I believe that a good photograph has more to do with how the image makes you feel than what camera or settings were used to capture it. With all of the technology advances in 2016, it’s easier than ever to make a great capture. I mean, no-one is making bad cameras anymore. One company that has caught my attention is Light, who has created a compact camera that has the convenience of a smart phone that fits in your pocket, all while maintaining the quality of a DSLR.
But what is it about a photograph that grabs our attention? What is it that makes us feel something? Why are some better than others?
I think it has everything to do with the photographer capturing the image. I absolutely love this quote from one of the great photographers of our age.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
– Elliott Erwitt
This quote from Erwitt is what I’ve based my entire philosophy on as a professional wedding photographer! I see myself more as a journalist, even when it comes to my portraits. For me, it’s more about finding something unique in a scene and using my camera to help others see it. Sometimes it’s a smile or a laugh or a tear. Other times it’s a captive audience or a dancing couple. No matter what’s going on around me, I look for those moments that help me connect and make me feel something.
This concept wasn’t something that I picked up right away, it was a journey for me. So, through this journey I picked up a few things that help my photographs tell more compelling stories.
Take your time
I’m usually super pumped up when I get on location to start shooting. As soon as I arrive, I’m ready to start releasing that shutter. But slowing down is an area that I’ve had to grow a lot in. I take less photos now than I did 6 years ago on a shoot. A lot less. This is because I’m not just clicking away. I’m intentionally slowing myself down and focusing on what’s going on. Depending on the occasion, I have a few different moments I look to capture. But the key is slowing down to focus on each shot. I walk away with less frames, but I’ve found that the ones I have are much better.
Slow yourself down a bit, whether it’s physically or just a mental exercise. Let yourself see and feel more of what going on around you. Try taking photographs of your subject from different angles, focal lengths, in different lighting, while feeling different emotions, etc…
I document people 90% of the time. So asking questions is something I do constantly. I found that asking questions to my subject helps me connect. The first 15-20 minutes of any shoot is typically a little awkward as I try to navigate conversation. I know that even though I’m taking pictures, that first little bit is more for ‘getting to know each other’ than capturing images. I tend to not use much of those images because of just that reason.
If I’m photographing a couple, I like to focus on how they met. i.e. How did you guys meet? What was she wearing on the first date? What is that made you love him?
If I’m doing head shots then I’ve got to squeeze that normal 15-20 min. of ‘get to know you’ into about 30 seconds. So I’ll start off with a question about the person’s family. Do you have kids? What’s their names? or sometimes I’ll go the vocational route if it feels more appropriate for the occasion. What is it that makes you love your job so much? What made you get into this career?
Even though I work with people primarily, asking questions helps me connect even in my wildlife, nature, and street photography. Instead of asking questions to actual folks so I can connect to a piece of their story, I tend to ask myself questions to help me feel a little more about the scene. i.e. I wonder how many people have been in this same spot? What were they feeling/thinking? I wonder how different this place looked 20 years ago?
The goal of this practice has less to do with acquiring information, but is all about connecting, feeling, seeing.
Probably one of the best things I can do as a journalist is to be vulnerable. By this I mean, to be comfortable being myself enough to take risk. Sometimes it can be difficult walking into a room full of people, knowing that you have to direct them. You never know what kind of moment will make a great photograph. For me the trick is to get out their and try new things. Whether it be a new technique or style, the goal being to stretch myself.
Some of my favorites