The Thinking Photographer


The central issues in photography are not ones which may be solved by camera technology. No amount of electronic intelligence in the camera can help with the visual analysis leading to good composition. Making a good photograph requires more than a good camera. The photographer must exercise conscious control to assert personal style in an image. These techniques may be learned.

There are two ways to learn about photography. The first is to make photographs. The second is to study photographs. Neither approach is complete in itself, but together the two methods provide a much more solid foundation than any words which have been written on the subject.

My primary motivation in assembling this course is an observation from twenty years of serious photography: sophisticated technology has become almost universally available, yet the quality of the images remain poor. In other words, people use wonderful cameras to take terrible pictures.

This situation exists despite the preponderance of "How To" books. Many of these books are good and even necessary. An aspiring photographer must learn the technical skills of the craft; however, once the skills are acquired we are left with the questions of what to photograph and how. This is where the "How To" books fail us. The most help you can get is usually in the form of imitation.

In itself, imitation is not terribly bad. After all, creativity is nothing more than variation on themes. There is, however, another step beyond imitation. That step is an understanding of what qualities we value in a photograph.

Uncover four pictures simultaneously and allow the class to view them for only a few seconds. Then cover the pictures and ask the students to recall subject matter and composition, and talk about which was most interesting and why.

When you see some photographs you admire, you might say to yourself, "I would like to make photographs like that." This is an excellent first step. But to stop here results only in imitation. Let's analyze why you like the photographs and specifically, what characteristics about the images you wish to duplicate. It is the contrast, austere composition, color arrangement, subject matter, penetrating depth of personality analysis, emotional content, technical virtuosity, or lighting?

When you see a photograph and say, "That's great!" the next question, by reflex action should be, "Why is it good?"

At the end of each class, ask students to bring in the following week some of their own work which embodies the concepts we covered. Then open each class with a review of the previous week using their work as examples. Let them talk.

© Copyright 1999 Brian R. Page

  • Colloquia Photography Class Main Page
  • The Thinking Photographer: Introduction
  • What is a Good Photograph?
  • The Role of Black & White
  • Subject/Object
  • Style
  • Who's Who and What's What
  • Audience: For Whom the Silver Tones
  • Guts
  • Gladly Learn Home Page