It appears that an internal debate has always existed within photographers about the relative importance of learning technical aspects or learning artistic aspects. Most lean toward the technical, feeling that they have a handle on the artistic side, but lack the technical proficiency or expertise to produce truly good photographs. This is especially true of digital users who almost invariably conclude that if they can just nail down all the tools of Photoshop or get the latest app they will become great photographers. But most ignore the basic issues of understanding light, composition and, perhaps most importantly, the subject matter that truly means something to them in their search for photographic greatness. Without those basic understandings, they won’t make much progress, no matter how proficient they become with the tools. Furthermore, most photographers today seem to equate a photograph that’s tack-sharp with a good photograph, but that’s not the case. Ansel Adams once noted that, “There is nothing as useless as a sharp photograph of a fuzzy concept.” He was right. Sharpness shows a superbly manufactured and well-focused lens, but nothing more. By itself, it does not indicate a great photograph.
The artistic part includes the true understanding of light, because the only thing that film or digital sensors record is light levels, so it’s the only real tool for photography. It also includes the understanding of composition: the relationships of lines and forms and colors within the image area. And it includes the imagination to transform the scene in front of the camera (which the photographer generally finds but rarely creates) to the image that you show to others (which is purely the photographer’s creation).
It turns out that the technical and the artistic are integrally connected, with each drawing upon and supporting the other. As a quick example, suppose a photograph was made with exquisite lighting (either indoor, with controlled lighting, or outdoors with ambient lighting), and with magnificent relationships among the various forms within the image, and with excellent imagination that transforms the scene into an insightful photographic image, but the printing of the image is awful…perhaps it’s much too high or low in contrast, or much too light or dark, or the manipulations used to achieve the final print are blatant and obvious…than all of the artistic values are lost.Read More