“Don’t shoot what it looks like.. Shoot what it feels like”

David Alan Harvey

Hierarchy

Years ago, when I used to teach Photography and some associated courses at Virginia-Western’s Daleville, Virginia campus, four out of the five courses I designed for the curriculum were of technical nature. Going in, that was the part of photography that most newcomers to the Craft (the students) felt it was that they needed the most help with.

About half way into the very first semester, I learned a valuable lesson as a Photography Instructor.

Technical expertise was what they all needed, to be sure. But more importantly, the technical aspects soon became far outweighed by what it was they actually wanted out of the courses.

So quietly, I adjusted the curriculum to give them what they truly wanted and as a result, became a much better photographer myself in the process.

Like most new photographers, my first few years in photography were spent going around snapping pictures of anything and everything that interested me. I was always “looking” and trying to improve my technical skills. This is admittedly, the “geeky” side of photography and what attracts many “Left Brain” thinkers to The Art.

By technically obtaining better skills in Exposure, Focusing and Composition, I felt it was important for me to shoot everything I saw. This was a real challenge back then as everyone (at least the Professionals and those who wanted to be) were shooting Transparencies (slide film, which were called “Positives”), and using Manual Focus and Exposure cameras and lenses.

Technical skills were especially important to me, because at the time, I managed to secure some side work (another story) shooting College and High School Sports, Landscapes and of course, Sailing.

Because of work, I was also shooting a lot of Black & White. I was as happy as a clam because it was cheaper and I could develop and print my own film at the newspaper that I worked at which kept my processing costs lower.

Even though it was over 35 years ago, I still remember a photograph that stirred up a new awakening in me that I had not experienced before..

Let’s take the instance of trying to capture a high school football player in action for example.

First of all, it’s Friday night. And it’s Dark. Transparency film, in other words, “Slides”, which is what we liked to shoot, had to be properly exposed. And to be properly exposed, you were only allowed 1/3 of a stop either plus or minus either side of absolutely perfect exposure. More latitude than those small fractions could ruin an otherwise great shot. You had to know your camera and more important, you had to know light. (Remember, we were only using manually adjusted cameras).

Transparencies did not have the 5 stop exposure latitude that print film possessed at the time. But Wow! were they ever oh-so-sharp! And the film possessed very little “grain”. (What we now call “digital noise”)

They were so cool! They even seemed to have a 3D effect when viewing them with a lightbox and loupe. Remember looking into the Viewmaster? Those devices used miniature slides on a cardboard wheel.

Next, when shooting any sport played with a ball, you have to make sure the ball gets in the shot. If not, your Sports Editor would just drop all your hard earned work for the night into the waste basket by the side of his desk. Believe me, I know this. Accomplishing this task can only be done by never taking your eyes off that ball, especially when you are looking through the viewfinder. We didn’t have electronic focus-tracking back then either. We only had very fast hands and fingers. (this is why I still keep both eyes open when shooting)

This next part is when it gets really exciting.

Ok. It’s the 4th quarter of a brutal game and “the play” starts. As the quarterback rolls back and hands off the football to someone in the backfield, you realize with glee, that the play is actually coming your way! The closer, the better, Right?

As a matter of fact, in a few hundredth’s of a second later, your glee quickly turns into an “Oh Shit!” moment as you realize that the fast and huge 250 lb. kid with the ball is coming straight at you with an entire team on his heels. All the while, you are manually changing focus, keeping the ball in the frame and being mindful of the stadium lights and their sincere desire to ruin your must-be-perfect exposure.

You’re still looking through the viewfinder and adjusting focus as adrenaline kicks in and you suddenly spring 4 feet straight up into the air. The violent tackle on the sideline passes just beneath you amid a maelstrom of grunts, dirt, screams, sweat and curses. During the ensuing seconds, all you can think about is protecting the only equipment you’re wearing which is your camera. And keeping yourself from winding up inside the rescue vehicle that’s waiting in the Endzone.

After returning safely to Earth and your heart rate finally eases, You hope and pray that everything you did was right. Later that night, time in the darkroom and under the enlarger would bring welcome relief and a great satisfaction for your effort.

This time I got lucky.

A perfectly exposed and focused image.

A frame filled with the “all hallowed” ball, a look of determination in the face of a defensive linebacker and sheer terror in the eyes behind the face mask of the offensive Back.

The Sports Editor was happy that night.

The next edition, which would sit alongside the Sunday morning coffee and breakfast of a few thousand High School sports crazy townspeople, features your photo, in a top dead center, five-column spread in all it’s Black & White glory.

To master all of the technical issues in the above story took a lot of practice. (about 37 thousand prints, to be more accurate) and thousands more Positives (slides) that have never seen the light of day.

To really capture the holy grail of what turned out to be the most important thing to me in that photograph, took much longer for me to actually realize. And it follows me by my being very thankful to this day, many years later, for all that time I had the pleasure to spend in the Black & White world of photography.

Even though that print and slide and the companion article are buried somewhere in a storage shed somewhere with 40 thousand others, I can still remember what it was about that shot that thrilled me the most.

It was not the perfect exposure nor even the perfect focus. I can’t even remember the two schools that were on the field that night. Nor can I remember the color of the jerseys. But I can remember the moment and what struck me the hardest.

It was the look of that football player’s face and eyes behind that face guard.

It was, for lack of a better term, the emotion on his face that told that story best. I have always believed that the best photographs tell a story. And Black & White photographs do much better (for me) to get the emotion I feel into a photograph. More than color does. What I feel when I press the shutter is much more important to me now than in those days when I was simply documenting things that I looked at.

Look at the following images and try to imagine the story they tell. I have placed them individually inline so that each can be examined separately.

“Think it Through”
“Wing on Water”
“American Truckers”
“Salutations”
“Howard”

If you notice, the use of color doesn’t support these photographs in any way. Probably, it might instead be the feeling you get in making up your own story or an understanding of the story the photos are trying to tell.

Many of you know the quote from Henry David Thoreau that has long been the credited byline on much of my published work.

“It is not What you look at that Matters, It’s What you see..”

Henry David Thoreau

This quote was expanded upon in 2013 in an article in the Huffington Post by Dennis Merritt Jones, Contributor Award Winning Author, Keynote Speaker, Mentor – Thought Leader

“The gift of conscious perception can be an astounding event that happens whenever we realize that it is we, and we alone, who assign meaning to whatever our eyes fall upon every moment of every day”.

David Alan Harvey who is an American photojournalist based in North Carolina and New York City, says it very well. He’s been a full member of Magnum Photos since 1997 and he said it the best. In pure and simple tone that is easy for me to understand, and I quote:

“Don’t Shoot what it looks like, Shoot what it feels like.”

In closing, it is my wish that if photography is your “thing” or maybe you just need a way to express yourself in an alternative way than with just words, Black & White Photography can allow that. Shooting what you see rather than what you’re looking at will enlighten and help you grow in so many ways that I haven’t covered here or even have the time or space to do so.

Like many of those students in Virginia, It might turn out to be what you wanted all along.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">

A Case For Black & White

Getting Aboard

Making Preparations Toward Getting Underway

I have been living aboard “Brilliant Cut”, a Catalina 380 Sailboat, now for almost 2 years. I discovered that deciding to Live on the Water is something that was a major thought process for me and many others. Before I was to cut ties with landside living, cast off the lines and get underway, I had a lot of soul seaching to do. In making the preparations to change my lifestyle, there was also a lot on my plate to consider. I had a lot to think about.

“Lost in Thought”

Street Kid
Nikon D700, Baltimore Harbour, 2010

Why, in God’s name did I ever consider doing such a thing at this stage of life?

All along, I had Dreams and Motivation that promoted and influenced the final decision.

There were Dreams of Freedom. Adventure and Challenge. Going places I’ve never been and seeing things I’ve never seen. Learning and doing things I’ve never done. Getting to know people I had yet to meet. And there would be better opportunities for the personal development of my Photography. All of this and more was in my thoughts.

Sure, it is true that having been a Professional driver and Instructor for a number of years, I had traveled and spent time in every state and major city in the US and Canada except for two. That time certainly provided the need for Adventure, Challenge and Travel. Didn’t that effort at “death by vehicle” purge those needs from my system?

Misery on Wheels
Samsung Galaxy S4
Toronto, 2007

Happily, I can now give a definitive answer of “No” to that question. I had not yet done it by way of the water. However, I spent many sleepless nights pondering the new direction I was about to embark on.

Then, there were the inevitable things that were in place that most everyone wants to naturally escape from that motivated me from a negative pespective. For example and to name one, The Great “Rat Race” as it is so often referrred to.

I was tired of having to live on someone else’s schedule to just live my life. Go here. Go there. Be there at this time. Be there at that time. I was just tired of the 18 hour a day grind. Jobs are really good at that. Especially for a Professional Driver back during those “glory” days. During that time, “Big Brother” wasn’t infringing upon the industry as much as he does now. That “Living Hell” is a topic for another conversation at another time. And there was always that traffic. All of which “went with the territory”, as they said. Small headaches you might say. Unless you’ve done it you have no idea how it effects your health and “Mental Hygiene” every single day you live it. Take my word for it. It’s a slow death if you don’t kill yourself and others along with you first.

“Night at The Ambasssador”
Detroit, January, 2014

There were a few other “Negative” points to drive me too.

Perhaps, it was living in places I had to live because of one reason or another that didn’t sit well with me. Mean or Nosey (or anti-social) neighbors come to mind. Or another, Maybe I was there living someone else’s dream, which was not something I wanted to do.(I was really good at this and not being true to myself). Maybe it was just that job that I was committed to that kept me there.

All of the above was motivation in one way or another toward “My Dream”

Then, there were other questions that demanded answers.

The Freedom. What would I do with THAT? Think about that. Think deeply. What would you do? As I recalled those long weeks and months on the road and not having had much freedom before, except just the occasional weekend and holidays that I was able to steal, even more questions were raised.

How about facing the fact that I was going to have to give up most all of my worldly possessions? That was a Big One. Being the sentimental and nostalgic person I am made the thought of getting rid of most everything I owned, a painful one.

“There is no greater sin than desire, No greater curse than discontent, No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself. Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu

Holding on to possessions are a strong deterrant toward totally “freeing” yourself in life. Sometimes, and in this instance, Faith and Self-Confidence was called upon to play a huge part in the thought process. Then there is the Ginormous effort of putting forth the thought to truely think about what is really important to you. This is not an easy task, especially for those who have always cared for others and/or worked hard.

I knew it would be a challenge. Heck, it was even a challenge to even think about. It quickly became “The 800 lb.Gorilla in the Room” for me. Had all the years gone by sucked the need and physical ability for this change out of my soul? I was surely not getting any younger.

There was more.

If someone came into my life as a Partner, what would they want? If they wanted to join in the fun, How would I go about handling theirs and my own “Personal Space” at times aboard a 38 foot Sailboat?

Even though I do not have small children that depend upon me, probably one of my biggest concerns was: What about Family? Would they think I had gone completely crazy? I can only imagine how tough this would be for those with children that must be schooled and cared for. But I found out that there are many who do it. Quite successfully.

Next, it was of the more “Organic” type of explorations.

Did I want to just live aboard at a Marina? Or did I want to Cruise? If so, would it be Part time or Full time? There are separate budgets and other considerations for both. Vastly different.

I touch on all of this (and much more) in some upcoming posts and to let you know what it was like for me and possibly to help you decide if living full time on a boat might one day be for you. If not, that’s perfectly understandable but maybe you’ve considered it. I know a lot of people who are doing it or are contemplating doing so. Others are just curious. And if that’s your thinking, I hope I can help.

At any rate, and after two years… One sure fact remains. I still don’t have all the answers. And I do not know if I ever will. I’m long since past needing that to live my life. But at this stage, I just know I made the right decision for Me. And that’s OK for now.

As always, Your comments, thoughts and questions are very welcome and important to me.. If you’d like to converse on the “down-low”, there is a Contact Form in the blog Menu area that you can use to reach me privately.

At the least, I’ll try to make it interesting and worth your time to read.

Hold Fast. And stay tuned.

Learning to Be Still…

and Putting Into practice The Law of Attraction

Most of you that know me know that I spent few years of my time in Western Virginia as a Photography Instructor at Virginia-Western Community College, Greenfield Campus.

Greenfield Campus, Daleville, VA
Nightshot, 5 separate images stacked. Nikon D700

The position at Virginia-Western was created out of a desire on my part to find a suitable venue for a local photography club that a few friends and I were trying to get started in the Roanoke Valley. Due to that and the vision of a school administrator, I was approached about establishing a curriculum and teaching it to prospective students. More on this later but I wanted to “lay some groundwork” for the start of this week’s Post.

I still maintain contact with a few of the many students who eventually attended my classes. About a month ago, I was contacted by one to inquire as to whether or not I could offer any advice to someone who is just starting out in Photography.. What would that advice be?

After some careful thought, the answer to her question came out of me that learning to Pre-visualize your image is something I wished I had known and put into practice years ago. In other words, the point I was trying to get across was to try to know what story you are trying to tell with your images before you take the shot.

Visualize what it is you would like your image to say.

Years before the “teaching gig”, I had the opportunity to study with a very respected lifestyle Pro-photographer. During my study with him he had drilled into me that a “good” photograph always “tells a story”. That small statement ties in well to the Pre-visualization concept and I use that nugget of advice to this day, every time I frame a shot.

There are questions that serve to get the Pre-visualization process started and they should be asked and answered in the mind before the actual technical process can begin.

Before I present these questions to you I will warn you at the outset that it takes a huge commitment of your time and mindful resources to get to the point of even asking yourself. That is, that they require the 3 “P’s” (Practice, Practice, Practice) in copious amounts. And many failures before the results start to show in your work and becomes an automatic process.

Do I still struggle with this? The answer is “Of course I do!” I can prove it in the amount of images I cull from every shoot I do.

Thankfully, with the advent of digital photography, which also enables almost everyone to walk around with a high quality camera disguised as a Cell phone, the learning curve has been greatly reduced in time and financial commitment.

Moving ahead. If you’re interested enough to have read this far, the following questions compose the process you should be practicing if you want to improve the number and Quality of your “keepers”.

What did you see? What did you hear? What did you experience there in that moment when you had the original urge to take the shot? When it comes to portrait photography, What do you truly know, sense and feel about that living thing or person in your viewfinder? Portraits are especially indicative of a wide range of strong thoughts and emotions.. And those qualities are (or should be) manifested everyday in photography.

“American Trucker” Valley Business Front, Roanoke.
Nikon D2H, 2011

But you say.. After I See, Hear, Experience and Feel…how can I reach past those tangible senses and get to the parts about “knowing” and “feeling”?

Believe this… You can count on the fact that most everyone else will know and feel these elements when they view your images. They may not know (or tell you) what it is they feel.. but they will know they feel something. This cannot help but be. It was once said that “the eyes are the windows into the soul”. I firmly believe and live by the fact that our viewfinders and lenses as well as our actions are the eyes into OUR souls manifested by the above process.

“Carly’s Eyes” Nikon D2h,
Summerfield, 2007

For me, approaching the proper mindset to achieve all of this starts before my camera comes out of it’s case and doesn’t end until final processing is done. Now to what brings us to the dual-topic of this post.

The Law of Attraction

If you’ve ever read the book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, you know already what this visualization thing is all about. Using The Law of Attraction to help bring the process into focus is considerable in helping me to achieve the “Plane of Thought” level that I hope to when creating a meaningful image.

“What’s the Secret?”
Brookings Wedding, George & Beth. Nikon D700
Bayview NC 2017

Using Ms. Byrne’s thoughts and my words…

Previsualize first, what it is you want to say or do and the way you feel about your subject. Next, previsualize what you would like to have your viewer or yourself to experience when observing your work or progress

Learning to Be Still

Learning to be Still.. will enable your thoughts and senses to freely flow into and through your mind. Speaking from my own experience, learning to approach my challenges from a holistic and spiritual perspective created for me a major turning point that caused me to see improvements in what I wanted to accomplish.

While giving this much thought and trying to sort it all out, I find that it is helpful to remember the words an old Eagles song, (Learn to be Still) One that I replay in my mind or listen to from time to time to help me toward the visualization goal I hope to reach.

The last verse of the song goes like this:

There are so many contradictions

In all these messages we send

(We keep asking)

How do I get out of here

Where do I fit in?

Though the world is torn and shaken

Even if your heart is breakin’

It’s waiting for you to awaken

And someday you will-

Learn to be still

The Eagles, Album: Hell Freezes Over, 1994

If one takes the time to read, study and research, you will find that learning to be still (and the practice thereof) has been a premise that many of the world’s religions advocate.

Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and many others teach this.

Two major examples are.. the act of Meditation as a part of some Eastern religions such as Buddhism

“Look within. Be still. Free from fear and attachment, know the sweet joy of the way.”

Buddha

And again in Christianity, The Bible. (KJV)

”Be Still and know that I am God”

Psalms 46:10

…and there are others…all that seem to have the same thing in common.

Self-Portrait, 3 Cameras, 3 Locations. 3 Captures merged to produce 1 composite image
Florida, 2018

Learning to be Still has been a first step that has caused those elements and qualities of Inner peace to ultimately pave the way toward finding a path to follow in the creation of my images and enriching My life in general.

I hope that some parts of this is of some help if you are struggling to improve or just become happier with your images. practice the above and you will see. You can do this.