Defense of the Craft

There's more to photography than point and shoot.

The world is filling up with images. Online, in our newspapers and even some magazines, snapshots are the currency of the day. And as more creators enter the pool, the water continues to get deeper—but it lacks clarity.

Anyone with the tools can be a photographer, it seems: look, press, repeat. But to ignore the process and merely press a button—there’s no craft in that, and it’s not photography. Expecting a good image from simply pressing a button is like hoping a novel will result from punching a keyboard. It’s an act of futility. A successful photograph does not come from a piece of gear or even the perfect location. A vintage filter and a neat border will never replace the finesse of intention or the practiced art of craft.

Lighting, exposure, focus: these technical considerations matter and are the building blocks of all great images. But this is just part of the equation. The real meat of a photograph lies within the frame, and how the photographer chooses to arrange it. Everything in the photo is intentional, and all else must go. In a nutshell, a well-composed image contains only what it needs, and tells the viewer where to look. There is no question what the subject is—it was deliberately placed.

A good photograph tells a story and elicits an emotion. It makes its audience interested in what they are seeing as their eye is led through the frame—but never out of it. This is the value of real photography, why it is important and relevant and must not be diluted. Comparing snapshots to photography is like comparing a diary page to the words of Emerson. And while there are rules at play, there is no magic formula. Each situation is unique and each photo requires something different than the last. The craft is learned over time, while adapting to the many scenarios that the photographer will encounter—knowing what works and what does not is a hard-earned skill. A photographer is someone who is capable of performing the craft time and again for an intended result. There is no luck. A lightning strike can make a beautiful photo and is random at best, but it is no accident that the photographer was on location and prepared to make the photo—composition planned and technical considerations well thought-out.

By all means, let’s inundate the world with images. Make thousands of photos and thoroughly enjoy them. Just remember that the snapshots flooding our screens on a daily basis—informal images taken quickly without intention or craft—aren’t produced by photography. They may have value, but they’re not the same—not by a long shot.