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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Photographic Intensity

I ummed and aahed about what to title this post. Mainly because words like intensity tend to scare people away. And I certainly don't want to scare any of you away. Maybe determination would have been a better word? No intensity says what I want to say, which is this...

It seems to be a product of our modern age that we're all sold things based on how easy they're supposed to be. Become an expert photographer in 10 easy steps, start your own photography business over night, learn Photoshop in a day.

One thing they all tend to neglect is this word - intensity. They forget that one of the most important factors in really great photography is intensity. Intensity of purpose, intensity of desire (to create a great image) and intensity of will. Now I don't mean that when you're out photographing you'll be walking around with a scowl on your face because you're so serious! Hell I've usually got such a big smile on my dial because I'm having a ball. I'm exactly where I want to be.

But don't let the smile trick you into believing that I'm not intensely concentrated on what I'm trying to do. I am where I am because I want to capture a beautiful moment in time. And it's this moment in time bit that led to me writing this post.

I see quite a few amateur pictures through opportunities I have to judge competitions, people who when they know I'm a photographer show me their work and looking at lots of magazines. One thing I always notice is that often people settle for second best without pushing themselves that little bit farther to get a really fantastic image.

Now in this case I'm not talking about technique, composition or anything like that. I'm talking about waiting for the right time. I've spoken about light a lot on this blog because in travel photography it is possibly the most important element. You can photograph the most spectacular landscape in the world but if it's the wrong time of day it'll just be a snapshot.

Take this image above. Now it was shot on film so there's no metadata to be found, but if there was you'd see that it was taken at about 3:50 in the morning. If it could talk it would tell you that the photographer (that'd be little old me accompanied by my father-in-law!) got out of a nice warm bed at 2:30 in the morning and drove there. We then stood around in the freezing cold and waited until the sun started to come up.

That's an intensity of purpose. I had been there the afternoon before and gotten some nice shots but they were the same as everybody else's. The light was nice but nothing spectacular. And that's where a lot of people stop, satisfied for the moment until they take a look at their images later and wonder if they could have done better. What I'm saying is that if you really want to go the next step. If you really want to improve your photography, then you need a little intensity.

You need to realistically look at your images and decide if they are the best they can be. Putting issues of technique, composition etc aside, were they made at the best time of day? Would a different time of year be better? Would the scene look better at sunrise? Sunset? When it's raining? This harks back to what I've been talking this week about knowing the why of your images.

One of the most often heard phrases I hear is. "it's not as beautiful as I remember". And often it's got nothing to do with the technique or composition which are spot on. It has to do with the time of day. There is no right or wrong time of day but every photographic subject has a best time of day. If you really want to push the limits of your image making then I would encourage you to gather a little intensity and really set yourself a goal of capturing something as well as you possibly can, and to not stop until you are absolutely thrilled with the job.

Once you learn to do that you'll find yourself wanting to do it in everything you do photographically and before you know it you will be producing images that blow people away. Remember that it's not a race to see how many images you can make during your lifetime. It's a determined effort to produce a series of really knock-out images and that takes a different mindset.

Intensity. There it is, I've said it. Hope I didn't scare anybody away and I'll see you next week. Any and all comments greatly appreciated. :)

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