Who's The Boss? An Exercise in Creative Control in the Digital Age


 Learning photography in the digital age can be extremely overwhelming. Amazing new cameras, software, and gadgets are being introduced daily. Your new digital camera can burst up to 10 frames per second and create 20 megapixel files. There are countless forums that all will tell you the "right" way to tone your images. You could spend the rest of your life trying to keep up with technology and forums and trends, but what is most important for aspiring shooters is to find a system that works for them and start making images. 

I spend most of my life making images under what are often extremely challenging conditions. Fellow photographer/mulitmedia producer Morrigan McCarthy and I travel unsupported by bicycle over almost every type of terrain imaginable. We spend our days shooting the world around us for personal projects and/or for clients and wake up in a new place nearly every day.

I love gear and technology (and admittedly love reading about the lastest and greatest gear), but traveling by bicycle, it's important for me to stay light and flexible. I limit my gear to just what I need to make the successful shot. For me, this means a single, solid camera body and a fast 50mm lens.

Camera and lens choice aside, feeling confident with your technology is a key component to making successful photographs, and understanding how the images are being produced in the camera will allow you more artistic freedom and give you the confidence to "break the rules."

Durning workshops, I encourage my students to spend a week doing the following exercises:

- Shut off the screen on the back of the camera

- Turn the camera from Program to Manual, shoot only single frames, and limit yourself to your one favorite lens: preferably a fixed lens.

- Slow down and focus on making strong compositions and well-exposed frames by using the light meter inside your viewfinder.

- Do not limit yourself to your favorite subject. Branch out and have fun. If you normally shoot landscapes, force yourself to shoot people. If you normally shoot your family and friends, shoot strangers. If you like to shoot portraits, try your hand at nature photography.

- Play with depth of field and slow shutter speeds.

- At the end of your shoot, view your images and make notes of your triumphs and mistakes. Take note not only of the aesthetic components of the images but also of the metadata. By doing this exercise over and over, your camera and its settings will become second nature to you. You'll be free to make creative decisions yourself, rather than relying on the camera to make the decisions for you. You'll be more confident in changing situations, and feel more comfortable experimenting.

All this hard work will make you a stronger shooter. 

We are lucky to live in an age where technology gives us so many advantages in shooting. Instant image viewing, instantly recorded metadata, in-camera ISO settings, faster frame rates, and ease of manipulation are just a few recent and great advancements in technology. But with all of these technologoical elements in our digital gear, we can't allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. Getting back to basics, understanding what tools we really need and mastering those few, is in the end, what allows us to make a successful photograph: whether you're shooting in a studio or from a bicycle.

For more information about Alan and Morrigan's work, please check their new project, The Geography of Youth. They leave in July 2011 to bicycle 30,000 miles around the globe photographing a day in the life of twenty-somethings all over the planet. You can show your support by becoming a Facebook fan, or helping them reach their funding goal at Kickstarter.