Photography Techniques: Creative & Artistic -> ILLUSIONS: A Photographic Challenge
ILLUSIONS: A Photographic Challenge
text and photos:
© 2011 Jim Austin. All rights reserved.
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
~ Mark Twain
infuse our image making. And we tend to believe illusory myths about our
photography, despite a lack of factual evidence for their existence. Why
does it help us to challenge our photographic illusions?
seismic shift in our beliefs, our old norms and practices can become
delusions. Rigid myths challenge photographers who value fresh, creative
art. Illusions in our imagination can be insidious when we cannot progress
beyond them. They limit our growth and make our work stale.
focuses on three of our current flat-earth illusions in photography. The
images seen here,
selected from my series about illusory ideas in photography, were chosen
to address a central problem in photography. The Problem--Rigidity of
Illusion One: Our Brands and Label Make Us Better Photographers
artificial distinctions that are meaningless
(Canon vs. Nikon, Digital vs.
Film and/or Enthusiasts vs. Pros).
The bridges that are built between us
are what counts in photography.
front of our computer screen, we can't see other photographers. If we
could, we would be looking in a mirror. Our separateness, I believe, is but
another illusion. We are a democracy of photographers, and so we have more
in common in the ways we feel and see. We see another person's picture, and
think, “Yes, I made one like that.”
laughing more, and building bridges of harmony between ourselves and other
photographers, become vital parts of our image making. It really does not
matter what gear a person is carrying. When I photo walk with friends, we
take less gear, and more grins.
is the mind, passion, spirit and story-telling we bring alive with our
What we carry in our brains, not our hands, defines our photography.
Illusion Two: The Gear is what Defines the Photographer
cycle of a monarch butterfly, from egg to caterpillar to
chrysalis to adult, is a metaphor for cycles of change for photographers.
is not the illusion. An over-emphasis on gear with a firm conviction that it
makes one a better or more important photographer is the illusion.
Idolizing gear is the illusion. Making photographs with digital and/or
film, it is easy to fall into a trap of trying to define oneself by
techniques: “I'm a commercial photographer”; “I'm an HDR photographer.”
These ideas can handcuff an image maker. Similarly, defining a photograph
as pure, natural or “straight out of the camera (SOOC),” limits its meaning.
In my early
teens, I used film and printed in the darkroom. Later, I added digital.
Now I use film and digital capture, a scanner, and make images that never
see the enlarger. Change is inevitable. How we define our vision does
not have to over-emphasize our tools.
The craft of photography is letting your tools and vision evolve; be open to
trying photographic tools new to you, from view camera to iPhone.
mean we should not concentrate on a pure approach of using one set of
tools? Of course not! Many of the great photographic artists have done so
successfully. I only suggest that we do not judge others by the camera they
have in their hands.
Illusion Three: The Decisive Moment
We cling to
an illusion that there are special,
unique decisive moments in photography.
The single machine-defined moment is not important. The symbolic nature of
time in a photograph is crucial. What the photographer Henri
Cartier-Bresson showed us through his images (Images a la Sauvette,
The World of Henri Cartier-Bresson) was not a moment, but a picture. His
photographs did not concern split second timing so much as they showed us
the importance of awareness, geometry and the composition of a picture.
Us on Facebook
are unique. There is no decisive moment. The geometry of a scene is
continually changing, so there are no right and wrong captures. I
photographed this sphinx moth over nine weeks in the summer. After many
tries, I increased the shutter speed and added fill flash. The image did
not work as a picture until the moth flew in front of a naturally dark
ask what the exposure duration or shutter speed was for a picture. It is
always a lifetime, because the thought that goes into it takes years. This
is what worldwide nature photographer Franz Lanting meant when he said, “The
exposure was 41 years and a 30th of a second.” Often, the time spent
thinking about how to improve our images is the most meaningful. The
illusion is to define our images by the speed of the camera or the exposure
metadata. We can instead progress from seeing to vision when we slow down
and consider ways to make images more compelling by attending to better
light and composition.
Why does it
help us to challenge our photographic illusions? How would we behave if we
still believed today that the earth is the center of the solar system? Beliefs are
powerful. If destructive ones are left alone, we risk having them orbit our
vision as delusions. Challenging our illusions and our photography can
evolve as the caterpillar progresses to become a butterfly. The picture is
the thing, not the metadata behind it. Split seconds do not count over
time. What matters is the curious mind, persistent passion, and the
story-telling spirit we choose to bring to our photographs.
Images © Jimages.com:
1. Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
2. Monarch butterfly, Cape May New Jersey
3. Ammonite and Eye, Layered in Adobe Photoshop CS5.
4. White Sphinx Moth in flight, Denver Colorado.
Click on the image to order your book
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Jim Austin, M.A., A.C.E. is an author, adventure photographer and
digital imaging instructor.
on adventure and creative digital photography.
The Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, Denver Art Museum,
Loveland Art Museum, and the National Center for Atmospheric
Research (NCAR) have shown his print work.
Austin's digital books include Emotion in Motion,
Pixels on Passage and Americans on Parade. Find
text and photos:
© 2012 Jim Austin. All rights reserved.
Learn more on the subject of photo creativity:
Photographing the Immaterial
Creating Glycerin Drop Reflection Photos with Focus Stacking
Reflections: They're More than Just a Photo
The Invisible Light: Photographic "Writing"