When a professional photographer goes on a shoot for a client, there is always an expectation of quality results. That is, after all, what the client is paying for. However, personal shooting is, for me, a very different matter. For this, I have two minimal goals and two maximal goals. My minimal goals are: 1) Do not damage or lose the equipment; 2) Relax and slow down enough to notice and appreciate some of the intricacies of the nature around me. This appreciation provides me with feelings of wholeness and connection to the incredibly complex world of delicate balances that we call nature.
You may have noticed that neither of these personal shooting goals mentions anything about photographs. There is good reason for that, which is illustrated by an experience that I had yesterday.
I went with a photography group to a large botanical garden. There were thousands of plants and at least 40 different kinds of flowers. The level of photographic skill in the group varied from beginner to professional. At the outset, most of the beginners, and some intermediate level members, rushed off to get photos of as many beautiful plants and flowers as possible.
I began consciously slowing down, preparing to reach my goal of appreciating and connecting with the flowers. I noticed that the sun was bright and fairly high in the sky. The flowers were, for the most part, at least partially in direct sunlight (which causes photos with washed out colors and dark shadows). When I found a flower with good lighting, the background was in direct sunlight (which is highly distracting in a photograph, drawing the viewer’s attention away from the subject). Some flowers were in dark shade (which allows good photographs of shape and color, but gives a flat appearance with no “life” or texture). Changing perspective on many plants was limited by the garden rules (stay on the paths, but do not block them or hinder the movement of other people). Add to that a frequent breeze, and conditions were not conducive to high quality close-up flower photos.
I decided to just spend time with the flowers while watching for a change in conditions. I spent at least 10 min with each flower variety that appealed to me. There were great colors, textures and shapes. I enjoyed them and developed exhilaration that is my goal #2. I experimented with the reflector and diffusing screen that I had, but could not control the lighting. No problem, it was practice and I was feeling fine.
Considering that I was in a large botanic garden, there were thousands of excellent photographic opportunities surrounding me. There were plenty of opportunities to take photos of variegated leaves, bamboo stands, ferns, actually thousands of plants. But I was in the mood for the flowers and their brilliant colors, velvety textures, sheen of sunlight, complicated shapes and wonderful smells. I took some practice shots and shots just to keep me slowed down and attentive. None of these were of a quality to enlarge and frame. I reviewed them, as I review every shot that I take, to see if I can learn something from it. However, all of this mornings images were then deleted. No photos… and I felt fine.
When I think back to that experience, I have satisfying memories. I am glad that I was there. I had met both of my first two goals: 1) don’t damage or lose any equipment and 2) slow down and develop a fulfilling connection with nature. My feelings awe, awareness and “aliveness” made the day worthwhile.
On the other hand, I think back to other photographers in our group who were hurrying around to get macro shots of many flowers. Some of them will arrive home with a lot of images. However, considering the conditions, many of their macro shots are likely to be of poor quality. Some will be disappointed with their photographic abilities. It is worth remembering that sometimes the conditions are just not conducive to quality images, especially macro work. Sometimes it is just better to just have a pleasant walk.
The two goals that I have referred to thus far are my “minimal goals”. I have two additional goals that are more challenging. These I call my “maximal goals”: 1) to create photos that generate within me feelings similar to the feelings I had when the images were captured and 2) to create images that cause other people to get similar feelings to those that I had when shooting. This happens less often than my recreating feeling within myself. But when it does occur, I am filled with pleasure for being able to share the feelings of wonder and connection to the universe. This is my ultimate photographic goal. I reach it gradually more often. That lets me know that I am traveling down the correct path in this journey toward bliss.
Successful photography is the result of a surprisingly long period of practice, learning, practice, mistakes and disappointments and (you guessed it) practice. Be patient with yourself. Remember to enjoy the moments along the way.
I hope this post has been helpful to someone. I welcome comments, criticism and suggestions for future blog posts.
Through my website, NaturePhotoRehab.com, I assist clients to transform their nature photos into impressive works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration. Specifically I provide photo retouching, complex processing and enhancements, enlargements, prints up to 12 x 18 inches and framing.
©2012 J. Michael Harroun