Musings on Photography

Getting Moving

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on November 10, 2008

The famous Kreativ Award winning blogger Gordon McGregor 🙂 weighs in:

Craig Tanner talks about sometimes needing to give himself permission to shoot at first. Firing off 20 or 30 random shots, just to get moving. It gets you past that feeling that every shot has to be worthwhile or meaningful and just lets you engage and get to work.

This is one of the problems with doing your photography in Magical Far Away Places – because you can’t be there constantly, each time you go you have to run yourself up the creative on-ramp and the entire length of the creative acceleration lane before you really get moving photographically.

I found the above snippet from Gordon’s post to be particularly resonant. When I was doing most of my photography on the coast, each trip I would commit to starting out by just opening the shutter on whatever caught my eye, without any expectation that the first photos I made would be any good. And, indeed, the very first photos I made on each trip were, without exception, meretricious crud. What surprised me later, though, was that often while I was on the beach, the feeling that I was getting nothing but crud persisted for quite a long time, but later examination of the film when I processed it would show that the good stuff started long before I felt I was on a roll.

I found that to be a helpful lesson – I’m a bad editor in the field. I can’t reliably tell if the photo I’m about to take is crud (which happens a lot) or a gem (happens rarely). The answer, as always, is to learn to ignore the censor part of my brain that stubbornly insists “Paul, what are you doing? This is crap! Go get breakfast!” and just keep going, pointing the camera at the scene that catches my attention and steadfastly letting the shutter go.

7 Responses

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on November 10, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Finally, the respect I deserve(?). Reminds me I should do my Kreativ blogger post.

    I’ve had that problem photographing in MFAPs a few times, in part because I don’t ‘do’ landscape photography, so the few times I’ve visited a national park it has taken a couple of days to get my head into that way of shooting. Probably the other aspect is that it takes me a few days to work out how I even want to approach a given subject like a NP/MFAP.

    The easiest transition on one of those trips was when I just kept on doing portraits of my wife, with the national park providing the supporting backdrop – no transition there at all really.

    In the smaller sense, I have this feeling every time I pick up the camera. Getting started and settling can be difficult. Just making a few somewhat careless shots can be enough to throw out the other crud in my head an let me start to focus.

  2. Seinberg said, on November 10, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Paul –

    I think you make a good point. I have similar issues when I travel, or when I sneak into an abandoned building: building too much pressure to take good photography that I turn into a deer in headlights. Sometimes it clicks, but other times I just take stilted boring photos because I’m not giving myself the freedom to screw up (ironic how that works). Freely shooting some — as you put it — crud might be a good way to loosen up and fall into a groove.


  3. Anita Jesse said, on November 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I am particularly susceptible to the paralysis that comes from waiting until I know exactly what to do and how to do it well. If I don’t give myself persmission to fire off multiple meaningless shots—meant to go straight to the recycle bin, the fear of failing stops me from picking up the camera. And, leaving the camera behind becomes a habit.

    Whether or not I am getting past the “crud” stage is open to question, but at least this way of working means that I find that peace of mind you recently wrote about. And, since that is isn’t always easy to come by, I can’t afford to squander opportunites. So, I mindlessly squander pixels and inevitably end up being glad I picked up the camera.

  4. Gordon McGregor said, on November 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    oh, and thanks for a new word. Amusingly similar to ‘meritocratic’ too

  5. Sam Murphy said, on November 12, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Wonder how this works for large format shooters?

  6. Paul Butzi said, on November 12, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    All of my work on the Washington and Oregon coast was done with large format (4×5) cameras.

    So the answer is that I originally adopted the practice when I was using large format.

  7. Drew said, on November 13, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Well said. I think I feel this way every time I go to the coast to photograph though I never could pinpoint or articulate that feeling into words.

    Thanks for the post, Paul.

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