Everywhere I look people are taking photographs. Nearly everyone I know has a camera of sorts. These days you can even snap away on your cellular phone. But what makes a really great photograph ? What separates an image from the pack and makes it truly remarkable ?
As astounding as technology is, I do not believe it is always the size of your camera that counts. This is not a technical journal. To be honest, I suspect I could be more in tune with current trends, but I own a very basic middle of the range SLR reflex camera. [link]
Nothing special. I could seriously do with an upgrade ! So I won't be talking about the methods, shutter speeds, f-stops, etc There are articles that can explain these things much more efficiently than I could.
As an artist at heart, I tend to approach the process of photography in a similar fashion to rendering a painting. The method is somewhat different, but the camera becomes another creative tool through which to obtain a desired result (almost like painting with a lens)
I've had much early experience with shooting on film. I think this was the grounding I needed of how photography works. These days most things are digital, but many of the principals I believe are the same.
I would like to talk about the approach to photography. For me there are 3 important steps to achieving great results.Step 1: Understanding your subject. "A good photograph will prove to the viewer how little our eyes permit us to see. Most people only see what they have always seen and what they expect to see. Where a photographer, if he's good, will see everything."
-Leon Levinstein. [link]
Ask yourself the question - why am I shooting this photograph ? Remember we are talking about taking a 'great' photograph, not just a regular happy snap - which can no doubt randomly turn out to be great, but this is not the point.
You need to understand your subject. You need to get in tune with it !
A simple example would be, if I am photographing children I should consider shooting from their level. As an adult, if shooting down onto a child, the picture might look a bit demeaning. This is fine if this is the desired result, but what if you want to capture more of the essence of the child. You need to think like a child. In your mind you need to become the child. This is a process and it takes practice, but going down on your knees or just sitting down on the ground already brings you to their level. Your photos will already start to look different.
If you are shooting food, in your mind you are eating that food - sure hope it looks good, otherwise it won't taste that great, right ? Will your viewer feel like they want to lick the photo, or perhaps you want to say something else ? Evoke an idea, even if you are shooting dead fish.
Dare to think differently. If you shoot a scene exactly like you see it, it has to be really special otherwise you will just be revealing the way everybody sees it all the time. You need to make them stop and think about your image. You need to make an impact.
Sometimes you come across a scene that you want to shoot, but maybe you feel you don't understand the subject well enough. You have little to no knowledge of it, but you feel compelled to shoot it anyway. Shooting the 2008 Kalk Bay Spring Tide has been one of the most exhilarating of photographic experiences for me. [link]
It was surreal to the point where I lost myself. It felt like I was shooting on a movie set, yet I was also part of it. Everywhere around me was water, mayhem and madness. I felt completely relaxed. This is hard to consider, if I have to take into account my car that had just blown a head gasket, which I had left somewhere on the side of the road. I was hungry for these pictures. I forgot about my car. It did not matter. It was freezing and it was miserable. I put this out of my mind. Nothing else existed, I blocked it all out. Would you believe me that I saw this picture 'Don't Take this personally!' in my mind before I actually shot it ?
I knew how to take a reasonable picture in these weather conditions, but what I really needed to do was to tune into what was happening around me. This is a simple approach to understanding and then processing. When you shoot that great moment, whatever it is, how grand it is when you are able to become one with the wave. Then there is more, you are not just the wave you are the sea. You are not just the sea you are the storm. You are the moment, you are one with it. Clicking the shot is sheer rapture. You have to do nothing else. You just have to be there, anticipate it, feel it, them capture it when the moment is completely right.
With this approach to photography, how could you not start getting better results ? I don't always get it right. I am still learning, but this understanding has worked for me.
Remember, a lot of 'you' as a photographer can be revealed in a photograph if you are truly one with it. Forget about what people want to see in your pictures. Start thinking about what you see - what you really see. Now how are you going to go about revealing this to the viewer ?