Saturday, January 21, 2012


I'm sitting here waiting for an image to render. I started it last night, and it completed at 6:00 this morning, but it was flawed, so I had to start again. It ties up my laptop pretty well too, so I can't really do other things while I wait. It's non-trivial.

And this got me thinking about some of the things I like about photography, and the nuances of the process.

There's an old chestnut of a joke in the hobby that goes like so: 'My aunt was looking at my pictures, and she said they were really amazing. She said: "You must have an amazing camera!", Well, she's a chef, so I said to her: "Jean, you cook some amazing meals. You must have some amazing knives."'

And it's reasonably true, if not totally accurate. As I've mentioned previously, there is something to having a good camera. But the best of cameras will only ever give standard results on its own. That's how they're engineered, to give a nice standard result (in a best case). They can't be engineered for amazing, because (as I said in an earlier post as well), amazing is often different, and often outside standard parameters. So if you tried to engineer a camera for amazing, it would produce 99% garbage, and 1% amazing (at best). It could be done, I know, as an engineer, but it couldn't be sold.

I've probably sold my fair share of cameras, for canon especially, because people do ask me quite a lot about what camera they should get. I'm flattered, because they're asking because they like my work, and I like to see people get into a hobby that I enjoy so much. I have that bit in the back of my mind that all these people who like my work don't respond by supporting my work, but rather think that it must be my tools, and they decide to create their own work. But that's okay with me. I was the same. That's how I got where I am, skill-wise, and I like the idea that others will enjoy it as I have.

And I'm not worried. There are a lot of tricks to photography. A certain camera, or process, or perceptive standpoint. All things to learn and add to the toolbox, but they don't any of them make amazing. Amazing comes only from hard work. Things like spending a day doing a render, not knowing if it will even work. Or taking pictures all the time, everywhere. Or hiking to somewhere remote and spending a night in the cold, or whatever.

There is a certain component of the hobby that is secretive. They find a technique, and they closely guard how they do it, lest somebody usurp them. I always think that's silly, because the technique or trick, as I said, isn't what's good. So these people are either not good, and they're kidding themselves, hiding behind a trick. Or they're good, and they're kidding themselves that it's the trick and not them. But that's okay, they don't hurt anyone. There's plenty of people who think as I do and are willing to share. To teach others anything we can, because we want to share the enjoyment. Art isn't a zero sum game.

I know lots of people who have all the best gear, and software, and they go to the best locations at the best time, and some of them produce really good stuff, but it's not any better than what I do, I'm pretty sure, and I do stuff around my house, with basically the cheapest of tools. And others of those people don't produce anything good. I don't know why. Maybe they just aren't good enough yet, or maybe they're kidding themselves in some way.

At a guess, among the 'good' photographers I know or know of, there's really no distinct grouping in terms of tools. These are the people that I think of as artists, who produce great work. And they run the gamut from huge expensive current state of the art gear, all the way down to people who work with anachronistic toy film cameras. Among my very favorites, just to give some specific examples, there is one photographer who works with pinhole film cameras. Mahogany boxes with a literal pin-hole on one side. Nothing more primitive. And there is another who has a large collection of pocket cameras. All from the past five years or so. She uses different ones for their distinct results. I'm probably right in the middle. I'd have better stuff if I could afford it, but I can't. But that's just my situation. It's what I know and how I work.

One of my wisest relatives has chided me from time to time about my photography hobby, because it's not something that requires any skill or consideration, is not a worthwhile pursuit. And while I'd disagree with him across the board, I think any kind of photography is worthwhile and good, I also disagree with him in the specific. I think it's a valid pursuit for its artistic and creative merit. I believe in all things, that it is the result that matters, not the process. If I can produce something amazing, I don't think it should matter to anyone how I got that result. It's either amazing or it isn't. It's not a handicap sport. And I know, because I'm the one doing the work, that it's not easy, even with all of the powerful tools available now. And I know that the hard work, the difficultly, the perseverance, the vision is what makes amazing.

Here's some sample pics.  I selected them for a common attribute that they took a lot of work.  Some may look simple, but that's part of the process.

Thanks for reading,
Dave DeHetre

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