Snap, snap, snap. Every new scene, another new pic – and life is missed as one is hidden behind the lens rather than fully there. Or so a common complaint goes, but photography also offers a host of lessons for making oneself at home by seeing places and people more intimately.
Photography – or actually, rather the taking of snapshots – has become one of those practices that obviously marks a tourist. Many a person goes to a new place and just has to take pictures of just about everything, for it is all so interesting, so exciting, it just has to be captured for later.
And yes, rampant picture-taking can be annoying, producing nothing but a mass of snapshots – be that of ever the same tourist sights and scenes or yet another round of the latest dinners and dishes at home. Oftentimes, especially when seemingly random and rapid-fire ‘point-and-shooting’ comes to roost where a person is seen to be at home, there are complaints.
“You keep hiding behind that camera, seeing everything through the viewfinder… Are you even here?”
It seems to be a distancing and distracting attempt at capturing scenes and sights for later that, in the attempt at holding fast to them, makes them all the more fleeting because they aren’t intimately experienced even while they happen. As it were, distraction (like that) has been found to be a major influence on unhappiness…
The usual dearth of photos taken where a person considers his/her home to be, a result of the familiarity with that place, however, is not the best practice either.
There, we feel so at home and feel that everything is so familiar, we don’t even notice the place and all we don’t know about it and can’t see of it anymore. And thus, we remain as much on the surface as the tourist blinded by the glitz of the exotic, just dulled by familiarity instead.
Seeing the two ways we skim the surface rather than make ourselves intimately familiar and thus at home in our living places – one as a tourist point&shooting everything because it is so exotic, the other as a ‘homey’ not seeing anything because nothing seems noteworthy anymore – offers up ways photography can help in a deep familiarizing which makes more at home.
It takes photography.
Photography, not as the random taking of snapshots hoping that some will turn out nice, but as a practice of getting better at using one’s gear (be that a smartphone camera or a high-end DSLR), in the composition of pictures with an artistic quality, and in the ability to tell a story through those photographs.
Done this way, it can serve as a mindfulness practice with which to make oneself at home in a life. And it’s a growth practice, a way of doing something and doing so in order to get better and more skilled, in the technology and the techniques:
- Gear lust strikes only too easily, but there is sure to be more skill to acquire using the things that are at hand.
- Then again, new gear offers new opportunities. A macro lens can offer up a whole new world of details hitherto overlooked, for example – even in the mundane and everyday.
- Learning to better use the interplay between aperture and shutter speed and the higher or lower exposure times thus gained can make for very different images.
- Delving into the topic and learning more about – and getting better at – image composition can go a long ways.
- Looking at other’s projects can help develop a new perspective; and new perspectives gained from wandering and wonderings can lead to new kinds of photographs.
- Shooting in black-and-white is a different game, again. Playing with HDR. Tilt-shift.
- Going avantgarde with videography is another possibility – as is going retro to film and perhaps even into developing it oneself.
This has hardly begun to skim the surface, hardly even started to mention the subject of the images in front of the lens.
- As I have said before about running and seeing the circle of the seasons, photography can also make one all the more aware of the season’s passing and the different views/motives that the passage of time offers.
- Even the interplay of skies and clouds and light in various kinds of weather and at different times of day gain new meaning and become more deeply experienced when they are thought about and noticed more because one has been developing a photographer’s eye for them.
Wanting to get started, you may wonder about the gear and about the qualities that make for a good photograph.
I certainly did, all the more so as I have come to like the opportunities photography offers.
To learn better on this journey of discovery, looking through the third eye of a camera’s lens, I have invited photographers I know and respect to comment and give their views of what makes for good photography.
Entry 1 in this series, with answers from Jonah Kessel (New York Times photographer and, increasingly, videographer) coming soon.