in, an early start was orchestrated and hotel keys were turned in around 9am. Please remember that rocks are slicker than they appear. A bruise on your hind end is not the recommended way to remember this. Take care and effort when transversing them. A lucky landing prevented my camera bag contents from being damaged when my foot flipped on a slick/wet rock. The tripod and ballhead have some new scratches.
Experience: Waterfalls almost have a formulaic approach to them. Do a couple well and it becomes second nature. Most of the trees had already dropped their fall color, so effort was taken to eliminate them from the frame. The sky was actually overcast (Not clear!), and would have only been a small white wedge, so that also was eliminated from the frame. There were rapids close to the bottom of the viewing platform and were used as the foreground element.
Gear (In order of importance): Tripod (Manfrotto ???), ballhead (Vanguard ???), polarizer (B&W 77mm), cable release ($15 amazon off brand), bubble level ($3 amazon purchase), wide angle lens (Canon 17-40 f/4L), camera (Canon 6D). The tripod was carefully setup on a slick rock. Ballhead was already mounted. Wide angle lens, bubble level, and polarizer were already attached. That left attaching the camera to the tripod and inserting the cable release.
Knowing your gear: 10x Live view was used to obtain critical focus. F/16 was chosen for max depth of field / extend the exposure. Polarizer was adjusted to eliminate glare / extended the exposure. ISO 50 was used to extend exposure. Bubble level insured a level photo. Live view acted as a mirror lockup, allowed for reviewing the composition (originally set in viewfinder), and allowed for reviewing of the histogram.
Luck: Yes, luck. Sometime photographers simply get lucky. In this case there were no unsightly debris at the bottom. It could be many other aspects as well. Luck is something you only notice when it really works in your favor. It doesn’t stand out if it doesn’t come through.
Post-Production: Processed using Lightroom 4. Not going to detail all of the adjustments since they weren’t crazy. No presets or plug-ins were used. Just an effort to keep it looking natural. The post production took a good image and made it pop. This isn’t the same as “photoshop it to death.” Nothing was swapped in and nothing was removed. Simple basic adjustments designed to finish an image. Not more than 5 minutes was spent in post since everything before that point made the original an extremely good starting point.
All told, over 10 hours went into planning for the waterfall loop trip. This specific waterfall was only about 30 minutes of that total since it was revealed that access was easy and that the view would be worth it.
Now that the details have been shared, it should be apparent that the camera was simply only a part of the process. Truth be told, a decent point and shoot with exposure compensation would have substituted nicely. The additional camera features were helpful, but not required to get the shot.
Please don’t mistake this post as me saying “Camera gear is not important.” That’s simply not the summary. In fact one day I’ll write a post detailing how good camera gear can boost a photographers pictures. The summary is that camera gear is an important part, but it is only a small part of a making a good photo.