How Much Do You Value the Process of Creating Images?

How Much Do You Value the Process of Creating Images?

Each week it seems, a new camera is released. And with every new release is the lure of new features promising to make the already easy image-making process even easier. This raises the question, do the benefits of easily creating images outweigh the potential benefits we might gain from taking a more challenging approach?

The answer to that question will depend on how you feel about the process of taking photographs. Taking for granted that anyone who picks up a camera would like to create good photographs, the question we want to explore is, how much do you value the process of making those photographs?

Portrait of my brother-in-law, Jaemin. I captured this image as part of my 365 Project. I started that project to help encourage myself to shoot more often. Leica M10 Monochrom.
Let us take a quick digression and examine the process of booking a trip for a vacation. The experience, for me at least, is both time-consuming and frustrating. You might spend an hour on a site like Travelocity, trying to decide which flight among the dozen offerings is the best choice. If you are renting a car, you have to make decisions regarding the make and model of the vehicle, as well as the insurance coverage. Deciding which hotel to book is similarly complicated, with decisions to be made on whether it is better to book a cheap hotel located far away from the principal attractions or a more expensive hotel within walking distance from your sightseeing activities. For me, the enjoyable aspects of a vacation only begin once I have reached the destination and become acclimated to the hotel. If I could snap my fingers and eliminate the process of booking the trip, I would do so.

Sometimes, I pick up a camera solely to create images that will be delivered to a client in exchange for a monetary payment. On these occasions, there is good reason for me to simplify the process as much as possible. However, most of the time I pick up a camera, no client is involved. In these instances, is there any real benefit in making the picture-taking process as simple as possible? In addition, many of you reading this likely create most of your photographs for yourself. Why should you seek to diminish your role in creating those images?

I am proud of this image. It required a lot of skill on my part in setting up the lights and making the subject feel comfortable. The Nikon Z9's autofocus system ensured that the image would be in sharp focus.

There was a time, not very long ago, when the person behind the camera needed to dedicate themselves to the art of photography to create a strong image. Setting the camera to an automatic mode where the device could handle basic settings wasn’t an option. Thirty years ago, you had to pre-plan a photography session by purchasing film hours or days before your shoot. During the shoot, you were shooting blind because you had no guarantee if you were focusing or exposing images correctly until the film came back from the lab. In the early 2000s, digital cameras became popular, allowing us to take pictures and review the final images immediately after pushing the shutter button. We only had to wait a second or two to find out if we had nailed the shot. That wasn’t fast enough. Many shooters were eager to replace their DSLRs with mirrorless cameras that allowed real-time viewing of the image as it was being created. Photographers no longer needed to visualize what the final shot would look like because the EVF provided a real-time representation of the final image as it was being created. Using these tools, we found our hit rate increased, but did we lose something as our investment in the process was lessened?

Early cameras required that we manually focus the lens. Later offerings gave us autofocus. The earliest implementation of autofocus gave us a single point in the center of the frame to position the subject and allowed the camera to handle focusing duties. This wasn’t good enough for many of us, and we demanded multiple focus points. Camera makers gave us multiple focus points and added a rear control pad to select which point we wanted for each subject we photographed. Still not good enough for many photographers. We insisted that the entire shooting area be usable as a focus point. Our demands increased, and we no longer wanted to select which point would be used. Camera makers designed technology that could identify the subject and focus on that subject no matter where it moved on the frame. Our pictures got better, but our input on the process of creating those images decreased.

Portrait captured using a Leica M9, which has the limitation of only capturing 5-7 images before becoming inoperable as it writes files to the SD card. 
In the film days, many clients requested we shoot on slide film. The exposure latitude on this medium was narrow. The shot was often unusable if the exposure was off by half a stop. As time passed, DSLRs dramatically increased exposure latitude to the degree that we could be off by 3-4 stops and still produce a usable image. Ironically, it was now unlikely that our exposure would be incorrect, since we could review images instantly as we were shooting. Once again, our hit rate was improved, but our input on the process was diminished. 

What is the purpose of using a camera to create an image if the camera itself is doing so much of the heavy lifting? If you want minimal involvement in creating the photograph, why not just buy a print that someone else has already photographed of the subject you are setting out to photograph? 

For my professional work, I use a Nikon Z9, a tool that allows me to deliver strong images to my clients consistently. It is set to an autofocus mode that locates the subject’s face and keeps it focused. I love making money with my camera, but that was never my motivation for being a photographer. I enjoy the shooting process more than I enjoy having the photographs resulting from that process. I shoot for myself more often than for my clients, and most of my personal work is captured on the Leica M10 and M10 Monochrom cameras. I adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture values for every image I create. I manually focus every picture I take, often at f/1.4. As a result, my hit rate using the M10 is low compared to my hit rate when I use the Z9. And yet, I use my M10 more often than I use the Z9 simply because the process of shooting with the M10 is more fun. 

When I engage in street photography, this is the type of image I look to create. There are many obstacles in my way, the foremost being the difficulty of raising the camera to my eye to manually focus without being seen by the subject. Leica M9.
When I engage in street photography, I embrace the process and the obstacles that accompany that process. Rather than photographing whatever is before me, I seek to capture romantic interaction between couples. Using the M10 and a 35mm lens, I need to get close to my subjects, lift the camera to my eye, and manually nail focus. I create the photographs solely for the enjoyment of that creation. I don’t make any money from street photography, nor do these images generate attention on my social media accounts. I face obstacles in creating this work, many of which would be eliminated if I used my Z9 and a zoom lens. And yet, I sometimes spend hours wandering the streets with my M10 looking for my subject matter, only to end the session with no photographs worth sharing. On those occasions when I do find the shots I am seeking, I am elated. I know the shot was earned when I use the M10, especially when I have chosen to shoot candids up close in the NYC subway system. Creating solid images with the Z9 is akin to earning a participation trophy for showing up and pushing a button. 

I asked for permission to photograph these women attending a showing of The Little Mermaid in Times Square. It was not my intention to use a slow shutter speed. I was working quickly and the camera I use for these type of images does not provide real-time feedback for focus or exposure. 
It is worthwhile for all of us to explore our motivation for creating photographs. If your only goal is to make strong images, seeking out the latest and greatest technology in each new camera model may be a smart move. But if you often feel unmotivated to get off the couch and go outside to take photographs, perhaps your shooting method doesn’t give you enough of a sense of accomplishment. Maybe, the fact that you don’t have any obstacles stopping you from capturing a sharp, perfectly exposed image makes the process feel empty. This way of thinking contradicts what we are being told by camera manufacturers, who imply that we will love photography more than ever if we buy their latest model. My suggestion is to find a way to embrace the picture-taking process. If that means shooting with a film camera occasionally, then so be it. Maybe use your current camera but impose limitations on yourself by limiting yourself to only one focus point or taping over the LCD screen. Whatever approach you choose, you may find yourself more inspired than ever if you stop taking the easy path in creating your art.
John Ricard's picture

John Ricard is a NYC based portrait photographer. You can find more of Ricard’s work on his Instagram. accounts, and

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I think a camera can very much change a photographers approach to a model. I think It changes how models respond to you as well, changing the types of images you get. If you shoot 8x10 large format and only shoot 4 pictures in a whole shoot, there is a very different dynamic to a digital shoot. I shoot with a phase one camera, I find the slower shutter speed and slower autofocus changes the pace of shoots. I find I spend time on the tethering computer to get the light right and then shoot without looking much at all, using my time to make a connection with the model.

Agreed. The gear I use absolutely has an effect on the images I create on a shoot.

I love the process of making a photograph. I shoot landscapes with large and ultra large format cameras. Out for hours to only shoot a few negatives, spend another chunk of time mixing chemicals and developing the negatives, waiting for them to dry, spending at least a day in the darkroom printing the negatives, and then toning and finishing the print. After all of that, I put the print in a box and start the process all over. I enjoy the print, but love the process of making it.

Might make for a good article one day ;)

As a photographer that lost a lot of my sight in 2009, I have had to rely on autofocus. I have memorized camera menus, Lightroom and some Photoshop workings. I still set all my camera settings, but I cannot use manual focus. And although I miss film, I had to move up to a dslr and am now looking at moving to a mirrorless camera. I stick with Canon, because I am familiar with button locations and their different color menus. I am passionate about my work and I do edit all my photos. I create each photo session using my instinct, intuition, heart and creativeness. But I have to have autofocus or I cannot take sharp photos. So advanced cameras are absolutely necessary for me.

That makes sense. When I use a Leica M each day, I am aware that there will be a day when I am too old to use this system that I love. I’m glad you are able to use modern gear to continue your photography art. I appreciate the automation as well, when I am doing a client job.

Photography has become so accessible and ubiquitous, with images and digital editing tools surrounding us with mundanity, that I've lost interest in the process (thanks internet and cell phone). I loved shooting small, medium and large formats, Polaroids (and other instant films), 35mm and full and cropped frame digital. I wandered NYC, Moscow the woods surrounding Inwood, etc, and ran a small but profitable home studio. I developed and scanned my own negs and worked tirelessly setting up a dedicated black and white ink jet printer (including building profiles, calibrating, editing images in as neutral light as possible, etc) - but since everything is documented to fkn death these days, I sold almost all of my cameras, my whole film stock (for good money) and just need to sell my vintage nikon and LF lens glass and I'll be free - all that being said, examples of good photography will always be valued and prized...

I do hope you find a means of doing photography that excites you again.

The less I rely on photography as an income source, after 35 years in the game, the more the process matters to me. I’ve done the Sony’s, Fuji’s, Nikons and Canons and they make great files. But none of them make me want to pick them up. So much so I switched to Leica full time about a decade ago. Part of it was I’d spent a couple of decades collecting a set of skills that I wasn’t using with more modern cameras. I was bored. I wasn’t exercising my brain. Leica was/is stupid money but I felt my images were better because I didn’t get lazy. I liked having to *work* a setup to get the image. I liked slowing down. I like less reliance on zooms. It certainly wasn’t easier but it was more satisfying and the clients got what they wanted.

Now I’m half retired I’m the opposite. I just want the work related stuff done so I can put more energy into shooting for fun. So I have a small Canon and Fuji setups for the jobs that I still shoot. Autopilot and collect the cheque. For my personal shooting I still use Leica and Hasselblad. The upcoming SL3 could see the Canon R5 go though. I don’t do anything that demands that level of AF performance, mostly.

I think a lot of people feel this way. Both Leica AND film are having a resurgence. Some are realising they don’t actually always want it to be easy. The process matters.

My dream would be to one day only accept jobs that I can shoot with a Leica M camera. I also agree with your statement that more people are coming around to the Leica system. I've seen several vloggers begin to talk about how much they love the M or Q system, when in the past they were hyping Sony, Canon or Nikon cameras.

This really was one of the better articles I have read in a while. Beautiful work. And your photo of the ladies at the Little Mermaid premiere was absolutely my favorite, with the slow shutter and composition. I’m looking forward to exploring your work a bit more.

Really appreciate the feedback. Articles like this take me a really long time to write -about 6 hours. The idea was in my head for quite some time, but I couldn't pull it together. I actually sat with my brother-in-law (pictured at the top of the article) and recorded a 30 minute conversation between us where I tried to flesh out the idea. I then paid someone to transcribe that conversation and I used that as the core of the article. The funny thing is, I'm aware that an article like this doesn't get as many views as say, "Influencer falls of cliff taking a selfie" or "How one photographer lost all his images because he didn't back them up properly," but I think the topic is worthwhile, so I just go ahead and put the time and effort into writing the article. It's good to know that at least one person appreciates it. So, thank you!