Several comments over the past year got me thinking about photography and more so what is the job of a photographer and are we doing that job today? First I am not talking about getting in-focus, properly exposed images – this is the basics for anyone that call themselves a photographer. What I am talking about is something a lot deeper and something that the great photographers do regularly. What is this magic? It is to portray an emotion in images they / we take, whether it is a picture of a wedding, newborn, graduation, nature or wildlife.
I was hanging a print on the wall at the studio the other day of some Elk in Waterton when a client came in and made a comment that it looks like the picture was taken on a warm fall day. Funny thing was that it was a cold, damp, windy day that had me thinking that I was nuts to be out in that kind of weather in the first place (actually was headed for home a few minutes before I shot the picture but then I decided to stay and I got the image). A few days after the first comment another person made the same comment on that picture and another one, the second one is of a waterfall that had me soaked to the skin on a cool summer day. That is when I realized that it really doesn’t matter the situation that we are shooting in (hot, cold, wind, rain), it doesn’t matter the type of subject or the location, the thing that really matters is the feeling that the image leaves with the viewer when they see it.
We can quote all we want about the rule of thirds, shooting in RAW, camera types, lens types and sizes and while they all have an effect on the image they really have very little to do with the viewers overall feelings. I was looking back on some old photos that I really admire from before I became a photographer, and one thing that I noticed looking at them this time is that they show a place and a time but really not a lot about what was happening to the photographer. It could be a picture of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton many years ago and the print is amazing, but you really do not feel what it was like to take the picture. You feel what the photographer wants you to feel and that is the important part of taking pictures. I was also looking at some wedding photos taken by another photographer many years ago and I love the pictures, they make me feel warm and happy and some even make me laugh, but I have very little information about what was really happening to the photographer or even in the overall day of the couple.
I think that this is a part of photography that is being lost today. We can take so many pictures with our digital cameras, cell phones, tablets, etc. but we are not putting any thought into the pictures themselves. The pictures that we are getting do not have any emotion to them. We shoot a rock on the shore of a frozen lake and it is boring, we do not even feel the cold. A beautiful sunset or sunrise and doesn’t bring any feelings as it is not cropped properly or color corrected. Part of this I believe is how the image is edited, we need to know what and how much to edit a photo (Photoshop does not have to be a bad word if done correctly) but more so it is taking the time to figure out what makes this scene exciting and how to capture it before pushing the shutter button. Shooting 500 horrible pictures can be blown away by one amazing picture that the photographer took his or her time to get right, something that I mention time and time again when I am judging photography contests.
So a challenge for this year for our photography is to get back to more of the way pictures were taken in the past – take a few extra seconds, minutes or even hours to find out what makes a scene (okay hours will not work with weddings or portraits as the client will not be very impressed, but it can be done by scouting a location before hand – something that I have taught for years). Then work on capturing that in pictures. This may require us to miss some shots while finding others, it may also require us to come back to a location when the light is right. Then once the picture is taken to do it justice in the editing. I hope that many photographers will also do this, instead of shooting just to get pictures lets take some time to capture memories and emotions!