Photography beyond capturing and sharing.
It’s time to sound old, so let me start by stating that I studied photography during the age of Photoshop but still miraculously learned the forgotten art of film, limited exposures, darkrooms and the sweet smell of stop bath. But it’s not the equipment that or digital workflows that teaches you photography, it’s the process of the art itself.
You often remember certain teachers and mentors later on in life, but the ones that truly make an impact are the ones whose single lessons stick with you for the rest of your life. For me, it was the multiple photography courses I took under James Novak. Sure, take pictures, develop and display is a oversimplified description of photo class but his experiences were far more valuable to me than what I was missing in macroeconomics (I changed majors after that). From the distinction of capturing an image of your subject and actually getting to know your subject, to learning to put yourself in different positions for better viewpoints, the learning never stopped.
I am writing this today because I feel these life lessons and basic photographic principles are already lost. In a world where everyone has unlimited exposures to take, a million pictures that all look the same, covering every event and scene imaginable, the art of photography has been overrun by a horde of snapshots. And there lies the forgotten distinction, photograph and snapshot. A snapshot is a memory, a meaningful experience, a frozen moment in your life you cherish and celebrate. A photograph goes beyond that, far beyond. It captures a culture, a destination, a strong emotional feeling. Taking a picture may describe both but taking a photograph requires significant effort before the camera is even used. Here are some important lessons that may help a large majority.
It’s important to learn about your subject, take the time to care about what you are capturing, make a connection to your photograph before you even take it. Learn about the culture, how people live, what significance a subject has and what story can you tell with a single image.
You are a photographer not a spy on a recognizance mission, you don’t need twenty images from your adventures. Share only your absolute best. This way you avoid repetition. While it’s great in today’s world of sharing and re-posting, it still is about quality over quantity.
Move around, get down, take the camera strap off your neck, you’re not a tourist. I recall another lesson from Mr. Novak, about a trip to the junk yard where he asked students to capture what they saw. Most people take pictures while standing up, forgetting how different things can look when you get lower or higher or place the camera away from you. The best image of the junk yard was that from a dark interior under the hood. Enough light entered for the camera to capture and enough of the surroundings were seen through empty spaces headlights and wheels once occupied.
So while I finally get to write about my photography pet peeves, I hope at least one person takes something away from this and decides to try something different in their photos. In the words of crazy Jim, don’t be afraid to get on the floor, it’s just dirt.