Friday, October 26, 2012

Heart, Mind, Soul: What I Seek to Capture in Photos

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This post is a follow up to Shooting Technique, where my coauthor MShafik discussed the settings he uses to take photos.  In this post, I'll discuss my shooting technique, but the emphasis of this post will be different.  Instead of talking about my specific settings, I'd like to discuss my shooting philosophy and the concepts I have in mind.

There are three broad categories of photos that I try to capture, and I call them photos with Heart, Mind and Soul.

These are shots that are technically excellent.  The shooter used very good technique (not necessarily knowingly) and sometimes, equipment comes into play as part of the technique.  The result is a photo with one or more amazing technical characteristics such as composition, lighting, tonality, sharpness, etc.

Playground Hero

The emphasis is on the process with which the photo was made (but in my view, part of the process is the choice of the subject so an otherwise technically excellent shot of an inappropriately-chosen subject would not work for me).

The reaction to this kind of shot is usually along the lines of, "Clever," "Brilliant!" or, "How did you get that shot?"  By its nature, I believe this kind of shot is limited by its weakest technical link.  For example, if a photo has fantastic lighting, composition and colors but the focus is clearly on the wrong point, then it doesn't work.

These are shots that I like because it is about getting an emotional response from the viewer.  Whereas photos with Mind usually invite scrutiny and discussion, photos with Heart are usually simple and often need no words.  Sometimes, this is because the subject shows a powerful and authentic emotional expression, be it joy, laughter, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or anything.

In this same category I put photos that capture sheer beauty, the kind that defies language.

By beauty I mean not just of people, but of any kind of subject, so this category is not just for photos of people.

With the best samples kind of shot, the reaction is typically a spontaneous emotional reaction, or a response  like, "Breathtaking!"

In my view, if the photo has emotion or beauty, it doesn't need to be technically excellent.

While photos with heart often need no words, these shots on the other hand are full of meaning.  Some people talk about photos that tell a story.  I like to say that this kind of photo has significance to the viewer because of the viewer's own experience.


In this shot, I wanted to capture how my daughter instinctively hugged her mom's leg when she was confronted with an unfamiliar situation.  Because of her trust and love for her mom, it instantly made her feel safe.  It is an experience people can relate to.

What if a shot wasn't intended to communicate the same meaning that the shooter intended?  I think so long as there was some intent to communicate then it still qualifies, albeit imperfectly.  Now if there was absolutely zero intent to communicate meaning but the viewer saw meaning, then in my opinion the shot is a work of found art by the viewer not the shooter.

Although these are what I try to capture, I don't always get those shots.  However, I have a few shots that I believe have Heart, Mind and Soul in varying degrees.

Example 1:
This is a shot that has Heart and Soul.  The expression of joy and delight is clear, authentic and engaging.  You can easily relate to it and perhaps feel a little bit of that joy as well.  What I really like about this shot however, is the juxtaposition of my daughter's expression and the older guy in the background looking down.  To me it has meaning because I often feel like that older guy, thinking and worrying about the usual things in life.  It contrasts starkly with the joyful expression on my daughter who seemingly has no care in the world.  This photo reminds me of what it is like to be a child with no responsibilities.

Example 2:

In this shot, my son was playing with his friends at a park.  Part of this shot is about the composition, with the way the branches and their shadows curve in interesting ways around the frame.  It's also about the interesting lighting.  However, my other intent was to capture the purity of the friendship of the kids, and how they just "are" with each other.

Example 3:
Maty's Art Project
This is a shot of one of my son's paintings, now hanging in my office.  This photo is mostly about composition, so in that sense it has Mind.  However, it is also about parenthood.  The painting looks exactly like what it is -- just a child's painting.  But parents display simple works like this in their workplaces with pride.  That layer of meaning in this photo gives it Soul.

FYI I haven't taken any photography classes and I haven't done any research for this.  I'm probably not the only one who has tried to categorize photos this way.  But FWIW, this is my way of thinking of what I look for, and it helps give me some direction when I'm shooting.

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