Yesterday I was walking home from town and I saw someone taking a street photo. Even better, it was with a hassleblad. I went over and struck up a conversation (In Polish, he detected my accent and corrected a couple of my mistakes!). I knew the location he was shooting very well as I had been there a lot trying to find a good shot. I’ve managed on a few occasions but it really depends on the light being right there and getting a clean backdrop. As we were talking he said.
“With street photography, the light is so important. I can go for weeks with nothing, then suddenly find a great spot and get a dozen killer shots in a row.”
I agreed with him (though I think there is an argument against that I’ll put below) but as I did, I looked over my shoulder at where he was shooting and thought “what light are you seeing here! There’s nothing!”
The wrong eyes
Since then I realised that actually I might have my vision off, after all he was using a 50mm equivalent lens and I’m used to a 35mm equivalent lens. He was shooting square format and I shoot landscape. He may have been focusing on a different area with great light that I wasn’t looking at.
That’s the trouble with passing outside judgement, it’s easy to do but you can never really tell if your judgement is right.
Being true to our vision of ourselves
However, this touches on a bigger issue, if we are being true to what we say about ourselves. I used to say that I had defeated my “fear” of taking photos on the street, but the truth is that it has reemerged slowly over time. I used to think that I looked for emotion more than anything else, now I think I pay more attention to the light.
These are both simple examples of how my statements about myself have become less true (and possible even false) over time. This wasn’t malicious but accidental and cause by a lack of awareness. Some of these changes might even be better than before but I don’t want to put forward a version of myself that isn’t true.
There is merit in focusing on the statements we want to be true of ourselves (such as the style of photos we seek to shoot) but we need to be careful not to lie to others or ourselves about the types of photographers we are.
Not just about photos
Going further, this is (well should be) one of the core values of Christianity. The teachings of Jesus frequently criticised people who’s actions failed to match their values. The Pharisees said they cared about people, but then they refused to help people on the holy day. James picked up on it when he said that “faith without works is dead” and it’s the same with our “values”, if we never put them into action, do we really “value” them.
It isn’t JUST about the light…but it kind of is.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, Light is vital in our photographs, in fact it is our tool. But when we say it’s all about the light, we usually mean the harsh directional light or silhouettes. The truth is that flat light with muted tones can work well too. The same can be said when you use a flash to artificially control the light. In truth, although light is very important, we still need our subject and we can make use of a wide variety of light. It might not be our style, but we have options.
Are there any statements about yourself that you aren’t matching up to?