Thursday, May 20, 2010

Photography's Seven Deadly Sins

Waldemar Raemisch (1888-1955), The Preacher (1952)I was recently having a very interesting theological discussion with a friend. Eventually we discussed the concept of “sin.” He mentioned the “Seven Deadly Sins,” to some, known as the “Capital Vices” or “Cardinal Sins.” He told me the final list consisted of: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

That discussion got me thinking it might be fun to see if I could take that list and apply it to photography as this week’s main article in the Blog. So here goes. I hope you find the list interesting, and possibly helpful.
  • Wrath: I’ve seen this far too many times than I care to remember. I’m talking about photographers who take out the frustration of their own shortcomings on those around them.

    Recently, I attended National Train Day at Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. The station was a madhouse. There were several times I wanted to take a particular photo, but couldn’t, due to the crowd, but this was a day for the crowd to be there, and everyone was having a great time, so I decided the best thing to do was incorporate the crowd into my photos to improve them.

    While I was doing that, another photographer I noticed was really starting to “steam.” He was intent to get a perfect shot of a Pullman car with no one in the photo. Finally, when his frustration level peaked, he screamed at a couple of youngsters to move away. That was outrageous.

    I’ve seen the same behavior a few times when watching a photographer with an assistant, and the assistant doesn’t quite understand what the photographer wants. That behavior is so counterproductive, and unfair.

  • Harry Rosin (1897-1973), (The Rower) (1965)Greed: I don’t see this very much, but once is really too much. Last week I was with a birding group at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. It was a congenial group. Whenever a bird or other animal was spotted by one person, they immediately notified everyone else. There were 3 of us taking photos among the group of 11, and each of us helped the others with positioning and making sure we all saw each of the birds.

    On the other hand, I've been on outings when cooperation was definitely not there, and in fact I’ve seen others trying to keep the “best shots” to themselves. I think they see others’ creativity somehow as a threat to what people think of them, and try to obstruct other photographers.
    Personally, I've found just the opposite is true, by helping others it’s helped me enormously.

  • Sloth: I though they were shaggy arboreal mammals. What did I know! I looked it up in the dictionary and found it means laziness or indolence.

    I’ve attended several photography workshops this year, and will attend several more before the year is over. Even when not working on a project, I’m out shooting, and post processing photos almost every day. This is the only way a photographer will get better. You can’t be lazy and become a better photographer, and if you want to get noticed as a photographer, it takes even more effort.

  • Pride: I participate in the forums at Nikonians regularly. Often participants ask what others think of their photographs. Apparently over the years I’ve been a bit naive, because I actually critique their shots, and think I’m helping them. I’ll say what I like, and what I think needs improvement. All too often, if I’m critical, do I ever hear it. It’s as if they think they are the new Ansel Adams.

    I don’t know any photographer, pro or not, that takes nothing but perfect shots. I see lots of room for improvement in my own work. That’s why I keep working at getting better by doing training and practicing the craft.

  • Lust: This one stumped me for a couple days to bring it into the world of photography, so bear with me if it seems like a stretch to you. As I was thinking of this word, I kept thinking of Irving Stone's greatest novel, "Lust for Life," which traces the life of Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh. His intensity and enthusiasm are legendary.

    Harry Rosin (1897-1973), The Puritan (1942)That led me to thinking about something I see many digital photographers perform as their intensity and enthusiasm drives them to try to ensure each image is exposed perfectly; chimping.

    Chimping is the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture. I check periodically, especially when I’m in a particularly difficult exposure situation, but I often see others checking every photo, one after another.

    By the time they’ve completed their check, they’ve missed some great photographic opportunities. Photographers need to balance creativity and technicality. Photographers need to master the technical enough, to be able to have enough confidence to mostly concern themselves with their creativity.

  • Envy: I think this one and the last, Gluttony, actually go hand in hand. When I travel, especially if I’m in a group, when amateur photographers see my equipment, I hear the line, “Oh, if only I had your equipment. I could really take some great photos then!” And to think, while my camera equipment is “pro-level,” there are still many who have better stuff than me.

    “Pro-level” equipment does permit me to take advantage of light conditions which consumer level cameras don’t handle well, and my camera and lenses make it easier, through advanced settings, to take advantage of techniques which will speed my work, and perhaps not miss a photographic opportunity I might otherwise fail to capture.

    That being said, in the end, it’s the photographer who makes the difference between a boring snap shot, and a quality photograph. Equipment envy is a waste of energy.

  • José de Creeft (1884-1982), The Poet (1954)Gluttony: It is folly to believe that a stable of 10 or 15 lenses, for example, will make anyone a better photographer than a carefully chosen 4 or 5. In fact, it may detract from a photographer’s work.

    If we as photographers expend our energy so much on the technical aspects of the craft, we might not have much left for the creativity which really sets one’s work apart.

    It’s really true … Photographers, not cameras, actually make photographs.


George said...

Your discussion of Lust was a stretch, but hit the spot with me.

I had no idea the practice had a name; chimping.

I've also seen digital camera users examine every photo after they've been taken, and miss many a better one while they waste their time.

Photographer Surrey said...

can definitely relate to the gluttony sin

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