Sometimes when we are looking through the viewfinder we know what’s going to happen.
Whether we realize it or not, when we frame the world through our cell phone screen, our mind starts to assess the things happening in the space.
When the situation we are attempting to photograph is more of a moment capturing sort rather than purely aesthetic opinion, there is one thing we can do to make better pictures: Be present , observant and feel what is happening in reality and then find the shot within this.
Keeping our phone away and bringing it out when the moment strikes and then putting the phone back away will greatly improve our images. This process seems counterintuitive as we are typically given the rule to take many images to capture The One. There is a lot of truth in this rule but in our everyday life it makes more sense to live it rather than try and calculate what we want it to look like on our social media.
Seems tough but can be surprisingly easy if we stop trying to make something seem there that actually isn’t. Forcing a moment in a photograph will show exactly that, insincerity.
And technically speaking, things don’t have to be perfect when capturing a moment.
This photo here:
It’s not that sharp. The lighting is ok. However, the moment was captured.
This is not a brag, this is me being there and knowing what was happening and seeing the result. When I shot it, I knew I had it.
The more I ignore my desire to photograph and live within the space, the more I can feel what’s happening and even more so predict what I THINK might happen.
After all, if you’ve seen it happen, then your camera missed it.
The photo above was published in PDN Magazine and earned me a decent chunk of change.
The story of the photo: This image is a document of me reading Mad Libs to my kids for the very first time.
Prior to the shot we were sitting on the stoop as I was asking them the verbs, adjectives and nouns to fill in. The girls were confused and didn’t understand how this was all going to come together, how was this entertaining?
The reason the image is not super sharp: in one hand I was holding the Mad Libs book and reading it while I was shooting with the other hand. This meant I wasn’t as stable as I’d normally be.
My lack of stability occurred because as I started reading I began to see them connect over what they had just done. It clicked for both of them at the same time. The very moment they realized Mad Libs are funny and together they had created the story was the moment I clicked. I wasn’t planning on photographing them at all but instead was there being in that moment simply reading.
And I didn’t know what was going to happen. I sensed what was about to happen because I made myself available to the situation rather than worry about the technical elements of my photography.
That’s not the say we should entirely neglect technicality, but if we are set up enough to expose enough then we are at a great starting point. If I had spent any time adjusting my shutter speed I would’ve missed this moment. I would have had a much sharper picture but the moment would have been gone already.
The story of the photo: The kids were at the zoo and I had put my camera away for the day. When my daughter was looking through the window and I noticed the light was perfection. My child was NOT facing me at all and she was buried amongst a mass of other moving children. I could barely see the back of her mop head in the mix.
I do not typically direct my children in front of the camera. Anyone who has tried to do this with any kids knows the result – a forced smiled or perhaps non-cooperation and likely both.
However, I knew if I said her name she was going to turn around and look up.
No, I couldn’t predict how it was going to go and where the children around her would shift for me to even see her turn. Every child was moving and before I said her name I took a calculated guess when the space would open up.
It all happened very quickly. Maybe half a second.
I decided to get my camera out again because even though I was only seeing my daughter from the back, I could feel her pure amazement by her body language. I didn’t have to see her face to know she was in pure joy at this moment. I knew that if I said her name, she would turn and I would see this wonderment in her face.
If shooting casually, especially with your cell phone, there is no need to force moments in photography. Being present and observant doesn’t take any extra time, it maximizes our time and allows for us to be opening to seeing what we are feeling.
If we settle into really being there the photo opportunities sneak up on us in unique and exciting ways. The bonus of shooting less is we get to experience life without seeing it through a cell phone.