Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Just add people

If I had to pigeon-hole myself, I'd say that I'm a landscape photographer - even though I shoot weddings as part of my business.

While I really enjoy shooting weddings - love it, in fact (despite the stress and worry over the weather etc) - I also resisted it for the longest time because, at my core, I'm a bit of a loaner. I much prefer getting away from people, rather than seeking large groups of them out. Growing up I would have said that I was shy, although that shyness has certainly decreased the older I get. But I still don't like large groups of people. They make me nervous.

So, not surprisingly, when I wanted to start taking photography seriously, I gravitated towards the more lone pursuit of the landscape. All of my exhibitions have been on the landscape, and most of the framed prints in the house are (with the exception of family photos of course) landscapes. All of which is a long-winded way of saying "I'm a landscape kinda guy".

Driftwood. Canon 20D + EF-S 18-55mm IS @ f8
Where am I going with this? Well, this weekend we went for an afternoon walk along a local beach, and of course I took my camera. It was the middle of the afternoon, so I never expect to get amazing photos - but then again, you never know, right?

While walking along the beach we came across some pretty cool driftwood. Whenever I spot a photo opportunity - even when I'm with the family - I get into the 'zone' and start approaching the scene as I would if I was out taking landscapes on my own. So I tell the kids "stay out of the frame - don't get in the shot" - basically "leave me alone, I'm taking a photo". Yeah, not very nice, I know. Although in my defense, I never take very long at these moments, and the kids do have the whole rest of the beach to play on... just not in 'my' spot for a few minutes. Usually I'll end up taking a few of the kids playing in the same spot once I've finished as well - and that's what I did this weekend. I took my 'arty' landscape shots, and then some more family friendly 'snapshots' afterwards.

Driftwood and family. Canon 20D + EF-S 18-55mm IS
When I got home and looked through the downloaded images from the day I was pretty happy with some of the photos, despite the harsh mid afternoon sun. The clouds were pretty cool, and the driftwood quite dramatic - although I don't think I got anything portfolio worthy.

Maybe it was the time of day, or maybe it was my mindset when I took them, but the more I looked at the images, the more I felt myself drawn to the ones that had people in them, and the less interested I was in the 'arty' lone-landscape images. Upon reflection, the more I think about it, the more I realise this to be the case in the images that I find the most compelling - there's some human element there that makes the landscape more personal, more interesting and more intimate.

I purchased two photography books recently - both large books of landscapes taken on medium format. As impressive as the large landscape images were, I found myself simply flicking through the books very quickly, and then putting them down - somewhat dissatisfied (and if I'm really truthful downright disappointed) by the experience. The few images that really held my attention for more than a couple of seconds were those that contained at least some reference to the human (a sign, abandoned building, small figure) and I'm finding this increasingly relevant to my own photography.

Does that mean that I will never go out on my own again and make 'pure' landscape images? No - absolutely not. Maybe that's the challenge of taking landscapes that hold no human content?

Or maybe it means that we come to an image wanting to relate to it in some way - even if it's a small way - in human terms. A road, a hut, a footprint, a bridge - anything that connects our humaneness to the landscape?

What I do know, when looking back through my image library, is that I respond more to an image when it has a human element to it - and that's good enough for me.

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