THE FIRST PHOTOGRAPHS were an unexpected and startling surprise. The images were the result of successive experiments and inquisitive minds. Photography is a craft dependent on those willing to take risks. Now more sophisticated than ever, photography remains an experimental art form—a medium that you or I will never fully figure out. As new inventors, we build on what we already know and show the world what it has yet to see.
Many photographers lose their edge and fall behind. It happens to us all. We read about a new and shiny camera. Eventually, we buy one and hold it in our hands. The model is so impressive we don’t really know what to do. So we give in and switch the camera or our mind-set to automatic mode. Society teaches us that it’s typically best to defer—let the experts handle the case. The inventors in the crowd, though, think about things another way. They want to create.
To create is to consider, to envision, to imagine, and ultimately to make something new. Using your camera creatively is a mix of challenge, discovery, and revelation—to go beyond a point-and-shoot mentality with high and unrealistic hopes.
The reward for such an experimental approach is moments when everything becomes clear. These ah-ha’s can be exciting or even bring us to tears, as if we feel we’ve invented or discovered something on our own. Nikola Tesla said, “I do not think there is any thrill...like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation unfolding to success.... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” Make an investment in camera creativity, become an inventor, and you will reap many rewards.
Technique is like the roots of a tree, reaching deep and encouraging branches to push for the sky. Empowered by something far below, the branches stretch and expand. The roots respond by digging deeper in the dirt. Unseen, they drink and carry sustenance, which produces blossoms and fruit.
The root and the fruit are intertwined. And so it is with the technical and creative aspects of photography. Not so long ago, it was easier to identify the connections. In the darkroom there was an interesting mix of chemistry, science, and experiment. Using the darkroom to make a toned black-and-white print required light, water, paper, specific time, and chemical solutions. After the print was made, it could be toned in a variety of ways.
Some photographers used tea to stain prints with wonderful warm tones. All tea is different and there was no exact science to how much tea or for how long to soak the print. It was a process of give and take. The fruit, or final result, was a beautifully toned black and white print.
Regardless of how you make your prints—in the darkroom or on your desk—there is still magic involved. It’s just that the magic may now be more hidden behind closed doors. Becoming camera creative requires that you keep the wonder and magic of photography alive. We must never forget that our craft is a combination of the heart and the mind.