It is a funny thing that cameras don’t come with passports. They probably should, considering once you get a camera in hand all you want to do is go out and see things. There is something about having a camera in hand that encourages you to travel just a bit further than your daily commute. With a little black box in hand, photography is one of the many ways to take a few extra steps in the hopes of finding something interesting.
One of the most exciting moments in photography is the instant of discovery, which by the time you’ve taken the picture has already passed.
When you return home, the boundless curiosity is often met with the crushing disappointment that you “missed it.” Why is it that pictures so rarely match the experiences we had when we took the photos?
Part of the answer to this 150-year-old photography riddle lies in our approach to taking pictures. How often have you ventured out with a camera, only to lift it to your face when you saw something striking yet weren’t able to capture exactly what you saw? My guess is pretty often. The process is simple. You walk through mundanity until you hit the extraordinary (or at least something that doesn’t completely bore you), then you take a picture. No matter how hard you try to compose better or get the colors just right, the photo rarely matches the experience… Why?
Because one of the most exciting moments in photography is the instant of discovery, which by the time you’ve taken the picture has already passed. The anticipation of discovery you felt when making the picture lies in the transition between moments which are as common as a park bench and the instants that stop you dead in your tracks. But if you never take the time to photograph the parts leading up to a picture it is hard to fully appreciate what makes it unique.
People will start to comment that they can feel as if they are in your pictures, not that they are just looking at them.
If we can step back for a moment and find some perspective then we can understand why our pictures fail to capture the sense of discovery we felt when we took them. Just like a good movie director, moments of importance benefit from context. In cinema, creating context is nearly formulaic. Hollywood, Bollywood, and most of the independent films have this down to a science. Movies have to give us a sense of place, time, and actors in the first five minutes, otherwise most of us will check out. But photography is different. There is not always a clear narrative. Our actors may be invisible, but our path to the pictures can also become very hard to follow.
One of the ideas we review in my workshops is “how to get your viewer from their world into yours.” Part of this process involves leaving a trail of breadcrumbs along the way. Put another way, give yourself two pictures that lead up to a photo and another two pictures that lead you out. Otherwise, it can look like we popped out of a portal in the ground and disappeared the moment our picture was complete. The added benefits of this process leave a lasting mark on your pictures. People will start to comment that they can feel as if they are in your pictures, not that they are just looking at them.