The Image or The Process

If you're a photographer, what matters more to you, the final photo or the process of creating it? The photos or the photography? A local NYC street photographer posed a similar question on Instagram recently and it got me thinking. It might not seem like an important distinction but I think I can affect the way we go about taking photos.

Particularly for street photography, do we care if we annoy someone to get a good photo? What about if it might be a great photo? Do we take the shot if they don’t want us to? If it disturbs what they're doing? Do we delete the photo if they ask us to? Do we photograph kids? Are we willing to engage, care, interact?

You can probably tell where I’m going with this.

If you're not a photographer you might not think or care much about the process itself, about the camera, the settings, maybe just about how you get your child to stay still long enough to take a portrait or two. Your goal is to get a few nice pictures, maybe to share online or send to grandparents. Even with your own kids though, the process can matter. What if you're regularly telling your kids to stand still or smile for a photo when they don't want to, without making it a fun experience. As Denae & Andrew point out on this excellent video about family photos, there's a good chance that the kids are going to start hating the camera. The process (or the experience) matters.

I often admire photographers who have that determination to get a specific shot though. To be bold, persistent. I want to develop more of that determination in my own photography. But sometimes I hate seeing it too. I remember watching a photographer at a memorial in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo killings, getting in the face of grieving mourners with his camera. I couldn’t do it, didn’t want interrupt those trying to come to terms with the events.

Right or wrong? There’s rarely a clear line. Some things should be recorded so that they can't be, in a form, witnessed by those not present at the time. Some things need to be remembered. Maybe the photographer at the Paris memorial was a photojournalist there to do a job, although I still think he could have been more discreet and sensitive about it.

I also want the process of making images to be a positive one, for me and my subjects.

In the end I suppose I’ll mostly remember the images, the exact moments, rather than the experience. But it’s the process that helps us learn and grow and improve. I could should in burst mode and probably end up with more good images (if I could be bothered to search through them all on the laptop afterwards). I might never use a film camera or manually focus if I only care about the results.

But the process is why I love photography. The act of making, of creating, of being creative, of experimenting, of meeting people and engaging with them to make a portrait together. Of being a photographer, regardless of whether that's at home or on the streets or on a photoshoot or on vacation.

With the exception of a few very precious family images, I like being a photographer more than I like having the finished images.


Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

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