It’s Not the Camera
Photography is the result of a photographer, not a camera. Anyone can learn the technical aspects of photography, pick up a camera, and shoot. That’s just access to equipment, learning technical stuff, and finding the opportunity to photograph. But the creative process that leads to unique and extraordinary imagery often lies within the very soul and psyche of the photographer.
While we think we capture reality, truthfully, we capture our version of reality at that moment. Yes, the camera captures exactly what it sees. But, we write that story. We control the camera, angle, composition, and even the shot’s timing. The camera is the tool. We are the master. No two people will create the exact same image, even when shooting the same subject.
How you see the scene, focus yourself, and relate to what is there greatly influence when you press the button to shoot. Technical skills greatly influence outcomes and are critical. Without the correct camera settings, there would be no decent image. But the personality behind the camera weaves the magic behind a photograph. And that is why some photos can evoke poignant feelings.
The camera doesn’t see emotions. It only captures technical details. But the photographer behind the camera sees what the camera doesn’t and can reflect the feelings of the person photographing and photographed. This is why some of the most iconic images in history are pictures that captured a provocative moment, emotion, or action. For example, pictures of war. A photographer recognized that there was something powerful and took a picture. They knew that they were witnessing something powerful, something worth capturing. There is a lot of psychology behind that, significantly influenced by the photographer’s own values, feelings, and interpretation of that scene.
Photojournalism is the imagery of what’s happening and documents what it sees. Of course, we’ve just spoken about how much a photographer influences his photography. So what does this mean for documentary photography?
Even the most journalistic photography is open to degrees of interpretation and reality. Ultimately, a human being took the picture. They decided the composition, the moment, and even the existence of that image. (They chose to shoot or not.) A photographer recorded that moment. They documented reality for us, but it’s also the truth they saw at that moment. After all, they are the artist, and it’s their canvas. When we view their pictures, we see what they saw.