Monday, December 26, 2011

The Thinking Side of Photography

Lately I have been meditating on my free February workshop presentation to the Harrison Camera Club. The topic is Wildlife, Wild Flowers & Wild Hairs. It is important to me not to be entirely serious. I am certain there is wisdom in stepping back from certainty and understanding that all things are "wiggly", the world is about verbs mostly and few nouns intrude. This includes all rules, mine included.

My core focus will be on "wild hairs". I think about photography a lot. I deconstruct, take apart, the creative process believing that careful thinking is the most important creative tool any photographer has. Put another way, "your head should always be attached" when you take photos. It is true that serendipitous photos come your way if you are hacking around, but you can get better results if you re-attach your head.

Here is a short list of my personal wild hairs about photography:

Pre-visualization & Light 
  • Great photos tell stories. To quote poet Muriel Rukeyser "The universe is made of stories, not atoms". Like stories, pictures range from haiku to novels. You will succeed the extent to which you tell a story. Does your photography evoke emotions? 
  • Equipment is not photography any more than brushes are painting. I really get fatigued over this confusion. My recommendation on equipment is that you should not buy before you hit a creative barrier in your actual picture taking.  The time may come when the lack of a certain lens will matter, or not. Toting 25 lenses mostly hurts your back, it does not expand your creativity in most cases. Often I take just one lens. Yup.
  • Composition is what matters most. How do you learn composition? Dig, study and shoot. Step outside your norms and make mistakes. Study composition in painting for landscapes and portraiture, study composition in flower arranging for wildflowers, etc. Take risks, try stuff. Etc.  If an image "speaks to you" figure out why and how it was taken. 
  • Learn to see light. Seriously. Many photographers simply don't see. Do you know your camera sees only 50% or so of the light of your eyes, meaning short tonal range? You can expose for the shadows or highlights, or take HDR's to capture the whole range in the scene. Understand that subtle differences in light will be amplified in your image.
  • Study Photography through Pre-Visualization. You can learn a lot by relaxing and thinking about light and composition for any subject. Forget the camera, use your imagination to identify what you seek in light, shadow, form, and organization of those forms.  For animal photography, what behaviors do you seek? For landscapes, what lighting, what forms and lines, placement of objects, and so on?  If you do pre-visualization exercises you will recognize an opportunity much better when it presents itself
Opportunities Must be Recognized 

This short list is only the beginning really, but it does cover the high spots. Each of the 5 points is a book in itself. My photo $150 one-on-one workshops get at these points (and others). 

Ansel Adams said that getting 5 good photos a year was a good average, any more was a very good year. That is the confession of a master who understood the points above (and more). 

Now is a good time to study. The challenge of working in the subtle tones of winter forces your hand as a photographer. Finding compositions in this context is always challenging, but you must believe there is a photo. Be thoughtful, make mistakes, learn. Greet the 2012 season with a new creative approach. 

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