OK, so maybe it’s a bit trite at this point. But I’m watching Jerry MacGuire and I think there are still some good bits of wisdom there.
In a phone conversation with my buddy Monte Trumbull , we were talking about how to reveal one’s own "voice" in a photograph. How to make a personal statement; how to produce photographs that speak for you.
I believe that making truly expressive photographs requires conscious thought combined with a personal, innate reaction to the subject. In other words, finding a way to respond to what’s happening, and distill the essence of that reaction within a rectangle. This is not easy but is essential to produce an expressive photograph – no matter what the subject.
Try this: when looking through the viewfinder, identify your instinctual, emotional connection with the subject. Be clear about what you like and what you don’t like, and be clear about why. The more you can identify with your photographs, the better they will become.
From Jerry MacGuire: "If this [points to heart] is empty, this [points to head] doesn’t matter".
Respond to your subject with your heart and let the rest flow.
I believe that taking control over the creative process as well as the technology is very helpful when learning to create better photographs. It’s ironic… once you’ve got everything under control, you can really let loose creatively. The results can be profound.
If you think about the work as its own entity and evaluate it as objectively as possible you will learn from your previous work and your future work will be better for it. Learn to separate yourself from the photograph. Learn more from mistakes than successes.
One way to do this: Do a critique of your image. Take a couple of minutes and write about a photograph. Describe it, as if you were telling someone on the phone about it. Include as much technical information as possible. Describe the photographics. Describe the feelings the photograph conveys to you. Describe what you like and what you don’t like about the image.
For example, here’s a sample description of a photograph:
5 windows with white frames on the side of a blue wooden-sided building
In the closest widow is a reflection of a distant shore with buildings and palm trees
Overall well-balanced, center of interest is well-positioned
Strong converging lines
Picture space divided equally into 3 large triangles
Smaller triangles and trapezoids/distorted squares throughout
Low key image, overall low contrast
One small bright area of high contrast
Soothing blue tones
Nice, calm mood… but geometric boxes like this can create sense of being closed-in, claustrophobia etc.
The long vertical rectangles at frame right and left create a stable, almost “locked in” kind of feeling
The scene in the reflection creates an oasis, a glimmer of hope… the “light at the end of the tunnel”. This comes across as the main subject and theme of the photograph.
Suggestions for improvement:
– Desaturate blues just a bit
– Warm up and add saturation to the reflection scene
– Burn corners of frame slightly
– In the second window, top left, the shape that’s now tan, change to blue and darken that corner overall
– Remove contrails from reflected sky
– Consider retouching to add clouds into the sky (if you don’t consider that “cheating” 😉
While learning if you come away from a shooting session with several photographs that you are pleased with, it was a job well done (unless you’re working for a client!). Having more is, of course, more satisfying but don’t expect every capture to be a winner. Making pictures is an evolving process of learning.
A few days ago I posted an article about the importance of writing about your work in order to improve it and to be able to more easily talk about your work to others.
Another suggestion: look deeper. Closer. Harder. More intensely. And then back off again. Control it, plan it, then let it flow. Create a rapport with your environment.
Try these writing exerciseswhen you’re out in the field making photographs:
1. Get a pen and paper ready. Find a comfortable spot. For 5 minutes sit with your eyes closed. Listen. Feel. Smell. Hear. Do everything but see. Then, open your eyes. Pay attention to your reactions. After a minute or so, jot down a few impressions of the experience.
Then, for 5 minutes, make photographs that reflect your impressions of what you saw when you opened your eyes.
2. No pen and paper necessary for this one. Select a spot (different from #1) that you find photographically intriguing.
For 5 minutes, take as many pictures as you can. Different compositions, different exposures, depth of field, etc. Don’t review anything, just shoot.
In the next 5 minutes, make only one picture. Find a subject and look closer. Then from another angle. From farther away. Consider artistic/creative intentions. Plan your photograph. When you’re ready, make the exposure.
Always keep a pen and paper to jot down ideas, thoughts, notes, impressions. Review your notes periodically and apply what you’ve learned to your photography.