I have been taking on the task of greatly trying to break my old habits and really focus on what I am shooting. I have been a photographer for years and I enjoy it quite a bit. However, for the most part, my photo-brain was on cruise control. It wasn’t until a new photographer friend showed up on the scene that really made me think about photography in a new way.
For me, talent only takes you so far. Your equipment can only take you so far, but your vision combined with skill can really take you places. See, one of the differences between a true photographer and simply a person who takes pictures with a camera is that the photographer creates the photo using his vision, skill, talent, and tools. The person with the camera merely records the moment.
So as for myself, I have some talent (I think), been working on the skill, I am getting some new tools, but what about my vision? After reading great books like Vision Mongers and Photographically Speaking by David DuChemin, it set in my mind a different approach to photography the “vision-based photographer” However, this never really solidified itself in my head until recently.
When I was out with the group in Onsan, we were talking about photography and I mentioned how I am now looking at photography differently. I was asking myself some very important questions BEFORE I take the photo. These are questions that I have started asking myself each and every time that I shoot. The reason is that it pulls my head out of “auto-mode” and makes me more focused on what it is that I am about to shoot.
- What am I doing?
Of course this may seem like an easy question but it gets your brain focussed on what you are about to do. You are taking a photo not chatting or talking on the phone. You should be in the moment. You should be taking in the scene.
- What story will I tell with this shot?
By story I mean what are you trying to show or say with the shot. What is the message? They say a picture is worth a thousand words but too often I see photos that just say “yup, this is a tree next to a lake” Take those thousand so-called words and make something. Once you have the story that you want to show then your brain will start getting creative.
- What will be the main focus of this story or shot?
So many times we think that this should be the first step but by making it so, we limit ourselves and end up with shots that are just too focused. However, every story need a hero and that “hero” should be the focal point of your shot. By choosing to focus on a particular object or element but also incorporating other parts of the scene you create a shot that feels complete.
- Are there any better angles?
Here is where we get into the director’s role and look at how this shot will come together visually. Without your head in the shot you might just set up, shoot, and leave. Here you are focussing on the story and the “hero” and you work the location to the best of your ability. Getting closer or moving left and right might make all the difference.
- What camera setting will work best to tell this story?
Knowing your camera and the answers to the above questions will determine what you set your camera to. Will HDR work? Long exposure? f/22 or f/2.8? Many times we just use trial and error and “see what happens” Here we know what it is we want to create and thus work the camera to create it. We are focussed on creating a complete story and using the camera settings to make it happen.
You will notice that these questions are being asked as you are holding the camera and not your mouse or stylus. That is because I feel that the bulk of the “story” has to be created in camera. You can further enhance the “special effects” of the story by cropping in or changing the temperature but you need to have all of the elements in place first. Of course there will always be exceptions to this and you can really create something with photoshop and lightroom but for the most part it should really start when you have the camera in hand.
At any rate, I will try and shot you visually what I mean by asking these questions in future posts. If they have helped you don’t be afraid to drop a comment below
Here is a great video the is related to what I just talked about by street photographer John Free