Get Quiet Enough to Hear Your Subject Speak to You

As photographers we have a unique problem.  With most creations, it’s just the artist creating something from their own vision. With us, our own vision is not enough. We need subjects to photograph.

When I was living in New York City, I was fortunate enough to work for a number of different photographers. Some photographers knew exactly what they wanted and would choose models, locations and lighting to actualize their vision. They would pose the models very carefully to fit into what they were looking for.

Others like myself would get together models and a location, and then work on lighting with the view that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. We would rely on some magic happening between the models, location and the photographer to produce something greater.

Those of us who photograph outside the confines of studios and models have similar approaches. Some of us wait for specific light, specific times when the sun or moon will be in a certain place. Some of us even go to very well known locations and attempt to produce something similar to what other artists have produced there before them.

Others, like me, go to particular locations hoping for a particular light or a particular subject, but once we get there we let our subjects speak to us. Letting the subject speak to us is an odd metaphor for nature photography, but we know exactly what it means in portrait photography. Some portraits capture an inner essence of the subject. Those are the ones we remember. Wildlife photography is similar. If you haven’t seen Nick Brandt’s photos, you owe it to yourself to check them out. Nick’s work stands out as such an example. My wife Emily photographs dogs for a local rescue organization. Whether she is conscious of it or not, she is having intimate conversations with her subjects.

Nature photography is no different. I’m out with my camera and tripod and I leave the rest of my life behind me. I’m just there, in a field, on a mountain, by a body of water, it doesn’t matter. I’m just there being quiet. The quieter I am, the more I can hear. Being quiet means dropping ideas of what I think will make a good photograph — dropping ideas of subject matter. The more I hear, the more I see.

If I’m lucky and get really quiet, the grass speaks to me, the trees speak to me. They tell me their stories. Some subjects are loud and some are quiet, but the more I hear the more I see.

If I’m lucky I start seeing relationships between things that I haven’t seen before. As the listener/observer I’m also part of the relationship. These relationships move me and sometimes I’m able to capture them in a photograph.

Whatever happens, my live is immeasurably enriched by the experience.

~ by danbaumbach on February 22, 2016.

2 Responses to “Get Quiet Enough to Hear Your Subject Speak to You”

  1. Dan, I love reading your notes! Very eloquent. Thank you, Wish you had time to write more. Peace.

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