I posted this on /r/photography on Reddit, thought I’d put it up here as well. A few other photography blogs have reposted it as well. I actually wrote this while mildly intoxicated, which I suspect with myopic hindsight might be part of my writing process. A few small changes to this draft. I think I need to be better about drafting as a whole, instead of just slamming my first draft up on this blog immediately after writing it — much like I grew out of slamming the straight out of camera jpegs onto the internet. There’s a lot of ways to figure out how to get better at photography, this is just my thoughts along that path.
I’ve been doing this long enough that I honestly can’t remember why or how I started. I mean, I remember my origin story… but as an adult I also know that is probably a distillation and summary of what exactly went on. There are no easy lessons now, and my memory of the entry-level lessons is distorted by time. Best I can tell you is that things have become a few large ideas that I try to execute on a variety of levels of my practice.
Fifteen year lessons: Photography is communication. Why I do something is 80% of what I end up doing. I like to tell stories with photos. Even when I’m producing a single image, I focus on the story that it tells. Is this “best view of x city” or is this “How I feel at x location” or is this “This is how it feels to be x person”. I feel I am wasting my time if I am not communicating some emotion with a photo. The 100 million people with smartphones are doing the straight documentary recording of environment. If I want to be something else, I need to step up to the next level of communication.
One photo is the key. When I was in my early days I would take a lot of photos because I thought that was the path to one great photo. Now I have transitioned to thinking that meditating on a single photo that distills the moment is the way to think. Spending time being in a place or a time. Feel it, understand it, think about how to portray it. I still take more than one photo, but it is always in seeing that one first that I shoot a few chasing it and know when I have it. Capture and move on. This doesn’t mean when shooting you only take a single exposure — You might find yourself bracketing, or experimenting with a few changes to composition. But in your mind you should see one shot and be aiming at it. Not blindly clicking the shutter.
Understand that what you do is for you. Your vision is yours. It should communicate to others but ultimately if you hinge everything you do on others opinions, you’ll never do anything great. Consider what other people see. Be receptive. But your vision is what you will always be enacting and ultimately if you photograph by committee you’ll never get to that perfect recording. Be communicating always, but communicate your own mind and trust that others will be able to interpret. Maybe they won’t, many people are not properly understood. But if it is true to reality, somewhere and sometime it will be received. You get what you get right now and you have to let go of anything else.
A photo is an extraction. It is a simplification. It is reality seen through certain limitations. It is those limitations that make a photo. Four straight edges and a 2D simplification of reality. You need those limitations to make this an art — if you are trying to 100% capture reality you are not taking a photo and it doesn’t make sense. A photo is a haiku. 17 syllables and done. Without those walls, you’re lost. So embrace the walls and find a way to express everything there is between them. There will always be something outside the walls, but that’s okay too. Do what you can and that’s all you can do.
Oh and process your images. Simplifying your vision is key. Whatever method makes your photos stronger, but something. Processing is half or more of photography and always has been.