Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2003/07/30

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Subject: Re: [Leica] techie number things (was arggghhh... )
From: Peter Klein <>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2003 22:04:08 -0700

There are two basic approaches to technique in every art form.  One 
approach is the studious, "learn everything," "quantify everything" 
approach.  The person goes through a long (probably life-long) learning 
process.  They read about every technique, talk shop with everyone they 
can, try out stuff, consciously assimilate each bit of knowledge, test it, 
graph the results, decide to do this and not do that.  Eventually a lot of 
it becomes semi-automatic, but it's always just over the edge of 
consciousness, and often fully conscious.

Ansel Adams comes to mind as a practitioner of this rigorously technical 
Studious Way in photography.

The other approach is less deliberate--the "just do it" method.  The person 
just makes a lot of whatever they make, and learns from it in an almost 
unconsious way.  Eventually the stuff that works becomes automatic.  It may 
seem to them that their creativity wells up from them, or even is a gift 
from God. They may not even know exactly what they do or why they do it, or 
only in retrospect.  But they know how to make it work.

A lot of 35mm "journalistic" and "concerned" photographers probably fit 
into this latter way--the Spontaneous, Instinctive and Inspired way.  They 
probably drive their printers crazy.

Remember in college how the math and science majors thought very 
differently from the liberal arts majors?  Almost like they lived on 
different planets.  The same basic differences exist between the Studied 
and the Spontaneous types.

The funny part is that often the Spontaneous types have to learn a bit of 
the Studied before they can produce anything coherent.  And the Studied 
types have to learn to stop thinking sometimes before they can produce 
anything that truly connects with the emotions.  I think that's why good 
teachers make their rational students go out and do nutty things, and force 
the spontaneous types through a lot of dry, seemingly sterile 
exercises.  It's all about integrating the two approaches.  Depending on 
one's personality, one approach or the other will predominate.  But without 
*some* of both, you've got nothing.

Ted, I think your reaction to all the "techie number things" is just the 
reaction of a Spontaneous type to an overdose of the Studied. You really 
know all this stuff, it's just that you can skip the step of consciously 
thinking about it.  I'll bet that in a backlit situation, your fingers 
automatically twist the lens stop open a stop and a half without your even 
thinking, "I better open up."  You just do it.

By the same token, Doug may think more about technique consciously.  But 
nobody can look at this photos and not see that the guy knows what beauty 
is and knows how to capture it.  And he's got to be quick to catch those 

One problem with Internet discussion groups is that it is a self-selecting 
population which includes a lot of rational, "numbers" people.  They think 
that if they know enough about an art form, that makes them an 
artist.  They think that if you can't measure it, it doesn't exist.  And 
computer types especially like to measure things, write algorithms and 
watch the results flow out.  But all the numbers and squigglies per 
millimeter in the world do not make a good photograph.  There has to be 
something from the undefinable realm operating, or all you have is 
competent, sterile craft.  At best.

This may be what Ted finds annoying.  He probably wants to hand some of us 
an M7 on automatic, and say, "Dammit, shut up, go out and shoot and don't 
come back until you've finished the roll.  Then we'll talk."

All this is interesting for me because I tend to be of the spontaneous type 
in music, which comes very naturally to me.  When I took harmony, a lot of 
it seemed like confirmation of what I already knew instinctively. In 
photography, I've been trying to learn as much technique as I can, because 
visual principles don't come as naturally to me.  So I may come off like a 
numbers nerd sometimes.  Actually, I'll take a gushy warm feeling over a 
cold hard fact any day of the week.  When I'm shooting, I'll think about 
technique if there's time.  Otherwise, I just do what my instincts tell me, 
and hope for the best.

- --Peter Klein

Doug Herr wrote:

> > I ALWAYS keep the techie stuff in mind <<<

Ted Grant wrote:

>As do I without it being invasive of my concern for capturing a magical
>I'll admit my earlier post was a tad jumpy on technical details appearing as
>an overload of thought by some folks, but when I'm shooting it's so
>automatic I'm just re-acting to what's happening. And I suppose some 52
>years professional experience does that to one.

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