One of my mantras here on Shutterfinger has been the need for photographers to pay attention. In this post I'm going to expand a bit on what I mean by this and how you might go about, assuming you don't already know how.
What I mean by paying attention is not intense concentration. Intense concentration can often be like staring hard at a dusty mirror and trying to make the reflection you see look clear and sharp. You can try as hard and as long as you like and all you'll get for your effort is eye-strain. You'd be much better off if you simply cleaned the mirror, or better yet, turned around and looked directly at what it was reflecting. This takes not concentration but rather an alert awareness. That's what I mean by paying attention.
For anglers it means knowing what bait to use, where to drop the line, and when you've got a bite. For martial artists it's the ability to block and counterpunch by reflex alone. For musicians it's the ability to flow with the music; to know when to lay back and when to step forward.
There's more to it than just timing. It's also about having a sense for when you've got the shot and that shot is as good as it's ever going to be. Sculptors rely on much the same instinct to ensure that they don't remove too much, yet not so little that the piece looks unfinished and ill-formed.
The trick to all of this is that no one can really teach you how to do it. You have to teach yourself. The best I can do for you is to give good directions. It's up to you to look, and only you will know when you've found the right address. As for the directions, here's what worked for me:
- Study the masters, especially those whose work interests you most. Let them open your eyes to the possibilities for location, lighting, color, tonality, framing, timing, and printing. If someone's work bothers you, don't dismiss it too quickly. As yourself why it bothers you. You may discover that the artist wanted you to be uncomfortable--and was successful.
- Learn to meditate, to play a musical instrument, to play chess, or to play a sport. Any practice that requires you to focus your mind and use it differently than you do in everyday life triggers a new awareness and a sense of new possibilities. You become aware of how much your everyday awareness (or lack of it) is a distraction and illusion in and of itself.
- Set a creative goal and standard of quality, then reach or exceed them. Unless you have some idea of where you're going and what you're trying to achieve then you're basically just wandering in the wilderness hoping to find a hot meal and a dry place to sleep.
This isn't meant to be an all-inclusive list; in fact, if you have anything of value to add, please feel free. Trust me, I'll be paying attention to whatever you have to say.