Photos tell many stories. A single picture can sum up an event, observe an animal’s behavior, and portray a sense of place. A group of images by a particular photographer can show much more, though.
Within lies the heart of the photographer and what his or her passion is.
To be a nature photographer today takes being able to adapt to a wide variety of subjects and create great images of all of them. But everyone who puts an eye to the viewfinder is reacting to something that excites him or her when the shutter button is pressed.
Anyone can take a photo. Making that photo stand out from the crowd takes something special–a true knowledge and love for what’s in front of the camera.
The word “passionate” might cause many photographers to shy away, but it’s this feeling that comes through when others look at an image and walk away knowing they liked that photo more than similar shots they’ve seen. Without a passion for the photographic process, the photographer should put down the camera for good.
In the case of some people, it’s very easy to see where their passion lies, as they wear it on their sleeve. For example, last year I was doing a scouting trip for my new fall color excursion in Colorado and came upon a scene with some of the best dramatic lighting I’ve seen in years.
Eight or nine photographers had gathered for an evening shoot in front of a hillside filled with red and gold aspen. A storm was approaching, and we were wondering which would come first–the rain or good shooting.
All of a sudden, the sun came through in all its glory, lighting up the hillside ahead of very dramatic black storm clouds looming above the ridge. As shutters clicked all around, one photographer let his emotions come through and started yelling about the beauty in front of us. After the show was over, another photographer told the first that his excitement had added to the greatness of the shoot.
Many times during the workshops and art shows I do, I’ve been asked what my favorite subject is. It always causes me to pause to think for a moment.
While the questioner might wonder why I don’t have a ready answer, the fact is, the query causes me to think of all the things I love about photography. Capturing the peak of action of wildlife behavior is a great love of mine.
But so is bringing out the delicate beauty of a wildflower. Of late, I’ve become enamored by the aurora borealis in northern Alaska. I’ve been there three times now, and each time has been as special as the time before. There’s something about the northern lights that draws you back.
After my most recent trip in March, a participant in the venture told me he’s hooked on them and plans on going a third time. I knew he was serious, because he bought a new pair of heavy-duty bunny shoes and a warmer jacket, and he lives in Hawaii.
Besides pursuing a particular subject that really excites you, there’s another way to let your passion for photography come through—in the overall process. I find great enjoyment in bringing out the detail of a subject.
One of my companions calls me “the dentist,” because I like to extract a portion of the overall scene. I try to get the people who join me on my trips to do everything possible to accentuate the feature that drew their interest to the subject in the first place.
Using your eye to create an interesting composition helps draw the viewer into the main part of your photo, instead of leaving him or her to search the picture to see what you wanted him to see. At art shows, I’ve often been told I have a great eye. I take that as the best compliment I can get, because I like using what’s in front of me to create an emotion the viewer can feel as though he or she were standing next to me when I took the shot.
If I were forced to pick a particular subject area where my greatest passion lies, I would have to choose wildlife.
Anyone who knows me knows there are many irritations that cause me to be impatient. But, put me behind the camera with the chance of capturing the peak action of an animal doing something fascinating, and I can stay in place for hours on end waiting for the perfect shot.
Perhaps it’s the feeling of being out in the beautiful outdoors that drives me or the anticipation of seeing something not many people get a chance to see. Whatever it is, I’m prepared to wait as long it takes.
As nature photographers, we should count ourselves as very fortunate. We have a chance to see in a year–or less–more than what the vast majority of the people in this country might possibly see in a lifetime.
When you arrive at your next destination–whether it’s a local park or the goal of a three-hour plane trip, take time to soak in what’s in front of you. Become part of the location. Is shooting your surroundings your passion, or has it become just another task? Wherever your passion in photography lies, let it show.
by Andy Long