Mike Green's thoughts on landscape photography

Musings on: ‘photographic tools’

Every tool, and all the time?

I’ve written a number of articles in the last few months discussing various tools we can use when making photographs. More precisely, I’ve written about the various tools I think I can make use of, in the hope that other people will find these thoughts useful and so that I can refer back to them at some unspecified point in the future (and perhaps laugh, though I hope and expect not to….!). This item is by way of clarification, since I’ve had a few emails asking questions in the general realm of ‘is it possible / desirable / necessary to use all of these things for every image?‘. In short: no, definitely not! Whichever of possible, desirable and necessary the particular instance of that question contains, the answer is an emphatic and unequivocal no!

And tools are?

I’ll firstly recap on some of the ideas I’ve covered in previous musings which are relevant here as ‘tools’, a term which I’ll define below.

In no particular order at all:

  • planning particular shots;
  • researching an area;
  • tilt-shift lenses;
  • the Photographer’s Ephemeris software;
  • naming, captioning and categorising images;
  • putting ‘meaning’ into images;
  • choosing your companions for shoots;
  • choosing the ‘right’ weather;
  • how much to post-process;
  • Google Earth ground level view for visualisation;
  • and seeing subjects as having human characteristics – anthropomorphism – my next article

To reiterate the implicit point: all of the above are tools. For some items, such as tilt-shift lenses, that’s perhaps obvious. In the future, I may write articles discussing other pieces of equipment, such as filters and post-processing software, and those are unambiguously tools, in the sense of ‘photographic equipment’ – but, in this discussion, I’m including the more ephemeral ‘approach-based‘ items as tools too. For example:

researching an area thoroughly, getting to know possible compositions, and planning when to go there, in terms of time of day, season and weather.

I find it convenient to categorise all those possible activities as tools, in the widest sense. Whether they’re physical items, aspects of technique, software, or simply ways of approaching the creation of a new photograph, thinking of them all as tools is, to me, a useful way of seeing things; it enables me to consider which subset of these items from my metaphorical ‘bag of tools’ is appropriate for a given day and a given photographic intent.

Mix and match!

Viewed in that way, the question of whether to use all these things for every shot becomes clearer. In the same way that a tilt-shift lens is neither essential nor useful for every image, the more abstract tools don’t need to be used every time either. Conversely, I don’t see anything wrong with combining any or all of these tools in the creation of a single image; it all depends entirely on what you’re trying to achieve and what you find to be both effective and enjoyable. I’m sure that, were I to try to make use of all of the above list on every image, I would begin to find this whole ‘making images’ thing more than a little laborious. Quite apart from that, it’s obvious that it’s not even possible to use every piece of photographic hardware I have available in the creation of every image – I choose what I believe to be the most appropriate selection for the job; the same principle should apply to the more liberally defined tools, such as planning and seeking to make an image ‘mean something’.

Sometimes though, when I’ve pre-visualised an image, whether of a real place or of a type of location which I’d like to find and use in a photograph, the pure logistics of getting myself there with even a chance of creating the image I’ve imagined mean that anything I can do to maximise the likelihood of success is a good thing. I have limited time for photography and I’d rather throw a few more ‘tools’ into the mix and produce an image I’m happy with than simply amble out to some location and hope. Not all the time though – wandering hopefully is intrinsically enjoyable; not every outing has to have a goal beyond ‘look at things and hope to see compositions‘. As with most activities, it’s a question of establishing some kind of balance between excessive planning and analysis, and aimless meandering in random places and conditions.

Sometimes, using no tools at all can produce tolerable results

And finally, here’s a gratuitous inclusion of an image which involved no planning, no mechanical or metaphysical tools of any kind, other than the camera and the lens mounted on it at the time, and which was shot in an impromptu break of less than a minute at a border crossing between Chile and Bolivia. I confess, however, that when I go back there next year, I do already have a plan for an image from the same place, for which I shall employ two or three extra bits of camera kit and for which I’ve done a degree of software-based pre-visualisation….. In my defence, I find playing with the whole gamut of ‘tools’ to be good fun, and for me that’s currently what photography is entirely about!

'Twin volcanoes'

2 Responses to “Musings on: ‘photographic tools’”

  1. Colin Griffiths

    I really enjoyed this post and it struck a chord. The other liberating “tool” that I’ve learnt to use is to be adaptable when other plans don’t work out, and to be relaxed enough to just make best use of what you have and what is before you. I used to get get quite fraught when things didn’t go to plan and that was totally inhibiting.

    • Mike Green

      Thanks, Colin. I’m glad it struck a chord!

      That’s an excellent one, yes. All these ‘tools’ are just that, and being adaptable is utterly fundamental – so much so that I omitted (for which read ‘did not think’) to mention it ;-) In most things I tend to think of plans as a target which can be progressively degraded, or modified at least, as things change, whether or not I have anything as formal as a contingency plan.

      Great comment, Thanks!



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