The Quotes


The Quotes Explained - their provenance and (to me, with an explanation) their relevance.


"Expose with the head, compose with the heart"
Simon V Horton

For me, exposure is the ‘science’ of image capture and composition, the art.

When exposing an image, and if present of course, all tones from the brightest clouds to the darkest of rocks and shadows need to be recorded accurately. If they are not, detail at one of the extremes will be lost and the tones between will suffer as they are shifted from their native chroma. Although post production can perform miracles at recovering overexposed highlights and liberating detail in the shadows, it will be at the expense of image quality: noise that lurks in all dark areas of an image will be amplified, excessively recovered highlights will distort the brightest parts of the image that our attention is naturally drawn to and as some tones are naturally brighter than others, if under exposed at capture time then brightened during post-production to restore their natural luminosity, they will shift colour resulting in an obviously processed and unnatural looking image.

Better always to capture the cleanest image at source.

Similarly, for a particular focal length of a lens, the appropriate aperture and shutter speed will maximise image quality, gaining critical sharpness throughout (unless intentional softening of parts of an image are required to emphasise another feature). These technicalities are absolutes – the image has either been captured optimally or it hasn't but there are no such absolutes for composition. I believe compositional rules are best learnt, experimented with, then forgotten (at least consciously) because if adhered to too rigidly they will produce less emotive work than if the composition is ‘felt’ – when we view an image that moves us, logic is not involved, it is all emotion and it is this feeling I search for when composing – it either feels right or it doesn’t.

As the Zen maxim says: ‘Perfect your technique then succumb to inspiration’. I of course continue to learn and hopefully will never stop but I apply what I know at that time to maximise image quality, then allow the landscape to speak for itself assisted by my own voice – not reliant on but supplemented by good technique. For an image to succeed, I believe my internal vision of how I want the image to look and the external power of the subject itself must balance. If technique dominates, the resultant image will often appear contrived but if the subject dominates, a weaker image will result as the components of the subject battle for attention – a strong composition will bring order to an otherwise potentially chaotic scene.


"The question is not what you look at but what you see."
Henry David Thoreau

Our visual system is selective. It has to be otherwise too much information would be presented to our brains. Only that which is necessary to keep us alive is available immediately. This is why the camera never lies – photographs often contain features we do not remember as every detail is recorded faithfully. As photographers we need to see the scene in its entirety and remove the extraneous to reveal the truth. This not only un-clutters the composition it also simplifies exposure as there will be fewer tones to capture.


"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."
Marcel Proust

For me photography is cumulative, the next image builds on the previous. Our visual system is somewhat plastic and will adapt to new stimuli. Digital photography allows for immediate evaluation. Not necessarily at image capture time when our senses are ‘coloured’ by the moment but later, when we view the images in a consistent environment and compare them with their predecessors. Eventually we begin to see the world as our sensors would and imagine how an image will look long before we reach for our cameras.


"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
T. S. Elliot

One of the earliest quotes I stumbled upon whilst 'travel reading'.
Originally I was overwhelmingly possessed by the ‘local infinities’ of the wilderness believing only there could the true spirit of the natural world be captured. Since the same process (to extract the essence of a scene) and raw materials (light and texture) for successful image creation exist everywhere, nature photography is possible anywhere.


"Many people come, looking, looking, taking picture….No good….Some people come, see. Good!"
Nepalese Sherpa (transcribed by Galen Rowell).

Another pivotal quote the first five words of which were used as the title of yet another wonderful book written and illustrated by the legendary but sadly departed Galen Rowell. The above words were uttered by a Sherpa to Galen regarding the many visitors to the Himalaya who immediately reach for their cameras and shoot anything and everything and somehow expect the camera to magically translate the majesty of the ‘live’ scene into a startling image rather than develop a deeper appreciation for this new environment, then create considered shots.
It takes time for our senses to attune to the nuances of any new environment and how it differs from elsewhere.

For me, familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds better photographs.


"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
Pablo Picasso

Picasso was often criticised for his child-like brush strokes with many saying their four year olds could paint that way. Can’t imagine there are many four year old cubists but that I believe is missing the point. It’s not the technique that’s important it’s the concept of the art and mode of expression.
I also believe that a miss-interpretation of the quote is valid too – viewing the world with childlike wonder reveals a truth different from that jaded and conditioned by the sterility of modernity.


"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."
Stephen Wright

Lightens the tone but a brilliant comedian whose haiku like one-liners can be likened to a photograph - they capture essence with brevity.