“Photography is easy.” Really?

When “selfie” became “the word of the year” in 2013 and millions of photos are uploaded to the Internet every day, it’s obvious photography has become a favourite activity. During a recent chat, someone said to me, “Photography is easy.” Really?

While working on a summary for 2013 and making plans for 2014, I came to the realization that great photography is really hard work. And no, I am not talking about sitting in a front of a computer editing photographs (which in my view is the least important part of photography) but actually creating a great image.

First, it involves location and vision. For a Fine Art/Landscape photographer (not just a realtor), location is the key. In fact, Kasia and I spend a great deal of time finding interesting locations. While travelling or even driving around the city, we are always looking for something new, something that we might have missed before. Taking different and slower back roads helps you discover great places.

Second, once we find a location/object, we try to imagine what kind of weather conditions would be ideal for this particular spot. For example, an abandoned boat would look great with some fog or a ghost town needs stormy skies.

Third, being on location doesn’t mean you take photographs right away. In fact, it is very rare to take a good photograph the first time. We usually walk around and observe the light, thinking: How we could use the terrain to our advantage? How could we use an available light to capture the mood of the place?

Fourth, then we start seeing, composing and evaluating every element of the scene. We are taking mental photographs and trying to re-imagine those creations in different light and weather settings.

Fifth, only now do we start taking photographs. We wait for the right weather conditions and then, usually before sunrise, we drive to the location. Our inner “seeing” coupled with mental discipline/concentration (no cellphones, no conversations, no food or other distractions) prompts us to get to work. We both believe in the philosophy of getting it right in the camera. For this reason, we put our greatest effort into the composition. It requires a lot of walking, crawling, climbing and testing. This is one area of photography that gets little attention from newbies. I often see photographers standing in one location for ten minutes taking hundreds of the same photo (lots of selfies) only to leave soon after. What a waste of time!

Sixth, after coming back home, we start evaluating and discussing every photograph. We delete most images. In fact, sometimes we delete all of them. We know we have to try again.

In most cases, we know we must return to the location because we haven’t got the light we wanted or the mood we were looking for was missing or our composition was not strong enough. In fact, over the years we have visited some locations many times before we got what we wanted.

A similar process of preparation and mental labour could be applied to photojournalism, street photography or any other major genre of photography (of course with some adjustments). The key is that real photography requires a lot of dedication and work (intellectual, physical and even emotional). We have just scratched the surface at this point. We are planning a series of essays about each step mentioned above.

Meanwhile, it is time to share with you some of our recent work. All images were shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 60mm F2.4. Processed in Iridient Developer, Lightroom 5 and NIK Silver Pro (B&W). Enjoy.








… and some B&W images from a different but equally appealing location. I visited this spot many times but only recently was able to capture the mood of this place.










2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

16 thoughts on ““Photography is easy.” Really?

  1. Your images are absolutely stunning both in subject, composition and processing, just blows me away…

  2. Olaf

    This post made me smile. Someone pressed the wrong button with you!

    I love he feeling of being moved by a photograph (or music, writing, or a movie etc. ). Producing that feeling is not easy. Your notes on scouting and especially on composition are spot on. It took me years to slow down and put the right amount of work into composing. I’m still not where I want to be…

    I have to say that the photographs in this post were great choices to illustrate your points. Some of your best in my humble opinion.

  3. The act of taking pictures is really not that difficult. The art of getting a repeatable or desired result is not.

    Photography as a profession, is not easy. Taking the “happy snappy” or “selfie” is not that difficult. 99% of all cell phones sold are designed to make getting these snapshots easy. There is a reason that there is a whole segment of cameras on the market called “point and shoots”.

    Photographers care about all the technical stuff and what goes into making a great image. Everyone else just likes to look.

    I think you are taking the “photography is easy” to too far an extreme. At least I believe so because I do not have the same context to the conversation you had with the other party.

    People that think that it is easy are the ones that generally do not care about the technical aspects or even “creating” an image. They just want to snap a moment in time and if it is good enough to be discernible, then that is “good enough” for them.

  4. So few really understand the commitment that is required. Absolutely love those black and whites, you definitely caught the mood on that visit!

  5. Really like your work, the monochromes have beautiful tones.
    As you say, visualising the picture is the hardest part.


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