Potentialities and Presence of Mind

Recently I have done a couple of photo workshops that have exposed a weakness I have as a photographer. That I fail to recognize potentialities within a scene and sometimes a greater location. I’ve been thinking about this a little bit and think the problem is that I don’t always fully analyze why I’m drawn to a scene. I don’t think it through far enough and it results in lost opportunities.

Case in point –

In terms of composition it’s fine. I can do that. I can find my way into a scene, place the elements I want where I want them, eliminate the ones I don’t, manage filters and gear, apply the basics of exposure. But with this shot I needed to go further. If I had, I wouldn’t have ended up with a jumbled mess.

The real deal here is the contrast between the water and the sand. The beach is a popular one and so there are lots of people here to leave these indentations behind. With such calm water I should have thought of using my neutral density filter for a long exposure. The irony is, I did one about 15 minutes later up the beach. To me it isn’t as compelling an arrangement, but because the water is so smooth, it works.

Could I ‘save it’ in Photoshop? Perhaps.

But you can’t ‘save’ a bad image.

So there’s that.

Definitely a shortcoming I have to work on. It becomes the biggest problem when I’m under pressure – usually time. Either with light that’s changing rapidly or with a location I’m not familiar with and won’t be staying at for long. Exactly what you deal with at a workshop and even with only two under my belt, I recognize it as a problem.

Some of it stems from my own linear way of thinking. Often I box myself into the main attraction and only shoot that in the most traditional way that presents itself. Pressure to get the shot – the reason for being there. No one has ever said to me – “You were at (fill in the blank location) and you didn’t get a picture of (that amazing iconic thing)?” But I feel it. I feel like I’m letting a location down if I don’t get the classic image. Or that I will do it badly. Crazy, but I think it’s pretty common with photographers.

Money comes into it, too. Having paid thousands of dollars to be here, I damn well better get value for it. As if the experience of being there isn’t enough, I have to prove it. Mostly to myself, but it’s still pressure.

I need to let it go and find my own vision. I’ve said it before – “Does the world need another shot of this Iconic Thing?” Probably not. Bag it and then explore. Expand. Express. That’s the thing I need to do better. I don’t need workshop leaders to teach me my camera, how to work it or how to compose. That I can do. What I need is to perform better as a creative person and not just show up in front of something to take the photo everyone does.

Being able to read a scene is key, but I’ve always had the luxury of time. Without that I need to speed up my processing and analysis of the potential a location holds. I need to be more analytical in the field. Pause and process deliberately instead of from instinct. Maybe a list or something would work. A reminder of the basics, how to shape and manage them and to do it quickly with an eye toward creativity.

Maybe if I’d jumped on the workshop train earlier I might be better at this. Alas I haven’t and since my photography is basically leisurely, I can take as much or as little time at a location that I want. I also can always go back to pretty much anywhere I’ve shot. That allows for a bit of a safety net if I don’t get The Shot.

There is hope I’m getting better at it since I think some of my images of Marquette Harbor Light are distinctive and different from the ways most people photograph that building. It is one of my proudest moments as a photographer actually. That I left the sand and went into the grass and lowered the tripod to eliminate the beach and all the people on it (other photographers included). The presence of mind is what I brought to bear, something I don’t do deliberately enough. The trendy concept of “mindfulness” mostly drives me batshit, but in this case it just might be legit. While I am present in the basic sense of the word, my mind is too fixated on getting The Shot and whether or not I’ll do justice to a location. As if I have some obligation to the universe.

So what am I going to do about it? Possibly a list on my phone.

  • Stop and take it in
  • What draws you? – be specific!
  • How can I best illustrate that?
  • Experiment
  • Work the room (move the tripod and turn around!)

Now if I can only remember to look at it.

2 thoughts on “Potentialities and Presence of Mind

Add yours

  1. >> “Does the world need another shot of this Iconic Thing?” Probably not.

    YES! That was the best advice I ever got in a painting workshop. “Does the world really need another painting of [fill in the blank]?” That was a good affirmation for me. When I had my photos in the Sharon Arts Center, someone on the staff suggested that if only I would take photos of Mount Monadnock, tourists would buy them. Fortunately, my survival didn’t depend on selling photos, so it was advice easily ignored because photographing “monuments” was not my thing.

    1. I think it’s especially true now that travel is within a lot more people’s reach and ditto for something that will take a half-way decent picture. Suddenly everyone’s a photographer. The world is littered with the same pictures of everything and so I need to do something that reflects my sensibilities. Finding it isn’t always easy, but I’m workin’ on it.

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