Why I love photography
Ask any photographer (professional, amateur, or casual shooter) what photography means to them, and you’ll get as many answers as there are stars in the sky. This is a good thing. This means that fifty people can be taking the same shot of a single scene and almost all of them will come up with their own unique take on it.
Photography like any art is broken down into two aspects. You have the nuts and bolts discussion on how to use the camera, and how far you can stress the camera to get the shot you want. The other part is the crafting an image to bring out a reaction from the viewer. Without the former skills under your belt the latter becomes much harder.
However, it’s the two as a whole that drives what I think photography is. My belief is a picture is pure emotion. That could be pain, anger, suffering, joy, silliness, sadness, tranquility, etc. However, it must evoke an emotion. If it doesn’t it has failed.
Note, I’m stating “emotion” and not a “story.” Each person that sees just the picture will overlay their own story on the picture. If as a photographer you have to handhold the viewer as to what the story is you have failed. You can add scene details through a header or a short blurb, but the image should stand without them.
Why? Because more often than not the photo is out of your control. You take a picture and give it to someone. They may or may not accept your “version” of the story you tell, but they can’t deny the emotion within the shot.
This is important because photos have different meanings to different people. A bride’s wedding book has a lot of personal meaning to her, because it was her day. It was the day everyone focused on her. Her children, her children’s children, or a historian may not have such a strong emotional bond to those images. They are a “slice of life” to them. An event that happened that could be studied to explain how things were done in the past. Thus to make it have any meaning to others there has to be a strong independent emotional feeling from the pictures.
I’m not saying that storytelling is wrong in photography. I truly believe it has it has a place in series and collections. Storytelling through series is as old as cave paintings, but unless you want an isolate image to lose power you need to ensure it has an emotional appeal of its own. Images that lack this are weak links, and honestly should be limited or culled.
Most photojournalist understand this idea. They are looking for the raw emotions when they are out photographing for a story. They are never sure how many photos will be used by the periodical and in what order. So they need to ensure that each image is captivating, because it maybe their picture that draws the reader seeing a headline “Hundreds Displaced in China” to read the article instead of skipping due to a lack of any personal bond to China or the people being displaced.
So my advice, take it or leave it as you wish, is to always go for the emotion. It will be the strongest shot that you can ever take.