(originally posted 1/17/13)
I’m often told my images have a certain quality to them, one that when I ask the questioner to describe, they have a hard time elaborating on their comments. Some say “I feel like I’m there”, or “you captured the emotion of what I imagine it was like”, or other wonderful comments like that. I’m very flattered by such comments, but part of me also is asking, “what is this ‘thing’ or method that I’m shooting? How do I describe it? How do I replicate it? How do I share it with others?
After months and years of contemplating this topic, I’m still no closer to an answer! I can’t break it down into components or theories, I can’t write down a recipe to replicate it, I don’t think I can do it in any location at any time and I don’t think I could teach it to another.
The closest explanation I can find is that I try and shoot from the heart, capturing those images that move me in some un-describeable way. For me to shoot from the heart, I need to be in touch with my surroundings, feel the heartbeat of my subject, feel the ebb and flow of changing conditions and most of all, be present in the moment so that my connection to my subject could in some way be transferred into the captured image.
For example, this image below which is a study in minimalism, negative space, bold lines and angles. I hope that it comes across as simple, yet powerful to the viewer. I had spotted these streams on the banks of frozen Snake River in the Tetons. We drove by them several times on our way to photograph other locations. Each time we passed, I felt the pull of the scene, I felt compelled to see if I could capture the essence of the scene. I finally talked my compatriots into stopping so that I could feed the urge to capture natures jigsaw puzzle.
After scrambling down the slippery slope and wading through a muddy bog, I made it to the banks of the frozen river. I stood there for perhaps 5 minutes with my camera still on my back, studying the scene, feeling the freezing wind blowing across the snow covered ice, looking at the angles and intersections of the little streams. I saw a composition that I thought worked well technically and it “felt” right to me. So I finally unpacked my camera and created 3-4 images with slightly different compositions, all around this initial scene.
I sometimes struggle to shoot when “I’m not feeling it” or “not in the zone” Generally this is because I’m not in touch with my surroundings. For me to produce my best work, and hopefully resonate the strongest with my viewers, I need to be in the moment, focused and clear, feeling the flow of my surroundings, shoot what is asking to be shot, not what I want to shoot.
Go ahead, let go of your head and shoot from your own heart.