It’s so easy to snap a photo and capture life’s moments now. We all have a camera in our pocket. Does anyone remember when the act of taking a photo was a real experience in itself? We have always loved photography and it’s relationship to life, but the way we’ve made use of this art form has dramatically changed over the years. This powerful tool has become so closely knit into our lives so quickly that many are completely unaware of how visual imagery truly affects us, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Now that we all take photos daily, I think it is extremely important to understand the real power that we hold in our hands.
What Is Photography, Really?
Every time you click that shutter, do you actually know what you or your camera is doing? I’m not suggesting that we understand how the internals of the camera works. That’s something students learn in my photography classes. Ultimately though, the way your camera actually works has very little to with the final visual story we create. We can give that credit to the incredible software within the computer of the device you hold. But where did that software get its ideas from?
Photography has been around for less than 200 years. Painting has been around for over 32,000 years. How is it that photography as infused itself and everything that we know, everything that we do, in such a short period of time?
For so many of us in the year 2018, the experience of creating an image doesn’t even resonate as an experience anymore. It’s just so easy to snap a shot and move on. We have forgotten why we love photography in the first place. Life is full of experiences and the most important ones can now be truthfully documented, remembered exactly as we see it, exactly as the light shines on on that moment in time… if we can pay attention to what we’re really experiencing.
Capturing an experience that resonated with us and creating an interesting visual story, is about focusing on one thing, the movement of light. All of that technology that has been innovated over the last 200 years and all of the incredible technology that is going to continue to innovate, all revolves around discovering better ways to capture more of our story with the need for less light. Basically, every better camera, can “see” more with less light.
Since the first invention to what we now know as digital photography, all aspects of photography are designed to measure and capture the light it sees. In my photography classes, I emphasize the creative definition of photography. “Painting with light.” I know many see photography as a creative outlet, though they still take it for granted and rightfully so. It’s become so easy, so quickly. Now I’m telling you to enjoy that moment, no matter how tiny the moment is. Do this by paying attention to the light”, we will never realize our highest creative potential with photography. By comparing photography to painting, we can come back to what matters most even in those small moments in time. When photographers begin to notice the light and realize how natural it comes to them it brings them into the zone, into a creative space of awareness. This is exactly how a painter might study the light to create a work of art.
Cameras Work Just Like Our Eyes
To describe yet another aspect of how much photography is just like life itself, the camera is like our eyes and brain. Light is constantly moving faster than anything we know. While it’s moving, it reacts to color and content and then reflects back into the lens. This is also what happens with our own eyes and brain. Just think of your eyes as the camera. You have eyes, a camera has a lens. You have a brain, your camera has a brain (or camera body). Together they work to expose for the light in your scene.
If you go to a Sunday matinee movie, when you walk into the theater, it will be dark at first. Then your eyes slowly begin to expose for the low light in the room. Your pupils dilate and your eyes allow more light of the available light to come through and strike your retina (or the sensor of the camera). As your eyes begin to expose for this new lower level of light, you can begin to see everything and everyone in the theater. The opposite is also true. When you leave and forget you when to a movie in the middle of the day, you squint as you go outside because there’s too much light getting into your eyes. Your view becomes overexposed. It’s so bright outside, our eyes need time to adjust to the new light.
Cameras are designed to see the way our eyes see (or even better) and knowing this gives all of us a broader sense of awareness when we get the urge to snap a shot. Our eyes and brains interpret the light so quickly, so automatically, we don’t take time to consider how it affects us. So we just expect the camera to see exactly as we see.
To paint an even bigger picture… (All puns intended)…
Light is everything. Light is everything in photography and light is everything in life. No matter what kind of camera you have, no matter where you are or when you want to use it, remember it is just a tool. All it does is measure and capture light. You are the creator. To create an interesting visual story, you must become aware of the light.
So when you look at an image just like when we look with our bare eyes, what we are actually seeing, or better yet. what our brains are interpreting through our eyes is a reflection of the light bouncing off of the things within our view.
Light is constantly moving and changing faster than our eyes have time to realize it. But the truth is we already understand the most important features of light simply because our eyes and brain automatically understand how to interpret light. We just need to slow down and experience the actual moment of capturing the image. We need to become aware of our surroundings and what we’re experiencing. There are many different features of light that make each moment behind the lens unique and interesting. Identifying these features will help build our awareness and lead us towards a much more interesting story to capture.
When we become more aware of the light and how our eyes and the camera work to see this light, we can begin to work with it and create our visual stories with more intention. Taking creative control of the light before we snap the shutter lets us truly see the power that we hold in our hands. Quite literally, photography lets us shine the light on the experiences of our lives that we truly matter to us, as long as we make them truly matter.
Can you imagine a shot you took where the light really captured your attention? Made you become much more aware of your surroundings instantly? I’d love to hear about your experiences behind the lens. Sharing our stories, visual or written, is the best way to learn and see life through a new lens every day. So please, share away!