Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

Lately, I’ve been bombarded by pedants. It goes with the territory – and I’m not complaining, but I am concerned. The entire reason – the ONLY reason I publish Photofocus is that I want to help photographers. Period. I make a little money from it but frankly, not enough to impact my bottom line. For years I did it minus any advertising or money. I did it because I have gotten so much from photography that I wanted to share.

Since my motive is to help, when I see that pedantry is taking over photography – especially online, I get worried. That’s because I personally believe that pedantic people cannot – will not – ever become good, let alone great photographers. They can’t seem to get out of their own way.

If you are a pedant – I’m writing this to try to help not scold you. If you take it the wrong way there’s nothing I can do about it.

So what’s the problem?

If you’ve ever heard the old saying – “He can’t see the forest for the trees” then you’ve heard a brief description of a pedant. Photography is all about vision and imagination. Unfortunately, pedants are all about detail, which isn’t always a bad thing – but when pedants consider detail they almost always do so without context – and that IS a bad thing. Useless details…details without context…details for detail’s sake…these things get in the way of making great photos.

Unfortunately, pedants are unimaginative. They are consumed by process. The processes that consume them come from an often deep reservoir of knowledge of many facts – most of them useless or unnecessary. Pedants are usually smart. But it’s the kind of smart that reminds you of the character Cliff the mailman on the old sitcom “Cheers.” It doesn’t really help anyone.

Pedants often feel the need to display their vast knowledge in a manner that gets in the way of real learning or even real experience. They are about conforming to their rigid ideals based on the fact set they choose to believe in and never allow context, experience or results to enter into their thinking.

When I write a 1000 word post about a photographic topic, the pedants will actually look for a single solitary fact (which may or may not have something to do with the meaning of the post) and jump on it. Example – when I wrote about the photograph, not the process being important, pedants went through lists of exceptions like – “But what if you can’t get in to take the shot?”

In other words, what I was writing went right over their heads because they don’t have the capacity to look at context. I am hoping this post will get a few pedants to reconsider.

If you’re overly concerned with minute details, you may make a great macro shooter, but you’ll never ever be a truly great photographer. You’ll miss the bigger picture – pun intended.

This all ties back to my argument against being process oriented. It serves to eliminate all creative thought. Another reason this has hit close to home is pedantry’s impact on this very site. It’s negatively impacted my ability to share. It’s impacted every other photographer’s ability to share. It’s one of the reasons I disabled (permanently) the comments section on this site. I found myself writing pedantically because I knew the pedants would be pouring over every word just looking for the smallest detail to pounce on. I decided to stop worrying about that and closed comments so I could focus all my energy on helping people learn what I’ve learned. And if the pedants took a break they might learn something too!

I see countless new photographers spend countless hours commiserating over things that have nothing to do with great photography. The trick is to relax, and think “wax on wax off.” Just kidding. But there is a Zen component to photography – conscious or not, that pedants never find.

So if you’re unable to get out of your own way and spend your time arguing over which slider is best to use in Lightroom to adjust tone, stop it. At least try to stop it. Try to go with the flow. While you find great comfort in your routines, vast knowledge and processes, great photography starts to happen when you leave your comfort zone and just tell stories with your camera. And lastly, remember to take things in context. Context matters when making great images.

Good luck.

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. [...] I wanted to walk through a recent edit I made to my favorite image from Niagara Falls. It’s inspired by a recent post I saw on Photofocus on detail and how some photographers forget to ‘go with the flow’ sometimes. You can read that article here. [...]

  2. [...] After connecting and sharing, providing meaningful feedback is the next step, and there’s a few things about providing feedback. First of all there’s the person who provides the feedback and secondly there’s the way of providing feedback. I recently also read a great article by Scott Bourne on this with which I couldn’t agree more: Pedantry is the enemy of great photography. [...]

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