I love this image of my son Brayden, patiently waiting his turn to ride with his brothers on the wave runner.
Aside from being a creative person, I also am a techie at heart. There is a battle within me that happens every time I pick up the camera: What I want to say vs. Technical Knowledge.
I love to solve problems. To find the best solutions, I first need to analyze and understand things. When it comes to photography, this “techie” side of me can get in the way if I don’t keep it in check. I love the technicalities of photography, so this is a challenge for me. When the technicalities mix with my perfectionism, I am in danger of creating, technically perfect, void of life images… Yuck! What I have always loved love so much about photography is the beauty captured in a single moment (cliche as it is). These types of photographs are honest and timeless. To achieve these images we need 2 things:
1. The desire to say something
2. Technical Knowledge to achieve the shot
For the longest time I focused on the Technical Knowledge. Now, I am continuously searching for something I want to say. The more I learn and think about it makes me want to share with you. What you want to say should ultimately be the driving factor behind your desire to make a photograph (this comes from your heart). It took me quite a long time and many technically OK photographs, but missing THE moment to figure this one out.
You may be reading this and thinking “How could he have not known this?”. What can I say, I am slow ;). My technical and analytical side dominated my thinking for too long.
I allowed myself to concentrate on all of the gear review sites, other photographers voices and what they were shooting, attending workshops for portfolio pieces and the teacher’s knowledge. (none of these are bad) According to the online forums, social networks and annual conferences, I was on track to success. I was quite OK with it, humming along until I started getting burned out. The burn out was taking over to the point where I didn’t even want to look at my own images. Not good. The brakes went on and I knew it was time to make some changes.
I have many stories to share about the changes and will certainly share with you in the future.
I feel that now I am finally to a point where I am looking inward more often than outward and able to convey what it is I have to say. My hope is that other people are touched, moved, captured and/or just enjoy what I am creating. I have always desired that viewers of my photographs will be attracted to the moment or subject matter, not what camera I used, what lens I used or what post production I used.
When shooting documentary, one thing that I keep in mind is this: “It’s not about me. It’s about who I am photographing.”. This is the foundation of my vision of documentary photography. Yes, I want to make great photographs and have people like them, but first I want to be in tune with who/what I am documenting. This enables me react at the precise times and to say what I want to say with the images.
Before we get into some of the technical things that will help you be confident and equipped to react according to these moments, here are a few things to keep in mind next time you are shooting:
1. It’s not about you, it’s about the subjects you are photographing. Being in tune with them will only improve your observations, reactions and what you want to say. Put them first.
2. Be likable. If possible, get to know your subjects beforehand. Even if you are a super stealthy ninja photographer (creepy, I know!), making people comfortable goes a very long way. Even being unobtrusive, your presence is felt. Be genuine, real and likable. Trust me.
3. Give yourself time to “see”. Don’t just walk into a place and start firing away at anything you see. Breathe. Be confident. Take your time and be intentional. Look for the story. Look for the light and consider the clutter that may be in your background. Is there a black hole in the corner of your frame? Recompose. Shoot. It is better to have one great image than 5-10 so-so images. Think about “original artwork” (single image). Value is high. Think about mass produced or not original (mass quantity of images). Value is low. Bargain city, right?
4. Look inward. Avoid too much time on forums, gear talk, too many workshops, conferences or other photographers blogs. It is great to get inspired and getting feedback, but you are definitely uniquely made and have a voice that needs to be heard.
5. Practice x infinity. Create personal projects. Curate your BEST images into a nice little portfolio. Print it too! So many photographers today miss out on the joy of printed work. Try making a BLURB book for starters. I am a huge advocate of printed work. I love to show proofs to my clients, but the non-digital finished images are what they really treasure. When they first hold their albums, they are blown away by the quality in which their memories are displayed. Try it!
I hope this gives you a spark and gets you thinking differently. Check back for Part 2 of “What do you want to say vs. Technical Knowledge.”. I will start touching on all of the essential technical things I have programmed into my photographic behavior. We can totally geek out together! In the meantime keep fighting the good fight. It’s worth it!