Listening to your senses

It’s all too easy to rock up on location and look for the usual classic landscape image. As landscape photographers, we can only work with the scene in front of us in the light given at that moment. Yet, when several photographers of a similar skill set visit the same location together, the differentiation in the resulting work can be massive. This article will concentrate on a simple technique (one of many) which might help us see the landscape lying in front of our eyes in a different manner.

Million Dollar Question

A landscape is a landscape at the end of the day! Right? How can we separate our photos from the masses when the landscape looks the same to everybody’s eyes? As photographers looking for differentiation and stand out from the norm, we simply need to create greater depth, connection, meaning and soul in our images? How we achieve this is the million dollar question, & a much tougher task than it sounds.

Stages of Photography

Not every photographer cares about being different and that’s perfectly fine. It can simply come down to where we individually stand at any moment in time on our personal photography journey’s. I have identified several stages of photography as outlined below. 

Beginners Stage – Those starting out, don’t concern themselves with these thoughts. Taking proficient shots and seeking technical improvement is a beginner’s main concern. Others are simply happy with the pleasing shot for their home which friends will compliment and admire.

Some develop repetitive techniques that they become comfortable with – The Comfort Stage. They may lack the willingness to try new techniques for fear of not delivering what they feel are good images. Over time, their work broadly follows their tried and trusted deliverable parameters until their main body of work resembles what some would call a style. Oftentimes, this style or technique closes off their eyes and minds to endless opportunities that they may not have seen as certain conditions are sought to match their preferred style/technique. Again, this is perfectly fine once they are happy with their results.

Commercial Stage – Some photographers shoot commercially to sell work. As such, the mainstream accepted styles will usually sell more. The requirement to take work to a deeper level is not necessarily required.    

The Artistic Stage – Then there are some who for whatever reason want or need a little more from their images. They care little for technical proficiency & more about the artistic side of the medium. They somehow always feel something is lacking in their work and constantly strive for the next level of attainment. It all really comes down to personal drive.

My Own Journey

After 5 years, I am a photographer who does not yet have a definable style. I will literally show up with the camera in pretty much any weather conditions. I have yet to take a photo which I cannot pick fault with. I’ve been close on several occasions last year but alas have yet to get there, if I ever do. Some people tell me I am being too hard on myself as we are our own worst critics.

I’ve recently become a little bored of the traditional landscape style of images, probably because so many of us can competently create them now. As time goes on, I am finding it harder and harder to come home with images I like. It’s getting frustrating. What’s wrong and why? I truly don’t know and even if I did, I would struggle to verbalize it. I fear I may be falling into that arty stage of photography…

long exposure landscape photography fine art senses ireland irish

2D

What I do know is that the images I am most drawn to are those where I have stood still and “sensed” the environment around me. The end result in photography is a 2D visual medium called a print (or should I say now more commonly a social media post). As photographers we primarily “look” at a scene with our eyes, but how many of us truly “See” it? Instead, we busy ourselves visually dissecting the scene as we try to find compositions that work. Our brain works overtime and we forget to use all our other senses.

The landscape in front of our eyes is far from 2D. We see it, we touch it, we hear it and at times we can even smell and taste it. Combine all these senses together and it leaves a feeling. This feeling can also be influenced by our mood. So, there is much more going on than simply seeing a photo when we create an image. It doesn’t stop in the field and our mood during post production can have a huge influence on the final work.

Personally, I now try to work these feelings and emotions into my images. These images then hold a deeper connection and personal meaning to “me”. I re-connect with what I felt & experienced at that moment in time. I cannot guarantee others will see of feel the same as I in the resulting images but I shoot simply for myself. Although nice to get, likes, shares and print sales really don’t interest me too much. Luckily, this affords me the benefit of being selfish with what I create.

The Senses Technique

I have gradually changed how I approach shoots as I endeavour to add a more personal meaning to my work.

The traditional essence of landscape photography involves arriving at sunset/sunset & finding the obligatory foreground interest. Composing it to sit nicely alongside a complimentary background. Waiting on the light and taking the shot. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this tried and tested approach. However, I now find myself doing one additional thing – listening to my senses.

Staying still for 30 seconds and forgetting about all the technical details helps give me a feel for the location. Is it warm, cold, windy, calm, vibrant, muted, simple, complicated, bright, dark, peaceful, noisy, densely or sparsely populated etc, etc. Only when my sense have spoken to me do I manipulate the technical settings for the camera based on what I want to convey in the photograph.

Conclusion

At the start of this article, I spoke about how different photographers can come away from the same location with very different results. I wonder if this “Senses technique” were applied more, would the work become even more separated as each photographer sensed something unique to the next.  

This approach may not result in technically better images. General viewers may not appreciate it any differently to the next landscape image. However, from a personal point, it leaves work with more personality, deeper meaning, connection and value. What more Could I ask for – Oh yes, one I can’t find fault with.

I’ve probably waffled on far too long hear and many of you may think I’ve lost the plot (again). I’m simply updating you on where my own personal photographic journey is currently taking me…..

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One Comment

  1. Michael February 5, 2018 at 7:49 pm #

    The senses technique… an interesting oxymoron. A contradictory term, but not necessarily meaningless. To enjoy the actual environment one shoots in, to suck the very landscape’s essence in while still, to switch off… is a welcomed escape from restlessness of a day filled with repetitiveness and safety of not making mistakes. Speaking of mistakes… it’s OK to be insecure as long as you remember where your place is:).

    A photography will have its place in people’s minds for a long time to come, as it represents an imprinted memory in time. If one manages to transfer that memory to the public (not necessarily masses!) with positive reception, homerun’s been hit. Not implanted, but shared with emotion in it. Sadness vs. joy, uniformity against dynamics, colour opposed to black and white. One can go on like this trying to use the seeming paradox to achieve satisfaction… with the image experienced and now published for others who either way love it or hate it or… just accept it as it is. Such a task is not simple to thrive for in a landscape photography genre.

    “Forget yourself to remember who you really are”, said an unknown classic once.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article.

    Keep shooting and evolving, Graham!

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