“… you must have a fantastic camera …”

First Born – Robert Carter

Toronto. This quote, attributed to Sam Haskins, must be one of the worst compliments ever given to a photographer!

Stripped of its bells and whistles, a camera is just a black box that holds the sensitive media (film, sensor) the right distance from the lens. And the lens allows the photographer to focus and set the aperture to control the amount of light entering the camera and the image’s depth of field/focus. The film determines the light sensitivity and contrast. The bells and whistles just simplify things.

Wedding – Robert Lansdale

The vital part of the photograph is the subject, framing and location – all dependant on the experience and judgment of the photographer, not his camera.  The First Born, above was taken in a gloomy corridor of Montreal General near midnight the summer of 1969. Tri-X ASA 400 allowed a hand held shot. A wide aperture put the background out of focus to add to the drama while providing enough light for the film.

36 years later, film was passé and this wedding was shot on a digital sensor by Bob Lansdale. Like my older B&W shot above, his photographer’s eye chose the pose and the venue to make the picture a work of art.

Churchill 1941 by Karsh

In the studio, the photographer can also  choose the posing and the lighting to give his photographs his trade mark touch. In 1941, Karsh of Ottawa took this very famous portrait of a war-time Churchill. Snatching the great man’s cigar was said to prompt the iconic bulldog scowl!

Journalists and news-photographers have a more limited choice in lighting and subject but they too determine the setting and lighting. These often change what would be a pedestrian snapshot into a chilling or historic work of art.

Oh yes, the quote(s) were suggested by my friend George Dunbar – a retired industrial photographer and videographer – the first quote of which prompted me to reminisce a bit.


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