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Being a Photographer

People think that being a photographer is all about taking pictures. It's easy to think so, but this couldn't be further from the truth.

To capture the decisive moment, you have to press the shutter release. This freezes time and motion, and briefly allows light to strike the camera sensor or other photographic media. The camera goes click, and you've recorded another image. You cause another click, and another image gets recorded.

It certainly seems that taking pictures is key to being a photographer. Without pressing the shutter release, no images. Without images, you'd hardly qualify as a photographer.

But let's think of this another way. Shutter speeds can vary widely, but for argument sake, let's stipulate that a plausible "average" shutter speed could be 1/250 second. Your average could be less. Mine could be more. The exact value isn't my point. What I want to point out is that the average time it takes to actually record an image is but a brief instant. Night time exposures can easily last upwards of 30 seconds, but those are offset by any number of daytime exposures that don't. But if we go with that 1/250 second metric, for argument sake, then we'd need to take 250 pictures to consume one full second. Back in the days of film photography where results were often measured in terms of 36-exposure rolls, those 250 pictures would fill nearly seven rolls of film. We may be able to take a lot of pictures in a single second, but it's still but a second.

So, if being a photographer is all about taking pictures, we certainly don't seem to spend much time at it. Surely, we're leaving something out here. There must be more to it.

Once you get those images home, raw or jpeg, you will likely spend at least some time editing, optimizing, organizing and filing them. That could take a fair amount of time, probably more than it took to actually shoot them. Spending even a brief while on a single image would surely occupy you for more than one second. But tasks such as these are generally considered things we have to do, not what we want to do. Most photographers I know would rather be out in the field shooting than sitting at home in front of their computer.

For me at least, the part that makes a photographer is what comes before the click. It's not the taking of the pictures, not so much what you have to or want to do with them after, it's before. Pressing the shutter release is the mechanical part of the process. Photoshop and Lightroom can be fun or it can be tedious. The creative part of photography is what comes before. This is what being a photographer is all about.

Being a photographer certainly requires some degree of technical skill, although modern cameras can shield us from much of that. But no camera can find good images for you. Being a photographer is all about finding good images. Pressing the shutter release might be considered almost anticlimactic if it weren't so inherently important. But it's hardly where your attention needs to be focused to end up with good images. It's everything that leads up to that click that's truly key to being a photographer.

Great images are all over, but are generally hard to see. Those slices of reality that create good images tend to get lost amongst everything else. Few will see a needle sitting atop a haystack either. Only someone truly able to look can actually see what is there. Without slowing down and really paying attention, it's all too easy to look right past the good stuff. Most of us will simple assume what is there following a quick glance. Identify what it is and move on. Few take time to look below the surface. There's too much else going on that demands attention.

When I started out in photography back in the eighties, it took me a long time before I felt comfortable with exposure. Mastering focus, aperture and shutter speed occupied much of my time and attention. I was happy if I ended up with a decent photo instead of a blurry, underexposed mess. Depending on your level of experience, you may feel somewhat like this today. This is the stuff you have to get proficient enough at so you can pay attention to the truly exciting part.

Finding something amazing to photograph is fun and often downright exhilarating. This can especially be true when no one else is there to witness it, as is often true very early in the morning or sometimes at sunset. Figuring how to put your accumulated skill and experience to work to best photograph your find can be challenging but also very rewarding.

This is what being a photographer is all about.

Date posted: June 18, 2017


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