I think we have all experienced it. The frustration. Of coming home and looking at the pictures we have just captured, and then find out they don’t look what we wanted them to or they don’t look how we experienced whatever we were shooting. The pictures don’t show the majestic landscape as I saw it – the pictures don’t convey the joy I thought I was capturing between two people – they don’t express what I felt in a very intense moment for myself.
Why is it so? Why don’t our pictures show the world as it occurred to us at the moment of capturing? Why is it so disappointing?
For the most part I think there are three reasons. One is related to our focus on technique, the second to our focus on subject matter and how we have been taught to see the world, and finally we haven’t quite learned the visual language and how to express visually our vision.
When it comes to technique, we have been so seduced by technology and technique – by ads, by photo magazines, by our peers, by the technological development itself – that we have forgotten the creative part – our vision and our intent. We have forgotten that the art of photography lies in the cross line where craft and vision converge. Too often we get so caught up in the maddening learning curve of the craft that we neglect the vision, or we are so spellbound by technological possibilities. Or just think a technically perfect pictures is all what matters. In the mad rush to learn all the buttons and dials; we forget that photography is not a technical pursuit. Photography, as an art, is an aesthetic, creative, and expressive pursuit. Yet that pursuit is achieved by technical means, but the moment we leave vision out of the equation and make it merely about technique, our photograph won’t be able to convey what we felt and what we saw at the moment of shooting.
Then the focus of the «right» subject matter – what we have been taught to think as the «right» subject matter – is also getting in our way when we are shooting. This emphasis is all about finding the right landscapes, catching the right emotions, revealing the right sociological conditions. The conventional photographer who goes after the «right» subject matter is a bit like a big game hunter searching for prey or a butterfly collector looking for another specimen to add to his or her collection. Through our society, magazine we read, pictures that surrounds us, what we pick up from other photographers and experts on photography, we form concepts about what subject matter is attractive, what is artistic, what is worthwhile. These concepts are like filters or templates that shade our experience. The same goes for rules of composition, the «right» light or tried and true techniques. Bound by these concepts of what is beautiful or «right» or dramatic or unusual, we search for scenes that fit the concept – a dramatic sunset, a beautiful waterfall – snap! What happens is that these concepts of conventional subject matter become obstacles to clear seeing.
Finally if you intend to show that majestic landscape and make the viewer feel it just as you did when you saw it, it’s not enough to just put your camera to your eye, press the shutter button and think you have gotten it. If we really want to express the majestically nature of the landscape, we need to understand how to express it. That a wideangel view might actually lesson the majestic feeling, that without a foreground and something to show the scale the viewer will not see the grandness of the landscape. We need to understand how to direct the eye of the viewer around in the picture so that she or he will experience somewhat the same as you as the photographer did when you captured the scenery – or what you intended to express. The visual language is not a concise science, but we still need to understand how it works in its subtle way, again not as a «right» way, but by conscious choices to emphasize what we intend to express.
I know; it’s not easy to get everything «right», but by practise and by willingness to learn we can all improve our photographic skills and eventually be able to express our intent and vision as we had in mind when capturing a photo. These and other factors I will address in more depth in my upcoming eWorkshop.