“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography
Every day thousands, if not millions, of pictures are being taken around the world. With each advent of new technology, it is becoming easier and easier to record every tiny event or thing around us. But just because it is easier doesn’t mean we are taking better pictures, it just means we have less room on our hard drives. So how do we make sure we are taking more meaningful pictures? How do we take pictures that we want to keep, share or even put up on our walls?
We need to start asking why we are taking pictures in the first place.
I remember traveling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”.
So it wasn’t surprising that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that, they got back on their bus and traveled away.
This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is about getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there” t-shirt, before rushing off to the next attraction.
Travel isn’t just about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about being present in the moment, being mindful of the environment and taking a moment to breathe.
Photography is the same. When you stop to take in a scene before you snap a picture, you get a better feel for it and you can start to see what makes it special. Spin around, crouch down, look up. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.
Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to take a picture. What compelled you to stop there? Understand why that person or element caught your eye. What do you want to say about them? Once you know what you want to express, you can choose the camera settings that you feel do that the best.
I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations, not just travel. Even when you are shooting friends and family at home you can ask yourself questions before you press the button. What is it about that moment that you want to save? What makes it special? Is it the fact you are all together, the uniqueness of the place, or the crazy weather? Taking the time to think it through will allow you to set up the shot in a way that not only records the event but also expresses what you are feeling. And those are the images you will want to keep.
Sometimes you need to take a few shots before you see your vision. I am not saying don’t take as many pictures as you need to express the moment, just start with the Why before you jump into the shooting. As David DuChemin says in his book, Vision Driven Photography,
Before our photographs can say we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it.
The more you consciously make decisions about your photographs, the more you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. As a result, you will take more images that have meaning for you and that you will want to celebrate and share.
A starter guide for taking more meaningful pictures:
- Be aware of the things that pull your eye, what attracts your attention
- Don’t judge yourself or compare – shoot what you want to see
- Play and take risks. Use settings you don’t normally use.
- Look at other photographers’ work as well as paintings. See what compositions and lighting appeal to you
- Practice, edit, practice, edit
- Delete all images that don’t meet your vision