Like Yoda I write, so better photographs you will take.
January 2, 2009
What is it you photograph? When do you photograph? This week’s tips, which will usher out the old year and in the new, ask you to consider the very essence of your photography.
By analyzing the photo conventions and biases—both personal and cultural—that influence your photography, you will be able to expand your creativity and refresh the joy of taking pictures.
Let’s face it. That’s exactly what we do ninety-nine percent of the time in photography. Not take pictures backwards but by “facing it”—the “it” being what we are photographing.
The point is not so much that we face the things we photograph (how else would we compose it?) but that our facing-forward-only during our search for subjects limits us. Let me explain. We stroll down the beach, hike up the mountain, drive to the lake or sit at the picnic table and whatever catches our eye is what is in front of us. Get it?
In other words, we’re missing half the world—the half behind us. But isn’t that the way it has to be? Not really.
If ever an obvious problem confronted us as photographers, it’s that we either need to wear rear view mirrors or occasionally turn our heads. For what’s behind us is very different than what’s in front. And behind us you can be sure are the opportunities we’ve been missing for years.
As I charged ahead to my destination of a waterfall, the stream beside me did not seem to offer much opportunity. But when I turned and looked behind me, the reverse angle revealed the shaded stream was afire with a reflection of an orange sunlit maple on its bank.
Upon analysis it may seem obvious that we’ve left nearly half of our photo world unmined, but I didn’t become aware of it until a few years ago. I had been walking dozens of trails and streams to photograph waterfalls. It started to seem to me that if you saw one waterfall, you’d seen them all. In short, I was bored. So I started turning around and looking behind me, I even occasionally walked backwards for a few steps to observe from a reverse perspective that which I had just walked by.
And suddenly I was taking more photographs. While I didn’t double my photo harvest, each waterfall trip began yielding more and different pictures, for what was unphotogenic from one direction took on a new look from the opposite direction.
So what’s the technique? Simple. When you’re out photographing often turn around and scan what’s behind you.
You’ll be surprised at how many more pictures you’ll harvest.
By coincidence, here is another reflection. I had walked about twenty yards past this point and turned to look at the bridge. But it was the reflection that seemed most interesting.