Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Just Shooting Stuff

Lots of people, I venture to guess almost everyone who fancies themselves a bit of a photographer, tend to wander around just shooting stuff. You look for "the good ones" and you shoot those, and then you cull like fun. This is supposed to be the process.

If you wander around urban environments and shoot black and white, you call yourself a "street" photographer, for a little extra cachet, but the process is the same.

I'm on the record, repeatedly, as being OK with this. You can, as far as I am concerned, just wave the camera around pressing the shutter button wildly. Then you pick out the good ones from the contact sheets or equivalent. I've pointed out that, essentially, you're doing the "photography" part at the contact sheet. But, that's OK. Who cares when you pick out the good ones? Where is it written that you must select/frame before you press the button rather than after?

Still, in this era of digital cameras, this leads to a problem. You get a LOT of pictures you choose from. A fairly common theme online is something like I have 4 terabytes of RAW files and the backups are getting to be difficult! or something equivalent.

If you have 4 terabytes, or whatever, of pictures lying around that are just personal use stuff, you're shooting too damn much. Just as a for-instance, if you happen to have exactly 4 terabytes of RAW files, you've got at least 80,000 pictures. Probably more. You're never going to "pick the good ones out" of this mess. Your "photography" in the sense of selecting a frame and moving forward with it, is never going to happen.

So, while that process is perfectly legitimate, it's impractical.

It also dodges, and this is the real problem, the issue of having something to say. If you're just wandering around looking for "good photos" you're probably going to find some now and then. They're going to be, at best, sterile exercises in composition. The might be visual jokes. They might be copies of something we've seen before. It's extremely unlikely that they're going to be strong personal statements. It's far less likely that you're going to be able to pull together a portfolio of related pictures that pull together to fully explicate a strong personal statement.

Now, in theory, you could pull a strong personal statement off a contact sheet. You're going to have a lot more luck pulling it out of the real world which is, until photography overlaps completely with photo-realistic 3D modeling, much much richer. I do not think you can pull a strong portfolio off a contact sheet, no matter how you try.

You've got to shoot with some kind of purpose. You've got to have some sort of goal. You needn't walk out the door with a ten page shooting script (although that wouldn't be a bad idea) but you do have to have some notion of what you're trying to say by the time you squash the masher.

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