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In News & Stuff, Rants and Sermons, Vision Is Better by David18 Comments

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Scott Kelby’s blog on May 13, 2009. I still believe this revolution is coming. Perhaps not for the photography industry, but for individuals. At least, I hope so…

I believe we’re at a turning point in the way we, as an industry, approach our craft. Thanks to the internet, information moves faster and faster, filling our brains to bustin’ with everything any of us could ever hope to know about off-camera flash, HDR techniques, hyperfocal distances, and the effect of aperture shape on bokeh. We have learned more and more, and if we have not it’s not for lack of information. And at the end of day we’re still hungry; full up on HOW and still wondering WHY.

My first book came out on Monday. After writing it and spinning much of it around the idea that WHY always drives HOW, I am more convinced than ever that we are about to reach critical mass with the the HOW, and that we’re slowly turning, collectively, to see the vaccum that has formed while we weren’t paying attention. That vaccum is passion, vision, and the reason we picked up cameras to begin with – the need to express ourselves. To use a metaphor; it’s as though we’re reaching the pinnacle of typewriter technology and have awoken to find that what we’re really passionate about is the stories, the poems, and the words themselves rather than the keys and ribbons.

The incredible response to Zack Arias’ video Transform, is a sign of the revolution of WHY that’s coming. It begins, like all good revolutions, with the murmors of discontent, but it’s going to lead somewhere great.

It’s going to lead to a satisfaction with the amount of megapixels we have and a dissatisfaction with the depth of our images. And that’s going to push us to make better images, not bigger ones.

It’s going to lead to a new ecumenical movement, the Nikon versus Canon crusaders will lay down their swords and go create photographs instead, suddenly aware that talking/arguing about photography is not the same as actually making photographs. They’ll suddenly realize they’ve been asking if Nikon or Canon is better and never ask, “better at what?”

It’s going to stop us from using terms like “Travel Photography” which defines our images by mode of transport and not by how compellingly we photograph people, places, or culture, here or around the world.  Sure there are better ways to describe our work than, “I got on a plane to create this.”

It’s going to lead us to stop talking about the way we create light and start talking about the kind of light we create. That part of the revolution has already started with heroes like Joe McNally and David Hobby leading the fray.

The revolution, at its extremes, is going to push us to fall so in love with this craft that we abandon our addiction to technology and start calling the camera companies on their lunacy when they tell the world that their new cameras are so good practically anyone can now shoot like a pro; a claim that debases our craft and dishonors the work we all put in to be the best visual storytellers we can be.

It’s going to force us the re-examine the words “amateur” and “professional,” words that unfairly imply the amateur doesn’t love their craft enough that they’d do it for a living, or worse: implies they aren’t good enough.  I believe this revolution will see the lines not only blur between so-called amateur and so-called professional, but be replaced by more meaningful descriptions of what we do.

I believe this revolution will force the artists and the geeks to not only talk to each other but to abandon both their addiction to technology and their pretense of creating “art” and get down to the business of simply learning and practicing their craft. Let the critics worry about whether it is, or isn’t, art – our job is to practice the craft.

I do not believe this revolution will be about abandoning the technology; there will be no sudden mass exodus from the digital world. Many will, like my friend Bruce Percy, go back to film because he simply likes it better. And those of us who prefer digital won’t be threatened by that. What matters is that we’ll stop being bankrupted by the need to keep up with this maddening pace and instead will learn to use the technology we do have, not to create images simply because we can, but to create images that better express our vision in more and more compelling, and gratifying, ways.

Idealistic, right? Maybe. But it’s that kind of idealism that leads me to believe a photograph can change the world. Perhaps not all at once, but who hasn’t had their own life course altered in some way because of one image? I can point to several, myself included, who heard the calling to photography in the eyes of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl whom Steve McCurry photographed in 1984. I know that the images I shoot for World Vision contribute to changing the lives of children living with HIV/AIDS and unimaginable poverty in sub-Saharan Africa – I’ve seen it. So I believe in this craft, and I like to think that the hundreds of thousands of cameras sold every year are a witness to the democratic nature of this elegant discipline. And it’s that which leads me to think we’re heading somewhere great, that the information avalanche that has necessarily accompanied the technological changes is going to carry us to great places, and once we dig ourselves out we’ll get back to the business for which we got into it all in the first place – capturing and expressing what our hearts and minds see through through our lenses and placing it, in slivers of time, within the frame. I can hardly wait.


I’m doing a free webinar with the Manfrotto School of Excellence tomorrow at 10am PDT (JOIN ME! More info HERE), then jumping into the Jeep and heading to the Sunshine Coast for a couple days of camping. Have a great weekend.


  1. “What matters is that we’ll stop being bankrupted by the need to keep up with this maddening pace and instead will learn to use the technology we do have, not to create images simply because we can, but to create images that better express our vision in more and more compelling, and gratifying, ways.”

    When I see posts on different BB re: what camera, and then I see others suggest that the newest/biggest XYZ is the way to go, I generally tell them, get the best you can afford, but remember that even an entry level DSLR is going to be an immensly powerful piece of equipment. It’s more important to learn to use what you have, then it is to think that because a camera is more powerful it will do the work for you.

  2. This is the “revolution” the “Art & Craft” of photography needs. I could care less if you can see every pore on the rabbits nose, I want to capture images that “move” people on a visceral level.

    To me, art, photography, etc. is best when they are like poetry, when they move people in ways they don’t fully understand at the conscious level, but deep inside their subconscious.

    Not and easy task, I realize, but one well worth striving for.

    Viva the reveloution!

    You’re images, David, do that for me and that’s why I keep coming back to your blog, books, rants, etc. 😉

  3. I read this blog post in 2009 and it was the voice I was waiting for. It is as revevant now as it was 3 years ago. Since then, I have read 3 of your books and countless Craft and Vision e-books. I always appreciate your voice and will keep listening.

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  6. Author

    Hola Miguel, I’m sorry I speak so little Spanish, but I get the sense you’re saying the translation of my book Vision and Voice wasn’t as poetic as you’d have liked. Authors really don’t get much input in this – the rights for foreign editions are handled by the publishers and at best all I could do is trust someone who knows the language. Hopefully there’s still something of value in there for you.

  7. Hola David, solo decirte que tengo un libro tuyo titulado, aquí en España “Visión y Voz”. En el que aparece esta fotografía y lo cierto es que aun siendo la misma no tiene nada que ver un y otra. La han matado a la hora de imprimir el libro. ¿No debería el autor tener la seguridad de que su obra se va a tratar con el máximo rigor? Es como si al reproducir un poema omitimos palabras o cambiamos el orden.
    Saludos desde Andalucía.

  8. Another inspiring post that redirects the conversation to what is most important. Many thanks! Many thanks too for the Manfrotto webinar. Also very inspiring and it certainly added more for more to think about as I look at beauty, and absence of beauty, and contemplate how to share it.

  9. David..looking forward to the seminar today.Way David….too much emphasis on technology pixels,post processing software and etc.I think photography is in for a big revolution and that you’ll see more simplicity and a big comeback of film photography..have to start looking at our craft as art and our world as the canvas….Mike…..

  10. Author

    Thanks Michael. I don’t know what went wrong with the link, but thanks for catching that. I’ve fixed it now.

  11. Hello David,
    I agree expressly to your wish not only to talk to each other about technology and to focus more on the message of our expressions (photographs, words and more) and make a skillfull use of the technology to clearer communicate what we esteem.
    »Revolution« though is a very strong conception and does not always chage the world for the better. I observe that your teaching and writing is helping to shift the conversation. You do it well! Keep the faith.

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  13. Thank you for the introduction to Bruce Percy and his work. Looking forward to your webinar tomorrow.


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  15. Richard H, I think the question is all that matters, or more specifically, I think SOME questions are important. Like, what kind of photographs do I want to make? Which pigeon-hole anyone else puts them in is up to them 🙂 I photograph beauty, the human and natural worlds, and sometimes I photograph the absence of that beauty…

  16. For some time now I have ben struggling with categorization. Is this image a landscape? A travelogue? A portrait? A sport? What? Answering the question So, what type of photography do you do? has been another bugaboo haunting my idea of me and my work. Thank you for reviving this post. It has reminded me that not all questions deserve or require an answer. Whether I’m an artist or not I’m not sure, nor do I much care. All I know is that the images I capture depict what I saw and felt the instant they came into my camera’s compositional grasp. I file my work by date and place. I guess that’s all I need to know about what type of photographer I am.

  17. Great post, really echoes my sentiments. It’s time we stopped focusing on new technology. At the end of the day all this reinvention and over production is having terrible impact on the environment. We need to scale back a bit on that and start focusing on the art. My fear is that a good percentage of the population don’t quite grasp this, and the insane drive for more pixels or some other technology are turning us into robots.

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