The Missing Ingredient

January 31, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Sometimes my heart sinks when I see a truly magnificent photograph, artfully and skillfully created, being reduced to some raw ingredients by some other photographers. The questions and comments revolving around exposure, brand of camera, time of day and location. There might be compliments involved, but mostly these questions are asked in order for others to try to replicate what they admire the photograph for. In a way this diminishes the magic of a photograph, the poetry pushed aside by technical trivia, the sung reduced to the notes leaving out the timbre of the singer's voice and the excellence of his or her performance.

The Missing Ingredient Blog PostThe Missing Ingredient Blog Post

It is as if I knew the exact ingredients and amounts used, I might be able to recreate the recipe of a very nice dish a chef has cooked. This would overlook entirely the amount of time the chef needed to cook it, the training he has had, the experience that he built, the intuition to know when something is just right and the hours of trial and error he spent in his kitchen, constantly persevering at getting things right. Taking the dish down to its raw ingredients in the right measure totally neglects the importance of the person who created it.

Mr. SandmanMr. Sandman

I might tell you all the camera settings and the time of day for this picture, but it would not tell you much at all. The shutter speed I chose might have had a lot to do with weather conditions, the iso I chose might have been high because it was raining hard and it was dark, or I knew that this iso setting was ok to use with my type of camera. The aperture choice might have been a compromise to make up for a higher shutter speed, the lens I chose might have been the only one I had with me. The settings are mostly irrelevant to other times, other conditions and other types of cameras. The real ingredients of this photograph were literally hours and hours spent on just one spot, circling these trees, trying to find a way to create something worthy of how I felt about them. I came back time and time again and tried and tried....hours went by trying to do these trees justice  and when I finally looked up I was amazed at how many hours had passed. 

A photograph is not just a sum of exposure and technical ingredients, just like a painting is not just the type of paint and brush that were used. It is a personal interpretation of something that means something to the artist. My exposure settings are not the only variation that would work, my camera is not THE one that should be used for a particular photograph and even the time of day is down to personal preference. 


Photography is interpreting a scene in a personal way. When the photographer changes, his or her outlook and interpretation change as well, even when the ingredients stay the same. There is only one really essential ingredient in photography, and that is you or me....the one creating the image. It does not matter if you use a phone or an expensive medium format camera, our photographs need us to be the main ingredient. The interpreter, the artist, can't be neglected in any photo we admire. I don't believe in admiring someone's talent as if someone has higher powers.  I do believe in hard work, in perseverance, dedication to craftsmanship and creative expression, in learning from so-called failures, in rising up when you stumble, in never succumb to the comfort zone and to actively seek out challenges. 

The how behind a picture is not hardly as interesting as the question why a photograph was made. If you focus on the why, you put yourself in your work. Your personal way of seeing will be the main reason for creating something. Of course one needs to have basic technical knowledge of how to use the tools to bring forth your interpretation, without it, there would be just a vision and no ability to bring it to life. 

You need knowledge, but your work needs you who asks what it is about a scene that moves you to create an image and who is not afraid to work hard to get it right. You are the one who mixes up the raw ingredients and puts yourself in your work, by interacting with the subject through your camera. 


Thank you for your interest in my work and my writing. I highly appreciate it. If you would like to help me continue writing these blog posts and learn about forest photography, perhaps you might consider purchasing my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography and/or subscribe to my newsletter.

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