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F.R.E.E. Photography (part 1 - Feel)

Are you learning photography? Or you already know how to take photographs and know your gear well? Why am I asking? Simple, I want to share what actually it takes to be a real photographer. And not only share, but give you a few points to become one.

During the last several months I had an idea that continued to spin in my head and wouldn't let it go. The idea is about F.R.E.E. in photography. Sounds silly, isn't it? Well, it’s supposed to. First of all it’s catchy and secondly something smart better be balanced by something stupid ☺

Well, I am not trying to be smart, I just want to share my understanding of Photography in its entirety. And when I am using such big words, it’s not that I want to dilute my thoughts and words with a lot of water and finally achieve nothing. Quite on contrary, I want to be very specific about it.

That’s why I came up with this abbreviation: F.R.E.E. You are probably already bored with all my talk and what to know exactly what stands behind these letters. So, here it is: Feel, Reflect, Execute and Enhance.

Let me explain the overall picture, before we start our journey to the real bottom of things. Photography is Art, and it takes a creative person, an artist, to create something with the tools and media that define this particular art. In our case the Art, which is Photography, is defined by a camera, film or sensor, and a finally by a piece of paper, which we hang on a wall. Well, in some instances (or quite often in this digital age) the photograph is presented on a screen of our monitors. But the idea of the photography doesn’t change of how we capture the image. It’s the idea of the Art that brings us to the final point (hopefully it happens with a great result).

The path we take to achieve this result rarely changes, rather it could be shorten by those who hurry and skip the important steps. Forgive me my complaining, but recently with the availability of great tools and other scientific achievements people invaded the Art of Photography and started to consider them photographers. In some instances it could be true, but it’s rare. Most of those with the gadgets simply take pictures, which actually are a boring and mediocre (at best) snapshots of reality around us.

Why that happens? My answer is simple. Instead of walking the entire path “photographers” take a short cut and jump to the Execute. Consider them good if they do another step – Enhance. However in order to bring something great to the table, the real photographer has to walk (sometimes even crawl) all four steps: Feel, Reflect, Execute and Enhance.

And now we are ready to start our journey – The Way Of The Photographer.

To Feel

It seems such a simple thing to do – to feel. You have the right to interrupt me and say that we feel our whole life. And you will be right, we do. But there is another side of the coin – we are engulfed by the feelings, so we stop feeling. How about such a turn? Unfortunately it’s the real truth, at certain point in our lives we start feeling with the patterns we programmed ourselves. We know how strawberry feels when we taste it, and replace part of the taste with what we know. Do you need a proof? Well, then tell me when the last time you felt the texture of the strawberry? Remember those little bumps on its surface or those pesky seeds that often stuck in between our teeth? Now tell me that you actually felt them on your tong? Well, a few hours ago I’ve eaten a whole bunch of those, but I don’t remember the texture. I don’t remember feeling it. Oh yeah, I felt the taste, but not the texture.

Sadly, the same happens with all our senses. We start accepting the world around us as we know it, not as it is. I almost hear your next question: What’s the difference? The difference is paramount. What a huge word! But it is so, the difference is huge – it means that we stopped feeling (or almost stopped). Let me give you another example – when you go to work, school, super-market or to your friends, how much do you remember about the life around you during the commute? There is a whole world filled with images, sounds, events and simply people. How much do you remember about it? Nothing, that’s the answer. But you walk/drive this route maybe even every day and nothing has left an imprint in your mind?

Thus we can accept the fact that we stopped feeling. And I am talking about small feelings; we still feel pain, love, anger and other big things. But the world around us has dimmed its lights.

And why the heck I am talking about the feelings here? Because actually those small feelings trigger the inspiration, the desire and the drive of the Art, of any art. These small forgotten feelings make us creative and lead as to becoming an artist.

Some people say that I take great pictures and my love and appreciation of the world is shown in my photographs. I hope it is so. And even I can call myself a photographer (may be not the great one). I still have a lot to go to learn to feel. Several times there were such situations that when I walked the trail in the mountains (my favorite place) and the world is talking to me. Well, it’s not the best choice of words, but maybe I can compare the usually quite and serene trail with the Time’s Square in New York City. At Time’s Square you are surrounded by images, sounds, smells, pushing people. Your feelings are sometimes overwhelmed with the signals they receive.

And now consider the same strength of feelings on a distant trail in mountains. Of course, the feelings are different; they are more harmonic and beautiful. But the strength and overwhelming sensation are almost the same. Such strong experience makes you think that whenever you look, you see an opportunity for a photograph. Such heightened awareness of surroundings works as a magnifying glass, you notice small things and intricate details. And you almost know that you can easily pour this gorgeous scene into a photograph and bring it to your friends. It seems that easy. That’s what I call feeling. And it’s a very rare thing, even for experienced photographers.

In my understanding (we are still talking about my point of view, by the way), the Photographer, the real one, has to start with a feeling, with an idea. It could be something small, like an annoying pebble in our shoe, but it creates an idea. Then this “an idea” becomes “The Idea”. Do you follow my drift? We nourish it to become something bigger and we carry it with us the whole way to the finish. But we will return to this thought in our next chapters.

Right now, I want you to understand the importance of what I said above. Without the small feelings, we will not be inspired, we will not have The Idea, we will not be able carry it to the viewer of our photographs, we will not impress people with what we felt and created. That’s simple. We loose even without doing anything if we don’t feel that pebble in our shoe.

It brings us to the dilemma, how do we return that sensation of the fresh world around us? That’s right, we have to return it. We had our eyes open and ears pricked, when we were kids, we were ready to devour the world without a spoon; it’s never was enough. Then something happened (actually quite a lot happened) and we closed the shutters on our windows to the world.

To become a real photographer, we have to open the shutters and have to be open to the world. We have to be aware of the world around us. It’s still out there, still as beautiful and enchanting as it can be, or as we remember it was. It’s us who stopped paying attention and diverted our eyes to look at our problems, plans and desires. All we have to do to look at the world and start seeing again.

Yeah, that’s easy to say. But our heads are always filled with noodle ball of thoughts and reactions to social situations. And this noodle ball is stuck in our heads, there are always new thoughts and reactions, new desires and hurt feelings.

Fortunately there are some ways to forget about these thoughts and stop that silent conversation we have in our heads. One of the ways is a meditation. A meditation helps us to concentrate and regain control over our thought process. During a meditation the instructor tells you to focus on your breathing, forget about your problems, shut the thought process and keep focusing. It makes you stronger and you can focus you mind on the task you do. This is a step in the right direction – with practice you can stop thinking and start feeling.

In addition, Zen masters tell us to be mindful – to focus on whatever we do. Even a small task, such as washing the dishes, can be used as a small meditation – focus on the task and be completely aware of what you are doing. And then when the time comes and you are hunting that great picture, you will be able to focus on your feelings – you will be able to feel the world again, and won’t be distracted by those pesky thoughts. You will accomplish your first step on the way to the great photograph – you will Feel. [end of the text]

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