Last month I wrote about shooting/seeing like no one is watching. I should have knocked on wood. Literally overnight, the comments, votes and favoriting of my pictures on facebook, flickr and 500px dropped to zero. Nothing, zilch. Suddenly, like a self-help guru on the verge of calling his mother for help, I had to remind myself of my own words… and then… eat them. Not a tasty dinner, either.
A lot of you wrote comments thanking me for the encouragement my last bit of writ provided; and as of even last week comments were still coming in. I’m so glad you were all encouraged because now I’m having to walk the walk I talked, and it’s not easy. Simply just being a human being means that I crave interaction and acceptance in some form or fashion. For us who photograph, it means we crave others’ interaction and acceptance of our art, and in this age of social media, this need is deeply fueled by a thousand applications, a million users, and a hundred thousand searches; a book of faces, a chattery bird limited to 140 characters, the word flicker missing an “e” and hundreds of other locations on the “interwebz”. Our need to be seen, to interact, and to be accepted has been exponentially magnified. Gone is the day where one solitary black and white picture of a sailor kissing a nurse under a rainfall of confetti on the front of a newspaper page identified the mood of an entire nation. Now we have entire revolutions being picture-casted by the general populace.
Or is it? Might it be possible to define the mood of a country, a region, a culture, an event, a single life with one picture? It is possible. Shooting/seeing like no one is watching does not mean you are taking photographs without purpose or that you are not taking pictures for others to see. Far from that! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get back to basics and seek out those elusive, solitary defining images and moments and capture them. To be free from being trapped inside a certain technique or calling on Captain Photoshop to rescue every image. How do you do this, you ask?
As Thomas Leuthard writes in his wonderful eBook “Going Candid- an unorthodox approach to street photography”:
“You should not waste your time with processing and the technology. Get the basics about photography and your camera and that’s it. The rest you learn… by taking photos. It’s all about the eye, your eye. You have to see things before you can capture them. No matter what camera you are using, first you have to see what is going on, first you have to realize what is happening next and second you have to virtually compose the photo. Forget your camera. A lot of people care more about cameras, lenses, equipment, file formats and other technical things. Forget all about technology and camera settings. You have to train your eye first, before you can think about capturing a scene.”
Defining moments are waiting for you to be a part of them, not for you to observe them. My wife is expecting our second child at the beginning of next year. For me, thinking about seeing my new child, I realize I need to not be “the photographer” for my new child but “the father” for my new child. Sure, I’ll have my camera in hand, but I’m going to forget about what the aperture is or what settings I’m using and just take a few pictures when I see what I want to remember. It’s more about being in the right place at the right time than it is about having the right white balance setting at the white time. All of the photographs I admire and revisit are ones where the photographer was caught in the moment and simply triggered the shutter. I don’t sit there critiquing the blurriness or the under/overexposure of the images; I sit there and am moved by the moment they have frozen in time.
Be a part of the moment. Get back to basics. Forget about who likes you and who doesn’t. Capture the moment. Freeze time. Use an iPhone, a point and shoot, a box with a bit of film and a pinhole — whatever is at hand. Whatever it takes to define the moment you are in. Put your eye through boot camp. Just take the picture. If you let the picture speak for you, I believe that there is an audience waiting for its voice.
I’m reminded of a favorite movie of mine, The Matrix, where Neo is being trained on how to fight and keeps failing at getting to Morpheus, despite his best efforts. Morpheus looks at him and says “Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!” I think it’s time to stop trying to be a photographer, and be a photographer. That’s where the learning, the journey and the discovery are.
(The image above was shot over my shoulder without checking settings on a Canon Rebel XT using a 50mm f1.4 lens.)
Next month, The Lost Art of Shooting in Manual Mode.
I’m a Canon fan boy obsessed with DoF, 50mm lenses, low ISO and in-camera shooting. If you don’t know what any of that means, I’d love to tell you. If you do know what those mean and realize that I really am just obsessed with getting cool bokeh with low megapixel cameras, then we might just be on the same page. I’ve been shooting film since age 15, went digital over 5 years ago and shooting weddings and portraits semi-pro/part-time for the last 3 years.