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Walking and Chewing Gum at the Same Time

Good photography is both an art and a science. Trying to satisfy the requirements of both at the same time can be difficult until you get the hang of it.

Everyone's situation is unique, but in broad terms, aspiring photographers can be divided into two basic groups. There are those who focus on mastering the technical details of setting aperture, shutter speed and the like but have a hard time finding compelling ways to frame and compose what they shoot. And there are those who feel drawn to the artistic side of their work and leave the mundane technical aspects to the automatic features so helpfully built into their cameras. In the first case, they can produce well exposed images of everyday subjects that fill the frame but lack any real interest. In the second, they can conceive of the most amazing images but often feel let down by the automated settings their camera chose to execute their vision.

Take your pick: focus on the technical side of the craft and you risk overlooking the artistic aspects. Approach your photography determined to shoot creatively and you may not have the technical chops to turn their vision into reality, forcing you remain dependent on programmed automatic camera modes. Of course, the answer is that both are necessary, but mastering both at the same time can be difficult.

It's a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time. It's an old test for coordination. Or if you find that easy enough, think of good photography as being akin to patting your head with one hand while rubbing your stomach in a circular motion with your other hand. Go ahead and try it. I'll wait. Not so simple, is it?

It would appear a lot less complicated if you were allowed to pat your head for a while and when satisfied proceed to step two with rubbing your stomach. Nothing hard about that. It's not until you try to do both at the same time that things get jumbled up and both hands inadvertently end up rubbing or patting in unison. It's the fact that the two actions are so dissimilar that makes them hard to do concurrently. Concentrate on one and the other starts to follow along with the same motion. Try to concentrate on both and neither hand cooperates.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time is definitely easier, not so much because the two actions share much in common, but because each one comes fairly naturally, making them less complicated to do simultaneously. We're experienced at performing both actions, so combining them works pretty well. Neither patting your head or rubbing your stomach though is something many of us do often without good reason, making the act of doing both together a bit tricky.

So, back to photography. It can be tempting to solve our "art versus science" dilemma by taking care of one aspect before moving on to the other. That is, after setting your camera for a good exposure and such based on the lighting conditions, move on to framing the best composition you can come up with. Perhaps this could be described as the "f/8 and be there approach." Set your camera with generally useable settings and then forget them, turning your attention on composing good shots. Such an approach can work if you limit your subject matter to the well-lit, average distance and easily predictable, but not so much if you want to explore a broader range of possibilities. It can be an interesting exercise to force yourself to work within predetermined ground rules such as shooting everything with a preset focal length, but to be forced to do so all the time is clearly needlessly limiting.

Or perhaps you try finding a killer shot with a composition worthy of a museum gallery display and then adjust the aperture, shutter speed and so on to make the shot technically appropriate. That may or may not work, depending on whether such settings are actually achievable within the limits of physics and the limits of your camera. At least some shots though simply aren't possible as you hoped, and you'll have to make compromises to avoid frustration and failure.

There's really no getting around the fact that good photography means considering both the technical and the artistic at the same time. Trying to address one side before dealing with the second limits what you can do to choices made based on considering only one half of the problem. To the extent possible, both sides need due attention, and ideally at the same time rather than in sequence. Like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

If you've persevered at that whole patting your head and rubbing your stomach thing while reading this article, you've hopefully found that it does get more possible with practice. What at first may have seemed frustrating or perhaps downright impossible does get easier. At some point, you should find that each action can do what it needs to independently of the other and the whole thing just somehow works.

So too with the technical versus artistic aspects of being a photographer. Both aspects are important, and neither one really comes first or second. Strive to do both at the same time. With practice, this too will get easier.

Date posted: October 28, 2018


Copyright © 2018 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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