Making pictures

I refer to myself as a picture-maker. I’m not a photographer — just a maker of pictures.

When I hear the word “photographer” I usually think of a professional photographer, a person who peers through a viewfinder or at a focusing screen under a black cloth, using a camera mounted on tripod in a carefully lit studio or at a special scenic spot with a special subject, a model (animate or inanimate). A professional photographer knows the physics of image formation, the techniques of post processing (in a darkroom or in Photoshop), the techniques of lighting, and image composition and capture. The pro selects appropriate gear for the variety of imagery that is produced. And the pro usually knows something about Art and is able to use artistic principles in producing a wide range of products. When we see the work of photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, and Yousuf Karsh, we appreciate the depth of knowledge and skill required to present such work. I have known one pro quite well, Karl Sommerer MPA OLM, FPP, who trekked to Kodiak Alaska every spring to “capture” the bears. He also perched at dangerous places to capture speeding race cars or motorcycles. I am not a professional photographer.

There are also commercial photographers, people who sell their products. I am not a commercial photographer.

The vast majority of photographers are enthusiasts who use gear ranging from smart phones and point & shoots, to complex macro rigs, heavy telescopic lenses and light-collecting astro gear. I am an enthusiast using modest gear to simply make pictures.

Why do I say “make” pictures instead of “take” pictures? The answer is complex but can be summarized as follows: I try to make a picture happen in the viewer’s mind that was stimulated by a scene that engaged me. Hidden behind that sentence are a number of assertions, which includes this controversial one:
It is physically impossible for a camera to record what a human sees. There are two reasons for this. One is that no camera has the bandwidth, the adaptability, the responsiveness (transfer function) of the human vision system. The second is that the human vision system produces images in the visual cortex with is largely determined by the viewer’s previous experience. In other words visual stimuli travelling along the optical nerve stimulate a whole bunch of memories which combine to form what we see. What we see is uniquely personal.

I think that the skill of the visual artist resides in his or her ability to stimulate an engaging image in the viewer’s mind.

When I use my camera I usually spend some time considering what it is about the scene that engages me? Is it the excitement of seeing an uncommon birdie? The delicate lighting of a snow drift? The spectacular colours of a wild iris? The mood of a snowstorm? rainstorm? The grandeur of evening sunlight against clouds? Those “engagements” are what I try to capture with the camera. Of course to be engaged in those scenes, I have to be looking (something that I should do more of). I find that if I look more, I see more, engage more and enjoy my natural environment more. The camera is a good tool to help that process along.

Capturing those engagements on a camera’s sensor is a technical topic dealt with in another place. Suffice it to say that I don’t try to capture images, I try to capture information.

In post-processing I try to assemble and present that information in a way that will help the viewer to experience something as engaging as what I saw. I don’t use Photoshop to create a work of Art that is sellable as a print or as an internet file. Instead I try to present an image which represents the excitement, the delicate lighting, the spectacular colours, the moods, the grandeur of what engaged me in the first place. I don’t create the scene I just (re)present it.

So I try to make pictures in your mind.