"Is this what it's all about?"
There's nothing quite like standing on a lake shore as you watch the sky paint itself ... seemingly just for you. You're using both your left and right brain as you attempt to construct something that captures the majesty unfolding before you. A dozen and a half thoughts run through your head.
"Histogram looks good. D.O.F. is good. Oh shit! Look at those pinks!"
Simultaneously both hemispheres of your brain are in overdrive trying to make order out of the beautiful chaos unfolding before your eyes. You've gotta be the luckiest person on earth.
"Three exposures for dynamic r-- Shit, now we have purple?"
Seconds later, your left brain shuts off as you rattle off shot after shot in an attempt to digest every ounce of delicious color. Such is a typical day at the office of a landscape photographer.
But really though. What's it all about? This is a simple, bare-bones question that is so utterly complex and difficult to answer that many artists shrug it off completely, simply because it's so hard to decipher. It takes years to find an answer for some of us.
As photographers, we'd love to go down to the camera store and stock up on the things we need. How about a few bottles of success? Six or seven refills of patience or maybe a serving of purpose, and a couple ounces of concept to hold us over until our next shopping trip?We have no problem forking over the serious dough for serious glass, but god forbid we talk about or try to understand the very basis of what makes photography photography. Have you ever asked yourself what it's all about?
If you think about it, the aspects and rules of photography in and of themselves are actually quite simple! There's something magical about creating something out of nothing, freezing a moment in time and then seeing it unfold before your eyes. Even on the processing side, we're amplifying our vision and often times letting our brain let loose like a drunken, albeit meticulous, chimpanzee. There's something about all this - something maybe even primal and so very difficult to understand.
We've all been there! Photographers start out in a sort of excited phase, in which we become especially elated when we nail down the exposure triangle - you know, the basics of ISO, exposure, and shutter speed. Then, we practice composition and really focus on capturing a "Good" photo instead of a snapshot. Most of the time we're not even looking. Better is always better until it becomes best, and with it we grow even more confident for every "Good" photograph we capture! At last we graduate to the obsessive phase, when all we think about is gear, glass, and post-processing. Eventually, we branch away from the basics and decide to chew on larger morsels.
What Lies Beneath
Beneath every stage of our artistic lives, there's an inner phase that is extremely foundational as to why we're doing what we are doing. Yet it is something we can never define and never quite grasp. Let's step back a minute. In truth, the techniques are the same throughout all types of photography. Whether you're a wedding and portrait photographer, street shooter, travel junkie, or landscape artist, the essentials - exposure triangle and composition - are the very same.
Photography, however, is a very dubious medium, and often means different things to different people. Maybe that's the definition of artistry as a whole. This is precisely where most of us deviate from our own paths. Warhol would likely have some off-kilter, albeit respectable things to say to Picasso.
But when you nail it down, photography is about light. Photography is about the essentials. Photography is about expression. There's one thing that photography does not share in commonality: purpose.
So what's it all about? Seriously. Ask any photographer in their right mind and they'll likely chew over a variety of answers all day long. I've met many an accomplished photographer whose sole purpose is soul. On the flipside, I've met many generic shooters whose main goal in their career is to put food on the table. Both guys are well respected throughout the community and even a bit innovative in their approach.
Every one of us has a specific purpose for picking up that camera. Every one of us has a specific vision to show the world. Forget gear. Forget notoriety. I personally love the excitement of chasing light, revealing mood, and seeing beauty in one single frozen moment of time. Yeah I may sound a bit flowery, but it's earthy and original to me
The Most Essential Ingredient in Every Photograph
To this day I still take great inspiration in some of my favorite photographers. As a younger shooter, I was able to imagine the hidden creativity possible for every photograph just by looking at their work. Being able to discover that creativity within was an exciting roller coaster that's brought both red-eyed nights and opportune moments I'm head over heels in love with. Photography is an eternally transformative process. Simply, what separates the "meh" photographer from a stellar artist is purpose. Inspiration. Reason. Motivation. Unlike popularity, techniques, and technology (three things we are far too saturated in our market) these are things that cannot be bought and cannot be learned. They simply are. These are photography.
To me, photography is about being inspired. This is vital: the soul behind the whole darned thing. Photography itself and the reasons we love it are easy to understand. It's the marketing, technique, time, and energy behind all that that's absolutely exhausting! It's all about finding that specific purpose as to why you do what you do.
Take a step back, look in the mirror and ask the fundamental question: "What's it all about?"
Be absolutely critical of yourself. The answer may come within seconds. If not, take some time and reevaluate a few things. You'll be surprised how well this works and just how much you see your photography improve!
"What's it all about?"
It's about that stellar pink sky. The spray of the waterfall. The calm before the storm. The driving emotion behind the image. It's about the very journey to the location. This is why I have chosen photography. This is what it's all about. See you out there.