I hope you have not come here looking for a list of equipment used and recommended; you will be disappointed.
My interest in photography started as a boy. I recall my mum asking me, when I was about twelve I think, what I wanted for Christmas, and for some reason long forgotten I said a camera. I had no interest at all in photography, so I still have no idea why I asked for a camera.
Anyway, a Brownie 127 duly arrived on Christmas day, a model 2 with a 'Dakon' lens. Wow! You can see it here, and I still have it. As I became more experienced I even acquired some filters and close-up lenses and felt quite the professional. So, from having no idea why I asked for a camera, then subsequently using one, and finding all was not as it seemed, I became interested in the art.
In those days I lived in Gourock, a small town on the southern shores of the River Clyde where I grew up as a boy, and my parents house looked northwards over the River Clyde to the Argyllshire hills and mountains on Scotland's west coast. The Clydeside coast and inland areas were quite scenic, and at the weekends as I cycled around, especially up and down the Clyde coast which I loved, I carried my camera to photograph the scenes I saw.
I well remember a spring day, cycling somewhere near the Cloch lighthouse, blue skies, not a cloud in sight, and the embankment at the side of the road, perhaps 20 metres high, crowded with gorse in full bloom. Well, the contrast between the brilliant yellow gorse and the azure blue sky was fantastic and I had to photograph it!
At that stage I had not advanced as far as doing my own film development and printing, so I handed my film into the local camera shop, Studio Clyde, and awaited the arrival of what I assumed would be utterly amazing photographs. What a disappointment, they were rubbish! I was working in black and white and had photographed something that owed its appeal primarily to colour contrasts.
Thus began a long period of studying, looking and absorbing what made some photographs work, and what didn't. I was never a people person, so it was always landscapes, or even townscapes , that appealed to me.
Equipment - Our Eyes
Over the years I progressed through various cameras, going through a phase when I thought equipment would make the difference to my ability to take good photographs, finally to realise that it is my eyes that take photographs, not my camera!
That's silly, you may say, but let's step back and think about it. You see some scene, you think it's great; you take a photograph, and it's not very good. What went wrong? Well it certainly wasn't the camera! It did exactly as it was instructed. So it has to be you and how you interpret what you see.
People have said to me they liked such and such a photograph that I had taken, but then qualified it by saying "But you have such a good camera". They don't realise what they are saying, but it could be construed as grossly insulting. So, if I am to believe this, I am led around by my camera, which insists on taking 'good' photographs regardless of my foolish attempts to take rubbish ones.
This is like saying to an artist who paints that they make great works of art because they have a wonderful brush, or a sculptor has a fantastic chisel and can't help making masterpieces! Well, you wouldn't say that to an artist, would you? They might be offended, but it's ok to say that to a photographer, he only has to push a button after all.
Photographers are Artists?
Oh! This guy has a chip on his shoulder you say. Well, no he hasn't, I'm just doing my little bit for the photographer, claiming that he is an artist too, interpreting what he sees around him in his own unique way. We are all different, and two photographers given the same camera will take quite different views of the same subject. What's the difference? Our human vision; in each of us it is unique; moulded by our life experiences.
Right, so we have taken a photograph, what happens next? If film, you get it processed and printed; if digital you download the digital images from your memory card and send them to your printer. Wrong!
Well, you may get lucky one time in a hundred and this simplified workflow may produce a gem now and again, but most of the time you are going to be disappointed with rubbish. If you consistently want great images, you are going to have to expend great effort. This will mean processing each image individually in image editing software, such as Photoshop - a very steep learning curve, or you are going to have to learn, at great time and cost, the traditional darkroom techniques of creating great prints. Neither process comes easy. If as a photographer you also believe you are an artist, then you will commit willingly to these extraordinary efforts in order to improve the quality of your work.
Manipulation, or Interpretation?
Now we have to address the question of manipulating images. This question is often asked of me, "do you manipulate the image?", and if I answer yes, which I do, I am utterly condemned. Then I explain that as soon as I press the shutter button on the camera I have manipulated what I see. The human eye scans a scene and builds an image in a way that no camera is capable of doing. As our eye flits round a scene the pupil is constantly opening and closing to accommodate the different levels of light from the various parts of the scene, allowing us to see detail in both the highlights and shadows.
No camera yet invented is capable of such sophistication; a camera's 'pupil' has to be set at one particular aperture, and record the light levels as best it can at that opening. This results in an image capture very different from the manner in which the same image is 'captured' by the human eye. Unedited, most of the time this can result in an unpleasing image when printed, and the photographer has to use his skills to 'manipulate' the image to produce an image on paper that is 'pleasing'.
Then we come to the subject of artistic interpretation. This is permitted in artists, but photographers? That's a different story, they are supposed to be capturing the 'truth', aren't they? As an artist, and a photographer, I feel I am allowed to interpret a scene in a way that captures how I felt about it when I took the photograph. How I feel about a scene is another kind of truth and wittingly or unwittingly I express that in my images. I often take a photograph, imagining it can be rendered in such and such a way, quite unlike the scene before me. This is what artists do, they express themselves in the work they create.
In my way of working I will take a photograph, and often weeks, if not months, pass before I actually start to work on it, I have a queue of images needing to be worked on. How long might I spend on one landscape image? Difficult to answer absolutely. Some can be processed in an hour or two, or so it may seem at the time, others can take a day or two of hard work trying to create the image that matches my vision.
Perfection, is it possible?
However, year after year I return to the images taken long past, spending additional time on them as my skill grows, and my vision evolves, and it seems a never-ending process. Will I ever be content with any image? I don't think so. I am trying to capture nature, an impossible task, and add to it my feelings about nature, another impossible task. All I can do is to keep working at photography, gaining pleasure from going out into beautiful landscapes, and enjoying the challenge of making images that represent both the reality of what I saw, but also how I felt about nature's wonderful creations.
Copyright © 2007 Gordon C Harrison All Rights Reserved