Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pathways #3: I've had a photographic epiphany!

Unfortunately, I haven't posted much over the past two weeks.  I think I've been somewhat jinxed.  Many things have been going wrong around the house and fixing those things (including my newly dislocated knee!) have taken priority over everything else for a while.

But now I'm back...and returning to my Pathways series for a quick post.

My previous posts focused on learning more about your camera so that you can take it off full automatic mode to take control of the photographic process, and how to manage your in-camera exposures to get punchier and livelier photos straight out of your camera without editing them afterward on your computer.  This post is a bit of a divergence from those topics, and I hope you find it a valuable change of course....

I had an interesting discussion with another photographer recently.  We were discussing the fact that your photography will usually improve by leaps and bounds when you have a strong passion for what you're photographing.  If you're walking around not really caring too much about what you're taking photos of then you won't strive to improve your photography and how you represent your subjects.  But if you have passion for your subject and really want to do it justice, then you'll find a way to do it better.

Another topic we discussed is how I have an interest in many different types of subjects (old architecture, decaying objects, storms, odd things, etc) and that I don't focus on just one with excessive passion.  He proposed to me that I should try to focus my attention on one subject area for a while to try to hone my skills when dealing with just that subject matter.

As I thought about his point last night, I can't say that I disagree....but the problem is that I'm not interested in dialing in on one specific subject matter for any period of time.  It's just not my thing to restrict myself that way.  Then I thought a little more about the subjects that I shoot and how I shoot them, and I had a photographic epiphany.

Photographically speaking, one of the primary things that interests me is extreme lighting.  It doesn't really matter what the subject is, but extreme lighting on a scene (either light or darkness) almost always catches my attention right away.

When I look back at some of my best photos, they fall into the category of having extreme lighting.  I have photos of children in extreme light, landscapes in extreme light, even photos of barns, other random objects, and flowers in extreme light.  But for sure, extreme lighting is the single common denominator that runs through my better images.

Two simple images from my library that show what I'm talking about are below.  I went against conventional wisdom in the first photo and shot directly into the setting sun for a nice effect.  In the second photo, I carefully metered the scene to get my daughter's face right and then I let almost everything else go dark.  They're two simple examples of how to use extreme lighting for nice results.

Shooting directly into the sun to silhouette the playing children....

My daughter cleaning up her spilled cereal in a shaft of sunlight....

If you want to read a great book that discusses the type of lighting and shooting situations that I'm referring to in this post, check out the above book by Duncan Evans called "Extreme Lighting Conditions in Digital Photography".   This book has many samples of exactly what I like and how to achieve success with shooting in these types of lighting conditions.

Moral of the story:  I don't necessarily have a single subject that I'm passionate about, but I do have a single style that I'm passionate about....which is extreme lighting.  Now that I've realized this after doing it unconsciously for years, I can hopefully make a big jump in my photographic portfolio by trying to use my passion for this type of lighting to create better photos.  I'm looking forward to the challenge!

Try to spend some time finding the subject or style that you're passionate about, and work to improve your skills in that area.  It's a great way to jump-start your creativity and improve your skills.


  1. nice post john. well written. i find that it helps to have passion for your subjects when you get into a rut or run out of creative juices. when you feel strongly about things you can find a way to get your mojo going again. i agree with what you wrote.

  2. Hi Sanjay,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Yes, I feel the exact same way. Sometimes I get into a little bit of a lull or rut with my photo taking because of boredom with the standard photo subjects around me, and my first thought is to just let it rest for a while before returning to it.

    But having thought about this a bit and realizing what I like to shoot, I now find an energy to try to get out there and do it. And it doesn't have to be far away either. It could be something as simple as capturing my family doing every day things, but stepping it up a notch with some creative lighting.

    Interesting stuff.


  3. John, excellent blog. You certainly have a lot of interesting and diverse information here. Keep up the nice work. I liked this entry. Very good point about finding something that you are passionate about above all else to drive yourself to new creative heights. I've put you in my RSS feeds. I'll be back.