It’s very hard to keep our feelings under wraps at the best of times and that is never so true as when we take a photograph. Both Ansel Adams and Freeman Patterson have pointed out a paradox that lies at the heart of photography – the camera always looks both ways. It looks out at the world reflecting our conscious choices about what to shoot. But it also looks in, revealing the depth and quality of our intuitive judgement as we make the numerous, non-conscious choices about how and when to click the shutter. Those non-conscious choices are the way that our personality shines through in the images we produce and has the potential to lift them out of the ordinary. Helping you to develop this intuitive side of your photography is what The Master Photographer is all about.
When I prepare for an important photographic journey – one where I need to be on top photographic form – I go down to the local wetland centre at Slimbridge. There, when the wind blows and the seasons turn, the swans in their hundreds, and the geese and the ducks in their thousands are all on the move. As the light changes through the day I practise hard: focus, depth of field, exposure, use of light, colour composition and all the rest. One by one I practise each skill intensively, listening to music that gets my heart pounding and my shutter finger buzzing. Without conscious thought, I am in the zone, adjusting focus, aperture, ISO, shutter speed – all to catch the effect I want. I practise skill by skill looking for hard tasks to push myself and my equipment to the limit and every so often I check the rear monitor questioning: did I get it right? What went wrong? How can I achieve a better effect? As the day wears on I notice something profound – the camera is no longer there. The deep, intensive practice has worked like a mantra, clearing my mind and channelling all my thoughts and energy into the subject of my image making.
What’s the payoff? It’s a cold and wet morning in the South African bush. We are two days into a fruitless search. The truck has slid its way through mud and over tree roots as we look for a pack of wild dogs the rangers believe could be in the vicinity. These animals are very rare, elusive and cover a huge range. Then in the half-light we slide around the bend and there they are. They have just eaten and, like all dogs having just fed, they are manic, chasing tails, chasing one another and play fighting. The movement is fast and furious, the light is appalling and we are stuck where we are with little room to manoeuvre for a better angle. That’s when the deep-practice pays off: the excitement is intense but camera to eye I am taking shot after shot. No time for a monopod or bean bag – it’s me, my camera and the dogs. I know what I am getting and processing the images later in the day a prize winner emerges.