The Craft of Photography.

I was practicing photographing water splashing into a bowl already filled to the brim. (For the reason for this, please see below. https://bap2blog.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/a-level-playing-field/ )

The camera was set to fire at 8 frames per second. The flash was set at 1/8 power to keep up with the camera. An f-stop of f11 was used to get sufficient depth of field, which meant that the flash needed to be placed close, and at an angle to both catch the side of the falling water droplets and also reflect light back from the background. The camera was set on manual focus and pre-focussed at point where the drops of water would impact.

The resulting image may, or may not be art, but the process of its creation is the craft of the photographer.

I suppose, for me, that’s the mission; to turn my students into crafts-people.

Crafts-people who look at an image, work out how it was created, break it down into bits, use the materials available, and create their own work based upon their own interpretation of the original work.

There are those, however, who seem to feel that craft is irrelevant, as long as the image produced gets the student a good grade. There are those teaching the subjects who literally have no idea how to make images which are technically competent. They have no craft.

Craft involves the skilful process of using ones hands to produce an object. In photography, the obvious skill is using the controls of the camera to achieve the desired aim, but craft is not ‘merely’ a set of psychomotor skills. One cannot use the controls and settings of the technology (or indeed throw a pot on a wheel) without the cognitive processes that precede and inform the process – nor indeed the emotional awareness (the affectiveness) of the desired outcome.

So, to be a photographer (in my opinion), you have to have the technical skills developed to a point where the camera becomes an extension of the hand and the eye. That can only happen if you have a level of understanding of theory and technique to achieve the desired aim, but crucially neither is sufficient if you do not have an awareness of what you are trying to achieve when picking the camera up in the first place.

Whether or not you can create ‘art’ with a camera ‘phone is deeply irrelevant to me. There is no craft is applying apps to an image that you have no control over.

The result of craft, apart from producing better photographs, is to be able to reproduce what you have done at a future date. There are those who argue that chance plays a great part in photography, but chance should only play a part in some first images. Art is not a random act, so the photographer should be able to capitalise on the chance act to incorporate what has been learnt from chance into daily practice. This implies that you have got a level of skill and knowledge to deconstruct the chance event so that it can be recreated to order. Great (or even employable) photographers can produce great images over and over again.

When we get it ‘wrong’ (and we all do), that isn’t any reason to rip up the rule book – assuming we’d looked at it in the first place, but rather an opportunity to build upon our craft, perhaps to develop a distinct style which sets our work apart from others.

Equally, not all photographs need to be in focus or sharp. Vitally important, however, is the knowledge and skill to make the choice. The craft is to know when and how to apply this knowledge to a specific situation.

Most of all, craft needs time. When Mathew  Syed talked of ten thousand hours  and the power of practice, he wasn’t just talking about table tennis. If you want to be good at anything, you need to put in the hours. Any crafts-person knows this. I know in my head how to photograph water splashes, but that doesn’t help if I don’t know in my hands. So, I work at it. With forty years of experience in photography, ‘I was practicing  photographing water splashing into a bowl’.

Try it, it’s fun.

blue splash

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