When we’re going through the learning process in photography – learning the rule of thirds, how to create balanced composition, why we shouldn’t put our main subject dead-centre in our image and similar ‘rules’ – one of the things we’re taught is to be very critical, if not ruthless, in our image editing and not let our emotional connection to the scene or that moment we pressed the shutter release, get in the way of that editing.
There’s an element of truth to this advice. Sometimes an image is not as wonderful as we think it is. Rather, because of our emotional attachment to the moment we made the image, we think the image is better than it is. Perhaps technical aspects of the image such as the exposure or focus weren’t bang-on, but we overlook those because of our emotional attachment. In extreme cases, I really do think we need to be critical of the those technical aspects. If the image in not in focus (unless that was an intentional effect) or the exposure is poor (again, unless you intentionally deviated from the norm for a creative effect), then you probably should hit the delete button.
But I get annoyed when I hear this idea that as the photographer, we’re supposed to suppress our emotional connection to an image we made. Putting aside your emotional connection sounds utterly ridiculous and contradictory to me. As photographers and artists, what motivates us to press that shutter button is emotion. When we compose that image in the viewfinder, we are doing it so that we can communicate something to our viewers. We are trying to send a message – for example, sharing the awe we felt when we looked out into the expansive landscape before us. Our entire motivation for making the image was emotion. Something made us think, “Wow”, I want to photograph that! And the whole point of photography is to share this with our viewers.
Unless we are passionate about what we photograph, we’ll produce nothing but uninspiring images. So, ride that emotional wave! Let it get your creative juices flowing. Let it ‘get you in the groove’ during your shoot. Don’t let the emotion cause you to forget those basic technical aspects that you need to execute. But beyond that, enjoy the moment. And when you get home and look at your images, enjoy that emotional connection all over again. If that image tickles your brain, but doesn’t quite ‘do it’ for others, so what? You made the image for you. What you hope is that the wave of emotion you felt, that drew you to the scene or object in the first place, gets communicated to your viewers. To me, that’s what defines a great image – that someone else looks at the image and thinks, “Wow!”. That means they felt the connection. But if they didn’t say, “Wow”, don’t sweat it. Just enjoy it. If every time you look at that image, it congers up that warm, fuzzy feeling you had when you made it, enjoy it! Print it and put it on your wall. 🙂
My point here is that yes, there are basic things we need to do to make ‘good’ images. But I think beyond that, as artists, it’s up to us to make the images we want to make. Sometimes this idea of ‘severing’ the emotional connection to our images, during the editing phase, gets carried too far. Frankly, if no one else thinks it’s a “Wow” photo, who cares? Unless the image you made is for a specific client who is paying for a specific end result, you should be making that it for you. Enjoy it. Savour it. Relive the moment you pressed the shutter. And if you do, more often than not, your joy of image making will be communicated in your images.
A few days ago I took a day of work to have a Zen Day. Life had gotten a bit too crazy for me – stress in too many different areas of my life. Time for a day to stop thinking about all those sources of stress and just get out and enjoy a nice day by myself. For me, that means packing my camera gear in my car and letting the roads take me where they will. I did have one mission in mind – to photograph loons on a nearby lake. We’d been at the boat launch of this lake a few weeks previously and were amazed by a pair of loons that sat about 20 feet away from us. We quickly learned that their lack of concern of humans was due to the fact that the small dam they floated in front of was part of a fish hatchery! Fast food for loons, I guess. To me, this observation meant a superb opportunity to get some frame-filling shots of loons. So part of my mission that day was to head back to this lake. But I also realized that the chances the loons would be there when I arrived were slim. And if they weren’t there, I was ok with that. I’d go back again another day.
So off I went on my adventure. About half way to the lake, I came across a boggy field at the side of the road. It was 6am and a cool start to the morning, which meant everything was covered with dew. This meadow was spectacular. The sun was low in the morning sky, but high enough to back-light the tamarack trees, sedges and other plants in the meadow. And the meadow was filled with spider webs strung neatly between the blades of sedges and the branches of trees. With the dew and the sun to backlight the scene, it seemed as though the spider webs were floating, that they were unattached to anything. They sparkled in the early morning sunlight. When I saw this scene, I knew I had to stop and photograph it. There’s no way I could have driven past it. When I got out of the car, I spent a few minutes just looking around. I like to get an idea of what’s there and what might make a good photo. I like to take the time to visualize what images I might make. At the same time, I was aware that the light was changing quickly and so I needed to get shooting fast. I shot entirely with my 600mm lens. I often use it for landscapes and still life shots.
I focused in on some tamarack trees with a large spider web strung between the branches. The dew-covered needle-like leaves of the tree glistened in the morning sunlight. It was magical! The more time I spent shooting, the more magical the entire moment became. It was like I was transported to some other world – one of many hues of green, plants covered in dew and sparkling in the sunshine. Magical is the only word that comes to mind.
I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of that shoot. I ended up not making as many images as I thought I would. But I was taking my time to pick out bits and pieces of the scene and just simply enjoy the moment.
When I look at these images, I love them. I acknowledge that theyare not spectacular, that many people might look at them and say, “Enh….” or “those are nice…”. No “Wow!” evoked. Or maybe some of you will look at some of these images and think, “Wow!”. Regardless, they still hold the “Wow!” for me and that’s the most important thing. I made those images because I wanted to share with others the magic of that glistening, dewy scene. To be honest, I think the photos just don’t do it justice. You really had to be there. But I’m ok with that. I have an intense emotional connection with these images. I probably think they are better than they really are. But does that matter? I wasn’t shooting for a paying client. I was shooting for me. And so in the end, whether others think they are “Wow!” or not is irrelevant. I do hope that you enjoy them. But I also understand that they are unlikely to evoke the same emotions I felt at the time I pressed the shutter. And that’s ok. I had a ton of fun making them. For me, those moments get the endorphins rushing. It would take kilos of Swiss chocolate to generate the same endorphin rush. 😉
I accomplished exactly what I set out to do – enjoy a Zen day, without thoughts of stress. I enjoyed the landscape, the outdoors and the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Oh.. and in the end, I didn’t get the loon images. I went back three times, but they weren’t there. But that’s ok. I was happy with the what I came home with.