July 1, 2006

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Capability In Pictures

I am not a photographer. Okay, strictly speaking I am a photographer, because I take photos. I'm just not a very good photographer. I have a half-decent Olympus digital camera that slips neatly into my pocket, and I occasionally get the urge to take a snap or two when I remember to bring it with me. I have a 1Gb memory card in the camera, which stores roughly 1,000 images. When the card is full, I plug it into my PC at home and tranmsfer all the images. Then I sift through them, deleting the ones I don't want to keep. I usually discard about 60% of the images because they're just plain rubbish.

Here is an example of a rubbish photo I took last year in an attempt to achieve something "arty":



The remaining 40% are so-so photos that most mothers would have on their mantlepiece, but they're unlikely to win any prizes. Maybe 2% of the images actually turn out quite nice.

Here's an example of a quite nice photo taken a family barbeque last summer:



The light and the circumstances conspired to produce a passable picture with interesting shadows and contrasts and a pleasing composition. It's all my own work, I tell you!

I imagine you've taken better photos than this yourself. So have I. But the really interesting photos are very rare - maybe 1/1,000 or less. Sometimes I just point and click and the result is fascinating - well, fascinating to me, at least.



Why am I telling you all this? Well, it's all about productivity and capability. Those of you who are pondering the problem I set in my last blog post - and I have no doubt there will be thousands of you (oh, yes) - might want to think about this:

Anyone can point a camera at some leaves and get a photo that's in focus and can be "fixed" by a $20 image editing suite. If I take 10 pictures of leaves, at least 8 of them will be usable. There's no skill involved, and if an in-focus picture of some leaves was my goal, I'd confidently estimate I could achieve it very quickly.

My second photo is a bit of a fluke. Maybe 1/50 of my snaps turn out that nice. If you set me a goal of producing a family photo like that, I'd be less confident about how long it might take me. It might not happen on one day - maybe the light wouldn't be right, maybe the folks just wouldn't get into place in the relaxed, cool way they have in this picture. (That's my brother and my Dad, by the way.) I might need another day or two to be sure of getting that shot.

The third picture is complete luck. I was walking past a new block of flats - a very ugly block of flats, I should add - near my home. The light was fading, and all the elements were against me. But I just pointed and reeled off about 20 shots one after the other, and one of them just happened to turn out like this. If you commissioned me to take another photo like this, I'd ask for a month or two and spend that entire time taking pictures to be sure I had enough coverage - and even then, I wouldn't make any promises. (Yes, like I said, I'm not a photographer!)

Finally, take a look at this photo.



The story behind this picture is that i was shopping in Wimbledon, South West London, one morning and as I passed the main shopping centre I stumbled across the Home Secretary (the guy in charge of the UK Home Office - now no longer in charge and rather upset about it, it would seem), Charles Clarke, locked in conversation with a very senior looking plod (policeman). I couldn't see any TV camera crews or photographers, so this didn't appear to be a staged photo opportunity. Mr Clarke didn't appear to have much in the way of security around him, either. He was just right there, on the pavement, talking to the senior fuzz. So I took a couple of snaps, and the sun was out and the light was right and nobody walked in front of me - there were a lot of people passing by - and it came out in focus and quite passable as a photo in its own right.

I don't imagine I'll capture images that improbable very often in my lifetime. It is a 1/1,000,000 photo. But there are people who make a living taking pictures like that. (Rather them than me, though. I couldn't stand the waiting.)

A better photographer than me - and let's imagine for a brief moment that such a person might exist - would probably take snaps like my cool family photo 10% of the time instead of 2%. And maybe my interesting architectural photo might be a 1/100 long-shot rather than 1/1000. And maybe a keen news photographer or paparazzi might get that close to the Home Secretary once or twice in a year, rather than once in a lifetime.

I suggested in a previous post that the true essence of capability is that:

Capability is the probability of performance

So, based purely on the percentages of images and how I rate them, I have a fairly low capability as a photographer. But some people have a keen eye for a good photo. Maybe I do, too. So there's another key element in my productivity as a photographer - my ability to select. Now there's a thought to conjure with. More on that at a later date...
Posted 14 years, 7 months ago on July 1, 2006