It’s easy to be a technician. It’s easier than being an artist, that’s for sure. To be a technically proficient photographer you just have to learn some science, memorize some controls and be systematic in everything you do.
However, the better you get at being a technician, the more of your attention it demands. And while you’re being a technician you’re not being an artist. And if you’re not an artist, why are you even doing this?
Of course, some of us are photographers for a living. It’s a trade. I get that. Your clients want a certain thing done in a certain way, you know how to achieve it, it’s a technical exercise and the job is done.
But while that kind of work may feed your bank balance, it doesn’t feed your soul. And, although they don’t know it, what your clients want is artistry, inspiration and a creative difference that inspires them too. (And if they don’t, maybe you need to change your clients.)
Being a technician is safe
There’s a darker side to this argument. Sometimes, being a technician doesn’t just distract you from being an artist. It becomes a substitute.
It means you get pleasure from cameras that tick all the boxes, not the ones that feel right in your hands. It means you enjoy pictures that get approval from others, and that becomes a replacement for your own.
As a photographer, it’s very easy to hide behind the technical side of photography. It’s science, you can learn it, you can prove it. And sometimes, for some photographers, that becomes enough in itself, and so much safer than sticking your neck out. You can show people you’re right. There’s no risk and a lot of moral satisfaction. Like being a tax advisor, maybe, or a drainage consultant.(opens in new tab)
Being an artist is not
Creative photography is a LOT harder. It’s elusive. You get failures, rejection and discouragement. Even the most successful creative photographers only please a percentage of the audience. Often, you get phases where you can’t even please yourself.
You can’t actually prove to anyone, even yourself, that your work has creative and artistic merit. You just have to hope you will know it when you see it and that others will too.
But now and again, you will take a picture and you will say, “yes, that’s it”, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly how and why it works, or even repeat it. Suddenly, everything – EVERYTHING – is worth it.
This is at the opposite end to technical proficiency. It’s about visual instinct, gut feelings and emotional responses. These aren’t reliable, scientifically measurable variables.
You can learn creative, artistic skills over time, but you have to trust your own instincts and responses. And sometimes you have to pig-headedly insist that the world is wrong and you are right.
You can’t quantify art. You can’t repeat it with camera settings, step-by-steps and ‘rules’. Rules will only get you what everyone else has done already. Wouldn’t it be better to be an individual “you”, not some generic, normalized, homogenized “photographer”?(opens in new tab)
Stop measuring, start seeing
Photography is unavoidably technical. You have to follow procedures to get predictable outcomes. But there comes a point when you’ve learned enough, when you have to step out from behind that safety barrier, stop being a technician and start being an artist.
Nobody will laugh at a proficient technician, if that’s what you’re worried about. But if that’s all you are, and all you want to be, and you believe that’s all that photography consists of, then good luck to you.