‘Not every printer is a great photographer, every great photographer is a great printer’
I came across the quote attributed to Ansel Adams a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t help but wonder whether this is really true today. There have been seismic changes in photography and technology in the last 10 or so years – the shift to digital, decent cameras in most mobile phones, great tablet devices and on and on – that makes me wonder what was true when Ansel Adams made his comment is still true today.
How many people feel the need to print? Sure not people who are stock photographers. They deliver their content to the stock agencies digitally and it is further distributed digitally. Wedding photographers? Again another example of a group that are focused on high quality with high productivity, that would most likely today have some if not all content delivered digitally with the remaining photographs and associated wedding books printed by specialty print services. Editorial photographers, similar story – digital delivery to their editors.
Does this mean that these photographers are not ‘great’? Of course not. The successful photographers in these fields have exacting standards that when coupled with creativity and a capacity for hard work has been the foundation for their success.
So is Ansel’s comment still relevant today? I think so but we should modify it slightly – ‘Every great fine art photographer is a great printer’.
It’s never been easier to print your own photographs. Prices of really good ink jet prints have dropped precipitously and are well within the range of most serious amateurs. There are a huge range of ‘substrates’, papers and other specialty surfaces, available for printing. The standard printer drivers and paper profiles give good results without needing tweaking. Finally there are a tremendous range of resources available to help you along the way – George DeWolfe’s Book ‘George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop‘ is one that I would particularly recommend. It’s quite possible then for us all to make good prints and with a commitment to the craft even some great ones.
I carry a camera around with me all the time, whether it is my iPhone, pocket digital – canon G10, or a DLSR. The more I look for images the more I find and with tools to capture them easily to hand the more likely I am to stop and try something. When I’m with others this is met with reactions that range from curiosity regarding what I’m seeing, tolerance for the tourist to outright disdain. Disdain, perhaps because I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else or that I’m not following expected norms of behavior. Breaking the rules, the photographic rules that is, is something that I’ve been thinking about recently. Something that has been encouraged by the photographs I’ve been taking with my iPhone. As a beginning photographer, you’re told shoot on a tripod, if you’re hand-holding then use a shutter speed of at least 1/focal length. I certainly have been interested until very recently in making photographs that are a sharp representation of life in front of the lens. When I was out walking this past weekend I was surprised at how low the light was even though it was the middle of the day. In order to achieve a shutter speed that would allow for a sharp image I had to be at a wide open aperture and iso 800. Which made me wonder what if I pushed in the other direction what would that look like. I played until I got a shutter speed of 2 secs and then looked to see what I could do. It was a fun exercise and one that I’m likely to repeat in the future. The image that I liked the best from the set is the one above. It really gives me the sense of water rushing by. What do you think? Any other fun exercises to keep things interesting?
After one of the recent storms I headed out to one of the local conservation areas to see what I could find. I had been photographing one of the streams in this area before the snow and wanted to see how the snow had changed things. Increasingly I find with areas that I’ve been to often that I have an image in mind that I want to take. In this case I’d photographed a series of rocks in a stream before the snow storm and wanted to make some similar images with the rocks covered with snow. The images I made were okay but as I moved on and continued to photograph the image posted above revealed itself. This shot captured much my feeling of the couple of hours that I spent tramping around in the snow than my planned images did. I’m pleased that I continued to explore and photograph after I came what I was after. A reminder that regardless of what my preconceptions are, its always worth remaining open for other opportunities.