Capture What You Feel

May 11, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

The other day DeWitt Jones, a world-class photographer whom I have admired for years, posted one of his images along with the caption “Don’t shoot what it SerenitySERENITYAs the day dawned on this humid, late-summer morning, the saturated air was completely still - transforming the tidal pool into a lovely looking glass.

Atlantic Ocean
Rye, New Hampshire
looks like, shoot what it feels like.”

You might recognize that quote, attributed to photographer David Alan Harvey.

It’s true; emotion is photography’s secret sauce.

Anyone can make a record shot. Cameras are now ubiquitous and millions of pictures are snapped every day. (A chicken in every pot; a camera in every pocket?) Some record shots are, of course, better than others – but there's a common thread. They’re straightforward representations of the subject.

Elevating an image beyond what it looks like to what it feels like isn’t about equipment. You don't need the fanciest state-of-the-art gear to make great photographs.

Capturing what a scene feels like is about mood. Reaction. Observation. Intensity. Inspiration. It's not about pixel count and lens separation.

Achieving this is, perhaps, easier said than done. How does one go about representing and expressing emotion?

First, be completely comfortable with your gear and how to operate it. If you’re preoccupied with the technical, there will be little room left for the artistic. Practice the nuts and bolts until they become second nature. 

Next, understand how composition can be used to convey emotion. Beyond the basics of line, shape, texture, tone, color, space and depth are elements like balance, pattern, and movement. You can learn a lot by studying classic paintings.

Finally, slow down when you're in the field. Give yourself an opportunity to connect with the location. If you’re new to an area, you’ll definitely need time to get in sync. If it’s a place you know well, what is its mood today?

Don’t be in such a hurry to begin shooting that you miss what the landscape has to say.

What are you experiencing? What are you seeing and hearing? What are the conditions like (hot, cold, wet, windy, stormy) and how do they make you feel? What about the colors? The light? What details are you noticing? 

To capture emotion in a photograph, you must first feel it yourself. 

While on the subject of slowing down, I'd also suggest being deliberate with your locations. Spend enough time. Be thoughtful.

How else might you compose the scene? Move around. You could change from landscape to portrait orientation, or maybe try a different lens. Look behind you. Look up. Hang around for a while and observe how the conditions shift, even subtly. The color temperature changes, the fog swirls, the tide begins to move out. Be completely present.

There can be great value in lingering. Avoid rushing to pack up and move on.

Aspire to capture not just what the scene looks like, but how it speaks to you. 

A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.
~Ansel Adams

Moulton Barn Grand Teton National ParkTURMOIL ALOFTA strong storm creates stunning, turbulent skies and brings with it powerful winds. As it passes, the mountains are rendered as shadows by heavy rain.

T.A. Moulton Barn
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

In Local News

Grizzly 399 has yet to be seen this spring. Same story for Blondie.

Assuming 399 survived the winter, there is speculation she may have cubs. If she's without youngsters, she should be out of hibernation by now. Since there's still quite a bit of snow on the ground in the vicinity of where she winters - too much for cubs - that could be why she hasn't emerged. Stay tuned.

There was cause for concern regarding 610 late last week, as she was found lying in the middle of the road between Signal Mountain Lodge and the Jackson Lake dam in the north end of the park. Her demeanor was described as possibly being in distress. She was gently pushed off the road, where she remained for quite a while. A few days later she was found in a similar state, but this time she recovered more quickly and then lumbered off.

Happily, it turns out she hadn't been hit by a car or otherwise harmed by a human. Apparently 610's lethargy might be attributable to having just come out of hibernation (a state known as "walking hibernation"). She and her three yearling cubs seem to be in good shape, though park biologists will monitor her condition. Good news so far.

As for the other large animals, spring migration is underway. Be vigilant when driving through Grand Teton NP and also in surrounding areas (particularly the Snake River Canyon), especially at dawn and dusk, and during overnight hours. Keep your speed down. Scan the roadsides. Animals are more likely to be found where rivers or creeks cross under the road or are situated nearby. 

While I'm on the subject of wildlife: shame on the state of Idaho, which yesterday sent a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service over the fact that grizzlies have not been removed from the endangered species list. Wyoming and Montana are pushing for delisting, too. There is also a move underway to dramatically reduce the gray wolf population. What short memories these people have. Gray wolves were driven nearly to extinction thanks to a federal extermination program, and grizzlies were reduced to 2% of their former range in the Lower 48 by the early 1930s. Seems to me it's humans that are the problem.



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