“Anyone one with a camera can take a picture but a person with a passion for the subject sees the picture before it’s taken.” – Edward Fielding
Heard these before?
“I love taking pictures”
“I have a passion for photography”
“I love photography”
Great! This means the person is expressing a love for an art medium. A passion for camera equipment. A passion for an activity. A love for something to occupy their time. It’s like a fine art painter saying they have a love for brushes or a certain brand of paint. Or maybe a love for the time they get to spend in the studio creating their art.
Passion: strong and barely controllable emotion.
But what’s missing within this world of “love” and “passion”? How about the thing that actually matters in art – the ideas, storytelling and subject matter.
It’s great that someone has a love for photography equipment or the act of taking photographs. This is perfect for camera manufacturers, camera book writers, photography workshop instructors etc but what about the subject that is being photographed?
Move beyond passion for a tool
I contend that if the artist behind the tool does not have a real passion for the subject then the photography will result in nothing more than a documentary record of the subject at hand. Is the photographer simply a collector of scenes and objects or is there something that they want us to see and feel?
As it is photography is based on mechanical reproduction so it is inherently the hardest medium to impart a sense of personal style or vision. A lot of what sets one photographer apart from another is the subjects the artist chooses to photograph and what kind of feeling or story the photographer is trying to express.
It’s hard to express a feeling about a place or thing if you don’t feel passionately about it. Its hard to tell a story about a place or building or object if you don’t know anything about it.
I think you can tell from an image when a photographer knows the history about a place and has explored it time after time vs. someone who simply walks up to a place, takes a snap and moves on to the next vacation spot on the list.
In this video about a barn complex in Windsor, Vermont I attempt to show how a photographer would explore a scene from all angles. The snapshooter would take a shot from the car window. A real serious photographer gets into the scene and explores the feeling of the place and looks for interesting angles to tell his personal story about the place.
Same is true with this video that explores the Bath Covered Bridge in New Hampshire from various angles on a scouting trip I made to the area.
As an artist, ask yourself – “am I really passionate about these garden flowers?” or is it just that you think that is what you are expected to photograph? The closer you get to figuring out what you are truly passionate about the better your photography will be.
“Technical ability aside, the difference is commitment. Some people look at whatever they do as a job and then they want to be good craftsmen. Then there are people who do it as a passion. They really care about it., and it shows in their photographs.” – Mike Morse, Associated Press Guide to Photojournalism
Everyday people who express a love for photography keep their cameras hidden away in the closet while they pursuit their passions only to dust them off when they head out on vacation only to stand in the same exact spot that millions of other people have stood. Then they expect the viewer to get an emotional charge out of images that have been seen a thousand times over?
Give yourself the license to photograph what really interests you rather than what you think is “appropriate” to photograph. Learn more about your subject and strive to pull out the very essence of what attracted you to the subject in the first place.
Spend less time looking at camera specs and the latest gee whiz lenses and more time looking at art. Study composition rather than megapixels. Explore the world around you rather than waiting for that next big vacation. Look to bring emotion and feeling into your work rather than saturation and sharpness.