This week is the eighth anniversary of my first date with Samantha. Our first date was a comedy of errors, all of my best laid plans went south fast – think of me as a male version of Bridget Jones, only more hairy. Looking back all I can do is shake my head and laugh. Frankly I am surprised Sam agreed to a second date!
So what does all this have to do with photography? A lot… trust me it will all come full circle.
When Samantha and I went out to do photography together I noticed something kind of weird. Sam spent a lot of time not shooting. She seemed to be just standing around. I would ask, “How’s it going?” “Perfect,” she would reply. I would continue madly scurrying about shooting this and that and Sam would still be in the same spot looking around. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, I’m just watching the clouds roll by.” I thought to myself that she just was not into photography that much. But back home, I would see her photos and they were amazing. She found stuff I never even noticed (were we in the same spot?) and she made images that were so uniquely hers. No one could ever copycat a Sam image. There was something about her images that showed a deeper connection between her and the scene. Something at times I’ve felt missing in my photos. What’s going on?
Over the years I’ve learned that Sam standing around does not mean she isn’t doing photography. On the contrary, it means she is actually looking around, connecting with the scene first and only then capturing that connection with her camera afterwards. Most photographers I know, myself included, rush headlong into the world with their face buried behind the camera. The camera comes out first, questions are asked later. Sam approaches a scene the opposite way. The questions are asked first. “Why I am attracted to this spot? How does this subject make me feel? Why is that animal doing that? What is it like to be grass in this windy field?” Sam asks a lot of whys and only after really looking and pondering a subject will she pull her camera out.
What I have learned from Sam is that the act of photography is not really important; actual seeing and understanding the subject is the key. Immerse yourself into the subject and not into the mechanism of making a photo. Too often photographers are so worried about the gear, the technique, and the results they hope to get that they forget about asking themselves about the subject and about how they feel about the subject. To make meaningful images there has to be a connection between you and the subject you are photographing. Too often that connection is not made and superficial meaningless images are the result. Once I started to actually look at and think about my subjects and stopped just rushing in to make photos, my photography improved significantly. The slow, thoughtful approach really works. I started watching the clouds roll by too.
So back to our first date… although almost everything was a disaster (from the meal to the movie) Sam just sat back and watched (and laughed). But she took the time to watch the clouds go by. She liked the potential in the scene and so she revisited the location many more times and finally decided that she could make a meaningful photo there.
To learn more about learning to see check out our eBook on the subject.