From the Heart

One factor that more than anything transpires to imagery that will capture an audience is photographing (or making any art for that matter) out of passion. If you photograph what you love, what you hate, what you enjoy, what you believe in, you will inevitably create images that others will be able to connect to, too.

You may be a technical wizard. You may be an expert of composition and light. You may master your craft. But if you photograph from, let me call it, an intellectual or rational stance and nothing else—looking for lines, modulating light and impeccable timing—your photos will never be able to move an audience. No matter how good you are. The reverse is true, though.

“If you do the work you do from a loving heart, then you will always be able to make something beautiful.” – Zen proverb.

When I started photographing decades ago, what I did was bring a camera along with me into what I loved the most: Being out in Mother Nature; backpacking, skiing, glacier climbing, paddling, hiking. Later on as my passion for photography of and for itself developed, my eye turned to other subjects. In the end, that’s where my photographic pursuit evolved around. For me human connections and relationships generate the most fascinating photographs.

I still love being out in Mother Nature—and do it plenty enough—and I still bring my camera along. However, the photographs I take don’t trigger me the way my humanitarian work does. It’s not because the photos are bad, but my soul is not in those photos. I have often pondered about why. In the end, I think it’s the pure and exalted experience being out in nature, that I don’t find in my photos of nature. It’s almost as if it’s impossible to capture that experience within a frame. The photos I take in nature are more for my memory than for creating photos of their own raison d’être.

Thus, I have come to the conclusion that I need to work on this. I need to find a way to transpire what I feel when I am out in Mother Nature into strong and expressive work. I need to find a personal photographic approach to my love to nature. And not just excuse myself for being another kind of photographer. What I need to do, is bring my heart into the photographing of my encounter with nature.

“’And now here is my secret,’ says The Little Prince, ‘it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’” – Antoine de Saint Exupéry.

Last weekend I spent four days out on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA. We had a fantastic time—and of course, I took photos, plenty of photos. These are but a few from the trip.

85 thoughts on “From the Heart

  1. I find capturing what fills the heart when in nature is quite elusive. But the photos are a reminder for me to remember those feelings. These works are beautiful, and you must have been smiling when you clicked 🙂

  2. I like the quotes and reading your take on the heart involvement, the passion – and other aspects reminds me as to why photography can be so “original” and how I can start to feel a signature vibe in some photographers I follow. Much to chew on here – from your decades of experience – and my son just got back from a rock climbing weekend that included camping – he is a big Youtuber and so he likes to get footage to share there. And so after the trip – while nurturing some sore hands and a scraped toe – he said that he wished he got ten times more footage than he got – but it also would have pulled from enjoying the trip. Ahhh. such wisdom for a youngen
    and that tied into what I read here
    how you experience more and how being there not only needs to be a presence thing – but then it cannot always be depicted in your work:

    “almost as if it’s impossible to capture that experience within a frame”

    1. I have come to realize that sometimes we just have to be with the experience. When we always need to take a photo, it can come in the way of experiencing. As the late Susan Sontag wrote: “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs, is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.”

      1. well Otto – not sure if you have seen the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – but just watched it today and there is a scene where the photographer Seen (played by Sean Penn) doe snot take a certain photo (rare opportunity) because he is doing exactly what you noted – he stopped to be “with the experience” – it was cool to see that after reading this post

  3. We’re all inspired by different things, Otto — and that’s what makes photography so interesting: It shows us a new way of looking at the world, through someone else’s eyes. Your images of the Olympic Peninsula are gorgeous (especially the one with the backlit trees). It seems to me that the only thing you need to refine your photographic voice when shooting nature is to maybe spent more time outside. 🙂 Thank you for another wonderful post!

    1. It’s gonna be hard to spend more time outside than I already do. But you are or course right, spending time and slowing down is always beneficial when photographing. Thanks for the comment, Heide.

  4. I think your love of nature comes through in each photo you share, Otto. I say the same thing when you share photos of people. Your trips to Cuba always demonstrate your love of the people. You always appear to “shoot” from the heart, or at least, I’ve always seen it that way.

  5. Stunning images from your trip. All 3 images you shared are truly remarkable, both in composition and tonal range.

    I always think of nature photos as mostly close-ups. Seeing the fine details. The colour, texture and shapes. I don’t know whether this is my natural inclination (as I had for fine detail in my working life) OR my severe myopia causing me to peer at close details of a plant, flower or bird.

    I remember how much I hated going to the beach and then into the water as a small child as I had to take my thick glasses off to enter to water and then couldn’t see enough to find my way back to my parents were sitting under the beach umbrella. I tended to make sandcastles next to my Mother lying on her beach towel. I never ever did learn to swim!

    1. It’s the fact that we all have different approaches to any given subject that makes photography so interesting. And don’t we all find our way of photographing by what we are and what influence us through life?

    1. There is no easy answer to your question. But one thing, is to shoot with your heart as I talk about in this post. Also shooting a lot on a regular basis will get your photography moving forward. And always push yourself out of the habitual box. At least three thoughts on what it takes. 🙂

  6. They are lovely photos, my personal favorite is the light through the trees. I’ve been thinking about light a lot in my own work recently, so that is probably one of the reasons that photo jumped out at me.

  7. Good photos Otto, I really love your second opening photo, it really show us how great is the nature …love that!

    I really agree about the “passion and love or hate” factor as a necessary condition to have a photo with a great emotional impact. We need to be involved. I read anywhere the famous sentence by Robert Capa “if your photo is not good it’s because you are not near enough” has to be read not only in the sense of the physical distance with the subject but thinking about the emotional distance, you need to be, to feel involved with your subject.

    And yes, there are times when we need to stop photographing and simply enjoy the great moment in life.


  8. I find your photo of the rocks in water very powerful. It has a sense of the raw beauty of nature. I agree though. It is hard to capture the feeling of being in nature in a photo.

  9. What I particularly enjoy about your posts, Otto, is that they continue to stimulate further thoughts, long after the initial reading. The current post recalled two quotations. The first seems to endorse your feelings about humanitarian issues:
    ‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.’
    Henry David Thoreau
    The second addresses your thinking about Nature:
    ‘How you view Nature depends on how you see yourself fitting into it.’
    Kurt Jackson

    1. The Thoreau quote is one of my favourite, which I use a lot when I talk about seeing with the intention of taking photos. The Jackson quote is new to me, but feels poignant. It’s been added to my list of quotes. 🙂

  10. Great pictures, Otto.
    Paul Klee, whose theory writings I apreciate as much as his art, said something similar to your message. I don’t remember exactly the quote, but it was like “if you don’t have anything to say, technique is absoluely useless”.

  11. The quotation from Le petit prince echoes that of another famous French writer three centuries earlier:
    “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.”—Blaise Pascal.

  12. Your photos always stir me Otto, perhaps it’s because I can feel the emotion behind them and sense the passion that you speak about here. I believe when you enjoy life it translates in photos. And words.

  13. Av hela sitt hjärta, från hjärtat och med hjärtat…när det är med då lever och blomstrar kreativiteten, då kan man uträtta storverk och lite åt det hållet känner jag när jag ser dina bilder här…mycket känsla och glädje…och glad blir även jag som betraktare, Tack!

  14. Beautiful shots! I agree with you about doing what you love. It’s wonderful you love to shoot more than one subject. Your love for nature comes through your work. That seems obvious to me as a viewer. I wonder if you don’t see that in the same way because you’re too close to the work?

    1. You are probably right in that I am too close to the work – or nature. I feel like the real experience is so much more than I am able to express in a photo. But I am working on it. 🙂

  15. Connecting is a good word for what we seek to do. We need to connect with our subjects in order to create images viewers might be able to connect with. The best compliment I ever received is …’your images really speak to me’. To each their own of course and in my mind, there is nothing better for my soul than connecting with Mother Nature!

      1. I first read The Little Prince when I was 12 and the part of the story that moved me the most was the taming of the fox. It informed how I would understand my responsibility in relationships for the rest of my life.

  16. Well, those three photos that you shown us are truly stunning, and certainly reflect your love for nature. Love the lighting and the different hues we see of the sky and the water. Apart from your impeccable talent for composition and your technical knowledge, I think that your photographic signature comes through this special lighting and the movement it creates. Result? Your pics take us into those gorgeous places and leave our imagination running wild. You are so inspiring. Voilà une des belles raisons d’être de tes photos!

  17. “If you do the work you do from a loving heart, then you will always be able to make something beautiful.” Like a lot, do what you like, you’re always happy and can keep going.

  18. You’re one of the few people that can share a thought provoking narrative that ALMOST rivals your beautiful captures. This post especially Otto, connects with me and one can see how it drives your work towards and beyond excellence. And you know, for me, it’s so hard to take photos in mother nature because I get so absorbed in the beauty unfolding in front of me that I forget to take photos and when I do, they never do it justice…Your trip to Washington looks splendid!! You were so close to us here in California (the same coast anyway 😂) – would have been nice to meet you guys. Oh, and that image of the people in the canoes in front of you – really love that low angle – and makes me wish I were canoeing there with you!

    1. Would be fun to meet one another. I will try to, whenever I go to California again – or if you come to the Seattle area, then maybe you can get in touch with me (and hopefully I will be here then). Thanks for the beautiful comment, Deb.

  19. Beautiful series of photos, Otto, art that shows and defines your passion and serves as a great example of the words you write. Views of the Pacific Northwest are probably helpful to you as well 🙂 I just returned back to the Czech Republic after a month back in Seattle/Portland and the eastern part of the State although not much photography for me this trip. Keep up with your passions from the heart, we all enjoy the results.

  20. Strangely enough, this time I think the images that have the most heart – to me anyway – are the two of kayakers that are less heavily processed. What you say about the difference you see between your work with people and your photographs of nature is very interesting. I think that the more spectacular the scenery, often the harder it is to make a photo of it that expresses how you feel.

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