Simplify. Easier said than done, right? We spend a lot of time learning all the ins and outs of our complicated cameras. We read blogs about how to do this and how to do that. We spend hundreds of dollars on videos, workshops, seminars, etc. During all this, we are forgetting the most important aspect of photography which is the art of taking a photograph. I’ve said this before, but I can’t stress it enough. The photographs we cherish so much and aspire towards were mostly taken with very simple cameras. Give yourself a break. Set your camera on “P” mode for a day and just go out and shoot. Think about composition and capturing the moment. Give yourself a simple project and spend the day making images for that project.
Yesterday, I spend the morning with an outstanding photographer. One day, while in Mexico, he decided he was going to spend the day shooting dog bowls on the streets. I’m thinking, “Dog bowls? WTF!”. Well, his images were amazing. Beautifully framed, thoughtfully composed and taken with patience. He found the composition and waited for that extra element that make the photo. The tail end of a dog lazily laying by the bowl, a plant beautifully arching over another colorful bowl, and on it went. Simple, composed, and inspired. Give yourself a gift. Take a simple lens. A prime lens, if you have it, is great for this. Put your camera on auto and just go out and take photographs. Concentrate on composition and gestures that have soul. Forget the rest. You will be truly inspired and rejuvenated. I promise.
Gear! Oh, the thought of a shiny new camera or lens just sends most of us into a state of bliss. Stacked upon my coffee table are months worth of photography magazines filled to the brim with paid advertisements telling me that I can be a much better photographer if I just buy this or that. I’m as guilty as the next in lusting after that next generation camera or that new f/1.x lens. If I could only spend $2000 on this or that, I could make photographs that will please generations to come! Not true. Here’s the real truth… all the amazing photographs we love and strive to equal were made with far less cameras than the cheapest entry level camera available today. Yes, you heard me. Vivian Maier, Cartier-Bresson, and all those guys didn’t have anywhere near the camera or technology we have. But their images resonate with heart and soul.
Many of us who claim to be photographers are actually photographic collectors. Camera hoarders. Lens collectors. Gear-heads. Call it what you like, but if you are a true photographer, you can capture the heart with anything. I’m guilty. I admit it. But once I realized that I’m spending more time reading about photography, trolling the forums and cruising B&H for the next big thing than I am actually making photographs, I had an epiphany. None of that really matters. Someone I talked to today said they wished they took pictures like their grandmother used to take. Think about that. It’s so true. Vivian Maier walked around with a box camera and snapped shots with heart and soul. Sometimes we spend so much time looking for the money shot, we miss what actually could be the so-called “big one”.
The point of all this is that we need to stop obsessing about the gear. Stop reading the forums and Ken Rockwell’s BS. Spend that time, instead, going out there and making photographs with whatever camera you happen to own. The more you press the shutter, the closer you will be to finding your vision and making that capture that will move the hearts and minds of those looking at it 50 or 100 years from now. What may seem ordinary today will, I assure you, seem exotic tomorrow. Take photographs. Don’t dwell on what others have done, dwell on what you have yet to produce. If anything, look at other photographs for inspiration. The best photography book you can read today has no words. Simply images. Study those and you will make better images yourself.
I’m very excited about my upcoming seminar on Seeing Creatively: The Art of Composition at BlackRapid headquarters on October 12th. I’ve got a lot of great information that I can’t wait to share with everyone. I was at BlackRapid yesterday recording a podcast with Ron Henry, founder of the BlackRapid camera strap. I’ll let you know when it’s available for free download on iTunes. By the way, if you haven’t tried the BlackRapid camera strap, you’ll get a chance to check it out at the seminar. I’m sure we’ll be giving away a few as door prizes, as well. Hope to see you there.
Earlier in the week, I posted a quote by Dorthea Lange . Born in 1895, Ms. Lange was not only one of the era’s iconic photographers, creating the image called Immigrant Mother in 1936, but she also went on to become one of the most influential photo journalist of the early 20th century. She said “The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera”. I love this quote and got to thinking about it some more over the weekend. There is great truth in this stateement. As a photographer, my journey into this art of seeing continues to expand. Initially, even without a camera hanging from some appendage, I’d see landscapes or scenes in 4×6 ratio, framed as if looking through the viewfinder. As my eye developed, I can not wander the landscape without seeing in shallow vs. full depth of field, color vs. monochrome, or vertical vs. horizontal. I see shadows & light and how they interplay with each other. While watching a movie or Breaking Bad, I see the time of day they were filming because I see the angle and color of light, shadows and texture. I could never see any of this before! And, I dare say, without the photographic eye, most people will never see these things. Nowadays, most people barely notice each other, never mind the surrounding world, because they walk with their faces are buried in some sort of device. They are missing out!
Seeing photographically has opened up the world to me in so many ways. No longer is it cloudy or raining when I look out the window. The clouds now have shape, form and texture. They are wispy or puffy. They sky is a particular shade of blue. Grey days have become shades of grey (most of the time). Continue reading “Seeing Without a Camera”