Photography: Reality or Illusion?

When photography was first invented it was expensive and only accessible to scientists and the richest members of society. As cameras became smaller and more accessible, additional members of the public were able to take their own personal photographs and photography became mainstream. Since the development of digital cameras in the 1970s, which made photography so cheap with no need for expensive film and prints of every photo taken, photography has been entirely democratized.

These days most people have a camera and photos surround us in our cyber-world, on the Internet, in our inboxes, in magazines and on the streets… However, for me, the simple ability to capture an image doesn’t amount to ‘photography’. Simple snapping a hundred pictures, even with the most expensive professional camera, without any thought of what you’re looking to create isn’t photography, even if it can produce a couple of pretty images.

Anyone can take a nice digital photograph by accident but it’s the creator’s intention that makes an image into photography. Cameras are machines that can be made to see what we see. Taking a photograph requires thought; it’s a way of creating a new world. You can learn to create the exact image you have in your mind by tricking the camera into seeing what you want it to. The use of technique in view of a particular goal makes a good photograph a work of art; it isn’t just a perfect replica image of the real world, it’s someone’s individual vision of our world.

So it’s not the camera that makes an image into a photograph, but rather your use of the camera; the composition of your photo, the angle you choose, colours, lighting, editing… You might even choose to create an unsought for effect like red eye so as to accentuate an animal’s stare into the headlights of a car for example. The expression of your individual perception of the world is what makes a photograph more than just a pretty reproduction of reality.

New Era (George Square) by Narin Chalabi

Once you have technical knowledge, you can take any picture you want because you’ll know how to trick things into looking the way you want them to. Ten people can take photographs of one object and each photograph will be different, with its own atmosphere and its own message. Different angles can make a model look either protective or aggressive, or make a landscape look endless or dominated by the sky. With so much photography around us, it can be hard to know what’s ‘real’ and sincere, and what’s not. Even if cameras can take beautiful pictures by themselves, imagination is what you use to take the photographs.

You needn’t worry about not having a big camera; you can work on composition for example just by becoming more aware of the little things around you. Making up small still life scenes and finding the best arrangements and looking at them from different points of view is great practice for larger design and composition. You can even experiment with angle and lighting with the camera on your mobile. Indoor lighting can give a very intimate feel to a photograph; you don’t need everything to be studio lit.

My best tip is to think about what photography is for you; do you want it to be beautiful or thoughtful or emotional? What makes you want to stare at your favourite photograph for hours? Think about what you want to do and say it with your own photographs. Are they a way of sharing a great memory, illustrating the atmosphere at an event, portraying someone’s emotions, telling a story, giving a political point of view?

At the Strathclyde Photo Club, we encourage people to come together and share their photographs, so that people can see what others are doing and help develop their own personal style. If you would like to get involved and share some of your own favourite pictures, or learn more about photography and editing techniques then we continually organize trips, tutorials, talks and meetings. This semester we’re going to arrange fashion and portrait sessions along with Photoshop tutorials. We’re also going to have a number of exciting trips to places such as Stirling castle, Edinburgh, and Loch Lomond to name a few.

So if you wish to pursue photography then please join us on our Facebook page, the strathphotoclub, where you can sign up to our monthly newsletter.


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