There is Only You and Your Camera
Not every shot will come out great. And when disappointment strikes, the search for explanations and lessons learned begins.
I came across a quote this week from photographer Ernst Haas to the effect that "There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are." I've seen it before, but this time the truth of it really stuck with me. Yes, sometimes a little luck can help, but ultimately, there's just you and your camera. You're in charge.
Things happen around us all the time. If we go looking for interesting things, we may hope to find something really special, but there's no guarantee that if we do we'll be able to do justice to it with the press of the shutter release. As I said at the outset, not every shot will come out great. It matters more what you do with something you find rather than that you found it.
Consider this. From right where you are, there's an array of possible positions you could position your camera within arm's length. This is true whether your reading this while sitting on your couch at home, on your phone while you walk the streets of your neighborhood, or whether you took it with you on a distant mountainside hike looking for fall color. And for each of those potential shooting locations, there are countless possible directions that camera could be pointed. And for each, a wide range of possible focal lengths, focus points, exposures, and so on. Even if some portion of the credit for an image may owe to other causes, it could take a lifetime to explore all the variables you do have control over.
Real-world difficulties can and do present themselves. But since they do, consider them a given. Stuff happens. I doubt that this will come as a surprise to anyone reading here. It's how you react to this stuff that matters. You're the photographer. You're the one in charge.
And what if every shot did come out looking magnificent? What if taking great photos didn't require much if any effort? What if you weren't such an important part of the equation? Auto-focus and auto-exposure may help free up your attention so you can focus on more creative aspects of image making, but what if they camera could literally do everything on its own? Would you still want to be a photographer? Would you even still be a photographer if your only job were to pack up and carry your auto-everything camera to where it wanted to go next?
OK, so I exaggerate. If I've said it once, I've said it nine hundred forty-seven million times, never exaggerate. But sometimes it can be tempting to wish that it didn't take so darned much work to great good images. "If only I had a better camera," or "if only I could have gotten off work last week when the weather was nicer than it has been since then." Almost any excuse will do sometimes. But this only serves to avoid facing one of the most important aspects of photography, or frankly, of most any endeavor in pursuit of excellence.
Good photography is and should be a challenge. Good photography can and should say at least as much about the photographer as about the subject. Improving your skills as a photographer can and should teach you as much about yourself as about your camera gear. Suppose we shift this into a discussion about playing the piano. The mechanical skills needed to excel can't be ignored, but in order to truly excel the playing must be an expression coming from the player and not just the notes.
Here's another quote from Ernst Haas: "I am not interested in shooting new things — I am interested to see things new." This may not resonate with every photographer, but it does with me. Photography is a journey of exploration, but not just of national parks and far off lands. In order to see things anew, you have to be able to loosen your hold on the way you normally see. You have to look at them as for the first time. Photography should be a journey of self-exploration.
In the final analysis, there's only you and your camera. What you do with it, and what you learn from the encounter, is up to you.