Slow Photography: Focus On The Experience To Create Meaningful Images
What is slow photography in the first place? The Slow Photography Movement website defines this as:
Slow Photography Movement: Goals
- Focus on the photographic experience, encouraging a slow and personal approach to seeing and appreciating nature.
- Emphasize quality over quantity, by prioritizing thoughtful and respectful attitudes towards photographic subjects.
- Tell engaging stories about the context in which an impactful image was captured.
- Build community among photographers that practice a slow approach, revealing unique perspectives and celebrating common experiences.
The website above has many well written articles discussing Slow Photography and offers excellent learning opportunities. In this blog, I’ll share a few examples where I have used this approach to illustrate the benefits I’ve discovered. In the world of photography workshops and photo tours, this may seem odd to discuss a slow approach. People often try to pack in as much as possible in a short time or rushing from location to location. Is this really how personally meaningful images are created? I actually don’t wonder at all because I know this is not true at all.
A slower approach to landscape photography often involves letting go of expectations while being more open to Nature’s surprises. How many times have you experienced this, where your favorite image from a trip was the surprising one or the unexpected one? So what if we start with that approach of having no expectations in the first place? Let’s now have a look at a few examples where this was true for myself.
Surprised by Light, Not Chasing Light
First is an example from a snowy day and week in Bryce Canyon National Park. I was alone that day and had hiked all morning along snow covered trails before resting for the afternoon. The evenings are not popular with photographers and are generally uncrowded. So that evening I ventured out to one of the popular viewpoints where I enjoyed the spot completely alone. I didn’t have expectations and I only wanted to experience the snow along with seeing what Nature offered. Evenings are mostly uneventful in Bryce Canyon, but every once in a while, a beautiful display of light occurs.
That evening I stood watching the landscape in front of me as light began to shine onto the canyon. A small bit of light filled the canyon before quickly fading. I then turned to look directly behind me. A flurry of snow had developed just as the sun broke through the forest, suddenly creating a striking backlit scene. It snowed golden flakes for a few minutes as the forest appeared to be glowing. I’ve never seen an image like this from Bryce Canyon and have never seen this occur here either. The image has become one of my personal favorite images from Bryce Canyon. To me, this image captures Nature’s surprising beauty and is an image I could never pre-visualize or anticipate. It was simply about being curious along with wanting an experience without expectations.
Right Area vs Right Place
For the next example, I’ll discuss the difference of being in the right area versus the right place. You’ve probably heard the photography phrase “right place at the right time”. The right place at the right time implies previsualization and predictability, but often no originality. Additionally, this approach inhibits a personally meaningful image in many cases. Being in the right area implies being open to surprise and discoveries. It also allows room for compositions derived from surprise and discovery.
On this particular October day, I headed to an area of Southern Utah I knew had colorful aspens. I had no idea where I’d go specifically though. I spent the day roaming a few areas to get the feel for colors and conditions. My schedule only allowed 2 days to explore and shoot. Therefore I spent the first day observing and attempting to connect with the area. That evening I came upon a group of aspens which stood out from the thousands I’d seen all day.
Let Nature Surprise You
Amazing colors, a pleasing composition and pure quietness all made the evening discovery very interesting and appealing. The only thing missing was a mixture of light and conditions. The lifting fog and fading light made the scene look uninspiring for an image. So I waited and came back early the next morning as darkness subtly transitioned to dawn amidst thick fog. I knew the aspens would still be there and I’d have more opportunity the following morning. As I was driving towards this location, the fog became more appealing and the air was calm. I even noticed an owl perched on a nearby pine which I considered good luck. I could just tell something special in Nature was unfolding. If you’ve had one of these experiences in Nature yourself, you know what I mean.
I was able to discover a unique group of trees by exploring an area and simply observing. The conditions the next morning were pure luck. I wouldn’t have discovered them at all if I hadn’t been there the evening before. The resulting image represents an alignment of conditions, luck, observation and surprise to me. It’s also my personal favorite image from the entire Autumn season that particular year:)
See, By Not Looking For It
Lastly, here is a recent image from the Pacific Northwest in September. I was in an area again, and not at a specific composition. The conditions were ordinary for this place as in partly cloudy and breezy. It was a beautiful evening to be here with the sounds of the Pacific Ocean filling the air. I wandered to the beach before coming back towards the car, just observing and enjoying the evening. I didn’t even have my camera out for all of this. It was when I returned to the car to grab something, when I noticed the scene in the distance. Light was beginning to shoot through 2 islands and was getting better by the second.
I immediately grabbed my camera and telephoto lens so I could isolate the scene. Fortunately I was able to capture a few frames before the light subdued. The rest of the evening I only used the camera once more. I spent the rest of the evening listening to and observing the landscape.
For this example, the process of shooting was actually quite fast. It was the overall approach of enjoyment over shooting which allowed me to see this scene. Too often we miss potential images by hiding behind our camera. The slow approach is about enjoying the experiences of Nature and letting those experiences inspire our photos.