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What is photography anyway? It is a fraction of a second of eternity that you try to capture, with better or worse technique, with deeper or shallower depth of field. But, in short, that’s all about photography, and it is this magic what makes photography an art. The essence of why many of us like photography, goes beyond what we can capture with our DSLR and show to others. It is the experience of the moment, and how one learns through the years to be aware of the present. It was just a few months ago when I learned what mindfulness was about, and I immediately noticed the similitude with how I experience photography. It is all about being present in the moment that one is trying to capture.
To be present involves being aware of oneself in the present moment. The fact that one is observing and capturing a situation is not enough to take a great picture. I am a visual person. There is large chance that since you like photography, you are as well. That means that you learn better by watching a film than by reading a book. You then may prefer a figure or infographic, rather than its explanation. In my case, long before I got my first serious camera, and committed myself to learn the techniques and nuances to show other people the way I see the world, I already enjoyed looking at other people’s pictures. However, it was seldom that I actually observed the world around me.
Photography teaches us that those amazing pictures we love viewing from other photographers, are actually out there if you dare to look. I don’t remember a particular moment when I realized I was alive. There was no such an experience. But I somehow learned through photography that the best camera obscura that I can count with is my eyes. The best film is my memory. And it is awesome because it also comes along with many other senses. Once you realize that, you discover that the difference between a snapshot and a great picture is that: for the latter you acknowledge all the angles of the scene, you walk your picture before you take it, you breathe it, you feel it, and then compose it. You ARE in the picture as the one capturing it. And you want somebody else to BE there with you seeing the same scene.
You have to be quick if you are for example, a street photographer, but that’s how life is in cities, right? However, there is not much difference than, let’s say, a fashion production in the sense that it is a fraction of a second, just a moment that you are able to transmit into a picture. We have to learn to chase the moments… to do so we have to BE in the scene.
If you run out of battery, or you find yourself without your bulky DSLR with you, then simply capture it in your mind. I literally make the sound “click” in my mind. You don’t need to, that is my own mental issue. But whatever it is that you like to chase and capture, whether it is your cat, a pint of beer, or the garbage on a street – be there. Paraphrasing Henri Cartier-Bresson, most of the situations that you see around you will repeat if you wait long enough. Yes, even those pictures that you missed because you didn’t bring your camera with you. Be present to know what you are after. Learn about your subject, revisit the site and you will get the shot you want.
If the scene you are watching makes you angry, then be angry and capture angriness. Be aware of the weight of the camera in your hands. Be aware of your finger pressing the shutter in the moment you do. Reflect about why did you choose to press it just then, and not before. Watch the object’s geometry, its beauty. Do you really want to be there? Does the marriage of that couple you are photographing make you happy? What is it that makes you happy? Their smiles? All the people celebrating together? You don’t need to do anything else with those feelings. Let them be in you, and let them go away. But just when you realize them, capture that moment in a picture. Capture with the camera the pictures you would like to share, but capture for yourself every fraction of a second of your life. BE there where you are.
To some extent, you can also transmit with a picture, what your other senses were capturing. This is one of the biggest challenges of photography. Smell, listen, feel, taste. To me, the perfect picture is one that transmits all those other sensations, smells, noises, emotions, and temperature apart from what you are just watching. That takes a level of mastery that not everyone achieves. But if you are still there like me, on your long way to becoming a great photographer (even if we may never become a renown one), learning photography in its broader sense is an excellent way to learn to be present in that short lapse of time that our lives are meant to last.