The Photographer's Riddle - Part 2

A few weeks ago I made a post about the difference between a photographers perception of his/her images and the perceptions of a third party. Why is it that we don't always see the same thing and why is it that as photographers, we sometimes don't see great images until going through them later? Maybe it's because in the heat of the moment, when we're rattling off frame after frame we don't even realize when something spectacular has occurred. After writing The Photographer's Riddle I received an email about this post from Herm Card. Herm is an educator, writer and photographer living and working in Syracuse, NY. Herm and I are related in some way through marriage. Although it doesn't really matter, he is the cousin of my wife's mother. We had the opportunity to talk about photography a few weeks ago around Thanksgiving in upstate New York.

Herm, sent me this photo to illustrate a point I made about not seeing photos the same way every time.

Herm was shooting some test shots during this game to get prepared for the game to follow, which was what he was actually there to shoot. He says that he didn't even know he had it until the next day when he was going through all the images from both games. He goes on to say "Not only was I really affected by the photo and the emotional sense of the moment, but it gave me material for my newspaper column." You can read the newspaper column HERE, which gives a great description of the photograph and makes an analogy to the educational experience. I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

This photo and Herm's experience illustrates my point about  seeing one's own photo from a different perspective. In this case, Herm didn't even know he had the photo. It wasn't until editing later that he discovered this gem. It's an emotional photo. The experience of victory and defeat captured simultaneously.

I wonder, how would Herm have perceived this photo if he had known immediately that he had it? Would he have been more engaged in the experience and the moment the shutter was released? Would he have looked over it in the same way. To me, it doesn't matter because I look at this photo as an outside viewer and immediately see an image that is successful. This one frame tells a story. It's the story of two teams. One celebrating the joy of victory, the other coping with defeat. In Herm's column he talks about how we (media types) often focus on failures and statistics rather than success. I like this photo because it doesn't just show failure. It shows the entire experience of two teams. It's emotional, well composed and tells a story.

Thank you Herm for sending this over!

The Photographer's Riddle

Have you ever taken a photograph that simply blows you away? I'm talking about a photograph that brings you to your knees. It makes you tremble with excitement and you absolutely can't wait to share it with the world. You're boiling with anticipation to see the reaction of people as they look at your photograph. And then you show it to people. The reaction is one of disinterest. People aren't interested because it doesn't move them. It's probably not because it's a bad picture, but because there is no real reason for them to get excited. Maybe they don't understand what's happening in the frame. Maybe they just don't care about the subject matter or maybe they've already seen 1000 pictures earlier in the day.

But why then did you get so overwhelmed? Why were you so convinced that this picture would be a smashing success? What even makes a picture successful?

I was thinking about this phenomenon the other day and realized that with every photograph I take, I am emotionally invested in some way. As photographers, we attach ourselves to the subject matter. We involve ourselves in the story and therefore become emotionally attached. Photographers instinctively make their imprint on every image they take. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I think as photographers we need to interact with our environment in order to truly understand what we want to say. The tricky part is (and here's the catch) that we need to remember that our experience of actually making a picture is very personal. The picture becomes the property of the photographer once that shutter is released. No one else knows exactly what the photographer was thinking while making a photo. Only the photographer knows.

And that is where the hang-up can come from. We think that everyone else is going to like our picture because we had such a profound experience making it. The truth is, our profound experiences don't always translate to the photographic form. So no matter how amazing your experience was, don't expect your audience to immediately respond in the same way. Each person will feel something completely different.

I've been rambling a bit, but I'm coming to my point. My original thought is more of a reminder to myself and it is this: When editing your photographs, do everything in your power to look at them from various perspectives. Imagine that you didn't take the picture. Imagine that you don't know the back story. Pretend that you are a child seeing everything new for the first time. And if you can't do that, ask other people to edit your work and select their favorites. Ask them why they choose what they do. And maybe, just maybe, the images they like the most will be the ones you think are the best.

And that, I think, is when you've made a successful picture. We all respond to good stories. If you can tell a great story in one frame, then your audience will inevitably want to see more.