Regardless of the artist’s medium—language, paint, musical notation or digital photography—moments of pure creativity are very rare. Even the very best struggle for years or an entire career to experience a few transcendent creative opportunities and deliver the results they envisioned. For many, a digital camera, especially compacts, are “lifestyle” devices. The camera’s purpose is to record regular events in people’s lives and the lives of their family members, friends, co-workers, and even the strangers they meet. After all, the popularity of photography, and then digital photography, has been driven by the goal to make the camera affordable and easy to use for the “everyman” and “everywoman.”
Using a camera casually is just one approach to photography. Many are perfectly satisfied with this “snapshot” approach; and this group constitutes the majority of people that own a camera.
A second approach that describes another, and smaller, group of photographers can be called “purposeful” photography. These photographers don’t “take” pictures like the casual photographer, but “produce” photos, meaning they take as much control of the scene or subject and the process of recording an image as possible. They have a pre-determined notion of what kind of photography they want to shoot today and the kind of photos that would like to bring home. It’s almost a hunter’s mentality: great pictures of the sunset, marvelous images of hummingbirds or interesting urban landscapes are waiting for you, the photographer; you just have to bag them!
Goal-oriented photographers have developed the technical skills and camera and lens knowledge, so they can combine them in the right proportions to come as close to the target images they had in mind. They’re able to evaluate the shooting environment to decide the best location for the camera, the lights, etc., and then make the subtle adjustments to exposure settings and other functions.
There is a third approach, however, which is where pure creativity is most likely to occur. It shares some elements of yoga, in that the idea is to forget any objectives or rigid plans, empty your mind and just accept whatever the world offers in terms of images to record. This is often when the most amazing experiences occur that would have never happened if you were photographing like a hunter. To utilize this third approach, you must change your mindset from one of deduction, or problem solving, to one of discovery. When you act as a discoverer, you are likely to find much more than a searcher, who thinks he or she knows what there is to find.
Part of this discovery process is freeing yourself from time: Leave your cell phone and watch at home. It is also about space: focusing all of your attention on the space where you are now. Sit in a field; stroll slowly past a quiet stream; stand on a busy street corner. The environment is not as important as being able to see it as a whole, without your mind categorizing or describing the elements within it.
Although the camera still makes a technical contribution to photography of this third approach, it is totally objective, unable to record the scene or subject as anything more than what is placed before it. The key for photographers of the third approach is to develop the eye and mind to “see” what the camera only frames. These great photos are there, but unlike the hunter pursuing his goal, third-approach photographers wait for the pictures to come them, to present themselves only when the photographer ceases to look for them in a conventional manner.
All of these approaches to photography are equal, in that it is not a progression from beginner to advanced, although you can use them as a way to expand your photography experience, which should, in turn, improve your skills. Each approach serves a different mindset and perception of photography as a hobby, an interest or an art form, so each is correct. Maybe, the greatest benefit of dissecting photography into these three approaches is that those photographers who aspire to the challenge of the second or third approach will find that that experience will enhance the next group of casual snaps they shoot during the holidays or at someone’s birthday party.
Photo by PhotographyTalk member Jeffrey A Griffin