Making pictures you can't see

World Press just released the results of this year’s contest. As always in this contest, there is a subset of photographs that make me wonder how the pictures came to be. There is magic in them. Something otherworldly happened to bring the images to frutition. (And bravo to the judges who recognize that type of work  - in this contest the rooftop shouting photos fall into this category.)

I imagine the photographers’ feelings of exaltation when going through a take and finding photos they set out to make but had no idea whether they would work. Or when they find a picture that is a total surprise, one that came out of nowhere, as if it were an out of body experience that now appears before them as a photograph.

Making pictures that you can’t see before they’re made is a goal.

We tend to strive to make everything perfect, to know what is going to happen when we release the shutter. To control the outcome. And that’s fine, especially in a commercial or advertising environment – predictability is why you’re hired.

One of my undergraduate art school teachers challenged us to tape our camera’s viewfinder and let the camera make pictures without having a clue as to the outcome. It was the ultimate point and shoot. One of the points of the exercise was to learn the difference between what the camera does and what you bring to the equation of making pictures.

In that case, every picture was a surprise, but not so many of them were pleasant.

So how do you increase the chances of making pictures that go beyond your seeing and fully utilize the medium’s capabilities? A good starting point is to set out to say something with your pictures that can’t be said in words. The difference results in the kind of pictures that you can fully describe with words versus ones that words can’t touch. A test is to describe your photograph in a sentence and then see if the photo elicits more than what you just said. Another way of saying this is: Strive to make pictures of qualities as opposed to actions.

Pictures that elicit feelings of hope or fear or joy or smoke or rage or frustration or tragedy or exaltation don’t just happen. The subject matter doesn’t make the picture by itself. You have to set out to create the essence of a scene, first by understanding what a given setting is about, then investing yourself, enter fully engaged into the scene with a clear idea of the feeling that you want people who see your pictures to have.

It’s a bit like grabbing a handful of smoke but if you use the elements of light, moment, composition, color and distance from the subject to their essence to convey this quality you’re more likely to succeed.

I was working with a photographer yesterday, taking him through this process of focusing your eye using these five tools while intent on conveying a quality. It’s a simply complex thing that takes a while to explain. There are many ways of explaining the concept and how to achieve it. What works for you may not for another.

So I’ll float this much of the idea here and hope that we get the chance to talk more about your work and how to move it forward.

My week was fabulous

Congratulations to Karla