Posted by: 6x6pix | January 23, 2011

Before You Shoot: See

I asked a bunch of photographer friends recently whether they find it easier or harder to shoot in places they’re visiting for the first time. Without hesitation, they all said, “easier!” which surprised me, because I find shooting in unfamiliar places to be fairly difficult. Being in a place for the first time, I’m completely overwhelmed, not only with taking in all the possible things to photograph, but with sussing out and choosing the best angles from which to shoot any given thing. Adding to my frustration is the fact that I have little to no idea how the changing light will affect these various scenes, and I usually — especially when traveling — don’t have the time to wait and find out. Maddening!

Despite the results of my small informal poll, I think a lot of people really feel the same way I do, but digital cameras allow them to avoid the “so many choices” conundrum entirely, by shooting everything they see from as many angles as they can get. This is certainly one reason so many people come home from vacations with hundreds and hundreds of photographs of the things they’ve “seen,” but as a recent Slate article on Slow Photography points out, this approach comes at a cost:

Photography is so easy that the camera threatens to replace the eyeball. Our cameras are so advanced that looking at what you are photographing has become strictly optional. To my surprise, no monument I saw in Israel could compete with the back of the camera. What gets lost is the idea that photography might force you to spend time looking at what is in front of you, noticing what you might otherwise ignore.

The article goes on to point out the importance of looking at what’s around you, studying the lines, angles, tones and light of things, to the point that you’re actually composing photographs in your head and editing out the chaff before you even pull the camera out of the bag.

Film shooters already do this, in part because most of us learned photography in the dark ages BD (Before Digital) and were trained to consider our subjects and to make choices about the images we wanted to end up with before we exposed a frame. The reasons for this are both economic (saving film, which is money; and time, which is life and sometimes money), and grounded in craft (no matter the equipment used, at some point anyone who cares about what they’re doing would like to be able to say with confidence that their photographs are consistently not happy accidents). But there’s an aesthetic factor as well: most of us try to do more in a photo than simply document what’s in front of the camera, and that takes, at minimum, some thought, and insight into our subjects.

Up to the point where it suggests that after adopting the “slow photography” process, you needn’t even make a photo at all unless you’re really into post-production (huh? what about the sheer love of photographs as objects to have and hold?), the Slate article is a worthwhile read. And if you’ll indulge me a shameless plug, I especially recommend it for anyone planning to take my Three Frame Shoot workshop next month — it should help put you in the right frame of mind (terrible pun intended!).



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BPC, Bonnie B. Bonnie B said: Hey man, slow down! New post on mindful shooting for the BPC blog: #photography […]

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