Using Emotion to Capture Your Images
We take all these pictures, we go to all these amazing places, we get up in planes and climb mountains. We bring them back, and does it disappoint you sometimes when people look at your photo and go, yep, okay, so what, any more? Or does it not?
It never happens to me, Tony.
Well it does to me on occasion. (laughing) So, and I know, talking to other photographers out there that sometimes they bring the pictures back and they're excited about it, but other people don't seem to get the connection.
Happens all the time, Tony.
Is this how this is going to go?
No, it does happen all the time. I'm agreeing with you.
The problem I have is that I don't even know when you're serious. (Peter laughs) And this is the softer, mushy section.
Listen, I just want you to know, that Tony is a sensitive sort of guy. I'm a little bit more hardcore in that I don't wear my emotions on my sleeve. I sorta keep them tucked around behind, whereas he's out in front. So I want you to enjoy this litt...
le session, cause this is as soft and touchy as I'm going to get. But I'm doing my best to respond to you, Ton. So yeah, it happens to me all the time. So take me there, come on.
Well, I've just connected with you in that moment and I just, you know
You just disconnected with me?
It just, just touches me. Anyway, let's get serious. We wanna talk about images, that
I was just gonna say, that we're gonna talk about the way that you meld words and photos together. And how important that is as a part of your creative process.
Yeah and it's also about sharing with people an avenue or another opportunity a way they can approach their creative process they can approach that journey of expression. You take the picture, you get home, you look at it and you think what am I supposed to do with this picture? What we'd like to do is share some, maybe some ways that you can approach that. Some things that you can bring back from the shoot and earlier in the session I read a little piece of poetic prose that will help me when I go back to Oz to look at the pictures that I shot at that time and say, how was I feeling? And I've used words to capture that feeling.
So a little question for you before you jump in. You asked me before, have I ever come back with photos that other people just looked at and yawned a little bit, but I was really happy with. I don't care that they don't like them. I mean, I'd like them to like them, we talked about this before in the earlier session, but to me it's all about making me happy. I'm a very selfish, self-centered individual as you well know, and it's all about taking photographs that make me happy. And I think your the same, so when we talk about this way of integrating your thoughts and emotions into the photographs, how important is it that other people come along for the same ride you're on, or is it okay for them to go on a different ride?
I think it's, for me it's more a sharing of a process that when I look at the photograph, and I'm making creative decisions, so you're looking in post production you say, will I give it a little more contrast, a little less contrast? Am I going to increase saturation? Am I going to crop that in and crop that out? It's why would you do this or why would you do that needs to be linked to what do you want it to say in the first place? What was the intent behind the capture? And often when we go and we come back with a thousand pictures, two thousand pictures we're working our way through and I don't know about you but sometimes I'm looking at the picture going why did I take that again? What was, I can't even remember when I took that. But then if I sit there long enough and perhaps if I have some records, some journals we talked about, maybe a verbal journal, you're in an outlook or you're fine or I've written something down, just quickly a couple of words. It helps me remind me of what I wanted that picture to say in terms of how I felt. So if I wanted to give somebody the, if I want to have a chance for someone to look at my pictures and feel what I felt, then I've gotta know what I feel. And one way I can get around that is to write down some words to help me remember. So when I talk about images that connect I talk about you know, take a photograph like this there's a use of color and strength of color to actually drag the viewer's eye in. And it's about that almost clash of this vibrant iridescent pinks and golds against the subtle pastel colors in the background. So that's just a very simplified way of saying I'm using my photographic techniques to connect.
That's a familiar photograph, Tony.
It is. That was a picture taken on the Phase One IQ 100 Trichromatic Back
Trichromatic Back, yeah.
And in relation to all about color
Was that subtle enough? (both start laughing)
Well, that's what it was, it's funny you've said that before, but you know, you've ribbed me a lot about the way I like to read and that I write poetry, and being poetic prose, so what I'd like the audience to do is just for a moment when we sit down and we talk about pre-visualization I know you're big on this, you've got your fall, and you know, one of the challenges and one of the strengths and skills you can build up is to be able to pre-visualize what you want the image to look like, even when you're in capture mode, even when you're out in the field. We're often doing it, and I'm sure you guys do it as well and those in the audience at home, that you'll be sitting there with a camera and you go, I'm going to probably take that out. We all do it, we go oh, that bin's in the way I'll take that out later in post production so we're pre-visualizing the content. What I'd like to suggest is we take that another step. That we start to pre-visualize the emotional content. The feeling behind the picture. So for instance, if I read these words that you can see on the screen now, what do you start to see and feel? "an ocean dreams. . ." what does that mean? "as the golden light of day retreats" well that's probably about a sunset "into the refuge of another night" so sunset disappears. Great, what does that mean? That reminds me of what this picture was about which is this picture here. So, an ocean dreams, it's got this mystical feeling so when I'm processing that image, I'm looking at the, how do I keep it ethereal and mystical like an ocean dreaming? And how do I accentuate that the orange is retreating? Well, a lot of people would look at that picture if I hadn't heard that precursor and said, it's quite saturated in orange on the right and that's sorta pulling my eye across. That's deliberate. I want you to feel like you're drifting across the image the way the sunset takes the light out of the frame. So when I'm processing this image, I'm remembering those words. Sometimes I don't go out there, take the picture, and while I'm taking the picture, go and I say, (in nasal voice) well the poem for this one is I'll come back, look at the phone or, I'll be driving home and I'll be sitting there late at night when we're downloading, and that's where I might make some notes.
That's one of the questions a lot of people ask. I suppose I wonder a little bit with some of your photos, the words and photos as well, people ask me when they see a photograph, did you have that idea when you took the photograph or when you started post-producing it? And did you have a definite idea in mind? And I say, yes, yes, yes, all three. Sometimes I walk out and I know exactly what I want, and I go there, other times I walk out not quite too sure take something, I'm back in Photoshop Capture One, whatever doing a little bit of post-production I'm exploring the image in post-production and I'm going in a particular direction, and then sometimes I'm halfway through something and I think, that's not right and I go ninety degrees the other way and I end up
But how do you know it's not right? There's something inside you that says that's not what it was about.
I'm 100%, that's right. But what I'm just trying to share is that when we're showing our end results, we don't always know that we're going to go there when we start on that journey. And I talk about post-production as really being we talk about post-production as being a journey of discovery. It sounds like, you know, Christopher Columbus, I'm using the right sailor for America James Cook for Australia, you know, going out and exploring for lands and sometimes you didn't know that they were out there but when you discover it, that's how I feel when I'm exploring a photograph. That's pretty poetic for me.
It is, except some would say, maybe Christopher Columbus didn't discover America or maybe Captain Cook didn't discover Australia but let's not go there.
That's a good point. (laughing)
But I hear what you're saying. Science would tell us that we are bombarded by information all the time. So we go out into these environments to take a picture and sure, we're thinking about the camera we're thinking about pixels, thinking about photons of light coming in collected by pixels. But our whole body is absorbing information at the rate of billions of pieces of information per second. Billions. Temperature, wind, all of that and yet, we're just capturing a certain amount of information on a camera, on a sensor and it's nowhere near everything that's happening. And when we have a photograph that we come and walk into and look at, you know I was looking at one of Art Wolfe's programs, and he only had that first image, and it looks like it's Yellowstone or one of those beautiful American wide landscapes and it's just, I thought wow, that is just stunning. And it's more than the photograph it's something else that Art's caught and a lot of great landscape photographers that's what it's about, you know? You mentioned Ansel and his technique and that but there's something else he caught and he knew, because his body was absorbing this information and storing it. I look for ways to bring that information back out so that it's on the table when I'm processing my image. So I can somehow effuse that into the pictures. So you know, I have this bit of poetry that was written, and I can't remember the author's name but things like this, I'll look at go that's what a photographer does. You know, we're talking about workshops often we go to a location, we take our small group and we get in there while it's dark, and we want that very first glint of light hitting the mountain peaks, et cetera and most of the people we travel with they'll stand there, and they're quiet. We're just moving around in this environment letting the silence just roll over us and getting to feel the location feeling the image before we even see it, almost. And then when we capture it, and we start working on our post-production, we wanna hold fast to that feeling which is why you said a minute ago that's not right. Because there was something inside you that said that's not the feeling I had. So I look at things like these words the whispers of an echo the haunting sound of silence what am I talking about? I mean, what is Tony on about? This is photography. But I think if we don't connect to the environment around us that we're photographing, as landscape, fine art landscape, travel photographers, how can we know what it is that we're trying to say through our pictures? The enchanting dance of a shadow watching the light come up and it does get enchanting wondering when that light's going to hit watching the cloud to past the mountain peaks and at the end of the day, for me at least, it's a simple heart thing. It feels right. There is something about that is so beautiful I could never describe it in words, I need a photograph. So that's what's behind it. Let's move on to one of my favorite pictures. This image is called Survivor and we shot this on our South West Light project and this has a textual screen over the top and it was put in deliberately. This image was happened, we were driving around the southwest of Western Australia on a project and there were bush fires everywhere and there was this gritty, heavy smoke. Now you can take a photograph of smoke and you kinda see it, but you don't always feel it. And like you did with your pictures of Namibia in the early days in the black and white darkroom, you had the grain, the noise that gave a certain grittiness. It actually looked like sand. I looked at this and I thought how do I share the feeling of the grittiness of bush smoke? How do you do that? Well the texture came in for that reason. I also wanted people to understand that the story behind this being Survivor is in amongst all this bush fire, and you had the remnants of other bush fires you can see some tree trunks burnt down there's a single tree still standing alone. And I see that again, like the man walking across the beach with the pack on his shoulders, it's about survival. So all the pictures I take, the ones that I love the most there's always a story behind them.
So did that idea come from when you were standing there? Cause we were, I wasn't too far away, shooting different things, I remember you and Christian down there looking that that tree
And Christian was there and he never got it and he said out loud, "Damn, I missed it."
They all came back to the car, well Tony came back to the car, you had a smugness about yourself that afternoon.
So I knew he had got something but he wasn't telling me what. So when you were shooting it, you had this idea. Did it happen then, or did it happen after you took the photograph?
Okay, so you know we talk about instinct as a photographer we say something, and you mentioned earlier that we roll up to a place and we go oh there's a shot, and there's a shot, and there's one over there. There's an instinct about that would look good with a long lens with a frame around it. And that develops over time. I looked at that, and I saw the symbolism of a single tree, a simple frame I like simplicity of composition I love the geometry of it. But there here was something about that tree standing on that hill all alone a the top of a rise there was something about that shot that I knew there was a deeper story. And yeah, you're right, sometimes you take the shot because you're thinking technically you don't have a lot of time your mates wanna get on the road hey, there's no photos here, Tony, come on let's get going, let's find a photo. Gimme a second, click, yeah, you're right, there's nothing here, ha ha. (laughing) But there's something more, and it's that part
But wait, so it wasn't ha ha it was (guffaws loudly) anyway, that's alright, off you go.
But you know, it's then later, you're looking at it and you go what was it that made me stay and take that shot? What was it that I connected with? And you're right, a lot of it is subconscious so it's a bit like learning to drive, Pete. When you start learning to drive, he's looking at me like where the hell are you going? You start learning to drive, you're sitting there, you're a 15, 16 year old, and you look at mom and dad driving, you think how hard is it? You hold the steering wheel, put your foot down to go, you put your foot down to stop. And that's what we call unconscious incompetence. You don't know that you don't know. And the next thing that happens is you get put in seat and you go okay, here I go, and suddenly you're jerking, and you're forward, and you hit the brakes and everyone falls through the windscreen and blah blah blah. You suddenly become conscious of your incompetence. Something that we've both been through before.
I'm still conscious.
There we go. And then you learn to drive and you start to get a a conscious competence. You can drive, you know okay, change the gears, hang on, clutch, change the gears, you become consciously able to drive. And eventually you reach that level of unconscious competence. You haven't lost the skills, the skills are there but they're now embedded. And I believe as photographers the more we become educated, exposed to other photography and art, something that you're very passionate about, we're going to talk a little bit about that more tomorrow, the more you become exposed to this, the more you get out there and take your own pictures the more you will instinctively take a shot and not necessarily know in that moment why. But I believe that when you sit down and look at the picture, and using whatever works for you, and for me can be words and things, you can start to bring out what it was that drew you to that image. And that's what I want to use and bring out in the photo when I'm in post-production.