By E. T. HOLDING, F.R.P.S.
There is a widespread superstition amongst the inexperienced in matters photographic that it is easier to do landscape than figure work. The natural consequence of this mistaken notion is that for one amateur who interests himself in the photographic study of figures and faces there are a hundred who devote their attention entirely to landscape. The latter regard the camera as merely a holiday companion, whose vocation it is to make a more or less pictorial record of places visited and of scenes that had attracted by their natural charm. Even those whose appreciation of the beautiful leads them to produce beautiful photographic landscapes, rarely seem to develop that instinct in the appreciation of what is beautiful in the human form - or, at any rate, they refrain from giving photographic expression to it. Perhaps they have been abashed by the fearful and wonderful groups, figures, and poses to be met with in many amateurs' collections ; perhaps they have gazed with horror upon the work of the local professional ; or, peradventure, it is a fear of ridicule that holds them back - a dread of those ancient, time-worn jokes about the havoc and distress caused by the amateur photographic portrait ! Yet it would be a pity if such things deterred one who saw beauty, or thought he saw it, from attempting to portray it - a pity not only that the photographer himself had been denied the joy of perpetuating that particular thing of beauty, but a pity also that the contemplation of it had been denied to all those who would have seen his production. For a thing of beauty, even if it be merely a photograph, is a joy for ever.
E. T. Holding.
From a Snapshot by Jas A. Sinclair.
Why it is that figure work is thus regarded as so much more difficult than landscape has puzzled me since I first possessed a camera. For to the making of a good landscape photograph there goes an infinitude of knowledge, and of circumstance beyond the control of the photographer. He may cover leagues of country before he finds a composition that pleases him - and then may find the lighting is all wrong for his purpose. But in making figure studies he may pursue the even tenor of his way in his own room or garden - quietly and uninterruptedly planning his effects, master of every detail he wishes to introduce. He may (if he is not in his garden) defy the elements, and instead of scouring the countryside for happy compositions, find his ready-made under his own roof-tree - or make them himself.
Another superstition regarding this branch of work is that the necessary outfit entails the expenditure of vast sums of money in special lenses, special cameras, and a host of other special accessories. I grant that the photographer who is "so dispoged " may lay out a very pretty sum upon such matters, and with advantage to the scope and quality of his work and his comfort in doing it. But (if Mr. Sinclair will allow me) I should like to say that I have seen much beautiful figure work and portraiture done with a guinea camera. Indeed, the most precious and indispensable item in a photographer's outfit is a knowledge and appreciation of what is beautiful. With this knowledge he will make beautiful photographs with whatever camera he may have at hand. Without it, the most perfect and exacting lens that science can produce will do no more than render with added faithfulness and truth the extent of his failure.
Granting, then, the possession of this quality, the next most important is to have a lens that will allow you to give expression to it. On this point I am ill qualified to advise. Nor, indeed, is advice from others very necessary - for it is probably best for each writer to formulate his requirements upon his own experience, and get the lens that will best meet them. The lens is regarded with considerable awe by most amateur workers. It is, for those unversed in the laws of optics, a thing of mystery. I once asked an enthusiastic beginner in photography why she never tried figures or portraits. " Oh," said she, " I have only a landscape lens." I hastened to ask her what the difference might be between a landscape and portrait lens - and her reply led me to believe that she entertained the idea that they were so totally different that portraits taken with a landscape lens might almost be expected to look like trees ! The chief difference between a portrait and landscape lens lies in the aperture at which they work.