What sets photographers apart?

Lukas Werner

I recently saw a post from a friend of mine about things they hate being asked about being a photographer. A few things in particular irked me.

Everyone’s settings are the same.

This is extremely not true. In fact by learning to play with settings we can learn to develop our own visual style. For example, a photographer who tends to over-expose their images and use the ISO to pull that off will develop a sort of grainy pattern in their images that is specific to their camera and may choose for that to be one of their visual landmarks. Or another may choose to use shutter speed in order to also make the image brighter while still having a unique visual effect to the image which makes the image seem more action-packed or slow-mow (depending on how it is executed).

Ok. But what if we do have the same settings?

Fair. If you are taking the same sorts of portraits (e.g. high-key photos or low-key photos) they tend to use very similar settings. But what makes the difference between those sorts of photos is the composition. This is what really sets most photos apart. It isn’t how they look but what is IN the photos. Where do I decide to put the camera? What do I decide to have visible in the frame? Where is it in frame? Etc. These sorts of choices are what distinguish photographers. Just look at any Wes Anderson film, you can almost always tell it is an Anderson film. Why? Not because of how the colors appear. But how he has laid out the frame.

Hot take time! (and a word about lighting)

I strongly believe any photographer who masters black and white photography will manage to make images that we (as a society) will cherish for generations. Why? Because there is a sort of timelessness to those sorts of images that do not have any color. In fact the true original essence of a camera was the ability to capture brightness and darkness onto a piece of film. Some of the most visually striking images have interesting lights and shadows. This is why I adore images from Platon, who typically does not shoot in color. Instead, by shooting in black and white he is able to render the emotion and feeling of a subject in incredible detail.