There is nothing as boring as a safe photo. When the photographer didn’t risk anything. However, I don’t mean physically risk his or her life, like going into a war situation or into a dangerous neighbourhood. Instead, I mean going into a situation where you as a photographer feel vulnerable and exposed. Yes, of course that could be photographing in war, but it could be as mundane as photographing a total stranger. It takes guts to approach someone you don’t know and ask permission to take this person’s photo. For most of us, at least.
It could also mean shooting something you don’t feel comfortable with or in a way you have never done before. A photographer who comes to mind is Adrian Chillbrook. He does some amazing landscape photography. On his blog Cornwall Photographic he regularly posts images he captures, often from his favourite place in the world, Iceland. Some time ago he took a chance a posted for him unusual photos; very minimalistic, clean, almost empty but yet very expressive photos. Adrian was overwhelmed by the positive response. He took a chance and the result was magnificent. If you want to see for yourself, have a look for instance at his post Ice and Snow.
All this said, however, just not to tread all alike, there are all kinds of successful photographic approaches where the photographer is quite comfortable when taking his or her pictures. For example, I don’t think André Kertész, one of the old masters, ever felt uncomfortable when taking a photograph. Someone like Brassaï, however had a bodyguard with him at various times. The thing is, much of the best photography happens when one begins to overcome one’s personal limitations. I see for instance that participants in many of my workshops tend to be very shy, particularly when photographing people they don’t know. They often retreat to photograph in empty, abandoned places where no one will bother them.
To do photography, for the most part, we must manoeuvre our bodies around to be in the right spot to take a picture. As photographers, we must be physically in front of something. Once again, noticing what’s happening during my workshops, participants—and I think many photographers in general—are not getting themselves in front of things that really interest them because they aren’t quite brave enough. I try to remind my students that passion can’t really exist in the absence of risk, or feeling risk. Think of love. Falling in love means taking a risk. You don’t know where it’s going to lead, if it’s going to last, and it might even break you heart. Nevertheless, you—or most of us—are willing to take the risk.
And so it is with photography. You need to take risks. It could indeed be a physical risk, like visiting a dangerous neighbourhood, or a more emotional risk, such as visiting your estranged parents or face something you don’t understand. Or it could be, such as the case with Adrian, that you take a complete different approach to your photography.
Are you taking risks when you photograph? Would you be willing to? To try at least?
Facts about the photo: The photo from the Tierkidi refugee camp near the border of South Sudan was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 mm lens, set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/18. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Afterword: I always feel uncomfortable and at unease when photographing people in for them dire situation.