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F.R.E.E. Photography (part 2 - Reflect)

This series of articles present you a roadmap of a photographer: Feel, Reflect, Execute and Enhance (FREE). As I see it, there are these four stages that the master photographer has to go through in order to achieve a great photograph. In our busy and hasty age (the digital one) people who like photography usually go through one or two of these stages. But I feel that without walking the path from the beginning to the end we will not achieve great results. This article tells you about the second step - To Reflect.

To Reflect

This step on the way of Photographer is about creating a thought and then the image in your head. To this moment you have a striking idea and it ignites your imagination. And after a few seconds (or maybe minutes and hours) you have a concrete desire of taking a certain image. It may not be fully fleshed with the details, but you have something like a vision.

That’s what I call to reflect. You let the idea and the feelings flow through you and while you feel and taste these new sensations you rearrange them or discard in such a way that the vision takes shape and is filled with content and logic.

Most of the time this process is based on your associations that are triggered by the feelings. These associations dictate what kind of reactions you will have and depending on your mood some of the feelings strike the right cord and trigger the right associations. So for instance, when you see a fallen leaf of strange form, the form and cast shadows remind you about a tiger in the woods. And you start wrapping this thought with other elements (real or imaginative) that can enhance the feeling. And here you have a vision in you mind.

It is still a vision because it lacks substance or definite shape and form. But it’s a great achievement – you know what you want in the photograph. And before you get to the next part of “how” you still have to work on it.

After you get the idea, which created the vision and spurred your associations. You have to gently wrap and preserve the feeling. Or better add to the vision that focuses and enhances the vision, and as such the idea. The way to do so is to look at what surrounds your subject and see what helps to picture your vision and what not. Based on that you have to pick a view angle that gets the best arrangement of these elements.

The knowledge of composition will help you to adjust the view angle, so the elements, which you observe, play together – tell the story of your vision (i.e. a tiger in the woods). The distance to the subject and proportion of the elements to each other can play significant role. The closer you to the subject, the fewer elements are within the image and the stronger the impact of the subject. However it may not always be the desired effect, so you have to judge your self.

In this phase you are the artist or more like the architect, who has pieces of the puzzle (and even more than you need) and have to put it all together. And all it happens without touching a thing – you just move and observe and think.

At some point you may even decide that there is not enough of something to create a good vision, and the final picture will be bleak and weak. So you abandon your efforts with this subject and move to the next one. Or while looking around and about you notice something else, which may play nicely with the first subject and you start looking for a position where these two elements create symphony.

It’s all in your imagination. And most probably something will not be perfect (it’s almost never is). But you don’t have to abandon the idea right away. Remember, there is always post-processing to stretch the reality as close as possible to your imagination. Of course, be mindful that post-processing is an enhancement, not the substitution of the reality. But we will leave this discussion for the following chapters.

As I’ve mentioned before, this step is to create the vision, to consider everything that should be in and out of the picture. There is nothing concrete; it’s still in your mind. You simply moving elements around by changing the way you look at it.

Sometimes you have to walk away! Why? Just to come back when the timing is right. The time plays an important role. It could be minutes and hours when the time will favor you or it could be months. The position of the sun and the way the scene is lit as well as the quality of light will determine the mood. A simple beam of light can be the spotlight you need so much to add the final touch to your subject, or can break the all wonder of the scene. You are the judge, and your feelings are of most importance. You have to capture and convey your own feelings. And you decide whether it the right time or now.

For some scenes a clear bright sunny day is the best possible timing, for others a dreamy patchy fog is what will make the scene to be a fairytale. And it’s you who has to decide, no – feel.

And it’s interesting to notice, even a cup of coffee can change your attitude and as such the feelings and impact of your photographs. Usually it helps me to be on my tip toes, but sometimes it cause to be in too much contrast with the scenery I am in, so I cannot find a good scene I feel harmony with.

Well, I sidestepped a bit from the path. Let’s talk more about the right time to come back or visit a certain location. It may be so, that you like a particular atmosphere or mood of the scene, or looking for a specific situation and environment that will better convey your message.

There are situations when you are on assignment and have to deliver certain pictures. Then it creates some boundaries and guidelines for your feelings and location. But it doesn’t change the steps. It only means that you are limiting your choices and are trying to play within the boundaries. And I would even say it helps, especially for the ones who start on the path.

So if you think a little (or much) before going to take pictures, it will give some food to your reflective thoughts that I’ve tried to describe above. And it will set the directions that the thoughts will flow along. But don’t be too restrictive, being relaxed is more important than get the shots right away – it’s still your feelings and thoughts that matter. [end of the text]

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