In Defense of Photography

An article by David Brooks on August 4, 2007


Last week I wrote this article while I was away at camp. I finally have an internet connection and some time this evening to post it. I took quite a few photos, some of which may surface on my photo pages, though if they follow my current trend of slackerness… I wouldn’t hold my breath. Oh, and if anyone reading this has a fear of spiders I would be ready to scroll past the two photos below, just a warning.

So, I have come to the realization that most people don’t understand the concept of photography as a profession or a hobby. I’m not sure that I can convince people who just don’t care to understand photography, but I think that I should go on record to explain my addiction to taking photos that may or may not make sense to most people.

This evening I was taking some photos of a spider sitting in the middle of its web waiting patiently for a midnight snack. The photos were easy enough at first, it sat there, I shot my flash in his many eyes. Eventually I started playing around with different angles and trying to move the leaves behind it into the scene to emphasize texture, color etc. What started as a session of me shooting photos of a spider sitting in a web evolved into an episode of me being a perfectionist. Every time I would snap the shutter closed I would see something different, and I had to try it also.

A spider sitting in its web at night

Sometimes it would be the light reflecting off the web, sometimes it would be the angle, other times I would realize the lack of color and push the leaf behind the subject into “the perfect” position. Then, I would hate it and start over with the composition from scratch.

When it didn’t seem like I could take any more photos my sister in law pointed out a second spider that was sitting in almost complete darkness. It was only illuminated as her headlights shot past it. Obviously if you’re tired of one challenge, feeling like you’ve exhausted your angles and something bigger shows up… you will probably take that challenge too.

So, there I stood in darkness shooting photos of a spider spinning a web in minimal light. At first I was fighting my camera and its natural tendency to focus beyond the subject, since for the moment I felt like being “lame” and using the automatic focus function on the camera. Then it was the blurry photo issue, the thing that happens when there’s just not enough light. Well, after getting the flash setup, flipping the camera into manual focus mode the problems kept compounding into bigger things. I couldn’t actually see the spider until the flash hit it, so I had to do a lot of shoot and check.

A spider spinning its web, at night

That’s when the punk teenager walked by and yelled something to the effect of “dude! You’re obsessed! You already have 13 photos, it’s cool and all but give it a rest!” I hate to inform him that I had actually taken closer to 50 photos of the spider and that he had missed well over half the party. I also just stood there looking across the camp dumbfounded, wondering how to respond. I can’t remember a time in which I just felt like making fun of someone’s hobby from a long distance away, especially when the person is clearly ten years older and possibly four feet taller, but back to the story at hand…

I think it’s the goal of the perfect photo that draws me in. It was hard for me to imagine that when I was just the guy responsible for family photography. That’s not to say that someone is a bad photographer or just “doesn’t get it” because they don’t take photos of nonsensical subjects or things that don’t serve a point. It’s OK to use photography as a memory tool. But now, for me, it’s more than just a tool to remember things, it’s a form of art and self expression. It’s like being able to instantly paint something from your perspective, it’s really an amazing bit of power if you think about it. Practice and shooting repeatedly gives me the ability to better capture my perspective. A National Geographic photographer will average anywhere between 300 and 1000 rolls of film on assignment, at 36 exposures per roll… If I shoot 50 photos of a spider on a web, I’m not even scratching the surface of the opportunity, it’s more like an appetizer.

I don’t pretend to be the best, I really don’t even pretend to be very good in the grand scheme of things. But I do admit that I am something of a perfectionist when it comes to my own photography work-what that means exactly has changed in the past few years. But try this, take a photography class at your local college or university and watch your perspective change. I’m not saying you will leave the class loving cameras, purchase a Hasselblad and fill your hard drive with photos of grass, the light reflecting off the water, sunsets and whatnot. However, you will not look at photography the same way again. At the end of the course if your professor has done their job properly you will never again take a photos in the same way either.

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About David Brooks

David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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