A recent thought I had: photography is fun precisely because it is a series of visual experimentation.
Why photography, not painting?
I’ve been studying a lot of painting, and I started to wonder — what is the value of photography over painting?
It seems the biggest benefit of photography is that there is no way, with 100% certainty — what your photograph is gonna look like, until you shoot it.
Why is photography fun?
“I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.” – Garry Winogrand
Photographs lie. They don’t tell the “objective truth” of reality. You depict your own reality.
When you shoot with a flash, there’s no 100% way to predict the outcome of the photograph. Whereas with painting, everything must be 100% premeditated.
Therefore, photography is fun because of the chaos, randomness, and the element of surprise —just like magic! That sense of enhancement with the final result —surprising you.
Photography is like a hat trick! (Magic)
Photography is like magic. It is the opportunity for us to transform the banal and ordinary into something different, unique, and beautiful.
Randomness is fun
I’ve been thinking more and more — photography is great for its transformative property.
If you shoot film, there is so much randomness and magic that happens when light hits the photovoltaic paper.
With digital —it is magic too. The ability for light to be translated into 1s and 0s with the digital sensor —and for modern technology to translate light into a different interpretation.
Shoot things to see what they look like as photographs
The lens sees the world different than us.
For example, we have two eyes (side by side, in a panoramic, landscape orientation). The camera lens only has one “eye”.
Our two eyes can perceive depth. The single lens cannot.
The camera has the ability to shoot vertically, our eyes cannot.
Depending on the focal length of the lens you use, you see the world differently. I think the human eye is roughly a 40mm Perspective. If you shoot with a wide-angle 28mm lens, it transforms the world. If you shoot with a telephoto-zoom lens like a 200mm, the world will look different.
If you shoot black and white, you transform the world. If you shoot high contrast and saturated color, you transform the world.
You interpret reality with your lens
I don’t think it is our duty to faithfully depict the world in visual facts. No, it is our duty to present our own vision of reality with others.
This is the genius of the surrealists, the cubists, and the impressionists. They didn’t seek to make pictures that showed the world as it was — they sought to abstract and interpret the world, how they saw it.
Therefore know as a photographer, you are an interpreter of reality.
Visual experimentation assignments
So to end this essay, treat photography like visual interpretation. You’re just a kid, playing scientist, using the camera as your fun little research-experimentation tool.
- Shoot with a flash, to see what the photos will look like. Shoot two photos of each scene, one with flash, one without.
- Shoot only jpeg, and experiment with different jpeg filters and settings. Experiment with high contrast black and white, and high contrast-saturation color.
- Shoot with a wide-angle lens like a 28mm lens, and get very close to your subjects, and purposefully distort your scenes. Realize the power of the lens to distort your scenes —a fun Surrealist Technique.
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