Saturday, February 21, 2015

Photography Isn't Documenting - It's Interpreting

Broken Angels - Bodfish, California
Photography isn't documenting. Yes, by photographing you are documenting, but there is so much more to it than that. You are giving your own interpretation of the scene. Photography is biased.

When you open the camera's shutter, you are making your own unique interpretation of that scene. You are telling a story in your own words and from your own unique perspective. You are conveying thoughts and emotions. Photography is a form of non-verbal communication.

How good a photograph is depends on how strong it communicates. An image that isn't very good communicates poorly. An excellent photograph speaks clearly and boldly.
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
A good exercise is to look at your own photographs and explain what each one is about. If you cannot communicate the meaning of your images, no one else will be able grasp them, either.

A common mistake is to not know what you even want to convey in your photographs. If you don't know where you are going you will never arrive. You must consider what thoughts and emotions you have about the scene, and figure out how to best communicate those through your photographs. This is called photographic vision.

If something strikes you about a scene, what is it exactly and why? Try to get to a deeper level of your conscience when considering this. Once you've discovered your own reaction to the scene, you can then go about composing your image in such a way that best explains that reaction.
Alien - Mojave, California
Another common mistake is to include too much. If I were to explain too much to you and have all sorts of ideas and tell you this and that and communicate about all these different things then all I would do is confuse you or make you not clearly understand or bore you but certainly not excite you or speak clearly to you. That last sentence, which was too long, unorganized and poorly written, is like most people's photographs. People mean well when they press open the shutter, but by not speaking in a clear and simple structure, they lose the attention of the viewer.

Remove everything from your composition that doesn't convey what you are trying to communicate. The problem is often that the photographer is too far away from the subject. Get closer. Get a lot closer! Simplify your photographs as much as you can. Show just the essential elements and nothing more.

One more common mistake is to photograph things that you are not interested in. Imagine trying to hold a conversation with someone about a topic that you could care less about. Would your words excite? Would people even listen to you? But what if the conversation were about a topic you are passionate about? What would your words and tone be?
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
People often photograph things that they are not passionate about because they think they should or  they have to. If you don't have a strong opinion about something, it will show in your photographs. If you do have a strong opinion about something, it will show in your photographs. If you can't hold an exciting conversation about something, then you probably shouldn't be photographing it. But if you can talk about something with passion, that's where you should be focusing your photographic efforts.

When you create an image, you are putting a part of yourself into that image. It's your thoughts and emotions that you are trying to capture. Yes, it is not the scene that you should be attempting to capture, but what you think and feel about that scene.

You are not documenting. Photography is interpreting. When you put a piece of yourself into the photograph, that's when you are creating art.

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