Skill vs. Talent

As an artistic medium photography is unique in that it relies so heavily on technology. And it is precisely this reason why it is so popular and why so many people are “good” at it. It’s a matter of skill versus talent. Skill is a learnt ability. It is acquired or developed after much time and hard work. If one has the desire to make good photos and puts in the time to not only learn their camera but also the theory of exposure they will in time produce aesthetically pleasing photos. Technology these days has advanced to the point where it is easier than ever to get to that level. Talent, on the other hand, is innate; it is a natural ability that one is born with. You either have it or you don’t. No matter how much I may love to be a painter it will never happen regardless of how much I practice because I wasn’t born with that ability. But one can be born without a natural talent for photography and yet still produce nice images because they have learned the technical side of the medium. This is what makes photography unique, but also greatly hindered its being recognized as an art form. A great many images that landscape photographers create (myself included) are feats of skill and not talent.

Well then what about composition? Isn’t that where the talent lies? In his book More Than a Rock photographer (and personal hero) Guy Tal asks the question “is there anything easier in photography than making a beautiful photo of a beautiful subject? It requires little in the way of imagination and creativity and is in fact a low form of art”. Granted, even I have to admit that he may be a tad too harsh here, but I agree with his point. When presented with stunning scenery it is very easy to compose a beautiful photo. Nature has done the bulk of the work; the photographer simply needs to be there. This is not false modesty, just simple truth. Being in the right place at the right time is a matter of having done your homework and/or luck and not talent. Manipulating camera settings to achieve proper exposure is a skill earned through time and practice and not talent.

A far greater accomplishment is making beautiful something that is ordinary. Talent lies in recognizing those ordinary things that most others do not. Talent lies in being able to creatively express our own unique thoughts and feelings about a subject. Anyone can make a pretty photo of beautiful scenery, not anyone can create something truly unique and different using the same visual elements available to all of us.

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