Archive for August, 2009

The Science of Photography

August 9th

I checked my mailbox every day this week, eagerly awaiting the arrival of an intervalometer I’d purchased from eBay. I didn’t even know they existed until last week when I heard one described. I’d always suspected there was an easier way to take time lapse photo series than manually taking exposures for hours as I’d been doing foolishly. Intervalometer even sounds technical and more complicated that is; a small device for your camera that takes a photo at an interval you choose, eg every 15 seconds.

It’s not very expensive, I think it only cost me $25, but I realized this week how technical my photography has become. Of course, photography itself is technical that goes without saying. There is a good deal to learn about initially with the basics: aperture, exposure and ISO and how they all relate. I remember after a couple of weeks of owning my first DSLR really “getting it” and when these three things clicked mentally with me… it’s really the basis of the photographic method from which all the other techniques can be added.

But as a photographer personally, I remember how my first series of “tests” resulted in beautiful images I still like but at the time I didn’t really fully understand. At that point I had some impression that photography was about having an “eye” for a good photo and composition. That’s true to some extent and it certainly set’s apart a good photo from a great photo, but without knowing the science and technique of photography your successful shots are just luckily recorded “opportunistic” events. Most modern camera’s have controls that rival the Starship Enterprise, but understanding them can unlock huge photographic potential when applied correctly.

Over time I realize I’ve become a “technician”. By applying photographic techniques I have learned to capture a range of subjects and my photography has become more of a process than an art. Some of my favorite kinds of photography that I’ve tried my hand at (with varying degrees of success) are lightning photography, long exposures and light experiments, long exposure landscapes (eg waterfalls), High Dynamic Range (HDR), multiple layered exposures, astrophotography, extreme macroscopy and time lapses. All of these have required a fairly significant self education in post processing, the advanced features of my cameras and various lens and equipment configurations.

I don’t mean to sound elitist, or self assured for I am still only a simple hobby photographer by any measure, but after this journey I can’t help raise an eyebrow when someone with a halfway decent camera considers themselves a budding photographer simply because they have “an eye” for composition. I suppose it would be like calling myself a musician because I have “an ear” for music, without ever having learned to actually play an instrument.

There are all kinds of photographers and photographic niches, and perhaps those masses of “prosumer” equipped people with a knack for sunsets and pet photos possess an objectivity I now lack as a photography “technician”. The joy of photography has not faded, but I simply don’t take as many photos as I used to. When I do, the photo I take is considered and controlled, even if it’s opportunistic, unlike the “many and often” style of photo taking I used to use. The scientist has overtaken the artist I’ll admit, but to capture my subject as beautifully as I’m technically allowed. Even though the process can be highly complex, the subject is still my favorite part of the photo.