As a photographer my most developed sense is my sense of sight – paying attention to light, form, color, patterns, gestures and details and analyzing what I see in the context of how these elements will work as a photograph. But it is the ability to listen that makes a real difference. Over the years I have learned to make and keep myself aware that the best pictures are collaborations with what is in front of the lens. What am I aiming to do? To make you imagine that the person, place or thing photographed is speaking to you too.
One thing I have noticed when photographing musicians is that the good ones really know how to not just listen to, but also to hear what their partners are doing and where they are going. Keith Richards writes about that in his memoir “Life” almost every time he mentions Charlie Watts. “The bed that I lie on: me and Charlie, 1982” Richards and me captions one photo. And when you listen to The Rolling Stones or any really good band’s best work you hear that. The music is dynamic play: they are having fun with each other and when that happens the listening gets good.
So how to do that with photography? Here are four tips that work for me: to help me listen and hear with my eyes.
– Be interested in who or what you are photographing that helps you work a little bit harder and to be willing to look at the subject of the photo in different ways. Even if you are working on a professional assignment for a client, my experience is that there is always something interesting about who they are, what they do, how they do it, or what they make that spurs my curiosity. Once I’ve found that I have an angle I can build on.
– Second, be open but be focused. Teaching yourself how to tune out distractions as a primordial part of listening and hearing. Sometimes those distractions are external but sometimes they are in your head.
– Third, really get to know your gear so your interaction with it becomes instinctual.
– As with all forms of play you need rules. One of the great things about photography is that you get to establish the rules and can decide which you hold sacrosanct and which you can violate. These self-imposed rules become your style. An example of one of a rules I impose on myself is that any retouching or pixel editing that gets done to a photo shouldn’t be obvious – unless of course it is necessary for the success of the final photo.
– Find someone whose judgments in these matters you trust to be a fresh set of eyes on your work.