The oldest photograph I have is a print taken of my Great Great Grandfather around the 1880’s. The first ever photograph of a human was taken almost accidentally in 1838. The picture is interesting not only from an historic perspective but also because it teaches us about one of the fundamentals of photography, time and movement. The equipment was obviously pretty crude at the time and it required a time exposure of ten minutes to get the image at all. The photograph was taken of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. During the exposure there must have been a lot going on in the Boulevard, horse drawn carriages and lots of pedestrians, but you don’t see them in the image at all because they weren’t still enough during the exposure to make an impression. The only person you see and hence the first ever photograph of a human was the person in the bottom left side of the image who stood still long enough because he was having his shoes cleaned;
A little more than a hundred and fifty years later we have reached the stage where just about every one of us is walking around with a pretty sophisticated camera in our pockets. More photographs are now being taken every day than were taken in the whole history of the world up until ten years ago. The interest in, and the ability to take photographs has been one of the most significant products of the technological revolution. But is it Photography?
Photography is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light. It is a recognised art form and a subject offered by art faculties in most universities around the world. Yet some of the worlds greatest and most successful photographers are self taught. It is the best hobby in the world because not only is it an art form and hobby in its own right but it compliments whatever other interests you might have. Smart phones might have presented us with the instant gratification of capturing just about every aspect of our lives and travels but they do not give us the control over light that is the Art of Photography. What they have done however is created an unprecedented interest in Photography. The digital era has given us easy access to the Art. In the era of film it was always and expensive and tedious business developing our images. We also only got one shot at it with often very poor results. Now in the age of Digital Cameras, once you have your equipment the cost of taking photographs is zero and the opportunity to learn the Art has never been greater.
As mentioned earlier Photography is the Art of recording light. Light in this context is what we see with our eyes. Everything we perceive through our eyes is the reflection of light off the subject we are looking at. Our brains interpret and edit the light instantly to give us a sense of depth, movement, speed, and colour. Our brains also adjust the exposure and focus of the image we are interested in. The image we see can have tremendous meaning, it can have incredible beauty and drama and it can move us in a way that we would like to remember. The Art of Photography is to capture that image in the way we remember it. It strives to capture the beauty, the emotion, the drama, the movement and the colour of a moment in time that we would like to remember and share with others. It tries to replicate what our brains perceived through our eyes in that moment in time.That is the difference between a snapshot and photography.
The first step to becoming a photographer is to acquire the equipment that will give some control over light. It doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise. For example, even the cheapest DSLR or Mirrorless camera will give you exactly the control you need to practice and learn photography. My favourite photograph is a landscape I took in Scotland with a very basic six megapixel Bridge Camera. It has been printed on an A1 canvas and is hang on the wall in my study. As you advance in the Art or Hobby you will decide what you need along the way. With the correct equipment there is nothing you can’t capture, from Microscopic to Astral and everything in between.
Although the principles of taking good photographs and the skills required have not changed at all from the days of film, what has changed is the digital format of the images. The digital nature of our images has created a spinoff art form called digital manipulation. With editing software images can be simply enhanced to re-create what our eyes perceived in that moment in time or we can use the original image or images to create a unique work of art. New technology is giving us more in-camera control over things like depth of field and more visual control via interactive LCD screens but a bit of editing and sometimes make a huge difference to the final result. I have given a before an after example below to illustrate what I mean;
As you start your journey in the ART of Photography, like everything else in life one has to take the first steps. Darren Rowse of the School of Photography has some very Useful Tips to set you on your way. In further expanding your knowledge there are some very informative free tutorials online. You will also gain a wealth of knowledge by interacting with other photographers. Your Local Camera Club will offer some great opportunities to interact and learn.