WORKOUT SESSION: DON'T SHOOT OR I'LL MOVE!

May 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

_DJ64473_DJ64473© DON JOHNSON 2089399397

Out here in the vast, thinly oxygenated Photo Assignment wilderness, we often toss off our heavy backpacks to rest on fallen logs, catch our breath, and down a Snickers or two. We ramble, consider state of mind, often touching on stillness of soul, negation of self-chatter, being here now, and the holy grail-ish ability to see through things rather than merely look at them. We work at making our inner landscape as real as the outer, overlaying and informing the stuff we lay eyes on. We practice the art of seeing until it transforms into the seeing of art and over time we discover that the underlying theme of our entire personal universe is nothing but wall-to-wall astonishment. 
 
And where we're going there are no walls.
 
Creating photographs from a zone of stillness is a sort of zen koan. It doesn't make sense until it does. It's like a 6th or 7th sense, in a way. Nothing happens and then... a flash of lightning, an insight, a connection to something other... the shutter releases itself and an image is made that somehow captures the wonder of our multi-dimensional existence onto a 2-d canvas made up of tiny electronic pixels. It's as if we slip forward in time a fraction of a second (or more) and become aware of an event or an action just before it happens. It's weird, it's magic, or should be if it isn't.   
 
Of course, a pint of Guinness has exactly the same effect, but the downside is that all those brilliant insights are invariably forgotten in the morning. Even the notes we scribbled carefully on the napkin are incomprehensible. Still, it's a pint of Guinness.
 
There's a purpose to this preamble - to grapple with the paradox of capturing movement. We'll adopt a two-pronged approach for the next two weeks as we photograph moving objects. We will observe a thing in motion, while we do the opposite - waiting, watching in silence, nearly invisible, motionless, minds at ease but fully engaged and focused. DON'T SHOOT OR I'LL MOVE is a good way to put it. If we shoot before (or after) things are in harmony, something in the scene will move out of sync and the shot will be missed - at least the one we're after. This is arguably true for all creative photographs but especially with moving objects. Allow the prey to tell you when it wants to be captured.
 
Bottom line, DON'T SHOOT OR I'LL MOVE is an exercise in photographing things that move while we are in a state of relative stillness. Life loves to move, change shape, dance, exult, go from one place to another for no or any reason. To best witness this dance we must stand outside it, dispassionate and aware, behind the viewfinder of our black box. It seems odd that when we photograph moving objects we forever freeze their movement, yet when we examine the print, they are born anew in the inner world.
 
And if that isn't astonishing, I don't know what is.
 
 
Some tips for shooting DON'T SHOOT OR I'LL MOVE:
 
  • Obviously, look for things that move - fast or very slow, big or small. All is fair game.
  • Consciously slow yourself down, mentally and physically. Eliminate distractions (cell phone). Breathe evenly. Fully engage with your subject. When random thoughts pass through your mind, dismiss them, and re-engage your concentration.
  • Don't take a hundred shots of the same thing. Wait and take one. Rinse and repeat. When the moment reveals itself, release the shutter, not before. If it doesn't appear, move on.
  • If you're traveling, get out of the car. Back up, turn around. If you see something interesting, don't tell yourself it will be here tomorrow. It won't.
  • Pay attention to detail. Examine every corner of the viewfinder. Nail your exposure and focus. 
  • Not in the right place? Move yourself.
  • Select a fast shutter speed to stop action cold. 
  • Play with slow shutter speeds for intentional blur. Pan a moving object.
  • Select the best focusing mode for moving objects. Usually (not always) it's Continuous mode (AI-Servo).
  • If you're adventurous, try manual focus or a focus trap.
  • Use a quality tripod. It's the best physical "slowing down" tool ever invented for photographers. You'll love one good one and hate ten cheap ones.
  • If the scene is static, your camera can do the moving.
 
It's your move. Happy shooting!
 
DON'T SHOOT OR I'LL MOVE will run from June 1 through June 14.

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