Close Your Eyes
Before we get into what I wanted to talk about here today I’d like you to take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine a photograph. What came to mind? Was it a snapshot of your significant other? A beautiful landscape? A classic work of art? Maybe you invented one in your mind, an image never seen outside of your imagination. Now, consider being the photographer behind the camera as the photo was taken, even if you were the one who took the photo. Can you imagine the smell of the air? The sound of the environment around you? The emotion felt as what lay in front of the lens transpired?
This is something that makes photography unique among other forms of art. These are not just arbitrary collections of light or pixels, photographs are alive. They are living breathing creations. Every snap of a shutter is another wormhole opening that bridges the past and the present. They collect memories, preseve them and hold the potential energy to thrust them back into your awareness. Even when they are not your own. A great photograph can take you anywhere, it can transform you. Of course, that is, if you let it.
Trouble is that we are currently drowning in imagery. The potential of any one image is being diluted with over exposure. I bet that when you closed your eyes, your mind didn’t jump to one, single photograph but leapt among a dozen different images, bits of each colliding into the next. Our minds move so quickly through an endless mental back catalogue of imagery that it can be hard to focus on any one thing for more than a split second.
It’s why you don’t see me posting a ton of images here or on Flickr. Being more mindful of what I choose to share allows them to have more of an opportunity to be seen, absorbed, and with any luck, remembered. Mental space is a precious thing these days and we can use all the breathing room we can get.
In light of this perspective on the value of any given image I have, in the past year or two, found myself shooting less than I once had. While out taking photos of something I won’t fire off a few dozen shots of the same scene. I find myself being more selective of when I trip the shutter. It has lead me to to a place where I feel more focused and confident in the process of shooting. At one point in the past year I lost my one lager capacity compact flash card and rather than go out and replace it with another I decided to stick with the few 2Gb cards that I have around. These give me around 120 shots per card and I rarely switch out cards unless I am traveling and shooting more often.
I find that in limiting the potential amount of images I allow myself to capture I am able to drive myself into a mental space that puts a greater importance on the things I do choose to capture. It puts me more in the moment rather than constantly glued to the LCD display of my 5D. While this comes after years of constant shooting and learning, I think both beginners and pros alike can benefit from a few creative restrictions.
Photography is a lifestyle as much as it is a profession. The images you create are only as good as the places you allow yourself to explore or the situations you place yourself in, so rather than let photography control your desires, let your desires and passion drive your photography.
Point being is that I firmly believe that to get great photos that will leave a lasting impact you must live your life to its fullest. Don’t question yourself too much, just stay active, follow your instincts and passion, and surround yourself with things that inspire you. Take chances! Nothing ever happens just by sitting around. Sometimes to discover these things you have to go out into the world and find them.
This is something I realized a few years back when I started to shoot film again. I discovered that my favorite personal work was that which I left a little piece of myself in. Sometimes it may be an intimate moment, other times it could be a place or situation not typically thought of as deserving of a photograph. Years of tailoring my shooting and subject choices for what I thought others would like grew tiresome. Letting myself venture beyond my comfort zone helped me discover that I did in fact have a voice while behind the lens and it’s been a joy to explore the implications of this. Even while out shooting at my favorite lake or while on a job site, I look for things that speak to me. I compose the shots I take first in an obvious way, then I shift my perspective to look for that one magic spot where I feel the subject resonate with my point of view. A good example of this would be the seemingly out of focus image posted a few weeks ago.
Life as a photographer should be an open book. There should be no dividing line between where your day to day life begins and your photography ends. Share with the rest of us what makes you you. When I see an image I always search for its reason for existing as much as its technical achievements. No matter how great an image may be technically, it won’t leave a mark if it lacks a soul.
This is one of the most important lessons learned while developing my skills as a photographer which, of course, is never ending. As with every great photogrpher in the medium’s short history you never really stop learning, it’s beautiful evolution and it should be embraced. So, that said, get out there, camera in hand, and live.