Over the past year, I’ve listened to people discuss photography for at least 1500 hours, and probably more. I listen at work, in the car, and while doing other things, and so my listening is not active, and that’s probably why it’s taken me so long to get some things. A couple of months ago, though, I spontaneously blurted out something about photography that struck me as somewhat profound, but that I later realized was missing something.

At the time, I considered photography to spring from the admixture of four elements: the subject, the photographer, the lens, and the camera. But I left out probably the most important thing: light *facepalm*. And here is where the osmosis method of learning fails, somewhat. At least I was able to realize my error.

And now, despite only attempting to be an amateur photographer, I’ve decided I should write up this theory, mostly to help myself flesh out these ideas, but also to help readers, if anyone should stumble across this. So let’s get started.

On my view—and I think this is supported by professional photographers (and professional podcastors)—any and all photographs require exactly 5 elements: light, the subject, the lens, the camera, and the photographer. Some of these are more important than others, but all are required to create a photograph.

Without a camera—the surface, be it analog or digital, on which the image appears or otherwise comes to be recorded—there will never be a photograph. Likewise, no photographs without a lens—the focusing and cropping mechanism through which a scene is selected—to capture the subject and transport it to the camera. And the same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the Light, the Subject, and the Photographer.

Of course, some of these carry a good bit more weight than others. But all are necessary for the creation of a photograph.

In order of importance:

1. Light
1. The Photographer
3. The Subject
4. The Lens
5. The Camera

I rank Light and the Photographer as equal in importance, since a photographer with a vision can make a photograph in the crappiest of light, and because any being with the ability to trip the shutter can make a great photograph if the light is great.

The other requirements are no less necessary, but are much less important.

If the light is great and the photographer has vision, skill, etc., even the most banal subject can make for a brilliant photograph, or, at the very least, rise to the level of art. (Please see Bernd and Hilda Becher for more on this.)

If the light is right and the photographer points the camera toward a pleasing subject, a tiny hole in a piece of tin can produce beauty.

If the photographer has a vision and finds light that matches this vision, a coffee can with a sheet of photographic paper in it makes a perfectly suitable camera.

But without a camera, without a lens, without a subject, the photographer can only stare as light streams by at 186,000-odd miles per second. And without some form of light (visible, or in the form of radiation, radio waves, and the like), there can be no sight, much less any photography.

So these are the 5 elements of photography. In the coming days or weeks, I’ll delve into each in more detail. Please stay tuned! And let me know where I’ve failed in the comments.


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