shooting in depth

by julie posted May 24, 2007

I’ve been thinking about starting a project with a particular subject in mind, with the idea that by studying one thing more closely, I will gain more understanding of it and produce better pictures as a result. But although I take this to be inherently true, I’m still interested in figuring out how it applies in a situation different from the one where, say, you want to shoot a particular species of flower or bird and by knowing more about it you can orchestrate a better situation for getting a great picture of it.

What kind of understanding of something less specialised, or just more familiar, can we have that will result in a better image?

Or even – what kind of understanding can we gain by making more, and different images of that subject? It’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation I think.

I know a certain element comes from exhausting the obvious shots, and finding a new perspective. But isn’t there a reason that the obvious shots are so obvious? Are we really going to find something beautiful and unseen beyond that which intuitively works?

Are we looking for non visual understanding – is it something that inherently will come across in the pictures, or is it just the photographer who benefits?

Oh dear, nothing but questions. Still, writing them down helps clarify what I’m actually trying to figure out, and so my subconscious will work on the solutions in the background while I’m doing all that boring stuff like driving to work, or washing my hair. Or maybe someone reading this might even be able to come up with an answer or two…

5 Responses to shooting in depth

  1. I think that getting to know a place, for example, leads to better understanding of how to portray the subject in a different light (pun intended!).

    Literally, when I shoot in a location that I’ve been in many times, I find that I notice more details, have a better feeling for the light and, with repeated visits, find myself quite ‘lucky’ indeed. Luck: The intersection of practice and preparedness!

    This luck is the result of repeated visits and the ability to concentrate on the smaller picture rather than the big picture.

    Most photographers that I have talked to, myself included, seem to start off with a number of test shots, or preliminary warm-up shots. Once those are out of the way and they are into the zone, things start happening. I believe that at this point, we’ve dropped the internal chatter, are completely in the moment, and have started to become more and more familiar with the subject. It can happen in 30 uninterrupted minutes with a subject, perhaps sooner if you get into the zone quickly.

    Julie, I just love your posts. Perhaps I should get back to work, now! ;-)

  2. That Bill Jay has a lot to answer for! : ))

    As soon as I read The Thing Itself, I thought, yes, but how does that apply to photographs that are based on, say, your personal emotional state at that time, rather than, say, daffodils ;)

    Eventually I concluded that it still applies. If the subject is your emotional state, then you can still go into it in depth. Learn to recognize the real meaning/causes behind those emotions. Dig deeper. This definitely worked for me, and new and interesting (to me) photograph followed. Ditto for daffodils.

    Remember Bill’s other advice… pick a subject that will interest you for years; pick a subject that would interest you even if you weren’t into photography; pick a subject that so fascinates you that you won’t care about making pictures… and the pictures will come.

    I don’t think that Bill intends for you to take the obvious shot, then spend the rest of your life trying to find new and interesting (aka forced and stylistic) alternative compositions using that subject. You can do that by picking any subject and shooting 100 different shots of it. It’s a great exercise, but not the basic for an artistic career. He’s talking about people like Eugéne Atget who didn’t give a fig about being recognized as an artist – he just had this incredible passion for the old Paris that was disappearing before his eyes. That passion was what kept him going, and what makes his photographs so remarkable. There are no non-obvious shots in his work.

    If the photographer works with passion, then the photographer will definitely benefit. And if he/she’s lucky, then that passion will emerge from their pictures for the rest of the world to enjoy :)

  3. “Are we really going to find something beautiful and unseen beyond that which intuitively works?”

    The answer to that question really has to be yes. Otherwise we wouldn’t try. The follow on question is “how” and this is where it gets interesting.

    As you know, I don’t don’t a whole lot of art photography – I work mainly in sports and landscape and my macro skills are negligible. I was looking through the last lot of kite photographs from last Sunday week I think, and noticed that many of them had a lot in common with earlier photographs in terms of actual shapes and content. And in many of them, you could see a lot more personality rather than just action.

    It’s something I didn’t really notice happening because it happened whilst I was concentrating on something else, something boringly technical which is an ongoing issue with depth of field that I have on a fully extended zoom. I can’t say it was deliberate, but it happened because I’m working in a zone where I spend a lot of time, where I probably took about 9000 photographs in the past year. Yes I know it’s a lot. I always told myself that what was great about what I did was that it was always changing. I’ve found that this is not true – it only has limited changes…on the other hand, what is changing is the way I look at my zone.

    One of the best photographs I took last time out is nothing special from a sports point of view, but what vibrates out of it is a personality. I never used to get that…now it’s happening a lot for me. Even when you get someone’s face, you don’t get the heart of that person unless you are very lucky or very good. When it starts to happen more and more often, you can probably claim the balance is on good rather than lucky.

    I guess what I am saying here is that what you want to do – build an indepth familiarity with some subject or field – does bring benefits. I did it with Howth. Now I am doing it with sports photography. The other thing I would add – and you can take this as relevant or not relevant – ultimately you still only get out of a photograph or an image what you are willing to put into it of yourself. Technically good images can still be cold.

  4. Wow… I think there’s enough in there to keep me going for weeks!

    Thanks for the seriously thoughtful input, everyone. I shall begin trying to process it now…

  5. Wow… I think there’s enough in there to keep me going for weeks!

    Thanks for the seriously thoughtful input, everyone. I shall begin trying to process it now…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *