Guest Photographer: Antony Watson – Does the Camera Make the Image?

Late last year I started a new segment on my blog for photographers with whom I have travelled before in order to provide an outlet for them to share some of their own writing and photography. The first to do so was wildlife photographer and biologist Chris Gamel who accompanied me to Antarctica last year and wrote about Better Wildlife Photography. This second guest post is by fellow workshop leader Antony Watson and poses that much discussed adage: Does the Camera Make the Image? With all the gear talk online these days and with many photographers continually looking for that next magic silver equipment bullet I felt the post quite timely and relevant.

Does the Camera Make the Image?

When I think about this question I visualise a Shakespearean Actor on stage posing the question in olde English to the audience with questioning hand extended  ’Doth the camera maketh the image?’ In all seriousness though, does the camera make the image?

Well that question can be answered from a few different perspectives namely with regards to how one defines the various elements in the posed question.

First and foremost the simplest thing to define is what is an ‘image’?   A dictionary definition of what an Image is may shed some light into one interpretation of what constitutes an ‘image’ per se:

An Image, derived from the Latin term imago, can be defined as “an artefact that provides a visual representation or depiction of a likeness of a subject”.

That makes perfect sense to me. But the clincher of the question we’re looking at lies in the question of how one defines “makes“.  What ‘makes’ an image?’

If you consider the term ‘makes an image‘  to be loosely interpreted as the manufacture/construction of a physical of visual representation , or  alternatively if you define it as makes the image as per the phrase this makes my day i.e. to make it, to succeed, to pull it off, to accomplish, to be successful can make the ultimate difference in how one answers the question posed.  I prefer the latter interpretation.

There is absolutely no doubt about it, a camera technically constructs a physical visual representation of a likeness of a subject and stores it in a digital file, but does it ‘make an image’ in the sense of it being a successful and accomplished image and thus an overall well regarded image?  So what makes an image successful, accomplished and well regarded is a pretty good question?

There are a million articles out there easily accessible on the web discussing just this. They cover topics such as composition, colour harmony,  leading lines, emotion, communication, light amongst numerous other attributes of what constitutes good image design and the key ingredients for a recipe to a successful image.  But what 99.99% of these articles will never mention is the camera.   Why is that?  Why isn’t the camera mentioned in all those articles, let alone specific camera types or specific camera capabilities?

Because the camera is merely one of many tools used in the process to create a successful image along with a number of other tools.  Its a very important and necessary tool in the overall production of a successful image, but its not the be all and end all of tools in the chain of image making.

Without human intervention in some way or another a camera has never taken an image. We construct, trigger, program, push, point, direct, aim, place …

But a camera will NOT:

  • frame a composition
  • find you leading lines
  • select colour harmony
  • communicate emotion
  • provide amazing light

……. and on the list goes on and on.  Really a camera doesn’t do that much to create a successful well regarded photograph.

But what it will do is allow you to capture light and thus a representation of your vision into a digital file.

Your own vision and talent ARE the biggest contributors to producing a successful image. PERIOD.

So often these days we are focussed on camera gear.  So often I read/hear I need the latest body that has X more megapixels, more dynamic range, better colour depth etc but do we really need these things or are we somehow fuelling our unjustified and completely wrong belief that the newer faster better more awesomely marketed camera will make the image.

It was only just a few years ago, in 2012, that a famous wedding photographer entered a Wedding Album into WPPI.  He scored an 85 for the album. A sound result most wedding photographers would be proud of.  All the photographs within the album were shot on an iPhone ( I believe it was an iPhone 4) with no Photoshop post processing.   A tonne of vision and talent and what most would consider, a camera with a long list of limitations and short falls, outscored a very large majority of photographers albums equipped with the latest and greatest cameras, lenses and computer software.

Without vision and talent, a Stradivarius makes a horrendous noise yet a $100 violin played by an artist with vision and talent makes exquisite music.

As I have stated numerous times to others when posed questions such as to  ”Should I upgrade to the latest and greatest?”  ”Do I need a MFDB?”   ….. unless you have a resounding business justification or limitation you need to overcome to deliver a result, then the answer is a resounding “NO!”

Yes having better gear definitely won’t hold you back, but if you’re looking to produce more successful images, then more often than not, one would be better to invest time and funds in developing ones vision and talent more so than the latest camera body or lens.

Only you can decide whether you’re an artist with commensurate vision and talent that will make use of/is hampered by not having the extra features of the latest, greatest, biggest, sharpest camera offering more megapixels, more dynamic range, more bits of colour depth.  But I’d hazard to say that most of us, with a fascination with camera gear, will find some way to justify the purchase to satiate our addiction for new camera gear,  myself included, regardless of having a true need *.

* Editors Note: Otherwise referred to as GAS – Or Gear Acquisition Syndrome

When I can afford to, I will be buying a Ferrari 458 Speciale.  With its sleek thoroughbred design, 595 horsepower and magnesium wheels that will cost more to replace than my children’s college education when I clip a gutter driving them to high school.  I dream of speeding around a racetrack with the the ferver and pace only the skills of the talented Michael Schumacher will allow, a skill set of which I have made zero inroads to develop so far. But I’m still buying that car…. one day.  But in the mean time, after now writing this article,  I might just go and enrol in a few high performance driving courses to develop some of those skills whilst I save my pennies/quarters.  After all I have just quite of few years of saving ahead of me.

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