Instinct disciplined by technique

A reply I posted in a thread at Serious Compacts. (With some slight revisions)

"When people say they want to "find themselves as a photographer" are they saying that they want to be a better photographer, that they want to engage more with their subject matter or they would like to get a better focus for what they are doing and come to some decision about where they want to take it?

I've always believed that photography is instinct disciplined by technique. By this I mean that as a photographer you need to be true to your instincts, and then learn to use them as a starting point to create something special. But first you have to decide, what do you want to photograph? What do you enjoy photographing?


One of the important things I feel, is to understand what makes us pick up the camera and want to press the shutter. What exactly is it that we want to capture, record and preserve? Is it an unrepeatable moment in our lives, is it the way the light catches a plant or a building, is it to find a way of expressing our feelings about being where we are? This is a personal question that we all have to answer. If the answer to the question, is "I like using a camera" then can we call ourselves photographers? My answer would be, No we can't.


Reducing what we see to a two dimensional rectangle, involves understanding what we want to put in those straight lines, and also an understanding of why we want to do it. As long as we have some idea of what the process means to us and helps us to achieve then we may be able to be more sucessful. We don't however need to understand fully what it means to us, and that will usually only become clear in time. Its good that we ask yourself the questions that we do, but its also perfectly possible to take pictures without having all the answers. The photographer who is 100% satisfied with what they do, is to my mind, a complacent photographer, and I personally never want to take the "perfect photograph" because what do I do then?


In the meantime, while we are looking for these "answers" there is nothing that should prevent us from getting on with the craft of photography. The more we learn, the more we can do, the less of a mystery the whole thing becomes. The more options we give ourselves, the more possibilities open up and the more pleased we become with what we are producing. Inspiration may arrive less often than we may wish it to, but there's no excuse for not using those other more mundane moments to hone our technique, improve our skills and get ourselves to a position where, if and when the muse does descend, we have the ability to do it justice."