Connect with your Subject. Show your Experience.

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 1 Comment

“A friend of mine is an avid photographer, but I pity him. When we go on safari, he never enjoys what is infront of him, he never experiences it as he is always looking through a camera.”

This was said to by an acquaintance a couple of weeks ago when I explained my job to him and what it entails.

I understand that by looking through a viewfinder at the subject or scene infront of you can often find you disconnected as you are more intent at capturing what is presented to you than the experience of looking at it through your own eyes.

The reality?

This is what Wildlife and enthusiast photographers do…we photograph scenes and subjects that we find interesting, beautiful, etc…

We take pictures.

The Kill © Penny Robartes

This does not mean that we don’t enjoy what is in front of us – hence the taking of the picture of it.

And man do I love what I do!

However, I do agree that perhaps at times we may become disconnected with our subjects as they become just that; subjects and sightings. When we approach situations that tingle our photographic senses, our hands automatically start reaching for our camera while are eyes quickly survey the scene before it is covered by the viewfinder.

And away we go!

*Enter sounds of multiple shutters going off*

This disconnection often relays through images that gives nothing to the viewer. It mostly comes across when the viewer reads the image as just a picture taken for the the sake of a picture getting taken. It offers nothing to the viewer – it shows no intent of the photographer, it has no story, the photographer maybe not relaying his intention either through not thinking about what settings to use to convey the intent or wrong composition.

As I find it hard to convey my thoughts on a debatable subject on a platform where I find it hard to engage and create an argument, here is an image as an example of an image just being an image:

Clearly this is not a very good image.

It doesn’t tell a story… apart from a cheetah walking away… but that isn’t a meaningful or powerful story. This image is a “Look, I saw a cheetah” shot. There is nothing that demands the viewer to really look at the image and keep their focus on it.

I looked at it, shrugged my shoulders, said ‘Meh’, and carried on looking through my other images and forgot about this one almost instantly.

What experience am I trying to portray? Would showing more of the environment give more depth and meaning to the image as I put the cheetah in context? Maybe I should have put my camera down and just taken the time to watch the cheetah walk away as the sun was making its way down.

What can we do to rectify the acquaintance’s statement and highlight what we experience through our images?

Here are some of my suggestions:

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  • When you are approaching a sighting, take a good look at what is happening first. This will help you figure out what kind of shots you would like to get and what camera settings to use. By looking at the scene and ‘experiencing’ what is occurring,  you will have a greater idea of what is going on when you then look through the viewfinder.
  • Dont just pick up your camera and shoot off shots in a frantic manner. While you are picking up your camera to look through the viewfinder, think about what image you are wanting to capture.
  • Think about the technical: what settings on your camera will enable you to portray the above.
  • Think about te artistic elements: how you are going to compose your image in order to further achieve your desired image.
  • Before you go on safari, get to know about the animals that you can expect to find during your safari. By understanding their behaviour, you will be able to use this to your advantage in how you would like to portray your subject/sighting, and anticipate their reactions; whether they will stay in an area for a while,  run away due to their skittish behaviour, etc
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The above way of thinking will help your image portray the experience that you are having of the sighting. Whether it is from the viewfinder or merely just watching, the point is is that we all experience what is infront of us.

As photographers, we just try to capture it and expose it to others.

I know that when I look through the viewfinder, my perspective of the sighting is limited to what the viewfinder offers. I find that this can be an advantage to me as the limitation enables me to have a heightened experience of the situation as it is more focused on what I can see.

This focusing makes it more intimate to me. I feel that I experince it more as I am experienceing a moment out of a whole. Through my viewfinder, I am able to change my perspective to another, making that new experience of the sighting as grand and powerful as the first.

Before picking up my camera, I was able to enjoy the greater experience.

Through my viewfinder, I am able to pick at it and capture the moments.

As a photographer, what do you think you can do?

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