I know, that makes no sense at all, but it’s kind of the frustration I’m encountering at the moment. Let me explain.
Throughout this whole “journey” (ie: learning about photography and progressing on to whatever the next logical step may be), I’ve stumbled on several obstacles along the way. And I know other photographers feel my pain when I speak of losing my phojo. It happens. And not just occasionally. I think, the thing is, is that I kind of progress in plateaus. By that I mean, I spend ages and ages trying to nail one particular aspect, be it night shooting, star trails, some sort of editing trick (it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to add tones to my shots in photoshop). Then, once I’ve finally mastered that particular challenge to my satisfaction, I’m at a bit of a loss for awhile. I mean, yay! I finally figured out what I was trying to figure out. But, now what? Because it’s never good enough. I always want it to be better. So I figured out how to add tones, or capture star trails, or some sort of lighting trick that had previously eluded me – but so what? I STILL haven’t created the perfect image I was going for. It’s a little bit closer, and I’m a little bit happier, but I’m nowhere near satisfied. I’ve become hypercritical of my own work. Which I don’t suppose is such a bad thing. But at the same time, yes it is! It’s awful!
So I spend this undetermined amount of time kind of wallowing, I guess you would say, and feeling sorry for myself, and beating myself up over my lack of talent, and I just kind of….drift. Until one day I see something breathtakingly beautiful and I HAVE to capture it. Or not even that. Maybe I just grudgingly haul my camera out because I know I have to. Otherwise I’ve spent a stupid amount of time and money on a beautiful piece of equipment that’s just collecting dust. And before long I’m back in the groove, and chimping my LCD screen, and ooh’ing and aah’ing over the shots. But in the back of my mind I know that next obstacle is going to be hurled in my path anytime soon.
And this is where the title for this post comes into play. It’s true. Some days I wish I were still blissfully ignorant, snapping happily away at whatever caught my fancy. Without worrying about composition, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, focal length, lighting, whether or not I should be using my speed-lite and at what strength. Because all of those things stress me out when I’m trying to capture whatever it is I’m trying to capture. I wish it all just came second nature to me – and I suppose a lot of it does now without my even realizing it – but for the most part the technical shit can completely ruin the moment for me. And I didn’t know a way around this. A friend of mine suggested just throwing my camera back onto auto mode and shooting like that for awhile. No one would know, she said. But I would. So I just can’t. Because it would feel like cheating. And it would feel like taking a HUGE step backwards.
The shot I’ve chosen to accompany this blog post is one of my favourites, and it’s become a bit of a signature shot of mine. In fact, it was used as the feature image on my last batch of business cards. I’ve always loved “Monochrome World” (my title for the image). I loved it immediately upon capturing it. And it was, I do believe, the first print to ever sell at one of my exhibits. When I shot “Monochrome World”, I was up on a snowboarding trip in the Okanagan, and we were in the parking lot of Silverstar Mountain, getting all booted and suited for a day on the slopes. I happened to glance over and noticed these big black beauties in their paddock, looking rather striking against the snowy backdrop. Of course I dropped what I was doing and wandered over with my camera, as I am wont to do occasionally.
I wasn’t considering the light, or lack thereof, the composition or anything else. All I was thinking was “LOOK AT THE PRETTY HORSE!!” and I wanted a photo of it. To be fair, I did have my camera on aperture priority and set my f-stop to f4.5. But I really couldn’t explain my reasoning behind using that particular aperture. I just did. And it worked out well for me. Now, this image, as I mentioned, is one of my favourites. And a few people have expressed their delight with “Monochrome World” to me as well. Except for one photographer friend of mine. From the first time he saw it, it bugged him. The composition was off, he said. We had a laugh together when I told him after my show that it was one of the first prints to sell. I believe his response was “Arrggghhh!”
We’ve had a lot of comical conversations about that image over time. At one point he even photoshopped a huge, ridiculous grin onto the horse. To balance out the composition, he claimed. He also claims that, over time, it’s grown on him. Much like a tumor, I suspect. It wasn’t until I ordered my batch of business cards, 3 years after shooting the image, that I FINALLY saw what he was talking about. I messaged him immediately to tell him that I finally saw the problem with the composition. (He must have been biting back that huge “I TOLD YOU!” of validation pretty hard:) It made the photo look heavy on one side. It was unbalanced. My business cards all looked oddly wider on one end, because of the composition I had chosen. That doesn’t necessarily mean I CARE that the composition is off. I still love that shot. A whole bunch. But if I were to try and recapture it under the exact same circumstances now, I don’t think I could. Because I would be too concerned with all the technical crap, instead of just taking a photo of what I’m taking a photo of.
So I’ve discovered that the only way around this is to remind myself of this when I’m out shooting, and it’s really important to me to capture the scene perfectly. Sure I check my settings and make sure my exposure, focus, and all that junk is correct. But, I have to say to myself, “what about this scene is speaking to you? What exactly are you trying to capture here?” And that becomes my focus. And it becomes a much more enjoyable experience, and I generally end up with the image I was looking for. It’s all very Back-To-Basics, isn’t it?