Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thoughts on Photography Turning Points

Recently, someone asked my why I have not scuba dived in several years – after having published five books on the underwater environment and heading up the marine conservation organization CEDAM International for 20 years.

The quick/funny answer was, "I did not need, and the world did not need, another picture of a clowfish." A few clowfish, swimming in the Red Sea among the protective tentacles of a sea anemone, are pictured below.

The real reason, I went on to explain, was that I had a turning point. While I was on a scuba diving adventure in Lombok, Indonesia, our group stopped at a school where I talked about protecting the underwater environment. After my talk, I did some magic tricks for the kids in their classroom. After the "magic show," the kids followed me out the main gate, cheering and laughing and jumping and smiling. They would not let me leave!

That was a magical moment for me. The above picture captures that magic. From that moment, I started to turn my attention more and more toward people photography, as well as learning about different culture, beliefs, and so on.

Sure, I sometimes miss scuba diving and some of the underwater close-encounters I've had, such as swimming with this school bus-size whale shark.

But photographing people at events such as the Sister's Meal Festival, where I took this shot, make up for it.

I'd like to hear from you! Did you have a turning point in your photography. Was it an event or perhaps an encounter with another photographer – or even a picture in a book or magazine? You don't have to be a pro to participate.

I know you can respond on twitter and facebook, but if you leave a comment here, everyone (including me) can see your response.

Explore the light – and be prepared for unexpected turning points.


Rick Sammon said...

Some comments from facebook:

Kristin Westerberg Higgins commented on your status:

"I have limitations that restrict my mobility, but have found that photography can transcend all that, keeps me on the same plain as everyone else, just with a different view.

Sorry to learn about your dad, my dad passed 3 years ago, and on the last day of his life, we all were around his bed and recited his favorite prayer, he tried to say it with us, he had lost his ability to speak days earlier, he was aware we were saying it....within a few hours he passed. You have a great memory/story about your dad, and I do believe that hearing is the last sense to go."

• • • 

Valerie Jardin commented on your status:

"Beautiful shot of those children. I feel that people photography is the most rewarding, whether it is in your hometown or half way across the world. As David duChemin describes so well: "May each frame you shoot bring us all one step closer to understanding and appreciating one another and the world around us. May your journeys - around your city or around the world - be filled with encounters and moments that open your eyes, your heart, and your mind."

• • •

Michael Edwards commented on your status:

"I knew I had a creative side but it wasn't until I picked up a DSLR that I thought, this looks interesting! and since then three years ago haven't stopped and still loving it now! Love the underwater kit BTW in that photo!"

Rick Sammon said...

Mark Guliano:

"After attending sever wedding I decided that I could do that. And If I could not at the time there resources that I could learn from, You tube, Rick Sammon. I guess the diffrence between a pro and an good amature is just confidence in what they can do. Will they all be perfect? NO! but every pic I take every article I read, I get better. Thanks for your Info Rick."

inancy.images said...

Have you ever tried to turn a house boat? You know, a floating RV that you rent for a week on vacation. They turn, but v e r y s l o w l y . This is how I feel the last 6 months of my photography. I did a lot of grab and shoot sort of photography often relying of street situations to "cover up" for planning. I was often successful and I compete quite respectably at our local camera club monthly competitions.

However, there is a certain style, a certain feeling, of great photography that I have yet to realize. My s l o w turn is about finding this balance of purpose and spontaneity. From interesting looking to captivating impact.

I can't really pin-point a single event which triggered the change. I am far more active in the local photography scene (as opposed to just the online community) and also interact far more with professional or semi-professional photographers (as contrasted to just amateurs). My gear hasn't changed nor my time commitment.

Today I went out with the local club to a somewhat unremarkable place to do a day of shooting. It was hot (90+ degrees) and I was hoping for some sunflowers. I had some ideas in my head. I was conscious of looking for balance, symmetry, dynamic feelings. There were a few sunflowers, but not a big row as I was expecting. Yet, I was focused. I didn't spend a lot of time pursuing different shots that I felt I would throw away later. In fact, only shot about 40 shots all morning.

I am pleased to say that, despite the slim pickings, hot weather, and hard light, I got my shot. I worked with the elements instead of against them. I came with an idea. I was focused and took my time. I was after a single shot and I got it. This puts a little smile on my face.

Chris Martin said...

Hi Rick,

A thought provoking post. I haven't looked at my work as having a turning point but rather as an evolution. However, reading about your change, I think turning point is a more accurate description for me as well.

I went to Myanmar, traveling with Art Wolfe and Gavriel Jecan in February and that has turned me towards the people photography. I enjoyed watching the manner they both approached a scene and feel I applied my vision and built on it during the tour.

I had been focused on wildlife and landscapes, and while I still enjoy photographing both, people imagery is what runs through my mind in the small hours of the night. With few exceptions, creating the engaging image of my fellow man is the wood fueling the fire.

Thanks for providing a starting point for an illuminating inner conversation.



Dyanne Wilson Photography said...

I don't know if I've encountered a "turning point" as of yet. I've always loved photographing people in their environment. I find them so interesting especially when they are just being themselves ie not posed or directed in any way. Perhaps my 'turning point' will be to discover what my style is...

Still pondering that one.

KR8L said...

Hi Rick --

You might think I am just trying to "suck up to the boss" :-) but I'm serious here -- a very big and recent turning point for me was picking up a copy of "Confessions of a Compact Camera Shooter" by some guy named Rick Sammon. That book prompted me to move up from my Canon S3IS to a Canon G11 so that I could shoot RAW. That in turn has made it necessary for me to spend a lot more time with The GIMP and Photoshop Elements (and to learn Canon's Digital Photo Professional). I have found that the time I have spent studying my own photos and working with them on the computer has made me much more sensitive to lighting, exposure, composition, noise, DOF, etc. Now I spend much more time thinking about what I want the final product to look like and what I want it to convey before I trip the shutter. Also, I am much more likely to bracket my exposures and shoot the same subject from different angles, with different focal lengths, and in different light, because I know I can sit down later, compare them all, make adjustments, and pick out the best image from a set.

At this point in my development (and my first camera was a Kodak Brownie to give you an idea as to how long I have been at it) I have started thinking that "taking" the picture simply produces the raw material that ultimately goes into the "making" of the picture.

Jan said...

My turning point just happened last week when I went to Native American Indian Pow Wow Festival. I never shot this kind of festival and fast moving subjects before, but I went there with an open mind and didn't know what to expect. I wanted to capture their emotion and movement when they danced. I shot like a kid and didn't care if I made mistakes. It was hot blazing Sun 100F+. My photographs turned out to be what I had in mind. They told a lot of stories and you could hear drumbeating.

My objects are always flowers and landscape, but now I like to shoot people and cultures too.

Thank you for the workshop at Kip's Castle today. It was fun!


Larry Maleszewski said...

Great meeting & learning today. See your point U/W photography. It's neat, but the human side is where the images really grab the viewer.

Larry M.

Carol Cohen said...

I commiserate with Kristen - I also have mobility issues and severe arthritis has pretty much made me a "side of the road" photographer. But I consider that a blessing in disguise! I can find beauty beside the parking lot while others run pell mell from their cars in their rush to get 5 miles down the trail!

My turning point was meeting Ruth Bernhard at the Ansel Adams workshop in 1981. When I went home I never saw the world in quite the same way again. I saw details, shadows, closeups, surrounding me in my own home that I'd never noticed before. It was a "high" that inspired me for years!