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At the End.

I’ve been considering (once again) the question of the legitimacy of a photograph. Is a photography only legitimately a photograph when it displayed exactly as the sensor/film recorded the light, via the lens? How about when one element is taken from a photo and layered, using photoshop, to produce an amalgam that never could have come from a camera?

Can it be as simple as placing camera raw and epic photoshop production at the extremes of a linear gauge and selecting a point as the furthest which is acceptable as a photograph? Then whose selection will be the one? I am sure you can see the problem here.

I’ve been thinking of this again because of two recent incidents; my cousin’s absent minded (and charmingly antique) curiosity as to whether my photos were “filtered” and the inclusion by George Barr in his book Why Photographs Work of several photos which are heavily edited.

I’ve heard the question debated heatedly by photographers and non-photographers, but I’ve come to the view that it is largely an academic question. After all, if you are producing what you consider to be art, what difference could it possibly make to quibble over the process?

The usual response by less judgmental photographers would be to point out that even if a photo never passed through the circuits of a computer, there are many variable which alter and process the light which is passed through the lens.

The lens itself alters perspective, if you use film there is a wide gamut of variation; from super vivid, natural skin tones, cool, warm and everything you can think of. The use of black & white film (or converting to b&w in computer processing) is a change of perspective (I’ve never heard of anyone who sees in black & white). Are these not legitimate photographs?

Put a dozen people in a room and you are likely to get 10 different opinions (assuming 6 of them never held a camera in their lives) on what degree of manipulation changes the character of a photo so it is no longer “legitimate”. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter. Makes for interesting debate though.

This is just one of the many things I’ve concluded as a result of my year of photos. If you are serious about photography, and you are serious about learning it would be difficult to avoid thinking deeply about the process. Whatever else you may gain from the process, I am convinced that a deeper understanding of photography itself is an essential ingredient.

Without this, any skill you develop from a year of taking photos daily will result only in more skillfully executed rubbish.

I read an article recently from Luminous Landscape by a frequent contributor (and well know photographer) Alain Briot. In it he suggests that talent is not something which you are necessarily born with, thereby ensuring the failure of anyone attempting a discipline for which they have no inborn talent. It is a sentiment with which I agree.

I don’t feel, personally, that there is anything that makes me take better photos than any other person other than a desire to see reproduced the things which catch my eye. I experiment endlessly to get the shot just right and make it represent my vision. I would find it preposterous to assume that each and every other person would have difficulty in representing their vision in an interesting way. And that is all I do.

Anyone putting the kind of effort into it, that I do, would have no difficulty producing images that are of similar quality. Don’t forget, I mostly put only the images I’ve selected as the best for others to view. For each the thousand or so images I’ve put online this year I have twenty that are just junk. That means that just 20% of the photos I took are keepers (and the true number is more like 10%).

I think the most important thing I can take from this year’s lessons is that I should not be discouraged by the fact that such a small percentage of the photos I take are what I consider good. It is quite likely that it will never change. What will change is the quality of those “keepers”.  The keepers get better and I take fewer photos to get them, but the outright percentage stays about the same. The point is to not get discouraged.

One other thing I’ve learned, once I’ve decided that I like a particular photo, it is really difficult to weed it out when trying to select a Top 10 Smile. So, unfortunately, my Top 10 has become a Top 25. Please visit my website and enjoy my top 25; and if you are feeling adventurous, take a look at all of the 365 here.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Michael Lam says: December 31, 2010

    Well put Nik! No offense, but I think that your approach to photography has always been more academic and dogged work than what you referred to as “natural talent”, and it has led you to produce remarkable images.
    In my case, I think my work in the graphics field has aided in my own approach which is to shoot and see what happens 🙂 Fortunately, I hang around you enough to pick up on some of the academics and the dogged approach 🙂
    Good luck in the next project.

  2. Cecil Beharry says: January 2, 2011

    Hi Nikhil

    I love the photo with the children under the caption “happiness”. I would change the caption to “innocence” (just kidding). Seriously though, that’s what I saw when I looked at the photo. The innocence of children and you captured it perfectly

    Have a great and peaceful 2011

    Warm regards


  3. Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld says: January 4, 2011

    What a thoughtful, insightful post, Nik. I always love what you have to say about photography and life in general. And of course, I love seeing all of your beautiful photos–congratulations on the completion of a wonderful project! Cindy

  4. Wallace Koopmans says: January 25, 2011

    Your dedication is an inspiration. I think the quality of your images is a result of that dedication. I’m sure you are glad to have the pressure you placed on yourself removed but I hope that when you come back to it you will share some photo’s again.


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