Observation Skills: Go!

7/365: Tools of the Trade

7/365: Tools of the Trade

You know what I’m really, truly, honestly, down to my very core sick of?

This freaking incision. Post-surgical recovery. Just sick of it. If you’ve never had surgery in an awkward place you’ll be surprised to find how much it limits you. My incision spans my lower back/tailbone area, so I’m aching in strange places in an effort to sit, stand, move, and walk in a way that won’t stretch the incision and bust my stitches.

You know what’s saving my sanity?

Photography.

14/365: Bring me that Horizon

14/365: Bring me that Horizon

I’m one of those people who’s brains are the true definition of neuroplasticity. It’s like living in the Youtube/Wikipedia vortex 24/7. You know how you start off looking up something pertinent and meaningful, then the next thing you know it’s three hours later and you’re internet-stalking Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, watching videos about dogs greeting their people who’ve been deployed to war back home and crying about it, re-watching that old BBC documentary ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ because, apparently, anytime is dinosaur time, being guided by tumblr into the epiphany that yes you do, in fact, ship Destiel and you ship it like no tomorrow, or watching the pre-recorded lectures on biosocial medicine by Dr. Paul Farmer?

Or maybe that’s just me. Insert your compulsion here.

My brain is like that. All the time. It does not matter where I am, what I’m doing, or who I’m with. It does not matter if I’m miles away from any sort of internet, book, TV or whatever. I have not been diagnosed with any sort of psychological issue, only that my brain all-too-readily follows the natural links of human cognition and doesn’t only follow them, it freakin’ joyrides along these links. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about two or three things at the same time which is exactly as weird as it sounds. It’s not that my head is in the clouds 24/7. I can honestly say I’m more observant of my surroundings than most people I know, and this is not hyperbole. It comes from years of conversations with family, friends, coworkers, and classmates where I point something out or start with ‘did you see’ and, no, they haven’t seen. So either I hang around a lot of cloudy-headed people or my brain is on rapid-fire all the time.

Sometimes it’s a gift, but often it’s a curse. I’ve had to adapt in strange, strange ways to not defenestrate myself during lectures.

So if something is bothering me, limiting me, or is otherwise annoying me, I can ruminate on it like no tomorrow while still presenting some facsimile of a functioning, productive, and somewhat reasonable member of society. I can ruminate until it becomes an obsessive picking at a psychological scab. Eventually, there is bleeding involved.

Except when I’m photographing. Note: The following are my opinions and my opinions only, so, chill.

13/365: Primordial

13/365: Primordial

Photography requires an awareness and focus of what is around us to a point of laser-like intensity. First you must manage your own physical space, your own proprioception. Then you must be watching what’s going on around you, but it is an active watching, far from mere observation (no matter how astute). You’re watching on three levels of awareness. One, what catches your interest with the human eye and psychological interpretation. So if you’re a street photographer, you’re looking for the formulation of elements that come together for that ‘decisive moment’. If you’re a portrait photographer, you’re looking for that characteristic, expressive face. If you’re a landscape photographer, you’re looking for that perfect balance of light, flora, fauna, and geography. Whatever impacts us psychologically is what we look for, on top of ‘oh, wow, shiny!’.

Two, you’re constantly interpreting your surroundings and translating that to the technical know-how of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, maybe switching out a lens here and there, focus, et cetera. Unless you shoot auto or semi-auto, but even then, having an awareness of how long it takes your camera to focus, for example, is a good idea – or if your camera really IS capable of catching that awesome car speeding toward you at the shutter speed auto puts it on.

And this is just what I know with my cutesy Nikon J1 (which I cherish more than my own face, let me tell you that right now).

Just imagine when I can justify the purchase of a proper DSLR to myself.

Anyway, three, and that’s the merging of your human eye, psyche, and your camera’s technical settings. You’re positioning yourself for the best lighting, you’re setting up your equipment, deciding on your settings, framing the photograph, focusing/panning/hitting the flash/whatever and – click.

Sometimes you have plenty of time to think about it, such as landscape photography (without sunrise/sunset time limitations and fauna considerations). Sometimes, like in street photography, you have seconds (if you’re lucky). Sometimes you’re doing all this AND chatting away to put the subject at ease, coaxing out a natural smile or perfect expression (like in portraiture) or you’re fiddling with bouncing the light off the subject to get things just right.

My point is, I’ve done graphic design. I’ve done writing here and there. I’ve done paintings in three mediums. I can honestly say that photography is a far more involved form of art than the others. Why? It doesn’t allow you to become profoundly introverted. It doesn’t allow you to fiddle with just the right word, just the right mix of colors, or the adjustment of elements by mere pixels. When you paint you must interpret what you see instead of what your brain thinks you see. So it requires a bit of staring and deep rumination into – again – your own brain. When you photograph, you must interpret how this picture – this one, here, now, right in front of you – can be best captured by a range of tools at your disposal.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or that photography is absent of the trance-like state of a comprehension of an artistic vision that other forms of art present. Just that photography is (or at least the kind of photography I do, whatever, I’m new here), innately, so in-tuned with what is around you that you cannot completely check out. You can switch into a creative/artistic/visionary/whatever paradigm, but you cannot fully check out. 

So that’s how photography is saving me from myself right now.

It makes me get out of my own brain. It makes me become deeply connected and observant of what’s going on around me. It requires an awareness and focus on the world around me with such an intensity that I am pulled out from the quagmire of my own irritation. Limited mobility, limited energy and it’s easy to feel trapped in this place I call home, if not for the fact that I’m forced to notice the thousand and one magnificent, beautiful, tragic, fascinating things just down the street, around the block, in the sky, front yard, wherever through the lens of a camera.

Moral of the story: If you are in any way irritated at anything, pick up a camera and make yourself go out and photograph until your (previously empty) memory card yells at you. It puts things into a beautiful and very grounded perspective.

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