Skill is a combination of creative & technical ability


Remotely captured–I hitched a ride on a sailplane for this picture which was captured by a camera attached to the underside of the glider’s wing. The pilot’s friends asked if I knew how old he was. They wanted me to know he was an octogenarian, just in case. Since I know how to fly, I was confident that wasn’t a problem.

A great photographer is very tough to define.

It’s such a very delicate balance between left and right brain thinking.

There are the very creative who can set up an entire shot. They can gather the right props, with matching colors and costumes to getting the right expressions on models.

dogfightThese guys don’t even need help building sets and props.

Then there’s photographers who are just unimaginative, but they are technically very sound.

They can solve all kinds of problems however complex. If there’s a certain laser or explosion that needs to be recorded, they can build the necessary equipment. If someone sketches it out on a paper napkin, or can communicate a vision successfully to them, boy can they execute!

Which of these two you are depends a lot on your personality, interests and background.

Dogfighting–Photographers have to be a little nuts at times. I didn’t particularly care for the aerobatic parts of this dogfight but having a background in flying does help. Doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like tossing my cookies afterwards.

A SLR camera under G-forces is quite something. On the first attempt of this dive, I was totally caught off-guard.

By the time the pilots entered this maneuver, and I realized it was time to shoot, I could not raise my camera to my eye.

Luckily the pilots had provided me with a microphone and headset, so I told them to level off and start over.

The next time, I rested the camera on my shoulder. When we entered the dive, all I needed to do was focus and shoot. I was the 3rd photographer assigned to this.

There is no running away from this fact. The tools of photography, the cameras, the lenses and even the software are based on science. The better you can grasp its concepts, the better you are able to use it in an uncommon and “creative way.”

Too many “creative or so-called artistic” types embarking on their digital photography adventure fall short because they know only what their eyes can see.

They don’t understand how their camera’s sensors record images. Some don’t even want to know. If the camera fails to capture what they see, the problem is with the camera.

These are 2 very different realities. Take a trip with me as you read this:

You’re standing before a snow-capped Mount Fuji on a sunny day and you notice someone interesting in the foreground in the shade of a cherry blossom tree.

As you look away from the snow capped mountain and focus on say, this interesting good-looking bare-shirted Scandinavian hunk in the shade, your eye is performing something instantaneously.

It is opening up the iris (aperture) so that you can now check out his pectorals all with good detail. How is this possible? Your eye is doing some serious photoshop on-the-fly, that’s how.

Now quickly before your spouse or other better-half, to be politically correct, sees you, whip out your telephoto pop it on your camera. Set the shutter to 1/60 sec ISO 100, fill the frame with the mountain, take a light reading, center the little doo-hickey in your viewfinder.

Then do the same quickly and as casually as you can, this time, training your telephoto on the hunk. You might see that the snow-capped mountain metered at f16 and the hunk might meter at f2.8, that’s 5 full stops ( counting down from 16, ↷11, ↷8,↷ 5.6,↷ 4,↷ 2.8).

Aperture numbers and shutter speed numbers are all reciprocals. That is just a fancy way of saying the bigger the number on the aperture, the smaller the opening. In the case of shutter speeds, the higher the number, the shorter the duration the shutter stays open.

Ignore the actual numbers of the aperture. I’m just assigning them to illustrate how contrasty the scene is.

So there you are, in your ahem.. most casual manner trying to get this hunk.

Most likely, you’ll position yourself so that the “hunk” is the foreground and Mt. Fuji is in the background so as not to arouse the least suspicion, right?

After you grab this picture, you plan to share this “find” with your girl/boy friends later.

When you get back, you pull up the image. Perfectly focused, perfectly composed, nice and tight but your hunk, the most important part of your picture, is under-exposed.

Naturally yours truly doesn’t speak from experience :wink: and this has never happened to him.

Those of you  who shot film especially transparencies are more in tuned to this than most. Everyone repeat after me, “Shooting jpegs is like shooting transparency film, RAW is like negative film.”

So in a contrasty situation like that, something has to give.  Without resorting to post production techniques in photoshop, here are you options:

  • Lure the hunk to come out of the shadows
  • Come back when the sun is lower in the horizon and the hunk is no longer in shadow, hopefully he is still there
  • Use flash to light the hunk in the foreground
  • Use a graduated filter (shown below) placing the darkest side of the filter on the snow of Mt.Fuji


Handy accessory–A graduated filter can be extremely useful. If your scene has extreme side-lighting like in portrait situation, you can turn this filter horizontally to help you control the contrast as well.

So we know we can teach someone the technical aspects of photography, but can we teach creativity?

My best guess is this: you can build your technical prowess to the point where if you can imagine it, you can capture it. The tough part is imagining it.

Do you agree?

2 thoughts on “Skill is a combination of creative & technical ability”

  1. Getting the tech skills down (not only for camera but also in photojournalism) is the ‘base’ for building creativity into your photos. You are right Peter.

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