When photography becomes too fiddly, with too many obstacles, the flow is interrupted.
So there’s a need for a certain amount of ease and simplicity.
But if it’s too easy, perhaps shooting auto everything with nothing to do but blindly point and shoot, I feel too much of a disconnect with the experience.
I’m not involved or immersed enough.
So, there needs to be some middle ground, where photography is easy, but not too easy.
Some examples –
Shooting Aperture Priority mode is easy in that I don’t have to think too much about shutter speed, other than checking it doesn’t go so low that I’ll likely end up with camera shake, or so high that the camera’s maxed out and will overexpose the shot.
But it still gives me enough control over the look of the final photograph, in the form of the depth of field (DOF).
Focusing up close, the DOF at say f/2 or f/11 with a 50mm lens on a DSLR, is dramatically different.
This approach is easy, but not too easy.
Using autofocus with a single central point in the viewfinder is easy, because I don’t have to manually turn a focus ring myself.
But it still means I can use focus lock to, well, lock focus on a certain part of the image, then recompose before shooting.
I’ve not given over full control of the focus and multiple focusing points, that may or may not focus on where I want.
This method is easy, but not too easy.
Setting up colour (or b/w) mode(s) so I achieve the images I want in camera is easy because it means I have no post processing, with the overwhelming myriad options that offers.
The moment I release the shutter, the photograph is complete.
But it still means I can adjust the colour settings in camera, to find one that I particularly like, I’m not just going with the automatic colour set up the camera deems appropriate for any particular scene, or type of scene.
Deciding on colour this way is easy, but not too easy.
Photography needs to be easy enough to be able to find and become lost in that beautiful immersive flow.
For me this is at the very core of the experience, and makes it as meditative as it is addictive.
But it can’t be so easy that we feel just a monkey mindlessly pressing a button time and time again, where we’ve had so little creative input into the images they don’t feel they’re our own.
Easy, but not too easy.
How easy do you like your photography, and why?
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11 thoughts on “Photography Made Easy – But Not Too Easy”
When I decided that I wanted to pursue photography more seriously, I went from a Canon IXUS to a Leica M8. The skill of picture taking still evaded me, but I could see that the look and feel of what did come out was pretty damned good.
However, I had an attack of gas, wanted to go full frame and bought a Leica M-P, but that didn’t help either, my snaps still looked great but my compositions were poor, very poor.
At this point I decided to try to learn about picture taking and followed Mike Johnston’s OCOLOY (One camera one lens one year)… five years later I think I have improved a bit, but realise that I have fallen in love with cameras that don’t do anything more than what a film camera does.
So er, naturally :), I bought a Leica CL on the day it came out, this is a camera that does everything for you, but in an unconventional way, all the controls are soft. Then I remembered what I had yearned for, a simple camera, but no film… It has comparatively simple menus, but every time I picked it up, it felt like the first time.
I have now sourced a second user Leica M-D type 262, something that I had nearly bought new, but baulked at the premium, nearly £2000 more than the standard model that it is based on… FOR LESS! And guess what, you are right, I have a shutter button, a shutter timer and an ISO selector. I have to focus and set the aperture on any lens that I mount….
…. er… That’s it.
Everything that sucks from now on, is my fault!
Stephen, thanks for your comments.
This is an interesting angle, the objective quality of the image versus its compositional, or perhaps artistic, quality. At one end of the scale perhaps there’s a three year old with a top end digital Leica or something, making images that look superficially beautiful but with the lack of composition, blur and everything else you might expect a young child’s photo to contain. At the other end of the scale, a master photographer with a cheap old digital compact or phone perhaps, turning out lo-fi noisy images that nevertheless have great appeal artistically. I’ve lost the link now, but there was a photographer who was making images a few years back with an old Motorola clamshell phone, something really basic like a 1.3 or 2MP camera. The photographs were fantastic though!
I really like Wouter Brandsma’s work (he got me into the fantastic pocket Ricohs like the GX100 and GRD III)and he’s simplified even further these days using just a phone camera, but has retained his overall aesthetic and appeal, in my view.
Your camera gear playground is a more exotic one than mine, but I’ve been through similar processes, finding cameras with more features actually inhibit me, and the simplest are often the most fun and give the most direct and immersive experience. Most recently the 13 year old 6MP Pentax K100D DSLR which is far simpler (and produces much more appealing images to my eye) than my newer, more complex and six times the price K30.
I have read before – from Leica but certainly not exclusively, and not just in the camera field either – of much simplified models being brought out, for greater cost than the model they’re a simplified version of! Perhaps we’re paying for the design experience needed to remove the superfluous and retain just the essentials, then arrange them in the most effective way for the photographer, but it seems silly to pay more, for less.
Have you ever had/tried a Leica Monochrom? They sound very cool to me, something entirely optimised for b/w only.
Thanks for your reply Dan. I was not suggesting that there is a relationship between bad composition and too many controls. I was merely suggesting that the lack of controls, menus, bells and whistles was a distraction for me. I was agreeing with your blog.
As to whether Leica is exotic or not, it depends, I am in my sixties and as a child, I always wanted one, my Dad’s friend had one and I always marvelled at it. I have a good number of very basic cameras, like Pinhole cameras, British 120/127 Brownies, a cheap TLR an expensive but inherited TLR a Rollieflex T, and a “Texas Leica” Fuji GL690, to name a few of my more frequently used models.
Oh and my income is less than £150 per week, so this is nothing to do with wealth, it is about childhood, and now that I am used to them, a knowledge that whilst you can get one from around £200 up to £2 million, there is one for everyone and they all work in the same way. In order to indulge my childhood whimsy, I devoted a small inheritance from my Dad to my Leica pool, I can see the mud at the bottom now.
Thanks Stephen, ah so are you saying your fondness for certain cameras – including some Leica models – came from them being the camera brand(s) you were exposed to most as a child?
I’ve never even held a Leica, and my experience is really only seeing them behind glass in a camera shop with a very expensive (to me) price tag. I do appreciate you can buy a Leica from £200 onwards, depending on the model, condition etc. I had very little exposure to photography growing up, the only two cameras I remember are my nan’s Kodak that flipped open (An Ektralite I think it was) and it successors/predecessors, and a brief recollection of my uncle having a Minolta in the early 80s (I think most likely an X-700).
I’m not sure what the end of your last sentence means (“I can see the mud at the bottom now”) – can you please explain?
Re the first part, I don’t there’s a direct and immediate connection between number and complexity of controls and the quality of composition – or in other words, using a more complex camera doesn’t make someone forget how to frame and compose a photograph. Just as picking up a simple camera won’t instantly make someone a genius at composing, if they weren’t before.
I just hadn’t thought so much before about what you were saying originally, the difference between images that aesthetically look gorgeous because they were made with a camera capable of high quality images, and the appeal of a photograph due to its composition, subject, colours, lighting etc, regardless of the camera that captured it.
But yes there are definitely cameras that get in the way when using them, because they have more options, bells and whistles than one needs. I think we all need to find that balance of simplicity and familiarity that means we can photograph freely, and at our best.
On a related note, I think many people must think that buying cameras with ever higher spec will make them better photographers (or the marketers are doing a very convincing job), otherwise why do they keep “upgrading”?
Let the camera be your assistant and handle the mundane stuff while you look after the artistic qualities. Sometimes the mundane stuff changes, or sometimes there’s nothing mundane about what you’re trying to do, but largely you can use automatic settings to your advantage.
One thing I’ve noticed: my camera will warn me if the aperture can’t handle the scene, but there’s nothing flashing in the finder telling me the shutter speed is too slow and likely to cause blur. For all the technology they put in, that would be more useful than much of it.
Marc, this is great advice – let the camera handle the mundane stuff. Most cameras I’ve used will flash the max shutter speed if the one required is greater, and some kind of icon (usually a hand or camera with brackets at the sides so it looks like it’s shaking) to signal low shutter speed and the risk of camera shake, and recommending you use flash.
I have really enjoyed your blog posts of late. They have even stirred my interest in film again and I have two vintage cameras that I am getting ready. Thanks. g
Thanks g I really appreciate you saying.
Ironic that I’ve stirred your interest in film again, when I haven’t shot any myself in about 2.5 years, but any way I can encourage people to get out and enjoy photography in the way(s) they love most I’m delighted to hear about.
Which cameras are you getting ready?
With one exception, the common denominator of the cameras I find difficult and those I find easy is that the former have batteries and the latter do not. The only exception is my iPhone that has a battery and is still simple to use.
Doug I think there are probably digital compacts that you’d find as simple as the iPhone, once set up initially. That’s certainly an approach I look for, the simplicity of a phone camera, with the additional capability and quality of a dedicated camera.
How about newer (relative to your Leica!) film cameras that had a battery for the meter, and could shoot aperture priority? I’m thinking the mid to late 70s SLRs most manufacturers produced.
Hi Dan, I suspect you are right that some digital compacts could be set up to be as easy to use as my iPhone. But I only use digital for visual memos and the ease of pocketing the iPhone means I am much more likely to have it with me.
Regarding match-needle and aperture priority SLRs, and RFs for that matter, I find it easier to meter the subject – which I only do once unless the light changes – with a separate hand held meter than while squinting through the camera’s viewfinder.