chantal stone photography: the blog

September 14, 2006

On On Being a Photographer Part 1

Filed under: Books,Photography — chantal @ 12:23 pm

I recently read On Being a Photographer by David Hurn and Bill Jay. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically a practical guide book describing methods used by the best photographers, and how to employ these methods for yourself. It’s not a “how to shoot” guide, insofar as it doesn’t teach how to operate your camera, or how to take a light-meter reading, or how-to-print techniques, etc. It’s more about how to approach a project and how to think like the pros.

Most of the book reads like a conversation between two old friends, each with a long history in photography and two very different, yet very successful careers. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on a discussion revealing the secrets to photographic success.

I thought about writing a review, but really I could write a whole other book just about this book. It’s not very often that I read something I feel really changes me…alters my perception or opens my eyes to new ideas. OBAP is one of those books.

Instead, I’m just going to periodically take a point from the book, and discuss how I feel it can apply to me, or how I choose to apply it to my photography.

One of the things I had been struggling with lately is feeling like I lacked a clear ‘style’. I would look at so many other photographers’ work and I could always easily identify their style, or some unique signature to all of their images. When I would look through my own portfolio, I could never see that. I would try to be as objective as possible, but I just realized that my body of work was all over the map.

I know what I like, and I definitely know what I don’t like. I know what kind of photographs I don’t want to take. But I really struggled with my apparent lack of a signature. I imagine I equated it with a lack of talent.

I suppose I adopted the romantic notion of using photography as a vehicle to ‘express myself’….like my images were some sort of extension of who I am, and that somehow they need to reflect ME. The problem with this thinking is that you begin to alienate your subject.

It is possible for photographs to reveal something about the photographer. The image is, after all, what the photographer sees. It is the photographer who decides when to release the shutter, how to compose the image. By extension the image becomes the photographers clear view of the scene. When we look at an image, we’re looking at something, but more importantly, we’re looking at this something through the eyes of the photographer.

My mistake was that I began to shoot trying to create my own style, as opposed to letting my style develop on its own.

From OBAP (pg.49):

Let us make the point clear: when the subject takes precedence, you not only start the journey towards personal style but you also discover the sheer joy of visually responding to the world. It solves a lot of doubts, clears away all confusion.

I think for me, too much emphasis has been put on being an artist, when it should have been on carefully selecting a subject and shooting it to the best of my ability.

I won’t make that mistake again. Subject comes first.



  1. I know exactly how you feel about not being able to see what your own style is.

    This is a great find. I’m going to have to get this book.

    Comment by remi9 — February 11, 2007 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  2. I highly recommend it…if you own a camera, if you like to look at and make pictures, you need to read this book!

    Comment by Chantal — February 13, 2007 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

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