Saturday, June 23, 2018

Could vs. Would

The most common questions photographers ask about a photograph, or another photographer, boil down to could questions. What skill, technique, what tools do I need, so that I could take such and such a picture? How can I become a photographer who is capable of such and such a photograph?

The filp side if this is the would question. How can I become the photographer that would choose to make that picture? Would choose to shoot that photograph, or that one?

This question is almost literally never asked. It's approached perhaps obliquely in videos about how to develop your style, or whatever, but only obliquely.

This matters, because all the could questions are relatively trivial.

I see people buying mannequins so they can practice their lighting. They want to become a photographer who could set up loop lighting, or Rembrandt, or broad, or high key, or whatever. What they miss is the would question which is really, becoming the photographer who is tuned into the subject enough to take the picture that's right. It's about becoming a person who would do something as much as anything else. Screwing around with a statue to learn how to shoot portraits has got to be one of the most tragically wasteful exercises ever.

When you're in front of a person with a camera, there are 1000 pictures you could take. You could take 24 frames a second. But which one or two or three would you take, would you choose? Do you even have an opinion? You should. And it shouldn't be based on a bunch of technical posing or lighting bullshit. The ability to work with a person, to develop an opinion about which picture you would take, might be the entire point.

And so with everything else. What landscape would you shoot? What still life? Which photograph of Formula 1 cars would you take?

All those could questions are things you can answer pretty easily. Don't overthink 'em.

Become the photographer who would take the pictures that carry some weight that matters to you.


  1. One *could* argue (and I *would*) that having the 'coulds' in place allows the 'woulds' to flourish.

    1. That is correct! At least, if you've got your eye on the "would" call, putting some "coulds" in place is likely to be a big help. In my view, at any rate.

      "Could" dominates, out there in the world, often to the extent that "would" vanishes entirely, and it is the latter that is actually important and difficult.

  2. I rather think the difficult thing is to find your own voice (subjects, technique, yadda), without regard to what some hero 'could' or 'would' do.