Live Your Photographs

Why is it that some photographers are able to come up with wonderful and engaging pictures even about the smallest trivial details that most of us wouldn’t even consider worth a picture – not only once in a while, but again and again? While others make nice, well composed pictures about important and presumably engaging subjects, but still never manage to engage with their pictures? What is the secret of the profound artistry of the former? The answer of course isn’t a simply list of properties an upcoming photographer – or any artist for that matter – needs to learn and understand about her trade to excel. It’s probably a little more complex than that. Nevertheless I don’t think there are any secrets to the engaging artist, although it’s still a kaleidoscope of characteristics that goes along with artistic excellence.

For one, the photographer who manage to engage us with his pictures, has found his own style, not by specific techniques or postproduction manipulation, but coming naturally from within – as I wrote about in my previous posting. Another feature about the engaging photographer is that she herself is engaged in what she photographs. I think this is something we all need to learn. We need to have interest in what we photograph; we need to feel that our subject is something or someone we can relate to ourselves. What we really need is to want to photograph, not for economic reasons, for fame, for stock, for publishing reasons, for someone else, but because the picture matter to ourselves. The reason? The engaging picture is actually a picture of ourselves. It reflects our own life.

If you feel that your pictures are boring and not engaging, maybe it’s because you life isn’t as exciting as you really want it to be? I repeat again; our pictures reflect of own life. Mind you, I am not talking about the grand expedition, being the big adventurer or living la vida loca, but really just living the life that is fulfilling to you. If you thrive with home sweet home, that’s where you will find your pictures, those pictures that will engage all of us, too. Ernest Hemingway once said «In order to write about life, first you must live it!» If you exchange the word write with photograph, you will get the equivalent for us photographers. Of course it’s not easy to live up to Hemingway’s way of living the grand life, but that’s not the point. The point really is; if you want to tell something as an artist, you need to live it. You are your photographs – no matter what you actually photograph. If your pictures are boring your life is probably boring, too – for yourself.

That’s where I started out myself. I was good with the technical part of photography. I was good with composing pictures. I had a good eye for light. But I never really engaged anyone with my pictures. It all changed when I started to travel for real, meaning going to countries and places that aren’t made for mass tourism. I started to relate to people on the places I travelled to, and I discovered I enjoyed meeting people. That’s when my pictures switched from beautiful and boring landscape and nature copies to more interesting human stories. And that’s still how it goes. I love photographing people, I love the meeting, I love the interaction, and I love to understand a little bit more about human life. Back then travelling was in many ways just the catalyst, not really a requirement for my engagement. Not any more at least. Today my photos certainly don’t have to be taken in far-away places any more. They might just as well be of my love ones close to me and in my own neighbourhood. It’s not about place – for me – but about people.

I am still an avid outdoor guy, but somehow I have never been able to connect my passion for nature and photography. It also has to be said, that barely any other nature photography – at least the traditional National Geographic kind of nature photography – manages to engage me. Somehow I have to find a way, my own way. But this is something I will get back to in another posting.

54 thoughts on “Live Your Photographs

  1. As the commercial goes: “You are what you eat”. It is all about engagement and the people you engage. We also have to learn to engage and be open to allow others to engage with us. It is not a one way street. That is the tricky part, if we are not open to meet and experience we will not regardless of the fantastic opportunities or people in front of our lens. The greater thing is that the engagement does not have to be verbal. Many-a-times I have encountered people and not being able to speak their language but we still had a “conversation” and yes (sometimes) the pictures turned out.

  2. People who live away from me think I lead an exciting life. They know me through my photographs.
    I certainly go and do and live a variety of experiences and the sum of it is exciting, even the mundane can be brought to life. I am thinking about your post a lot. One friend says, “you take something ordinary and make it interesting for the rest of us”

  3. Bingo. I’m going to print out your post. I feel like you might have explained me to myself. I never have an answer to those who ask me what I shoot. I shoot my life.
    I’m going to think more about what you wrote today. Very interesting and thought provoking post. I look forward to more on this subject.

  4. You are so right about this, “Live Your Photographs”… It also means for me to put or to add your heart to your photograph… For example if you take a flying bird, you should feel this flight as if you are flying too… Ah, am I right, I don’t know but I feel like that when I take a bird flight… Yes, I am not a good photographer and haven’t enought technical knowledge,… but I am being lost with my camera. Maybe I don’t live my photographs, but I forget everything with my camera. Thank you Otto Von, your thoughts and your photograph and your experiences are great. With my love, nia

  5. Thanks everybody for the wonderful replies. It’s almost overwhelming with such a response, but it’s fun and you all have are some very good points. Instead of answering each of you, I will collect my thoughts about what has been said so far. First, Henry, yes, you are so right, it’s really a two way street. We can’t only “take” our photographs, but we need to give and interact in a two way communication. It’s a very good point. And it goes right to our own engagement. You can’t be really engaged if it’s all about yourself (even though I do say good photographs are about ourselves).

    And to Robin, of course, it certainly applies to more than photos. To have an interesting and engaging life in general – you need to involve yourself in all aspects of life.

    Ruth, looking at your blog, you sure take some interesting picture, be it mundane or more special. I do think you live your pictures.

    Now, Linda, I find it really fun that you think my posting was able to explain you to yourself. I take it that in some ways feels right to you, but of course there is so much more to your photography. Let’s keep discussing the theme, it’s a continuous process of understanding ourselves, and we can all learn from each other.

    I love you the way you describe the way you shoot a flying bird. Yes, heart is very important. Lost with camera, sounds like a very good description of what I was trying to convey. And not a good photographer? I think your paintings are just lovely, so alive and vivid.

  6. Great post, Otto! Although I’ve done some landscape photography, I’ve always been a people photographer. I think that the reason is probably because I find people more interesting than nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature and the outdoors, and it is fun to photograph a beautiful outdoor scene or wildlife…but for me, people, with all of their traits and quirks, etc., are more interesting and engaging.
    I really like what you said about the fact that a great photographer’s vision comes from within. The word “passion” is probably overused, but I think that it is that passion (for a person or a story) that drives one to produce their best work. You can see this in the work of some of the greatest photojournalists such as Steve McCurry (his work in Asia and SE Asia), Eugene Richards (his work on how drugs and violence have negatively affected people), etc.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    1. Thanks Tod, for the feedback. Even if passion may be overused, it’s still a very necessary component of the creative act. Without passion, we don’t go anywhere with our art.

  7. Hi!
    Thanks you for stopping by my photo blog, I don’t know how you found me, but thanks for your words of encouragement. I am a home sweet home person, so most of my pictures of my family and home. That’s where I’m most comfortable. Have a great day!


  8. “We need to have interest in what we photograph; we need to feel that our subject is something or someone we can relate to ourselves. What we really need is to want to photograph, not for economic reasons, for fame, for stock, for publishing reasons, for someone else, but because the picture matter to ourselves. The reason? The engaging picture is actually a picture of ourselves. It reflects our own life.”
    Well said my friend. The photo is truly an extension of us, our passion, the things and persons we care and believe in. It is something that comes from within, something that inspires us and makes us happy. When we love what we do, people will notice that. Have a great weekend. Wonderful post.

  9. Otto I really don’t know what to say, you write a lot and so wise words, you really make me think:)
    Photographing is serious hobby for me and I love everything beautiful what ever that is, it must be beautiful, mostly flowers (you know “girly” beautiful pictures but that is me). I would love to try take pictures from people but I’m kind of shy and I hate taking pictures in a streets (I’m afraid!). If your photographing course would be in Europe not in Bolivia (I can’t manage the fly over there) I would participle immediately, that would be so exiting and new experience. I already forgot what was my point but it doesn’t matter, you did awake so many thoughts:)
    Thank you so much dropping by in my blog.
    Har det bra

  10. If you love taking pictures of beautiful flowers, that’s what you should do. There is at least no need to venture out on the street with a camera if you hate it. But if you do want to shoot pictures of people, there is only one way to do it – and that’s to do it (I know it sounds like a silly argument). When I started out photographing people I was shy like nobody else, too – and the pictures were pretty bad back then. But eventually one get used to it – or somewhat use to approaching people and strangers, be it on the street or somewhere else. As to workshops in Europe, my friend and colleague Sven and I are actually planning to do a workshop in Norway next year. More information will be available later this year.

  11. thanks for liking a post on my page and leading me here.
    This is an inspiring piece of writing, and says so much about what makes a photograph vibrant.
    I see lots of photos on WordPress that look sweet/ nicely composed/ technically impressive but which simply do nothing for me. Sometimes it’s the ‘bad’ photo that captures something words struggle to express.

  12. Your love and joy show through in this marvellous photograph, thanks for posting! and for liking my post, so I could come and see yours, it is so important to be your own true self, and your delight can then be shared with all of us 🙂

  13. Thanks for your comments IsobelandCat and dadirri7. Sweet and nice and well composed photographs aren’t lasting images if they can stir your emotions somehow. I’d rather have bad photo, too, that makes me react or think than a beautiful and “perfect” picture that doesn’t do anything for me.

  14. I think what you have to say is true about writing as well. It’s finding the balance between the artistry, the technical and the passion. I’m working on that. I think you’re very talented.

  15. Your commentary on Live Your Photographs is spot on. As a working professional photographer I felt as though my images were mediocre. After retiring and reconnecting with the style of photography people ‘understood’ my images.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and thanks for your thought provoking post here!

  16. I like what you say very much.
    Not so easy perhaps to connect wholeheartedly with our life and our photographic eye — but when it happens, it really does happen — the photo lives, sings, jumps off the page.

  17. This is my first visit to your blog and I loved this post! I am just starting to learn about photography and this is incredibly helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Excellent post. Your words certainly ‘ring true’ for me.

    Also love your photos – very inspiring and creative

  19. I have no technical ability whatsoever but love looking at beautiful photographs. I hadn’t given much thought to your subject matter but it certainly rings true. I am constantly disappointed that the image I have in my head isn’t what appears on the page. Guess that’s why I mostly stick to words but I’ll keep on trying. Thanks for the visit.

  20. Great shot! I photograph a lot – mainly scenery, landscapes, dogs. I haven’t yet ventured out into the streets as it seems to be such an intrusion of privacy in some ways…

  21. Your title says it all. If you are truely in touch with your subject whether it be landscape or people, and you do it out of something deep within yourself, it will come through your photograph and touch the viewer. It’s all about the true energy that is put in it at the moment the shutter clicks.

  22. I just looked at your work on your website Otto, you are obviously one of our ‘better’ photographers! I love your work and your blog it is so refreshing to see truly accurate, stunning and beautiful work. I’m of an age where it maybe too late for me to reach you level of expertise (and I don’t say that very often!)
    Your work is inspirational and a joy. I love the work on your twins. I have three sons – all grown now – and like most fathers, I guess I have simply 1,000’s of pics of their babies. So I can appreciate yours.
    Thank you for dropping my my blog and your comments.

  23. Many thanks for visiting my blog, Munchow. First, I declare that I am a total amateur in my photography – I’m not being humble! I love photography (nature and people) so much that it is great comfort to know that the root of the word “amateur” is “to love”. Aha! I can have my passion and live it, too!

    I am dyslexic which has not stopped me from doing anything in life. However, it affects my technical skills with the camera. My brain drops or knots the relationship between light, distance and settings. I can understand my cheat sheet and by the time my fingers are on the camera, it’s backwards!

    Your description of being at one with the subject was like coming home for me. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for being so open. I think it’s one of the greatest gifts from a person; give of yourself and be honest. I am so glad dyslexia hasn’t stopped you. We all need our cheat sheets.

  24. Hi Munchow,
    What a great post. I’m so glad you visited my blog. I’m an amateur and basically take photos of the people who come to my cash register at the Museum where I work…

    I love what you said here:

    “What we really need is to want to photograph, not for economic reasons, for fame, for stock, for publishing reasons, for someone else, but because the picture matter to ourselves. The reason? The engaging picture is actually a picture of ourselves. It reflects our own life.”

    I’ll be back

  25. “If you thrive with home sweet home, that’s where you will find your pictures, those pictures that will engage all of us, too.” –

    This was an “a-ha” moment for me. Not necessarily the “home sweet home”, but figuring out where it is I thrive/feel at home with my photography will be something to ponder for a while. Thanks, and thanks for visiting and “liking” my blog!

  26. I need to make a kind of reportage of the Café in Paris, black-white, showed my photos for a guy who wants me to photograph the Parisian Café, I speak better French than English, if not you can speak Norwegian with me… “Je suis une Suédoise à Paris” But the problem is my right hand, broken… I can’t hold my camera…

  27. Interesting post. Thank you. It is also interesting to me that you very kindly “liked” a series of photos I took, or at the very least “tried” to take of a little girl and a puppy. They are typical photos I take of people, only occasionally have I captured children in a photo that speaks to me. More often they are out of focus, etc, etc. This series was so bad, I decided to turn it into a joke, aka the reality of perfect opportunity (what could be cuter than a little girl and a puppy?) in a series of blurs. I was more than surprised that you did comment. My passion is my yard. It’s close to home, the photos of nature I get there inspire and make me happy. What others think of them does not matter to me.

    So after reading your post because you “liked” one of mine, maybe my calling is the missed opportunity. I have lots of those. So there is hope. (I would put a smile face here, if I knew how.)

    Two things I know for sure: 1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
    2. There’s no accounting for taste, even my own

    1. I think in all honesty I’ll have to comment your post, to actually make it clear why I liked it. It certainly wasn’t a joke on my part. But of course you are right, taste varies from one person to another

  28. I think what you have to say is true about painting as well. Don’t we all try to find and make pictures that enchant us and hopefully others as well? Or are we visually, emotionally or spiritually searching something by photographing and painting? Are we on the look out for something we like and need to discover? How interesting to read your post and all the comments. Looking forward to your next post on this subject.

  29. I find your photographs engaging. So I’ll take your advice.

    It’s true that both with my writing and photography, if I work from the inside out I find the end result engaging.

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