Photography: A Hands On Artform

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against photography as an art form. One of my least favorites is “all you do is push a button! How is that art?” Well, plebeian, I’d be happy to explain that to you, if you’d allow me.

Being a photographer isn’t just b2016 -Ringing Rocks-38eing a person with a camera. Everyone has a camera these days. Everyone has a dozen photos of their cat or their own face or their cars. This isn’t what makes a photographer. What makes a photographer is the awareness of taking the photograph. Lining up the frame and having an awareness of self and timing and waiting for just that perfect moment or for the light to move or the leaf to fall. Photography is a lot about waiting, but it’s also about being proactive. For example: take this image. (Ringing Rocks Cliff)

Obviously, this isn’t a shot a person can take from anywhere. A hike is involved, a friend who is crazy enough to sit on the edge of a 30 foot drop is needed, and your own crazy self needs to climb up on a boulder that’s slick from the water kicking off a waterfall and your boyfriend is grabbing onto the back of your pants because, “You literally just said you could have majored in falling down! No I’m not letting go!”

Photography is a lot of sitting and waiting and a lot of sitting in front of a computer these days. I personally do a lot of editing there, especially since I shoot digital. But I never feel “hands off”. Sometimes “hands on” can be as simple as making decisions. Choosing to depart from your comfort zone and step out of yourself to make something incredible is why I do what I do. I want an opportunity to make some incredible art, I need to travel to that opportunity, whether it’s down the road to a studio or up a mountain. Being able to work out an exposure problem or a flash connection issue while I’m on the side of a cliff isn’t a problem all photographers face, and I understand that. However, there’s something ultimately rewarding about fixing issues like this on the fly. Knowing my equipment like an extension of my own body is part of being an artist. I know a painter who feels the same way about his brushes, a dancer who feels this way about her shoes.

Photography has always been seen as a way to distance yourself from situations. War photographers speak about using their cameras as ways to remove themselves from the horrors of reality, and instead focus on the viewfinder. I disagree. I have always found that documenting an event, person, or object makes it stand out ever clearer in my mind and memory. Photography is as hands on as it is eye opening. The litany of choices you have to make in order to create one single frame can take hours. Today’s “shutterbug” mentality puts a haze over how photography is viewed. Taking a million photos doesn’t make you a photographer. Obsessing over details and doing something kinda crazy just to get that one shot? That’s more like it.

caitlin head shotCaitlin Spiess is a photographer and writer from Bucks County, PA who holds a B.S. in Fine Art Photography from Hofstra University. When not having an existential crisis about her legacy, she’s either photographing her cats or searching for her next project. You can find more of her work at



4 Responses to “Photography: A Hands On Artform”
  1. Courtney says:

    Wow, what a refreshing take on photography. My sister went to school for this and I thought she was downright crazy for entering into professional art as a career. I can see now that she deserves so much more credit for her works. I especially love the personal experience you shared with us. Thanks, CW

  2. Karen Spiess says:

    What a neat article! Makes a grandmother proud!!

  3. Susan says:

    Well done sweet Caitlin. We are all very happy for you as you pursue your passion.

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