So here’s what’s wrong with my photography…

I took this photo in north Fargo this weekend. (You can click on it for a larger view.) I like it, but there’s something missing….

It’s not the composition. I like that. The shot is basically divided into four triangles composed respectively of the gravel path at the bottom, the trains+tracks on the right and left and the pie-piece of sky and bridge at the top. I like the texture and grittiness of the gravel. I like the way the blank, white sky plays against the dark underside of the bridge. I like the way the white at the end of the gravel path plays against the white of the sky.

Nope, that’s all fine. What’s missing, for me, is life — human life more specifically. It’s a good photo, I think. But I think it has the potential to be a great photo. Imagine if there were a child playing in there (no, it wouldn’t be safe, but it would be great visually), or two people holding hands, or just someone walking along. You’d wonder why they were there and who they are. The softness of human life would play against the hardness of the steel machines, the bridge and the gravel. It would add a whole other layer (or two) of interest.

I’ve known for a long time that I want to shoot photos of people. To me, that’s what’s most interesting. To be able to capture the human experience¬†within the context of a well-composed scene – that’s what I want to do. But when you look through my stuff, you’ll notice that there aren’t a lot of people in there. So why not?

Well, for one thing, it’s awkward and forces you to get in people’s faces, so to speak. You sometimes may have to walk up to a stranger and ask if you can take their photo (which takes a little bit of guts) or you have to just aim your camera at them and take a photo (and who knows how they’ll react; they may not want a photo taken.) That’s challenging.

Secondly, stationary things (like bridges, gravel and trains at rest) are easier to photograph. People, on the other hand, tend to move; their expressions change; they live in fluidity.

But, awkward and/or difficult as it may be, I know that I have to incorporate humanity into my work. Or at least it’s something I need to do if I’m ever going to really go where I want to go as a photographer. If I don’t, I’m always going to feel my images are less than what they could be … almost as if I’m just shooting really nice backgrounds.

8 thoughts on “So here’s what’s wrong with my photography…

  1. This is something I also struggle with as a photographer. I LOVE street photography but I have never been comfortable asking a complete stranger if they mind me taking their photo. Outside of portrait work, I think that human element not only gives us something else visually to look at it, it speaks more to us as humans and adds that extra layer to your photography. Great post!

      • I came from a developing nation and have been to other developing nations as well. Like in many big cities in the US, I love taking pictures there because life happens in the streets. However, just as you both, sometimes asking a stranger permission feels like asking a girl you really like out on a date. It takes a lot to muster the courage, but once you’re done it feels great. I am no expert in this kind of photography, but one thing I’ve learned is that strangers on the street smell hesitation and inhibition. Once they sense that, their attitude towards you changes. Most of the time they become defensive, while others go for the offensive.

        Great article! Great photograph too.

        • Hi Ron. Thanks for the insight, advice and kind words. I’m sure that, like just about anything else in life, this becomes easier with practice.

  2. Thoughtful and insightful self-analysis. The next step is yours, but I enjoy your images.

  3. Interesting topic.. I do enjoy images void of the human element and sometimes I will be influenced by Hopper and put a bit of solitude (lone image) in my shot….. My daughter once asked me if I took pictures of anything besides buildings.. When she said that, it felt like all I could handle is objects that don’t move ~ I felt pretty insignificant as a photographer at that moment… so I moved on to trees!! (jk)

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