Think before you shoot.
I was listening to another excellent interview by Krista Tippett on the program 'On Being'. Her guest was Maria Popova and the subjects of wisdom and the meaning of life came up. Maria said that as a society we are much more inclined towards the trivia of life, and about getting more knowledge than wisdom. That meaning, which we all want for our life, comes as a result from the work of thinking. That all to often we shirk from doing the work.
In my own experience with photography and the subject of Art I have found the same tendency. Too often (and I will use myself as an example) I am interested in getting the picture and I hurry by what the image means. I get so engrossed in the technique and the technology that the message gets buried. During the interview they talked about the internet and sifting through the mass of information. In our digital image capturing age a similar sifting needs to occur. With the speed and size of our cameras we can now shoot 360 degrees every second. Or we shoot such large files we think we can crop to the good stuff later on. But with such a mass of visual information how do we pan for the nuggets of Art in an image? If I'm shooting a sport, or an event then maybe my goal is just to record the action, but if I have the chance to interpret the scene, nature and wildlife being my favorite targets, then I need to stop and think before I shoot.
If I will slow down and ask what does this scene mean, what is the story here, what am I feeling, what makes me feel this way, then I can start the selective process of editing, focusing, and composing for effect. Have you been in the field and heard the rapid fire of frames per second? More is not better, it's just more camouflage. I would rather have one good image than a thousand mediocre ones. Some days I surrender and admit that I'm not yet artist enough to capture the feeling in one image. If I don't stop and contemplate Nature's Art in the field I will often get home and find my images are flat, repetitive. It's when I calm down in front of the computer I think, if I'd only stepped closer, or tilted this or zoomed in on that, or waited, or or or... Which is why I also will often revisit a subject if I can.
So my advice is to engage the brain before tripping the shutter. Sit for a moment with eyes closed. What do you hear? What do you smell? Is there a breeze brushing your face? Some have suggested going out and pretending you only have 12 exposures to capture the scene. You may find that the light isn't right that day, or wait a few hours for it to get better, or don't shoot at all if it isn't going to be a 'keeper'. Why have a library of 100,000 images if only 10 are keepers. True, it sometimes takes looking at 100,000 images to learn what is keeper, but after the learning curve has started to rise the shooting curve can start to descend. I think this is a natural stage that we go through in our progression as visual artists. I am just encouraging myself and my friends to be aware of that curve.
The joy of photography and the meaning of life is what I hope to represent in my images. It doesn't matter if they are wide scale panoramas or winter macros, what matters is they say, “Look here's the great big wide world we live on together. Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it precious? Isn't it worth keeping and think about? These are questions of wisdom. Math tells us that all the water on the world amounts to the same volume as the skin on an apple. Wisdom tells us to appreciate and take care of natural resources.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein