Often clueless, but happy

An old photo from 2008, when I was on vacation on Majorca (one of the four Balearic Islands that belong to Spain), hiking with a guide in a small group of people that I always had to catch up with whenever I stopped to make a photo. :)

A pine tree overlooking the bay of Alcudia, near Talaia d'Alcudia, Majorca, Spain. September 2008.
A pine tree overlooking the bay of Alcudia, near Talaia d’Alcudia, Majorca, Spain. September 2008.

Here’s a (probably not very shocking) confession: For the majority of the 7+ years I’m making photos now and call myself a photographer, I’ve often been clueless about what I’m doing. I mean not so much in technical terms (I guess I managed the learning curve of photography in a reasonable time) but in terms of photographic design as well as pre-visualization and planning.

Yes, I’ve always had a keen and hungry eye that was attracted to scenes and things of natural beauty (for the most part), but conscious design and composition haven’t always been part of it. If I managed to get a good photo it was most often more of a fluke, rather than a conscious decision to arrange things in a certain way in the frame. But, I’m getting better at that. And when it’s possible, I work scenes more thoroughly.

Is it a conscious decision that way? Maybe not. It’s more like the intuition that I always had, combined with the experience in “how to make the thing you see and like actually work in a photograph.” It’s not like I’m looking at a scene and think “oh, I’m gonna put that tree here on the intersection of the thirds and this bush there 1/3 in on the Fibonacci spiral and that bushel of grass over there at the diagonal rise.”

Maybe there are people who actually work like that. It’s a valid approach, but it’s too formulaic for me. I don’t look at scenes and compositions that way. I use my intuition, my feeling, my understanding of balance in a composition. I think it defines who I am, and who you are as a photographer, when we use our instincts instead of formulas and rules. The interesting thing is of course that someone can always explain and find adherence to some rules and formulas afterwards. Funny how that works.

As for pre-visualization and planning… well, maybe they’re different things? Nowadays I often already have an idea what I want the final image to look like when I look through the viewfinder. But not always. Sometimes I know it when I see the result of an exposure in the plain and basic rendition that the camera provides on its tiny display. Sometimes I have no clue, and only after leaving the image alone for quite a long time (ahem) I can rid myself of any predispositions, and approach a scene for what it truly is.

The planning – well, I consider myself a visual opportunist. I don’t often plan to be in a certain place to make a certain photo. Maybe that’s a weakness, and yes, it has changed a little bit as I try to be “out there” in promising conditions nowadays (like Algodones Dunes when there’s a chance of monsoon clouds), or at the right time (early morning or late afternoon, when the light is nice).

When I began with photography, I considered myself a photographing hiker, not a hiking photographer. That too has changed a bit, but my primary goal and what drives me to “get out there” is still to be out there, and experience the land, and the ever-changing conditions. The photos are a by-product of that desire – which both complements and completes me. It’s not a job.

And I hope I’ll always be able to keep it that way (at least to a certain degree), because that’s the way that photography is fulfilling, and makes me happy. It is a passion.

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