Learning to see again

I really learned how to shoot photos in a way that alot of people don’t learn anymore: slide film, class, deck of slides for everyone, an instructor at the front with a pointer pointing exactly what was wrong with each photo followed by classmates doing the same. It was brutal, and it taught me so very much.

However, learning that way gave me a very finite sense of rules to play inside of. This year with my photography I’ve been coloring outside those lines more.

One of the things that has always been important to my photos is aggressive lines. Now, I’m just as focused on the lines of the photos but I’m finding new lines like the line of the bass strings instead of perfect horizontal.

It isn’t all just framing, the other big change for me this year has been a my lensbaby composer lens. This weekend when I was I went out and shot a whole day with only my lensbaby lens and it was so amazing to really spend 10 hours with that lens because it is completely manual and very tactile and forces a very deliberate style of shooting. I can’t just shoot with it, it is a much more intellectual process, so it completely engages the side of my brain that really did love having to think about shots because if I didn’t get it right, it’d be on a slide for everyone to see.

More than that, though, it is fascinating because for all the deliberation and thought into the
process, the lens itself introduces a brilliant amount of randomness and distortion into the photo. So it requires alot of thought, but at the same time imagination and flexibility. It isn’t possible or desired to get a perfectly in focus of technically “perfect” photo with that lens so it is a new way of seeing, of focusing, of metering, of framing, and of getting meaning out of photos.

Where I’ve surprised myself, when I’ve found the most play in the lensbaby for me, is in the visualization of emotion. There is something about the blur and the bend to the lens that allows me to pull emotion into the frame.

This is a stronger picture with the lensbaby than without because the bold primary colors of childhood really pop against the blur and both fade more rapidly and stick out more distinctly than they would with a tradition short depth of field.

I could spend 1000 words describing how it felt to be looking out over the rolling hills of Antietam with the fog covering everything in weather too cold for the season, just the stark canons defining the landscape. Or I could show you this picture. Here you can see and feel the shifting and uneasy fog and the dark crisp metal of the canons concentrating the landscape.

When I got the lensbaby I was anticipating a lens that would be alot of fun. I did not anticipate that it would provide such interesting results or allow be to bend and curve and focus not just the photo but the emotion of the photo.

(you can browse all of my photos on flickr taken with the lensbaby here)


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