"Go as far as you can see; when you get there you'll be able to see farther." ~ Thomas Carlyle
Although, as I said on my last post I’ve been taking pictures since I was a young teenager, I have only been dedicating a significant part of my time to the craft for about a year. So I know I am in my infancy when it comes to expecting to be satisfied with the quality of my photographs and artwork. At the moment, every subject, every concept, every technical aspect of my camera and software are challenges to me.
I have a background in painting and have some schooling in that area so I am familiar with the ‘rules’ of art – composition and design, colour theory, and the rest. I am learning a new medium with all its technical challenges but it is natural that I approach the craft of photography with a mind to emotionally move first myself and then possibly a viewer who can identify with my intentions. Ultimately I want my image to make a connection with someone else, even just one person among the billions; call it vicarious intimacy or whatever you want, but it is very satisfying when that happens.
Often I simply snap a scene or subject that appeals to me a the moment with very little thought; the ‘thinking about it’ happens later when I see it on my computer as in the example on the left from last August.
However when I know ahead of time that I want to communicate a specific message I try to think through my artistic goals before I work out the camera settings. I consciously attempt to answer some questions: Why am I taking this picture? What do I want to achieve in the initial photograph(s)? What mood am I trying to convey, if any? What do I want any prospective viewer to think about or to feel? Do I expect to have to apply a post processing treatment to achieve these goals?
Each subject is different; each one takes a conscious effort (and many, many shots usually) to achieve an image I am satisfied with. How much thinking it takes depends on the subject as I show in the following examples, which you can click to enlarge.
Q. Why am I taking this picture? A. Because I want a picture of school supplies to announce the upcoming book fair on my school website.
Q. What do I want to achieve in the initial photograph(s)? A. Good composition, realistic white balance, exact focus on all elements and correct exposure that will show an interesting and colourful arrangement of school supplies.
Q. What mood am I trying to convey? A. Cheerfulness
Q. What do I want any prospective viewer to think about and or feel? A. That school supplies are neat and school is fun!
Q. Do I expect to have to apply a post processing treatment to achieve these goals? A. None beyond basic adjustments to the RAW file.
Sometimes it’s as simple as that, although technically achieving those goals is still a serious challenge for me.
At other times so much of the challenge is more subjective.
Q. Why am I taking this picture? A. Because I want to practice long exposure of falling water, but more than that, because I think the scene is beautiful. I like to spend time here where I find peace and tranquility with the sounds of the little waterfall, the shushing of the leaves in the breeze and the birds calling to one another in the canopy. The light filters through the branches and points out brilliant spots of luxuriant green mosses and spring foliage rich with the smell of washed green growth.
Q. What do I want to achieve in the initial photograph(s)? A. Dramatic composition, clear focus and good exposure in the main focal area with no lost details in the deep shadows and bright lichen and water.
Q. What mood am I trying to convey. A. Awe (I know – a pretty lofty goal, but one can always try.)
Q. What do I want any prospective viewer to think about or to feel? A. An appreciation for the importance, the intricacy and the soulful qualities of nature; a memory of being at one with nature; a wish to be in nature.
Q. Do I expect to have to apply a post processing treatment to achieve these goals? A. Yes. I expect to be adding texture(s) and working with more than one exposure in layers to create the desired mood.
I did not fully achieve my goals with either of these images but I won’t critique them here, you can do that for yourself. I am on a road that is only just begun.
I expect that for seasoned photographers, these questions are instinctive; automatic. For me, though, it’s very helpful to go through the list in my head before I take the picture. I’m curious about other photographers’ mental processes and I’d love to hear about yours. Perhaps there are questions I’m missing. Maybe there are one or two more questions I could be asking that would make my pictures more successful. Please leave a comment if you have an idea to share.