Can you truly experience a sense of location through a lens?
It’s not uncommon for friends or other non-photographers viewing my travel and landscape portfolios to comment “I love your shots, but can you truly experience a location when you’re out photographing it?” It’s a question I’ve heard many a time; as if they believe that in photographing a particular location, I am missing what’s going on right in front of my nose or that I somehow forget to experience the moment.
It’s a comment I always react to with surprise as I would argue the polar opposite; photographers, probably more so than other people, usually have a sharper view on the world and their surroundings because they are often framing potential compositions, whether in their mind’s eye or through the viewfinder.
We are so much more tuned in to the qualities of different kinds of light, how it falls on objects around us and in turn how that particular light affects colours, creates shapes, throws shadows or makes beautiful layers, silhouettes and forms.
One shot is never enough in a location. As a photographer I’ve learned to slow down and take time to fully evaluate my surroundings. Before I start shooting, I’ll walk around, appreciate the location from different angles and really ‘see’ somewhere before I start to frame different compositions.
I find that camera in hand I am ever more mindful of my presence in the world, much more so than before I took up photography. Nowadays I will be the one on walks to notice the fog disappearing and the first sun rays coming in, or to spot the moment the street lights come on, or to point out a green finch resting for the briefest of moments in a tree.
As well as enjoying the excitement of discovering new locations on my travels, I love to revisit places and find new ways to see and experience them. I appreciate the challenge this offers me as on each return trip I need to look just that little bit deeper and make more of an effort to find strong images that are interesting to me.
To achieve this level of consciousness and to be mindful of my surroundings as I photograph, I’ve learned to master my camera so that it has almost become an extension of myself. Technical ability comes with experience and I always advise photographers on my workshops to worry less about achieving a technically perfect shot, having the best equipment or latest camera system. On the other hand, to know your camera settings inside out and to be able to run through them with barely a second thought gives you the freedom to view and respond to what is going on around you, to capture fleeting moments as well as being able to slow down and appreciate making images that require more time and longer exposures.
“The very process [of photography] forces me to connect with the world” — Michael Kenna
To those who are concerned about my ability to be present in the moment and appreciate the incredible locations I am privileged to photograph, I would direct them to the words of Michael Kenna and agree with him that for me, the act of photographing is “enlightening, therapeutic and satisfying, because the very process forces me to connect with the world”.