When looking at a photograph, what vital questions must we ask of the photographer?
"How did you make it? Can you tell me the story behind it ? "
If we ask "Where" was it taken, that question takes us away from the photograph itself.
Asking "When did you take it" also ignore the photographic craft. Questioning when and where puts the discussion into categories. The questioner often shifts quickly to their own associations and their own life experience.
When I ask "What aperture, what shutter, what camera, how long it took" the photograph itself is again ignored. These are meta qualities. They have nothing to do with what the photograph might mean.
So, to tap into meaning, a vital interactive question we viewers can pose is: "Can you tell me the story about this photograph?" We could also just keep silent, and look, and look longer, and again, at the photograph itself.
How do gestures make a portrait more compelling? It has to do with time and motion.
Gestures are fleeting. We use them, and then move on when in conversation, unaware of our own gestures or those of others. I think many of us see a person's facial expression more than their gestures, and miss the story that the body and hands are telling.
Gestures add "moment" to a photograph. Along with voice tone, head position, and the way someone stands, they send meaningful messages of love, fear, and a range of other feelings. As photographers, we must notice what is specific about that person's gesture and how their hands can caress the unseen.
A hand gesture, for instance, increases a feeling of motion in the frame. When just a person's head is in a picture, the portrait may appear a bit stiff, but with their hands signing in the air, a sense of movement comes into their portrait. Capturing subtle gestures in the frame adds nuance and expression.
I think interesting portraits emerge when two people share a bond, and their gestures sing clearly in that moment.
In Maritime Canada, on the southwest shore of Nova Scotia, Lunenburg's harbor waters reflect a town of wooden ships, hardy residents and a myriad of vibrant red buildings.
Seen through thick fog from across Lunenburg's harbor, these red structures stand out. Their color is a safety precaution. Painting harborside buildings red is a tradition traceable back to 1753 when Lunenburg was founded. Then, before global positioning systems, navigating your ship into port was accomplished with dead reckoning and experience, so to avoid accidents, the high contrast red color ashore alerted homecoming captains that land was imminent.
While I'm not a ship's captain, when we drop anchor in Lunenburg harbor, it is still easy to find the shore, so I immerse myself in the town's culture. Strolling along the harbor, questions come to mind about some of the other aspects of red, beyond how Lunenburg's story. For instance, why do we see color the way we do?
This puzzling led me to explore color culture and color psychology. How does color influence our moods, symbols and perceptions?
We know that color comes from light reflected from an object. Yet, a mystery remains. Objects do not reflect a color of light that is not present. There are holes in a every color spectrum; some colors simply are not there. Each light source has a different mix of colors. Even in light bulbs of the same type and company, there are variations in the spectrum and colors that do not exist.
So, while Lunenburg's red buildings seem to have just one shade of red, there were difference in shade and some missing reds as well. Wandering its harbor streets, I found shades of wine, apply, berry, currant, scarlet and crimson, but no blood red. And when I thought I was seeing a single color, looking from afar, up close the shades of red were nuanced. Red hues changed with the light intensity and the surrounding hues. Lunenberg's reds were not those of just one kind of wine, but a whole variety of vintages and blends.
Seeing a flag waving near the harbor, I also puzzled over the symbolism and uses of the many reds we see. Color symbolism is woven into our beliefs. Take the Canadian flag. It is is red and white. The red is symbolic of England. In Western cultures, red is perceived as energetic. It is an action-oriented hue: Spiderman and Superman wear red.
Red branding also means we should buy this product. It is often the main logo color in top promotional products like Coke. Red is the hue of danger, war, and power. The uniforms of some Western colonial powers sport red clothing. In Eastern cultures, red is seen differently. Red is a preferred color for a bridal dress in India. There, the Hindu festival of colors called Holi covers its participants with powders of many colors, and the festival's reds symbolize fertility.
Elsewhere, red has other meanings. In South Africa, red is sometimes the color of mourning.
It was time to go. Fatigued, as I walked wistfully downhill back to my rowboat, I passed by the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum building. A red car was parked between a red motorcycle and the Museum. I waited until a red vehicle came into the middle of the scene. What clicked was red itself!
So, why all that red? It keeps me awake, even as I dream about returning to Lunenburg.
How can I possibly sleep this moonlit evening?
Come, my friends, Let’s sing and dance
All night long.
Colors of the moon painted my dreams, and awakened me, during a lunar eclipse in late September. Eclipsed by the earth, its pumpkin hues of orange and red transported my senses. Shining through my sleep, irradiating my bedroom, its bright sphere kept me awake through the night.
I tried to photograph it, but all efforts to portray the essence of a supermoon were in vain. Photography failed like a finger pointing at the moon, in the Zen tradition, fails to communicate the enlightenment experience.
The essence of moonlight defied space and time. It was a dance, not a photograph. Why? I am comfortable with small spaces like the aperture of my lens, and I get by managing short time periods, like those of a range of shutter speeds. But this lunar eclipse event was an experience outside the frame that transcended space and time.
Many have tried to predict earthly events by seeking the moon. These predictions are dire, they all call for "a bad moon arisin' ". Mormon leaders predicted a major earthquake would strike Utah on the night of this blood moon. This did not happen. While there was an earthquake of magnitude 2.9 in Utah, it occurred on July 29th. There have been many false prophets of moon doom.
A supermoon is a rarity. For a photographer, it is a challenge. Technical issues like making a sharp, well exposed picture are trumpeted by those who succeed. True, this takes a bit of practice. But my failures to catch the supermoon with a camera were not for technical reasons. I missed the essence. The magic of the supermoon escaped me, for I did not make the time to love it, and truly embody it. A lunar eclipse is a paradox. It is a bodily experience that has to be felt. Pondering the encounter with a supermoon, it points to something larger and timeless than my blink-in-time lifespan.
CALL ME A LUNATIC
Call me a lunatic. My nighttime dances with moonlight go on. Often in vain, I photograph the moon when I feel its presence deeply and its radiance is beyond words. So, I must make pictures even though the moon unyokes feelings that run outside of the picture frame. I can't dwell on this paradox for long. . . In the end, it's not about success or failure, it is about the pleasure of the chase. I gotta go grab the tripod now, because there is another silent full moon out tonight. I know, lunacy.
Birds come round again and again over a lifetime. Here are ideas for taking pictures of them.
Put in the Time
Become a feathered friend. Invest some time getting to know how the bird flies. Is it a migrating species or local? How close can you slowly approach before you set off its proximity alarm and it takes to the air? Get to know how it thinks. A key part of portraying a bird is how you perceive it, and anticipate what it will do in the next moment.
Where to Go to Photograph
Bird rescue and recovery nature centers and zoos are excellent sites for getting close-ups that would be impossible in the wild.
Walk around. Move your tripod and camera to get closer to where birds are flying, nesting, hunting, bathing, mating or feeding. Think about the light, the form and line and move to vary these elements of your bird composition. For example, with color photography, front lighting may work for bird pictures, but in black and white photography, try to take advantage of side lighting and back-lighting. Be in the light path, and the flight path.
Focus Automatically, Manually, And Be Flexible
I like to set the camera to continuous auto-focus (AF-C) and support the camera with elbows braced or on a tripod. If tripod mounted, I set the camera low and sit on the ground. I set shooting Mode to Manual, and dial in a fast shutter speed of 1/2000th or 1/4000th, then let my ISO/ASA go to Auto so it changes with the lighting. Others may prefer to set the Mode to S for shutter priority or A for Aperture Priority. I set the lens focus limit switch to limit the focusing range, since birds do not usually come close.
Instead of jabbing the shutter button, I let my finger roll off the shutter button at the peak behavior moment. Its vital to get to know which auto-focus mode works best for your camera, depending on the sophistication of its AF modes. For instance, bird photographers who want to put the bird in the corner of the frame may set up Back Button AF, as servo auto-focus can have difficulty locking on to birds in that frame position.
All major camera brands include auto-focus tracking mode, which helps lock focus on a bird in flight. Getting sharp pictures of moving objects means that large glass elements must move quickly at the touch of a button, and longer telephoto lenses tend to be large and heavy because they must contain bright, fast optics.
At times we want a fast, wide aperture for bird photography, such at F/2.8, F/3.5, F/4 or F/5.6. Then, in brighter light, an aperture of F/8 does a better job of getting the entire bird in focus, especially when it is flying directly towards the camera. As mentioned, your practice with tracking and panning will help you get sharper images of birds in flight.
For birds in flight, there are numerous lens options are available. I only recommend those I’ve used extensively, and two lenses that have proven themselves in heavy weather conditions and continual use are the Canon 400 5.6 L, and the
Nikon 200-500 AF-s ED.
Thanks for your visit.
“Chris, how many items are on your brew plan checklist?” I asked.
He paused, considering: “At least a hundred.”
Brewmaster Chris Coyle and I were sampling two flights of 5-ounce glasses. In between tastes, Chris told me about his detailed checklist for each of the micro-brew batches he creates at his NSB brewpub in New Symrna, Florida. Over the years, Chris has tasted and evaluated beer from worldwide breweries.
Learning to make each of his beers with a distinctive flavor and a blend of ingredients so the beer would match the location of the country and culture where it was made, Coyle's process involves a dedicated skill set. His experience, consistency and attention to detail are matched by creative experimentation which adds a depth of taste to each beer. As Chris explained his process, I was reminded of how I photograph.
Making a creative photograph is like brewing beer. First, I make sure the basic steps are completed, using a checklist. This means checking off items to ensure I pack the gear I need and that it's organized for a specific shoot. I ensure batteries are charged and lenses are cleaned with their location labeled.
Next, I visualize the tasks that will take place, in a series of mental steps, which might include a complex shot list for a wedding or a simple formula dialed into the camera for black-and-white street photography. Then, the final step is posing the THREE new QUESTIONS:
What is your name? What is your Quest? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? ( Ha, no, I am kidding here and just having fun... those are the Monty Python and the Holy Grail questions from their classic Bridge of Death scene). Here are the real questions.
THREE NEW QUESTIONS:
I've discovered that posing these questions, I've learned to love the questions themselves. Learning to love the question can be as rewarding as finding answers.
We listened, and watched. The whale came up fast out of the ocean. She opened her mouth. Gulp!
"It's lunchtime. I'm hungry," said the whale. The whale looked over.
"Don't get too close, you'll scare the fish," said the whale, slowly.
She vanished. Silence.
Gulls flew over the water. Not another sound. So, we listened more.
Suddenly, there was a burst of white foam on the ocean. Many, many tiny silver fish jumped up all in a row.
The whale! She rose up to gulp down the fish. She loves her favorite shrimp, for lunch.
We pointed our boat away from her to be quiet.
She rested on top of the ocean. Then the whale went down for awhile but soon rose up for another mouthful.
"Yum," said the Whale. Then, slowly, she went back down to her friends.
The moral of the story, said the Whale, is "Listen. My ocean can show you many magical things."
As we see and experience an event, we make a picture. After time passes, we may rediscover the picture as we bring it up on our screen, but think: "When and where was that taken?" We might even have no memory of taking it. It is easy to take a picture, and easy to forget it, but why do we clean forget our pictures as time passes?
When I was given the anesthetic Versed for a medical procedure, I went "under." I "woke up" 45 minutes afterward. I regained consciousness, but had no memory of either getting dressed after surgery or answering questions from several people. Retrograde amnesia is a common Versed side effect. It is typical for people to be unaware that their memory is impaired by the chemistry of anesthesia.
Anesthesiologists have a tough time telling what they are measuring when they try to measure when someone "loses" consciousness. Brain research might suggest that thalamus-cortex connections may be involved in the anesthetic induced changes in consciousness, and problems with movement arise from cerebellar-thalamus systems. Even from a scientific viewpoint, many questions remain about the mystery of consciousness and memory. Memories are suspended in our experiences of a specific time, a certain place, weather conditions, the light quality and our entire perceptual field. Human perception is far more complex than any camera can capture; we tend to remember those experiences that are vivid, emotional and involve all our senses. Taking a picture does not demand our full experience or emotional attention. Picture taking is an easy act. Unless we pay attention to the entire scene and study its details in depth, we may not recall the image later on.
Anesthesia puts us "under." The metaphor has an up-down orientation. It is ontological because it refers to anesthesia as a thing that a person can be underneath. In general, things that are "up" are good. Health and life are up. Down things like death and sickness are bad. Somewhere in the middle, anesthesia suspends us between life and death. This is the nature of photographs as well. They suspend us in time.
My Versed-induced loss of memory reminds me of photographs I've taken and forgotten. Looking back at them, I pause. I have no memory of making the picture, or the event's meaning. Unlike a vivid memory, a photograph does not sustain meaning. Meaning takes time and experience; photos have only the symbolic appearance of time. Still photographs preserve instant appearance as the camera sees, so a photograph of an event is as biased as our memory of it.
Perhaps images anesthetize us in unique ways. In a literary, metaphorical sense, are we using our cameras as IV delivery tubes for anesthesia to numb our pain?
We see pictures of war every day. War photography in particular, as writer and critic Susan Sontag noted in On Photography, numbs us to the suffering of others. Although we see the pain and the horror, it is in the past. The war may be far away and, if we have not been to the front lines, its personal context and meaning are missing.
There are at least two people in every photograph. The photographer has a context for the event that viewers do not share. Unless a viewer has prior awareness in her mind of the event photographed, she will not have a moral response or empathetic feeling for those suffering from the event.
RITUAL REQUIRES MEMORY
Photography used to be a ritual. It was expensive, slow and time consuming in the 19th century. With smaller formats, faster films, and mobile cameras, photography became a reflex. it became pocketable, airborne and reflexive. The rituals of photography that took time was displaced by quick, surface scans of events that are quickly forgotten. Memory is the key to bringing the ritual back into the craft. And perhaps, contemplation and reflection are partly the keys to memory.
Because the camera only takes a sliver of time, removes an instant from the flow, and fixes appearance, it has a complex relationship to nature. Cameras use equations and algorithms to transform light into a picture. We perceive nature, and we see pictures, but they are not the same. There is the thing, and there is the photograph of the thing, forever separate. A photograph lives through appearances. Human visual perception lives in being. My photograph, on its own, may often have little relationship to your experience.
Photo journalism adds text that personalizes pictures. Words and pictures are more powerful than either alone. Slice a war photograph out of context and we may see it on our screen without time, place or event references. Include the text that this mother is holding her infant child killed in a bombing by a US-Saudi war plane, and the context lets us more fully experience the authenticity of the photograph. Media itself can not do this. Taking a picture with a film camera does not make a picture more "authentic", for example. Only the viewer who invests emotion and meaning into a photograph will .
We respond more to photographs that show events we remember from the news and those that came about while we were alive. We react differently to photographs that have music playing with them. We feel the pain of a photograph when we know and experience its personal context. How many times has someone told you "I have a picture just like that" when in fact it is nothing like your picture? Our seeing corner of perception and experience even gives us a politics for interpreting photographs. Susan Sontag wrote: “Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow.”
Without a framework and personal context, we can become numb to photographs. In this way, a series of pictures of violence can anesthetize us to the suffering of those depicted.
John Berger, the noted art critic, said "the camera records in order to forget." So, what is the solution?
Sati is the Sanskrit word, centuries old, for bringing the past into the present. Remindfulness is the distant past, plus the recent past, that comes or is brought into the present as a corrective method to aide action and decision. Remindfulness preserves meaning through looking way back in our personal time. Being remindful of the recent past, we can bring it into the present. The practice gives a hopeful aspect to our photography and a framework for positive change. For instance, thinking back on a photography workshop reminds us of good work we did there, useful techniques we learned, and warm feelings of intimacy with the other participants.. A photograph does not preserve meaning.
How can we restore meaning to a photograph? Invest time in it. Make a print for your wall. Then go a bit deeper. Understand that memory has an enormous number of associations. It is a three dimensional web of associations, into which thought, hearing, smell, taste, touch, sense of balance, the sense of internal organs, the sense of the passage of time, and human proprioception are all woven. Know that vision is limited to a very thin slice of electromagnetic radiation. Not just the time we invest, but the more vivid our experience, and the more we reflect upon it, the more we will benefit from bringing it back, remindfully.
Remindful photography is when the living take the past into themselves. The past becomes part of the soul, and all photographs can acquire a living context within the span of one's life. The key is to share them so they are woven into social, political, everyday, economic and personal context.
Keywords: remindfulness, photography, awareness, senses, three-dimensional remindfulness, remindful, storytelling, media, communication, John Berger, Susan Sontag, photo critic, critique, vision, meaning of photography, context of photography, About Looking, on photography, seeing, deeper seeing, mindfulness, remindful, association in photography.
On Photography https://www.amazon.com/Photography-Susan-Sontag/dp/0312420099
Uses of Photography. https://sites.uni.edu/fabos/seminar/readings/berger.pdf
On January 25, 2017, noted art critic John Berger passed away. His book About Looking, is a collection of essays that I use in all my field experiences with students of photography.
Hashtags add dimension and context. Without text or hastags, this picture is a room in a building. Add these, and the context becomes three dimensional, a radial array of associations and meaning: #National #Historic #Landmark #America #Library of Congress #Thomas Jefferson #Jefferson Library #Thomas Jefferson Building #Beaux Arts #Washington DC #PaulPeltz #architecture #interior #Busts of Presidents #paintings #sculpture #library #American history