What Makes You The Photographer Of An Image?

January 19, 2010

in Instruction

Is the person who clicks the shutter the photographer of an image?
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I always kind of thought so, until I took this image of Shawna and I. I set up the lights. I posed us. But my wife clicked the image. I even told her how to compose it. But since I’m in it I couldn’t take it.

So is she the photographer or am I? She clicked the shutter. I could have put the camera on a tripod and the played trial and error too get the composition right. Would I then be the photographer because I started the self timer?

Seems obvious in this scenario that I created the image. I did everything to make it happen the way I envisioned it.

Let’s look at another scenario, a workshop. At my studio’s workshops we set up the lights. We recruit the models and pick what they wear. We often give them most of the direction they are going to get. And we tell the student some good ways to compose the image. But they press the shutter. Is it their photograph or ours?

We allow leeway and encourage them to direct the model. If they have an idea we’ll sometimes let them change the lighting and the models work with them if they want particular poses or wardrobe or props.

You kind of feel if they just do exactly what we tell them they aren’t the creators of the image. But if they start directing and making changes, then they become the photographer, but how much do they have to change to make it theirs?

Last data point, many high end fashion photographers don’t do their own lighting. They hire a lighting director, just like they hire stylists and makeup artists. But they click the shutter. Of course then everyone from the client to the art director review the image and influence how the next one is taken. So are they the creator?

What do you think?

1 Shawna January 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I think you can look at it like movie making. The director hires a DP, art director, and any number of crew members, but it’s still the director’s movie. I think you have to look at it as who is responsible for the end product. Without a director, it’s like a ship without a captain. Same goes for photography.

2 John January 19, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I think it depends somewhat on the type of photography; there isn’t a one size fits all category for this. Letting others light your set because you have no clue what you want, much less how to do it, makes it hard to argue that you’re a portrait or fashion photographer. Just as having someone tell you how to frame and meter a landscape shot, tell you what time of day to be there and how to print it; won’t make you be taken seriously as a nature photographer. You can’t expect Annie Liebovitz to be Ansel Adams.

I understand the workshop dilemma. The first workshop I went to several years ago gave me a card full of images that looked great, except that I really couldn’t duplicate them on my own for a long time. I just borrowed someone’s skills and knowledge of a few hours and tried to call it my own. In fact after a while I gave up even trying to duplicate those first attempts because as I progressed, I realized that my style and vision wasn’t the same as the instructors. I had to fail enough on my own before I could start finding my own version of success.

I think this scenario runs rampant through the ranks of new photographers today. Without a study and understanding of the fundamentals of photography we’re left just copying our hero’s. Poorly in most cases. We buy X-brand camera with a Y-lens because or favorite street photographer uses the same set-up, we have ABC-lights and BR549 triggers because our favorite portrait artist swears by them; then we spend 90% of our time taking photos of high school basketball and our own kids. We’re frustrated because we went to the workshop and came back with a hard drive full of wall hangers, but can’t understand why your wife hates being your model because you always add twenty pounds to her in the photo. Ten hours of YouTube tutorials later you try to “fix it in post” and she looks like a pixelated cartoon.

So to sort of give an opinion on the subject: I think it depends on why you would ask others to help. Is it because you know your limitations and you’re not up to the task? Is it because you know what you want and how to do it, but you just need an extra pair of hands or you can trust someone to carry out your vision while you do something else? I think it’s a question you have to answer honestly of yourself before you can call it your own.
.-= John´s last blog ..Fine Art =-.

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