Thursday, January 29, 2015

Full Circle

I came across an interesting essay in the free e-book Craft and Vision I – 11 Ways to Improve Your Photography

In the article, Understand the Stages, Photographer Alexandre Buisse gives a thoughtful discussion on the image making journey of a photographer.  He acknowledges that his version of the stages is somewhat arbitrary and based on broad generalizations . . . nevertheless, I see his views as enlightening. 

There are lots of different stages, lots of different directions, and not really any final destination. 

From the outset, Buisse makes a simple assumption that I find quite agreeable. 

We are photographers because we love to photograph. Simple as that. 

Buisse identifies 6 distinct stages in the evolution of a photographer. 

In the first stage . . . the role of the photographer is simply to record. Images are not expected to be beautiful in any way, but simply to show what was happening at a particular moment. The photographer is simply a camera operator, expected to keep things reasonably sharp and well exposed. 

In the second stage . . . the photographer has discovered an interest in creating beautiful images and is enthusiastically playing around with whatever camera he has available, though without any real direction or technical knowledge. He still mostly follows the automatic mode of his camera but does a lot of random experimentation, happy to find the occasional good image in his files, but still unsure of why it is good or how it was achieved.

In the third stage . . . the photographer has realized that the lack of technical knowledge was hindering his efforts and has made a conscious decision to learn the craft of image making. He focuses heavily on technique . . . and equipment. His images improve dramatically, at least from a technical point of view, but they do not necessarily satisfy him any more than before.

In the fourth stage the photographer comes to realize that . . .  focusing exclusively on technique is a dead-end, while composition, quality of light and other similar, intangible notions are equally crucial in the creation of a great image . . . This is the time where he gets interested in the history of photography, studies the works of the masters and perhaps follows some workshops. 

In the fifth stage . . . the photographer has finished acquiring the technical and artistic tools he needs and starts worrying about what to do with them. He can take a beautiful photograph, but realizes he needs more – he needs something to express with the image. This is the time where he develops his own vision, finds his voice. He was a craftsman, he is becoming an artist. 

In the sixth and final stage, the photographer has found his voice and stopped worrying. He has a message to express, and he knows how to do it. He just shoots, because that’s who he is and what he does.

All of the photos in this post were taken at historic Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg, Virginia over the last 5 years– different seasons, different subjects, and different stages.

I can see that I am working my way through the stages, though I don’t view them as a strictly linear progression. Nor do I see them as levels where one stage is better than another. More aptly, I see these descriptions as paths along a circle. I move back and forth, round and round, swinging along the arc of the circle.

Coming full circle, back to where I started, I want to make pictures that record places and things and people that have meaning for me – in an artful and significant manner.  Back to the pictures that tell stories.
And, through online sharing and commenting, I become better at recognizing my own voice. Feedback helps me to differentiate between the superficial and the deeper, more personal parts of my work.

Thank you a million times over for taking the time to leave an occasional comment. It's my pleasure to do the same for you – full circle.


  1. I think I am at stages 4, 5 & 6 all at the same time, depending on the day. Ultimately thought I take photographs to support my stories.

  2. What insight. I am working through the stages but stuck on the technicalities of my camera. I need a hands on class but unfortunately in my area it isn't available mso I do a lot of online reading but need a person to take me on a photo walk and help me with settings. Love your blog.

    1. I'm with you, Peggy. I've read books, experimented & watched videos, but I suspect I'd learn more (and faster) on a photography walk with an accomplished friend/professional.

  3. First of all, I've always appreciated your thoughtful and insightful comments. I truly appreciate it as well as I journey along. I love this post and seeing your progression. I agree that it is not necessarily a linear one but looking at your art, I see a path. Thanks for sharing! xx

  4. Such a thoughtful post Donna, always love coming here. I agree with you and the writer, we are a process and usually every stage is a good process. Love to see the progression in my work and also in my online friends. All is good is what I am thinking.

  5. This was fascinating to read, as I sit here and look back on my walk through the process (thank you for sharing that), and I can remember being in those stages, even struggling. There are some days I simply want to pick up my camera and be free from any of these thoughts, and simply just take pictures, and enjoy the journey. It is fun to create, but it is also fun to "just be" in the moment. I adore the first image - I feel like I'm "in the moment". I am happy I "know my camera and lenses" to be confident when I am taking "in the moment" photos. A good feeling. I always enjoy your thoughts!!! xx

  6. I so enjoy your posts, Donna, and am grateful to Candice for having shared your blog with her readers. How else would I have come across someone who takes such beautiful photographs, while also inspiring & encouraging the rest of us to work through these stages. (I linked this entry on my FB page, to share it with a wider audience. :) )

  7. Oh my I am all over the place...probably somewhere in the 4th and 5th stages. I am still learning technique and beginning to see my style but the artistic expression has always been important to me...Thank you so much for this post as it really has put a few things in perspective for me. As always your photographs are beautiful and heartfelt.

  8. "We are photographers because we love to photograph. Simple as that ". I love that ! I think we all try too hard sometimes, at least I know I do for sure ! That sentence frees is from that, so we can just "be" Thank you for sharing your thoughts Donna, I always truly love coming here and leaving with a smile on my face. Have a wonderful weekend :)

  9. This is exactly why I chose David deChemin as the main photographer to follow and learn from during 2015. His books are so filled with information that we can relate to and use on our journey. Can't wait for his new one that is coming out very soon. So enjoyed how you took his information and made it your own...which is why I love coming here too! And you're exactly right...through commenting and sharing...we all grow! Thank you!

  10. This is great, Donna, thank you for sharing. I think I'm in stage 2 and I can't tell you how encouraging it is to me that you see these stages as a circle rather than linear. You have such a gift, both in images and words, at sharing your voice. I always learn something when I visit here. Blessings!

  11. It's always such a pleasure to visit you here, Donna. :) Your wise words and your beautiful images never fail to put a huge smile on my face! Have a wonderful weekend. Greetings from Italy.

  12. very interesting essay on the stages...I think I've skipped a few and just jettisoned to the end...I just shoot!
    all of the images are stellar but that tree is the best!
    happy weekend to you!

  13. I love the way he sees and describes the process of getting wings:)
    I love seeing your journey through your photos....really wonderful voice
    you and your camera have found:)
    Thanks for the beautiful share,

  14. I am at Stage 2 but have blithely skipped to Stage 6, even though I know I need to go back through the others. At some point I'm praying that stuff will sink in by osmosis! (Though I need to get the camera off "Auto" for that to happen.)

    I remember the photo of the pots because I was with you that day at Chatham. It was my first outing with a real photographer and I had everything to learn. You kindly showed me how to take my very first flower picture that was decent. But as you recall, I grew bored with statues and flowers and snuck back to the shed where we weren't supposed to go! I go back and forth between trying to learn and just taking pictures. The flower and the shed. One day I'll get to the stuff in the middle!

    Meanwhile, I can count on you to gently guide me when I go too far astray, either through your blog, our conversations, or those crazy outings we take.

  15. What a very interesting way to think about the art of photography, Donna. I think some people (such as you) are just born with great artistic sensibility. You have the "eye" for what makes a good photograph. You see the beauty in the small detail that escapes the rest of us. And yes, you may be on a journey as you refine your art, but because of the way in which you were blessed you will always be way out ahead of the rest of us. As for me: I'm still struggling to get into stage 2, taking thousands of images (giving thanks that I live in the digital age and don't have to develop them from film) and saying a little prayer when I need something presentable that one of clicks will deliver the goods. All the best, Bonnhy


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