I have been putting off this post for the last few days, my mind full of things I need to do, I kept telling myself I just didn’t have anything to say. Then wandering through the shopping center buying ingredients for pizza I looked up and around at all the people in this place and thought about each and every one of them having their own perspective on the same scene I am looking at right now.
That brought me back to thinking about photography, I meet people fairly often who ask me how to take a better photograph. People who have been practising and teaching themselves to take photographs but for one reason or another feel unsatisfied with the results. So I thought maybe it would be useful to talk here about what photography means to me and how I approach it, talking about it also for me is of great benefit because I get to touch base with my purpose for doing it and remember what it does for me.
So where to start with photography?
There are lots of articles out there about the rules of photography and so I’m not really going to talk about the specifics here, but it is important to have some idea of the basics and here is why I think why.
In order to craft your image and continue to get results and improve, you need a framework of some form.
In the beginning you need that framework or structure to help you to train your eyes, mind and sense of aesthetics to focus on what you are seeing in front of you, right in the moment. In the day-to-day our eyes are capturing many images all at once and our brain takes all those bits of visual information and creates a composite for us to interact and relate to, at least this is the way I understand it. Part of being able to frame and compose an image is to recognize individual pieces of that larger composite and capture them with a camera.
To learn to really look at the whole scene and deconstruct it enough to find for yourself an image you want to capture. Then along with that what are you trying to communicate, what is its context in the larger frame and the story it is telling? Experimenting with these and other principles is how to grow and where the fun is. How to avoid camera shake without a tripod with poor light or use it to your advantage to communicate something about your subject, experimenting with different styles of photography what you enjoy shooting, what you don’t. How to see the lines in the image you are capturing or using focus to draw the eye in, these techniques all have some basic rules that help you to learn how to use them and give you general idea of what works so that you can train and develop your eye.
When I come across a technique I am interested in I will usually start with reading up on and looking at as many examples as I can (before I get too excited and have to go photograph something) Then with the knowledge I have as a guide and point of reference I can start to learn and then play with the technique. You have to play to really get what happens when you take a picture, when you take a picture with framing, composition or aperture in mind your directly interacting with your subject to create something you want to communicate.
Pay attention to the light.
I think of photography as more than just taking a camera pointing it and pushing the button. When I was first starting out I heard the term ‘painting with light’ used to describe the art of photography and it always stuck with me. It is very much about being aware of how the light is in the place you are photographing. In some places (a studio for example) you will have a very direct and fine control over the properties of the light around you, but there are many other times where you will have no control at all. This doesn’t mean you can’t take a good photo, you may have to tweak it in post production to get exactly what you want but if you are paying attention to the quality of light around you, you can get some really stunning shots.
Light isn’t just for making things brighter, it has temperature and texture. Light can be soft or harsh it can make your images cold or warm and you can work with that too. Some tones you will be by instinct more comfortable with, while others will make an image unsettling, experiment with it. Take a series of photographs with the same subject at different angles, zoom in and out, notice how the light in relation to you and your subject changes the tone of the image. Take photographs at different times of day and see how the quality of the light changes and how it affects what you’re photographing.
Value your perspective.
As I mentioned before I think that part of the art pf photography is being able to find the images in that sea of visual information coming at you, that have some kind of power or resonance for you and capturing it. Sometimes you will have just a few moments to catch it before it disappears forever or you may have days or even weeks to try time and time again to get that composition right. What is most important for this image to be what you want it to be is your vision. It can sometimes be intimidating and disheartening to look out and around at the thousands of images being produced of stunning quality. If you live in a dirty part of town and don’t have much by way of mountains or sunny beaches you may wonder if anyone will pay attention to your photographs. Well they might not it’s true, but that is not a good reason to stop taking photographs.
This is the second but by no means lesser part of what I believe about photography, it’s a real privilege to have the chance to capture moments in time, never to be repeated again. To be able to create something out of that single unique moment that speaks to people in some way, is an amazing thing to be able to do. Part of creating that, is you and how you see the world, how you unpick all that visual information and create a single image, to communicate to other people with. Learn techniques by studying other people’s images that work but don’t aspire to be like anyone but yourself.
It’s what you see and how you frame it that makes it special, this may sound a bit fluffy but I have from experience found that when I have got into that trap of trying to create photographs like other photographers to be more marketable or to get more attention, I don’t. It’s not because they are bad images but, they don’t inspire me or others looking at them. It’s when I trust my vision and what I have to see in each moment and that it’s worth sharing, that is when something special happens.