I’m feeling a bit ornery today so I thought I would write about the absolutely worst compliment you could give to a photographer. It’s like a slap in the face, yet people don’t realize they’re doing. In fact most non-photographers, while still having great intentions, fail to realize how rude this compliment actually is. You’re probably wondering what the compliment is, maybe you have even given it at one time.
The compliment comes in many forms, but the basic gist is this. “Your camera takes really great pictures or that’s a great picture, you must have a very expensive and nice camera.” I guess if you are genuinely admiring the camera, it may be OK to say this, but if you’re talking about photo or an image that was meticulously edited, composed, and crafted, well it’s like saying to a painter – “that’s great painting, you must have nice brushes”. How ridiculous is that to say? Yet when it comes to photography people think the camera does all of the work and the photographer just got lucky and took a photo at the right time.
While I admit that luck does have a role in the most exquisite of images, there’s a lot of planning, composition, editing, and work to making great images. For the image below, I had done my research well before taking the photo. The cabin I stayed at during my family vacation was about 2 hours away from this spot and I had to wake up at about 3 in the morning when the entire family was still sleeping to make the trek. The roads were winding and the incline was steep, but I made it to the spot (Wayah Bald, North Carolina) in the dark. I set up my camera (knowing which way the sun was going to rise through researching online). Then I waited for the sun to show itself and composed this (among hundreds of other images). I had to figure out what F-stop I wanted to use and shutter speed (photography speak for manual controls) and was able to create the image. And when I got home I had to put it in lightroom and photoshop to touch the photo up and to make it my vision. Now it isn’t the OMG best image in the world, but I think it’s nice and was done using a basic prosumer camera and lens – Canon 70D and a Tokina 11-16mm lens. There are options much much more expensive.
Even one of the most famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams stated “If we had very heavy cameras we simply didn’t go so far or take so many pictures. Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras.” You have to remember photography is an art… and it’s not the tool that should get credit for creating the art. You don’t go up to a sculptor and say “that’s a great statue – you must have great chisels”, or a potter who’s thrown a beautiful piece of potter and say “you must have a great pottery wheel”, or a chef and say “I love your food so much, those knives you use must be the best in the world!”. I could go on and on forever!
So next time you see a photo you like and know the photographer, say “Great shot, love the composition, love the colors, it’s pretty…” whatever, but don’t say something like “you must have a great camera, it takes great photos”. The camera can’t take photos without the photographer… and the photographer is the one that makes the art beautiful.