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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Tools of the trade - no not a gear thread, mental tools

Hi all.
Looking for your own thoughts on yourselves - are you primarily a technician or an artist (no one is totally polarised, everyone is somewhere between)

I categorise myself as a 'technician' rather than an artist. I can take fairly decent photos, but I don't think I will ever be 'great' as I don't seem to have the extra flair needed as an artist.
My approach, to photography as well as several other activities (I also do ballroom dancing) is to learn as much as I can, to develop a set of 'tools'.
For example: -
Composition - thirds, foreground/background, negative space, leading lines.
In camera stuff, such as effects of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, on camera filters, the vast area of lighting
Post processing, BW, HDR (not much exp. here), global/local adjustments

I can comfortably use many of these tools (or tricks of the trade) to take better pics than the non-photographer. I even understand these tools well enough to be able to teach others (informally) but I never seem to be able to use my tech skills to go beyond 'good and get 'great'. 
Yeah, defining great is a difficult area. Also, I may not have expressed myself too well, but I hope you get my drift.

Anyone deliberately worked at developing the artistic side?
What was your approach? Did you find any shortcuts (and websites like this one definitely comes under a shortcut)?
Any particular trigger than got you over the hump?

Thanks in advance,


  • I am more of a technician too. And I find that when I am impressed with others' photos it's usually because they are technically great. I do get excited by the creativity of some photos too but they have to also be technically at least very good. If they are just very creative or even beautifully artistic but not technically excellent I don't like them. (Editorial/news photos are a different story as often the mere capture of a certain scene, regardless of the photo's quality, can be grounds for a Pulitzer). I think the creative spark will ignite when you/I find what we are excited about on the creative side. That may never happen. For me, I get excited when I get a great storytelling photo or one that's great emotionally. But above all still I get excited by the technical quality.
  • Thanks Skipperlange,
    Definitely agree about the technical requirements, if the pic is out of focus, slanted, centred etc. I do find it's a block and it's harder to enjoy it. 
    The passion/excitement aspect - yeah, true true.

    So, taking that point a little further. Do those who find the passion easier also pursue photography earlier in life? (I'm a late starter, introduced to photography in late teens only got more serious late 40's, now early 50's).
    Being younger they may have fewer 'tools' available to them (generalising here) but they use the tools in support of their passion, whereas I am trying to find the spark to begin with. The creative spark could drive them to learn new tools to solve a given problem rather than learn a tool hoping to create something.

    My turning point about the way I think of technical versus creativity was when I sat and watched a slideshow by a friend of a friend. 3 week trip to China on a photography tour. Lots of great sites were hit at good times of day, lots of great opportunities made available to them. The photographer was experienced and took many wonderful shots. 
    The first 50 or so were very good. Each one was technically strong, followed all the rules. However, once you got upwards of 400 (yeah, it was a long, long slideshow - 400 wasn't near the end either), things got a little underwhelming. I realised that almost ALL the shots were the same technically. Leading lines, foreground, depth of field, rule of thirds and so on. Each of the wonderful shots got boring.

    Something to be said about presentation technique for sure, and a lesson has been learnt from that alone. 

    Like all of use, I take multiple shots of the same opportunity, exploring different angles, lighting, DoF etc. When it comes time to processing, I see all the images again, still fresh to my mind, I cull the bad ones, select the ones to be processed (even if it's just opening RAW and converting to JPG). It is possible that I am now kinda bored with the images I took. Even several months/years later, I still see in my minds eye the out-takes, the crappy shots and that affects how I see the final selection.

    Thinking further, as I explore this idea right now, I wonder if I get analysis paralysis over my own pics due to their history? Or should that be a new thread?
    Below is an example of mine. I see it as formulaic and lacking in something.

    Anyone else?


  • More of a technician myself as others. The above photo, other then main subject being almost centered in photo, looks good. Kind of an HRD thing going on, but a nice photo none the less.

  • TonyTTonyT Member
    Graham, you sound very similar to myself and I agree with all that you have said. I think you may have hit the nail on the head re the age thing, like you I didn't start to get serious about photography until my mid forties and try hard to get everything technically correct and whilst that is a good thing it does stammer our creativity. 

     I believe though that this will change though if we get to a point where the technical side of photography is truly second nature and it's not too much of an effort for us (there will always be situations that are technically challenging for any photographer) then that will release us to be more creative. At the moment I tend have my focus on being technically correct so there's little room for creativity, I'm hoping that changes with practice which is what its all about.

    Your picture looks good, yes missing a little something, perhaps movement. Maybe if you had her face the pipe then turn her head up towards the camera quickly as you take the pic so there's movement in her hair, and maybe a grimace as though she's really pulling on the chains.
  • Grimace - that's what I do when I look at my finished pics :).
    Actually, getting a new model to give some suitable input I find quite difficult. I tend to go TFP and so I work with the occasional newbie (or not at all - it's a very small place I live with very little opportunity in terms of models). I try to get them to evoke some emotion but too much effort on that front while also trying to get them to pose the way I want AND trying to make sure I am coping with the changing outdoor elements (the clouds say it all - imminent raining with alternating shade and sun - and no assistant only her mum).

    I have so many ideas but lack the ability to match the final image to the picture I already have in my head(which is often more of a general thought than a detailed scenario).
    So darn frustrating.
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