Understand how the camera works. Understand ALL the possibilities. Understand the rules. Then go and make whatever the mind can imagine with these tools. Push the camera to its limits. Reveal all the possibilities. Break all the rules if you have to. Make new rules.
For some twelve years, I have been making photographs at Mission Trails Regional Park. Photographic technique building has been a labor of love. Learning to push the camera to its limit has been a quest of mine the entire time. Many pieces have been left behind as failures…ultimately just learning-blocks to overcome.
More importantly, the time spent on the trails has given me time to reflect, observe nature, and connect to the air that moves over us. There is a physical/spiritual connection made when we stop to see life happen, even in its most basic, banal activities.
The wren will scold you on the trail if he thinks you are a threat. A song sparrow will sing to his mate to win her over, even though she has already had chicks by him the previous season. Hummingbirds love to eat gnats, and are very territorial…even when it comes to humans!
When the sun sinks behind the mountains, most wildlife is hunkered down, while some are just getting started (to hunt). It is nature. It is real.
One evening, I stood on a floating footbridge making impressions. The sun was gone and the afterglow started. The reds and lavender began to pop and I started interpreting the colors and shapes as they changed and morphed. Suddenly out of my periphery vision a man came into view to my right. I was startled somewhat. It was another photographer. Maybe ten years older than me. He set up his tripod and started working a on stable ground. I continued working from the floating bridge. He was practicing standard static photography.
In contrast, I stood on the bridge moving my camera in long, multiple exposures. It was apparent that we do not see the world the same way. When I see light, I want to hold it. I want to move it, and smear it around the frame. It dissolves and dances, It becomes something else altogether.
When I do that, light and color become suggestions. Anomalies can take the viewer wherever their mind wants to take them. If I put a frame in with hard edges, like birds, or mountains, it adds story to the composition. The final piece is a big colorful expressive arrangement made to crack open heads and minds.
I showed the other photographer what I was making. He was not impressed. “So you do a lot of editing” was his reply. I said, “Sometimes, mostly contrasts. Other times I’ll make the piece a complete manipulation if the work calls for it. It’s up to the composition to lead me.” I think I just confused him with that statement, or he just thought I was full of it. (Internally I was thinking, “Am I defending my work ethic to this guy I don’t even know?”)
Our photography worlds are not the same. Most photographers work by a specific philosophy with ethical guidelines to be “honest” about their work. I’m good with that, and ultimately the beauty we replicate serves the same purpose.
Sometimes I make photographs, sometimes I make manipulations. Rarely, do I care about realism….and that is what brings me the joy of photography.
And if this is not for the joy of it, then why bother?