The How, What, and Why of Photography

It is the start of a New Year, and with it comes the time when a lot of people set New Year’s resolutions. A lot of photographers are setting the resolution to improve their photographic skills; however, one important resolution that I don’t think many photographers are going to make is to commit themselves to learning more about their craft. It is only when we commit ourselves to learning all we can about our chosen craft that we can really hope to continually improve in the execution of that craft.

It is only with education that us as photographers can find and refine our photographic vision. David deChemin wrote; in his book Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, “Vision is the beginning and end of photography. It’s the thing that moves you to pick up the camera, and it determines what you look at and what you see when you so. It determines how you shoot and why. Without vision, the photographer perishes.”(David deChemin, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, Page 2)

One thing that I feel that a lot of photographers need to commit themselves to learning is what I call the real exposure triangles. I am sure that we are all aware of what is known as the exposure triangle.

Exposure Triangle-1 copy

This is what everyone knows as the exposure triangle; however, I believe that this only tells part of the story. What we should be learning about is what I call the real exposure triangles.

Exposure Triangle-2 copy

This bigger real exposure triangles is the “how, what, and why” of photography, in other words the “how, what, and why” is how you stay true to your photographic vision. Anyone can teach you how to take a photograph, but not everyone can teach you the “what and the why” of photography.

David deChemin also said that “Vision is everything, and the photographic journey is about discovering your vision, allowing it to evolve, change, and find expression through your camera…”

The larger real exposure triangles helps us find, refine, and stay true to our vision.

To stay true to our photographic vision we have to ask ourselves what we are photographing; landscapes, nightscapes, portraits, etc. Once we identify what we are photographing; because different techniques are used for each, then we need to identify why we are photographing this scene. What is it about this scene that moves you; in other words what is it about this scene that sparks an emotion in you. It is only once you identify the “what and why” of what you are photographing that you can really know how you are going to combine the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed of your camera to capture the scene before you in a way that shows the emotions that you are feeling at that moment. In other words; you have to know the “what and the why” to really understand and know just how to take that photograph.

The exposure triangle; ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, is only the how of photography. Now we don’t have to understand the technical side of things, as in how the camera does what it does, but we must understand how the aperture, the ISO, and the shutter speed are going to affect the look of the final image. The goal is to have the end product be as close to our initial vision as possible and I feel that with the real exposure triangles we have the greatest chance of accomplishing that goal.

We cannot rely on post processing to fix the photos that either don’t match or don’t include the vision we had for the photo before we took it.

David deChemin further states “A role exists for both the camera and the digital darkroom in the creation of a digital photograph. The camera does certain things well, and where it does those things better than the digital darkroom, it should be allowed to do that task. Where post-production does a task better than the camera, it should be allowed to do that. The right tools for the right job. When that understanding gets inverted, photography becomes less a process about serving your vision and more an exercise in salvage techniques…. Photoshop doesn’t have a revision filter that will make a poorly conceived and poorly executed photograph sparkle with vision. Lazy vision can’t be recovered in Photoshop. There is no Un-Suck filter.”(David deChemin, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, Page 62)

The more you get it right in camera the less editing you have to do to realize your vision for that photograph.

We must have a vision of where our business is going, a vision of where our photography is going, and a vision of each photo we take. My advice for this new year is to slow down and to figure out your photographic vision by using the real exposure triangles and figuring out the “what and the why” of each shot you take. It is only after we know the “what and why” that we can truly know how to take that photo. It is only when we combine the “what, why,” and how that the results will be more powerful and inspirational images.


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