Wait – are you seeing?

Saw a video article today about kids being given film cameras and asked to make some pictures. They were generally flabbergasted at the idea of having to wait in order to see the results. Not to mention the idea that there might be a limit to the number of pictures they could make at a time. It wasn’t an old-fashioned idea – it was medieval! Whole forms of torture could be developed around such a concept!

Digital photography has certainly promoted a liberating vibe about photography. Finally, no more wondering if you “got the shot” or being disappointed by poor exposure or running out of frames just when the action gets exciting. It’s all there, just shoot, look, shoot again. How could anyone possible make poor photographs anymore? I mean, there is the result, right in front of you. Fix it – now!

Yet a quick perusal of just about any photo website will reveal there remain lots of bad photographs out there. Even casting a wide artistic vision of what makes a good picture, there are still bad photographs out there. How can this be? Was not the promise of instant gratification and illuminations of the revealed image suppose to deliver us from the crass notion of waiting for quality? If an infinite number of monkeys, each with their own camera, snap an infinite number of selfies, wouldn’t one turn out perfect? Oddly, for that last one, we’re more concerned about the ownership of the image than whether it’s an image worth owning.

So what’s the problem? Patience – we’re running out.

Except for photojournalists, sports action and fashion photographers, what’s the rush to make pictures? If the intention is to capture the moment, emotional and visual, how will this be possible without being immersed in the moment? Paying attention to the content, context, interaction, surroundings, etc. is important to understand your own emotions about a composition. And without understanding how you feel is it really possible to capture that in an image so it will resonate with the viewer?

One of my instructors talked about loosening up the muscle memory of your shutter finger when first coming to a place for photography. “Go ahead,” he said, “take those documentary, I-was-here photos just to get them out of the way. Then you can start looking around to really see the images you should be making.” I’ve taken this advice many times and it rings true. I know because I’ve ignored it many times as well, and a comparison of the images resulting from each is telling. My better images come after ‘loosening up’ a bit, settling down to start really seeing, even before bringing the camera to my eye. But this takes time, and a sense of when enough time (and shutter pushing) is enough.

Sure, the advantage of the instantaneous digital preview can be wonderful in this exercise. But doesn’t it feel a bit like a crutch, being able to see what the camera has in it before you really see what’s in front of you? People look down at their camera wanting to know “did I get it?” when what they should be seeing is right in front of them. “Get it right in the camera” is a mantra I’ve heard, alluding to the idea that post-processing can only make beauty when there’s something to work with initially. How does that get in the camera? We put it there only after seeing it outside the camera. And that takes time.

Once it’s right in the camera, who cares how long before it shows up on a computer screen or paper?


One thought on “Wait – are you seeing?

  1. Thought-provoking post, Mel, and a big challenge to us all. Digital photography can make us a bit lazy and sloppy. It’s good to be reminded that we have to see, before we can shoot (and sometimes it seems that we err in the opposite direction).


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