Signal or Noise
23/07/13What’s it all about, this photography lark? Is it about the signal or the noise? The signal to me is knowing you’ve got a good picture in the bag; one that you have worked for; put some effort in and been justly rewarded, as against ‘noise’, which someone said is the frequency you check Facebook to see how many ‘Likes’ you have got!
For others it may be the technology. This ever changing dimension which is such an esoteric topic in reality but one which we all think is so, so important to our chosen craft. Professional photographers choose their tools for the job required. Our cameras are our tools of the trade and many amateurs lust after those same professional cameras because they think that they will deliver them better pictures. In truth, this may be so to a certain extent, but of equal importance is the reliability and strength of these cameras to withstand professional treatment and delivery of the image time and time again. Likewise, the ability to customise the camera to one’s own needs and foibles takes on a personal importance.
Let’s take a look at one of my cameras, the venerable Nikon D2xs which is now over seven years old and definitely earned its keep many times over. Originally costing over £3200 this camera is still producing the goods for me on certain jobs, particularly the yachting imagery where its reliability in extremis has done me proud. Even having been blown over on a tripod on a particularly blustery dawn shoot at Portland Bill -my attention being elsewhere- with such force that it was driven down onto the unforgiving rock cracking the magnesium body, it still recorded images. It has been underwater, swamped by errant waves as I hang over the side of a RIB for that low angle shot of passing yachts on many occasion and now has that worn patina of frequent dousing and smooth removal of the original paint through years of use. Yes it is regularly serviced with its many seals replaced and sensor cleaned in a sterile room by Nikon, as every tool of the trade should be, but it is just that, a tool of the trade. It doesn’t make me take better pictures, only I can do that. Even my main camera, the Nikon D800e which has taken up this mantle for the past 14 months doesn’t make me take better pictures. It delivers fabulous pictures but only if I have worked hard to attain them.
I’ve just returned from a holiday. (Now, I know that many of you think my life is one long holiday, but that’s only because my work takes me away a bit.) This was the first true holiday for many years and whilst Julia was cycling off road up Greek mountains each day, maintaining her fitness for her soon arriving cycle ride from London to Paris –( Visit ToParisWithKate for details) – I spent all my time race sailing in dinghies. Well, nearly all my time. I do confess that although I didn’t take any ‘big’ cameras, I did set myself an alternate agenda. In the quest for ever more images with impact or from a different perspective I recently purchased a compact to try a few things out. Sea level images or just below surface were the quest, working out how to take such shots; where I needed to focus; what depth of field I needed; how much light reflected on the underside of the water surface and what speed of shot I required? All these trials and tribulations are no different to normal photography, but doing them whilst rolling with the waves made things a little more difficult hence the practise. But, shall I tell you what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. No, the images won’t print 2 metres wide, but they’ll be fine up to A3. No, the camera doesn’t have the customisation that I would normally like but it does at least have some, but that’s not really the point. The point is that it will deliver an image and it is a tool for that purpose and as such, it is all about the photography; all about the light; all about the capture of the image and the creative thinking; the efforts you go through and the resultant good feeling when you attain what you set out to do. Enjoy the photography. Enjoy the ‘signal’ not the ‘noise’.