Photography: Art, But Not Really

So the other day I was talking to one of my friends about cameras. He had just upgraded from his Samsung Galaxy S9 phone to a 1+ phone. He boasted about how fabulous the camera is on this new model of phone. He told me his photography skills were about to improve ten-fold.

I laughed openly.

I told him the camera doesn’t decide how good you are at photography. He countered my argument by saying that with a good camera, anything captured can be made to look fabulous.

We continued to discuss this. It got me thinking about whether photography is even a valid art form. My interest in photography began back when I was in school. A couple of my science teachers ran a photography club and taught some of us the techniques and practice of being a good photographer. They thought I was pretty good. My parents thought I was pretty good. So I went out and bought myself a DSLR.

My DSLR is super amateur level. I’ve been using the same 2 lenses that came free with the camera 6 years ago. But I still put up some decent photos.

But honestly, I know I’m not very good. I don’t have what I perceive to be good photography skills. For example, my idea of angles is pretty amateur. I’ve seen lots of people take photos from angles I wouldn’t have thought of looking in. I also don’t care much about lighting. I need my subject to be visible with as much detail as possible. But I’ve seen people toggle with lighting for ages before even taking a picture.

But I take photos and people tell me they are good. But am I just lucky?

When I go on instagram, the people I follow usually put up pretty mundane photos. But every so often, some of them will put up something that makes me go “Oooh”. Does that make them “good” at photography? Or does it just make them lucky to have been in the right place and the right time with their camera lined up accurately enough to capture something fantastic?

A few people I know have opened their own photography “companies”. Not one of them is super impressive to me. They deal a lot in portrait photography of people they know. I can’t say they’re very good. Even edited, none of them made me go “ooh”. I have a sneaking suspicion that these people were also told by their family/friends that they’re super good at photography and so they should have their own company. Or in the case of one of my friends, he has all the camera tech possible and just went for it. Needless to say, he didn’t get very far.

One of the people I know who does professional real estate photography, had trouble capturing some people in good lighting at a house party. But that’s not to say that his real estate photos are bad…

I think landscape photography and wildlife photography, and to a certain extent, portrait photography requires a whole lot of luck. The landscape never changes. But at that point when You visit the landscape (sunset/sunrise/dry/raining) changes how your photo will look. Same with wildlife photography (is the animal moving/sleeping/positioned correctly, etc). When I see the Natural Geographic photo competition winners who have captured a bird flying or a herd of animals running, yes you need a good camera and a good position, but you didn’t ask those animals to charge into your frame to capture. That was all them. Portrait photography requires luck because even though you can have models, capturing that exact expression you want requires some luck.

Macro photography is probably a bit different. It requires a lot more thought and skill. You need to see the special in the mundane and go close enough to see it and draw attention to it. That is one field of photography that I truly think needs skill. Because you can’t just zoom into anything and expect it to look good or convey a message you want it to.

So on the whole, is photography an art form? Or can any idiot with a good camera capture something stunning from time to time?

I think it’s a mixture of both.

I think you can’t take good photos without some luck. And I think anybody can be a photographer. But skill in photography is a very specialised subject. But I still think it has very little to do with what kind of camera you have.

Interesting topic. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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