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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Photographing With Purpose


By creating more meaningful work, you can find greater focus and develop a stronger voice, leading to deeper satisfaction and growth as a photographer

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Cenote Dzul-Ha, Sotuta de Peon, Yucatán, México.
For example, for a project on pollination, you may want to photograph a sphinx moth hovering to feed from a night-blooming cereus. You'll have to make sure you're in position on the one night each year when the bloom opens and ready to capture the moment when a moth zooms in. If you want to photograph a leopard seal chasing a penguin, you could plan to wait beside the spot where the penguins like to leap from the water to the ice and the seal eventually would come to you as the penguin speeds past. When I recently collaborated with my friends Jack Dykinga and Alfredo Medina on an assignment to photograph crystal-clear subterranean pools, or cenotes, in the Yucatán for an International League of Conservation Photographers project, we determined that we'd need to bring along portable lighting, including underwater strobes, to do the job right. Thinking through and planning for numerous variables in advance can make a seemingly impossible shot relatively easy to execute.

Assuming that you plan to share your work with others, it's important to keep the applications and outlets for your images in mind. A photographer creating a body of work specifically intended to be fine art may take a very different approach than he or she would if the priority were to produce a photojournalistic essay that tells a flowing story from opening shot to conclusion. Will you need to make wall-filling display prints for a gallery show? Have you considered the needs and preferences of an editor to whom you wish to submit your work? Rather than throwing a hodgepodge of favorite images into your online gallery, consider editing sets of images according to theme. Photographing with the specific aim of creating a custom photo book about the birds that migrate through a local wetlands or creating a set of prints of square-format black-and-white Tuscan landscapes will help focus how you plan and create your work.

As you pursue your projects, periodically review and critique not just your images, but also your planning and preparation process. Compare your results to what you had hoped to do, and think about ways to apply what you learn from each situation. Constructive critique by experts you respect can be invaluable, as can group critiques with other passionate photographers. Spanning the process from research, planning, execution and review, a great deal of learning takes place, which is a worthy purpose in itself.

Born from a decade of photo workshop instruction and a career as a photographer advocate, my passion for aiding the advancement of serious photographers led me to establish Visionary Wild, a photo workshops and expeditions company providing mentorship and fieldwork experiences for passionate photographers who seek a high standard of instruction, thorough logistical planning and an overall experience that exceeds expectations. Our instructors include such luminaries as Jack Dykinga, John Shaw, Annie Griffiths, Jeff Foott, Karen Kasmauski and others selected not as much for their impeccable credentials and notoriety as for their depth of expertise and demonstrated track records as thoughtful, generous and gregarious teachers. Our programs include insightful, inspiring instruction on bringing purpose to one's photography, and we even connect our workshop participants directly with exhibitions at important galleries and opportunities to apply their photographs to conservation campaigns and other worthy causes.

Regardless of the source of your inspiration, embracing purpose in your photography will lead you to develop personal projects with goals and plans for execution, which in turn will guide the process of creating cohesive bodies of work that reflect your passions, original vision and creative voice. Whether your aim is to publish your work, mount an exhibition, help save an important ecosystem or simply post online to share with friends, photographing with purpose leads to tremendous empowerment, growth, meaning and satisfaction.

Justin Black is cofounder of Visionary Wild, a photographic mentorship and experiences provider offering workshops and travel for the passionate photographer. Visit www.visionarywild.com.

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