I wrote a previous essay about the old adage, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.", and ended, "especially in photography." That's the point here. Twenty years ago photography was a lot simplier. Like that new or news to anyone with any inkling of knowledge in or about photography. It's exploded since and keeps exploding.
And that's my point. It's exploded beyond any photographer's ability and effort to be more than literate. Being competent in any one aspect anymore requires so much time to learn, you still won't be able to learn it all or do the rest of photography. There are so many people working in and advancing the technology and information that it's a constant job to tread mental water. And the truth is that we can't anymore.
That's where everyone's, and as I see in myself my own, limtiations in learning, understanding and using all the information anymore isn't possible and we struggle with just grasping the ideas. If we tried to be technically competent anymore, we'd be spending all our time learning the details of photography than being a photographer.
Years ago you could just go out and shoot. You'd get the film and pick the best to print or publish, and roll on. If you wanted to be good in the darkroom or even a darkroom master, you could, but you could always find the time to get back to being a photographer. New films weren't introduced so frequently and you could learn the ones you wanted and test the news against your experience and knowledge.
And camera technology was more incremental with the occasional big step in new features and functions. A Leica M-series camera would last you a lifetime. A Nikon F-series lasted through numerous photo adventures and travels. But it was still all about your skills as a photographer and your knowledge with your tools. And then everything changed with autofocus, automatic exposures, and other improvements, but more so with digital cameras.
That's a whole other story. I wanted to talk about the sheer quantity of information today. I thought of this getting the recent issue of Photo Techniques magazine, only one of three I subscribe to, LensWork and View Camera the other two. To understand what the writers are presenting takes a good depth of knowledge and experience, but more importantly, to actually practice what you just learned, takes even more time.
There simply isn't enough time to learn anything beyond the basics for a good understanding of photography, and learning a specialty would require focusing on a one to a few areas at the expense of other things in life to learn more. You simply run out of time. It's the nature of the world today. You have to pick what you want and let the rest fall by the wayside.
I've written that I'm an occasional observational photographer. I wander and take photos of what I see and produce realistically as possible what I saw. No more, no less. It's what I want to do in and with my photography. That means a lot of the technical details are lost on me. I simply don't use them, but that doesn't mean I don't want to understand them, because the more you know and understand, the better photography you do.
And that's the rub of today. You can't. You can learn and do better, but be ready to always learn and be overwhelmed with the enormity of information and people working in the one area, often having spent a career and even a lifetime at that one or few things. And that's not a bad idea or practice. It just has its own price and cost.
Just look at any longtime professional photographer. At their career and life. They focused and expanded as time permitted. They grew their knowledge with and from their experience. It's about a life and lifetime. The whole world of photography has been enriched and improved because of these efforts. Yet, It's also made the rest of us less competent.
In the end, it's the choices we make in our photography life and career. We choose and leave the rest to others, but we shouldn't forget the adage. Don't think we're smarter than we are. Or else we'll be the adage.