I hack on code, I don’t hack on photography.

Engineers tend to pick photography as a hobby over other art forms because it’s so technical, and for this terrible reason it generally it winds up a confused train wreck.

This was motivated to write this by today’s post on hacker news where Peter Norvig gives an intro to photography. Turning photography into a technical hobby is something I find agonizingly painful to watch.

On a technical level, Peter’s photo tutorial’s concise, accurate, and extremely clear. I couldn’t have written a better one myself, it’s a great resource. What it’s missing however is perspective.

Engineers who become photographers generally spend an outsized amount of time making their images sharp, have true color, be adequately lit, etc. It’s like audiophiles who listen to their stereo system but not the music.

When it comes to photography, engineers spend a disproportionate amount of time following compositional rules, shooting photos with straightforward narratives, and thinking about their photos as bullet points of technique before, during, and after shooting. It’s as if the aim is for an acceptable, homogeous pastiche with the consistency of oatmeal.

What makes photos interesting? Well, that’s the eternal question, but I’ll say this, a perfectly clear, crisp, balanced photo is just a tool. The magic is up to you.

I’m not going to lay out the details like the engineer in me would, because the engineer in me has no idea what he’s talking about. He might describe a formula for success in nine steps mentioning fibonacci, the golden ratio, the rule of thirds, etc., but that’d be a lie.

I’m just going to say, go out there and find photos that move you (and don’t make yourself be moved, wait for it), and take as many photos as you can till you find a message in your own photos that means something to you.

My own photos aren’t that great, but I understand my photos as a reflection of myself, they’re deeply personal in terms of representing my point of view, and they give me a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction. That’s what motivates me, the effect of my photos, not the SNR of my CCD.

I would say that it’s richest to find photography as an experience and a method of communication.


Lastly, i’d like to apologize to Peter for being a prick about this. Peter’s a brilliant, and inspirational developer, and personally I could only hope to have a fraction of his contribution to humanity throughout my life, but super- technical internet photo tutorials tend to have this effect on me, and this one just happened to catch me when I was sick, at home, with not much else to do.

And to be fair, if your aim is simply photos of your kids to look at as time passes, there’s nothing wrong there, but it’s just not in my DNA to truly understand investing time in an art like photography with such a cold eye toward the medium itself.