Thanks for your insights Chris!
April 26, 2007
Alright, I'll warn ya right now.... this is the artsy side of me coming out. Proceed at your own risk. :)
As I was editing today, I was thinking to myself about the different factors that go into making a great image. First, there are images that are just plain cool to look at-maybe they're kind of original, something we haven't seen before, so they catch our eye. Then, there are images that are fun to admire because of the technical aspects that went into getting the shot- maybe some funky off camera lighting or use of slow shutter speeds. There are also images where the post processing is really well crafted in a mature way and really adds to the impact of the image.
Yet, it seemed as I thought more about it, that these are sort of all after-thoughts, and while these factors certainly add to an image, they don't seem (to me at least) to be what really makes an oustanding image.
As I was thinking of those images that I've seen in both my own work and from other photographers that really pop out to me the most, I was trying to reflect on what it was that really turned me onto them. Suddenly, a word came to mind.
It seems that the images I'm drawn to the most capture something beyond the surface-they capture some sort of deeper essence in either the person or the moment being captured.
Again, this isn't to say technical excellence or creative post processing isn't important, but rather, these things are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
This is definitely a tricky subject to talk about, because I don't think there's an easy, magic forumla for capturing the "essence" of people or of moments. I'm certainly not going to venture to define what constitutes capturing essence or give a "3 easy steps" list, but here are a few things that you might consider....
1. Be Prepared. It's not just for boy scouts! :) Being ready and anticipating a certain moment before it happens is vital. It's tough to capture the essence of a moment while you're changing lenses or fidgeting with your exposure.
2. Be Receptive. Particularly when shooting portraits and when the subject is aware of your presence, it's critical that there is a certain amount of trust involved. If your subject doesn't trust you and isn't totally willing to let down their gaurd, it's unlikely you'll be able to really capture the essence of who they are.
3. Don't be in the way. There's so much to be said for being able to capture a moment without affecting the moment. It's one reason I shoot with available light as much as I can (and use flash as a last resort), and also why I shoot with long lenses. Allowing a moment to unfold as it will, without trying to influence or affect it, will almost always allow the essence of the moment to shine through.
"Essence" is a tough thing to put your finger on. It's subjective, for sure. One person may totally think an image communicates the essence of a person or a moment, while another person looking at the same image might yawn. The point probably shouldn't be to convince everyone you come in contact with of the "essence" you captured in your images. Rather, maybe the point should be to strive to find the people who naturally do connect with your art and your ability and allow them to preach your art for you. It's what just about every sucessful artist and photographer does so well.
Perhaps this post is somewhat of a call for photographers to bring this to the forefront of our consciousness at our next shoot. I know for myself, I can at times get lost in trying to create something cool, or original, or technically interesting or complicated, and at times I need to remind myself to put first things first. To focus my photography on capturing the heart of what is going on, either in the people I'm shooting or the moments they're existing in.