Any photograph is a capture of a moment in time, and whether digital and viewed on a screen, or held in your hands in print form, it’s then a static object, different from the event itself.
What I’m interested in for this discussion though, is how the final image can be objectively near identical, but the experience of making it very different.
And by making, I mean the act of composing the image, choosing the settings you felt appropriate, and releasing the shutter.
For the sake of this conversation too, I’m not concerned with anything beyond that, such as processing.
Take these two images as an example.
On the surface, there’s little difference in the subject matter, and the overall look of the images.
Indeed the processing was near identical for both, a Snapseed b/w style I set up some time ago.
So why do I feel differently when I view them, and certainly felt very differently when I made them?
The first was made with my current Sony Xperia smart phone.
Overall it’s an excellent device, very compact, responsive, and intuitive to use.
Its camera delivers all I need from a phone, and has been responsible for probably 80% or more of all the family shots I’ve taken in the last 18 months.
But for a rewarding photographic experience, like virtually all camera phones (and certainly more modern touch screen smart phones in my experience), it’s laughably lacking to the point I wouldn’t even call it a camera.
It’s a phone that happens to also make pictures. I enjoy the convenience that it’s always with me, and the competence of the lens and software.
But the handling and tactile reward is next to non-existent.
I don’t particularly enjoy using the Xperia as a camera in any way. As such, any artistic and deliberate images I make with it (as opposed to family snapshots) I have very little connection with, because they weren’t enjoyable to make.
The second image was made with my Ricoh GRD III.
In many circumstances the Ricoh would easily outperform the Sony Xperia, but for this kind of photograph its superior abilities are largely irrelevant.
Nonetheless – and crucial to this discussion – the experience I had in making the second image was hugely more enjoyable and rewarding.
In fact the Ricoh is so well designed and brings such delight, I can walk around just holding it with a big smile on my face, before I even switch it on.
When I do remember it’s also a camera, and fire it up, I’m reminded of the equally fantastic user interface and customisability. How it just feels an extension of my eye, hand and mind.
I have such a strong connection with the camera on three levels –
Physically – it feels so good to hold and fits so well in my hand.
Mentally – it’s very logical and intuitive to use, I don’t have to think much about what to press or adjust, it just comes.
Emotionally – it makes me happy just holding it, let alone making pictures with it.
Because of these, the photos I make with it are more memorable (ie they take me back to the experience of making them when I view them afterwards) and I value them far more highly than pictures made with the poor awkward, soulless Xperia.
To an outsider, when viewing a photograph, the camera which made it is irrelevant.
And indeed if we read a great novel, we don’t ask which computer (or typewriter!) it was written on.
When we see a wonderful painting, we don’t instantly enquire about which brushes were used.
I get this, entirely, that on one level any camera is just a tool to make something.
But for me there is a huge difference between different tools, even if the resultant images are near indistinguishable.
The experience and pleasure of making photographs is a massive part of why I photograph.
Put another way, the photograph is not the experience.
And the camera you use has a very significant part to play in this experience.
How about you? Does the experience of photography change depending on how much you connect with the tool you’re using, or is it all about the image for you?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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