I’ve been meaning to finish this post for a few weeks…
Recently I participated in an all-day photography seminar with the owner of House of Nyght Falcon. I’ve known a lot of talented photographers who were technical masters of the camera, but Falcon always struck me more of an artist whose canvas was capturing moments with a lens. You can imagine then my excitement in learning more of the craft from him.
The Saturday morning course began by sitting down for coffee and learning the technical aspects of controlling the shot — words like aperture, ISO, and exposure times that I’d heard before but never really understood. It’s kind of amazing to see how differently a lens in a camera works than our eyes, and how much auto-correcting our brains do to what we’re looking at that you can’t count on when taking pictures. The difference that the intensity (and source) of light makes changes everything about how to approach a shot, and gave me newfound respect for the auto setting on most cameras. (How much it’s adjusting for you to be able to just point and shoot.)
Because all art is more practice than theory, we then went into Green Hill Cemetery to take some shots. I found a cemetery an interesting choice, but it made sense for a variety of reasons. No crowds of people stepping into your shot, ample light, and a variety of different scenery and surface materials. I won’t drone on about practice with lighting and such — if you’re interested give him a shout. But what I will speak to is the change in perspective I felt as Falcon took us on a tour of some specific sights.
I’ve always looked at photography as getting a clear shot of a great-looking subject. But with that thinking it’s all down to what that subject is and maybe the technical aspects of making the shot of that subject look good. It says nothing of what else is in the frame, at what scale the subject is to the world, and the significance of what those relations evoke in the shot afterward.
A memorable example is in looking at a tree stump. We were asked to describe what we saw. Everybody had a different answer, but they all dealt with what it was. On the other hand, what wasn’t it? It’s no longer a tree, with all the volume it once took up and shade it once provided. A close up shot of the stump draws focus to what it is now, but a wide shot of the scenery around the stump stresses the emptiness of what is not there. And that creates a different set of emotions to look at.
One other example of this concept was a grave stone of a child who was orphaned and apparently died early on. For an eight foot radius around it there was nothing — no family members or even non-relatives that happened to be buried nearby. The gravestone only showed a first name, and only a date of passing since his birth was unknown. Once again a close up shot could emphasize certain things, but a slightly wider shot really punches home the loneliness that must have been his life and death. The combination of lack of information on the grave stone and the emptiness around it is powerful and very sad. This person was born with nothing, had no one during life that knew his last name or even when he was born, and now is nothing but a random first name in a sea of names.
How much of this stuff do we pass right by on a regular basis, and how much opportunity is missed in the typical photo?
The opposite of what we expect is often the most profound. Take a picture of a happy, laughing kid on her birthday and it’s just a photo you’d expect of her party. Years later it tells you very little about that day. Take a picture of her sulking alone, sitting on a picnic bench while wearing a birthday hat, and you have a shot that elicits questions. Maybe sympathy, or maybe even conjures memories of some event of the viewer’s life that they connect with deeply.
Take a shot of someone rushing through the rain, looking pissed that their jacket is getting wet and it’s ruining their hair. Shrug. Now take a picture of someone with their arms raised, laughing, letting the rain soak them, and there’s a simple beauty in that.
At the surface concepts like that help you take a better photo. If you let it move you, if you’re open, they can change the way you see everything.
Thank you, Falcon.