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Monday, November 1, 2004

(Connecting) With The Subject

The digital camera helps us in making exciting, evocative images

This is a result of the LCD monitor, a tremendous resource for the photographer. On a technical level, it works like a Polaroid print, only better, since you can see everything faster, from exposure to color, and the image is the real thing, not a test. On a creative level, you can see how the subject translates into a photograph right there while the subject is still in front of you. You don't have to wait until you get photos back from the processor to decide if the image works for you.

You can experiment with different angles, exposures, white balance and more, and see what any choice looks like, then take that information and immediately apply it to the subject. The learning and application is instant. This is what Brandenburg means when he says the digital process is a more organic way of connecting with the subject.

I like Dewitt Jones' approach of "Where's the next photo?" too, where you find new approaches to your subject beyond the first way you saw it. This is ideal for the digital world, as you can compare shots as you go with the LCD monitor. What did that first shot look like again? Is my second really that different? Am I getting an image that shows how special I think the subject is? Or am I relying too much on modern technology to capture an impressive scene in a way that anyone could do?

This approach can be unnerving at times. At some point, you'll see an image on the LCD that you know is unique to you, that's so tightly connected to your personality and your experience of the scene that it makes you uneasy. That's because you realize that you're sticking your neck out—not everyone will like that photo; some people may even dislike it. It's always safe to take competent photos of pretty scenes; it isn't so safe to take images that provide a fresh point of view on the world—yours.

At this point, we may want to pull back, be cautious about such new photos. Do you want to show them to others? And, if you do, there's a tendency to want to qualify them—"I was trying to make this image moody, but I don't know if it works." When presenting photos to others, you should never qualify or apologize for anything in them, although there's a tendency in all of us to do this. When I look for a photo to illustrate this column, I think about how many people will harshly criticize my choice, whatever it is. We have to let our special images stand on their own and accept that not everyone will like all of them, or even any of them, and that's just the way people are.

If this process of looking for better, more evocative photos of your subjects can be unnerving, why do it? Why not play it safe with the technically perfect, good image of a scene? I believe that such an image can be satisfying to a photographer for many reasons. If that's what a photographer wants to do and it makes him or her happy, then he or she should keep doing it. We all deserve to enjoy our experience with photography.

For me, and I know a lot of OP readers feel the same way, photography goes deeper than that. We search and strive for images that connect us with the world in highly personal ways. But even that's not the whole story. I've seen an interesting phenomenon again and again: Photographers who use the digital camera's LCD to explore their subjects have more fun! That's right. It's exciting to see that photograph develop and evolve right in front of you while you're still there with the subject.

Your journey as a photographer isn't the same as mine or anyone else's. Your explorations of the subjects that matter to you can take any course that gives you joy (at least, that's my hope). The LCD on a digital camera will make those explorations more productive.


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