On Photography and Art

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People enjoy photography I think because it is a challenge. If it was easy to produce an exceptional photograph every time you pressed the shutter, no one would be interested in it.

There are mysteries. There are problems to solve. There are unknowns. There is luck and there is error.

But what separates good photographers from poor ones is effort. Good photographers are the ones who are always working. They are the ones who are possessed. They are the ones who go to bed at night thinking about the next image, and thinking about how they need to change themselves to get to where they want to be.

And there is this zen in photography where you just see. You notice things that others don’t. You are often overwhelmed with imagery…with light…with shadows and contrast and colour and form. You are consumed with geometry and finding a poetic order to something without it being any where near perfect.

Yet even with all these things that are enough to drive you mad, a camera in the hand can set you free. It can release you from self awareness. It can unburden you from rule and restraint.

And the mind of an artist is a very strange thing. We think we’re starting to grasp something until we come to terms with knowing nothing. For every question, there is another question. And just like for every thing we think is true, the opposite is often also true.

The ultimate zen though is being free – free from too much thought…free from technology…free from constraint…free from worry about what others may think…and free from needing any acknowledgement that what you’re doing is valid. That’s when art happens.

Be free. And and enjoy the art of the image. That’s all that matters.

 

Happy Shooting,

 

Doug

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The Photographic Approach

Where I live, it can be quite difficult to photograph landscapes due to the amount of forest and dense vegetation all around. In order to obtain depth in one’s images, photographers always think about the foreground, middle and background of their images, often trying to incorporate leading lines and an interesting foreground element of some kind. This calls for a bit of openness or expanse in the land. Particularly during the winter months here, that requires traveling on very unsafe highways great distances, or snowshoeing through a lot of rough terrain just to find any kind of open vista.

First Snow

 

Probably my first love has always been photographing landscapes, but to compensate for the drudgery of the long winters, I occupy a great deal of my “off-time” photographing people in the studio. And interestingly enough, I’ve found that the techniques used for photographing nature or landscapes is often a complete reversal from photographing people.

It’s all about the mindset really and how we approach the process of creativity and “seeing.”

Back in the studio, one formulates many creative ideas even before the people arrive for their session. I do always rely on my instincts though, and may make last minute changes based on what I see seconds before the image is taken. But for the most part, the strategy is one of “attack”, positioning the clients strategically so that they look good, moving the lights around, measuring the flash ratios etc. The left brain is working overtime here. The entire time we keep in mind that these are people, not statues that we can simply re-arrange. They get tired, they can lose interest, expression, and a willingness to show enthusiasm. Therefore, we are always operating on a time clock with people. We are trying to complete our objective which is to grab a photograph that has meaning, and at the same time makes the clients look great.

Family Portrait

 

In the field when shooting landscape or nature, “seeing” a photograph that has meaning is more about letting the right half of your brain take control. I have found so many times that if I go out intent on photographing a great landscape image, I will probably have a rough time of it. Focusing on a task is a left brain activity. In my experience, my best nature photographs are ones that came to me. I didn’t hunt them down. They simply offered themselves while I had a completely open mind.

To have an open mind requires one to let go of preconceived ideas, to stop focusing on having to get a photograph at all. This is where I always instruct my students to breathe the air, feel the coldness of your toes and the warmth of the suns rays as they spill through the trees. Look for the little things, feel the differences in colour temperature between sun and shade, and above all, put the camera down. When something speaks to you, you’ll know it. After that it’s just a matter of refinement, and figuring out how to make it work photographically. But you can usually rest assured that it will convey meaning, much more so than a snapshot. And, the worst thing that can happen is that you’ve enjoyed yourself.

Different strategies, different mindsets… But that’s just one more reason why photography is so interesting.

Happy Shooting,

Doug