Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Creativity vs. Technical Proficiency

I just got off the phone talking to a software vendor who tried to get me to buy a product that supposedly does everything that Photoshop does, and is a lot cheaper.  In addition, he said he'd throw in a couple more plug-ins and even some free paper.  I told the caller I have an established work flow using Lightroom and Photoshop and a few trusted plug-ins.  I've been perfecting that workflow for years and I'm happy with the results.  Unless the caller could give me a good reason to subject myself to a long and tedious learning curve to master his product, there would be no sale.  The caller was a friendly enough chap, so I let him talk as long as he wanted.  When it became clear I wasn't going to buy, even with a three-month-no-questions-asked-money-back-offer, the conversation ended.

It seems I've arrived at a plateau of comfort and confidence.  I'm not interested in another software package or plug-in. I don't want  more bells, whistles, effects or filters.  I just want to do better with what I have.

David duChemin recently posted on his blog:
Technical proficiency is highly over-rated. To be sure, there’s value in it when you need it, but a camera is still just a box with a hole in it. If you can make a good exposure, and focus the camera, the rest is about your choices – your own creative decisions in making a photograph. It’s those choices – your creativity – that make the photograph. If I had only 4 hours to spend working on my photography, I’d spend one hour on technique and 3 hours calibrating my creativity, that’s how important I think it is.
In other words, a "successful" photograph (however we might evaluate it aesthetically and artistically) is three-quarters creativity and one-quarter technique.  I'd go beyond that.  Once we know how to control the basic variables of photographic technique (exposure, depth of field, tonal selection, etc.) and can make these decisions almost on auto-pilot, then creativity is at least 90% of the process.

This applies to the post-capture processing in the computer as much as it does to to the capture of the image on the sensor and memory card.  I believe much too much time and resources are spent on learning Photoshop tips and tricks and not nearly enough time perfecting what's involved in getting it right in the camera to begin with.  Granted, if your primary interest is design then Photoshop is your primary tool.  By all means learn those tricks to make letters look metallic and to bend flat images into cylinders or spheres. But if you're primarily interested in creating a photographic print that provides a viewer the equivalent of what your eye, mind and heart saw at the moment you tripped the shutter, your time is better spent working on your vision and voice.  Cruising on auto-pilot frees me to concentrate on what's important.

How can I find the auto-pilot switch if I keep changing the control panel?
Forget about chasing the newest short cut, the latest filters, the next replacement for what you're already using.  I'm more concerned about perfecting what I'm doing.  I want to prod, cajole and inspire myself to the next level of wherever I'm going.  I want my pictures to look more the way I want them to look, instead of the way some enterprising vendor or manufacturer claims they could or should look. 

I spend more time looking out the window when I cruise on auto-pilot. And more looking equals more seeing equals more creativity.

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