Photography 101: Introduction & Philosophy
As recently mentioned, we’re excited to present a series devoted to photography and visual storytelling. We’ve rounded up talented photographers in our community to introduce the essentials, as well as their tips and tricks.
Our community is made up of all levels of bloggers and photographers: some Daily Post readers are just beginning to blog or experiment with a camera, while some of you are ready to sharpen your visual eye, hone your photography skills (whether on a film or dSLR or mobile phone camera), and think about blogging visually.
Simply put, there will be something for everyone in this series, and we’re excited for our guest photographers to share their ideas and techniques. But before we roll up our sleeves, let’s talk about the philosophy of photography, and why we take photographs.
Broken Light is a collaborative site of photographers who live with, or are affected by, mental illness. We talked to its founder, Danielle Hark, about her own philosophy of photography to get you thinking about blogging in a more visual way — and the power of visual storytelling.
How did your photography collaborative, Broken Light, come about?
I have always loved photography. I studied cinema and photography in college, and eventually became a magazine and book photo editor in New York City. When I had my daughter, I decided to start my own photography company. Unfortunately, six months after my daughter was born, I crashed. My depression and anxiety returned, and I had trouble doing anything, even leaving the house. And despite having an adorable baby and a loving husband, I still felt incredibly alone. I pushed everyone in my life away.
My therapist encouraged me to start photographing more, not just when I was able to take on shoots professionally, but daily, whether I left the house or stayed in bed all day. I could always find something to photograph, even if it was my bedroom ceiling. I realized that photography could be a powerful tool: it helped bring light to certain mood states and areas of my life that I could not articulate with words.
I started the Broken Light Collective in March 2012, in the midst of that depression, because I wanted to encourage other people who might be going through difficult times (or their family and friends since it affects everyone), to keep creating, sharing, and supporting each other. Broken Light has become a supportive community of talented individuals beyond what I had imagined. It has become a tool for inspiration, support, and healing, and is visual proof that we are not alone when we are struggling — even when we feel that way.
What role has photography played in your own life?
Photography plays a major role in my life. I love taking photos and am most comfortable with a camera in my hand, whether that is my digital SLR or my iPhone camera. I’ve found that it’s the taking of the photos, not the quality of the camera, that’s most important. In recent years, photography has become both a creative and emotional outlet for me — a way to express what’s going on inside at a conscious and subconscious level.
I take photos to stay present in certain situations, or as an escape. I also use viewing photos as an escape. I am not good at traditional meditation, but I can view photos of nature and be transported to a more relaxed place.
We’re interested to hear your philosophy on photography and visual storytelling.
Photography is the art of storytelling without words. You don’t just take a photo with your eyes, you take it with your experiences, emotions, and heart.
Photography is also a way of looking at the world. It’s a way of seeing the outside world and capturing it with the light of your inner world. The more tuned in you are to your inner story, the more stories your photos can convey. Those stories do not need to be literal. If you’re sad, you don’t need to photograph someone crying to convey that emotion or story. You just need to view the world as you. A macro photo of a single drop of dew can convey a narrative of agonizing sadness, or delight and joy, if you let it.
Can you tell us how photography promotes mindfulness, and how we can approach our craft in this way?
Photography can be a tool for mindfulness. When you look through a lens you must be present to take in the sight, and orchestrate your shot. By focusing on what you see (the composition, the lighting, etc.) you are being mindful, whether you realize it or not. You are focused (literally) on the present moment and not worrying about things that have happened in the past or might happen in the future. You are in the now, at least for that moment. And sometimes one moment is all it takes to bring you back from a negative place.
What draws you to a photograph?
There are the obvious things that can make a photograph pop, like unexpected composition, lighting, or contrast, but sometimes it is the not-so-obvious things that really draw us in. The mood. The tone. The story, both seen or unseen. We love when a photo tells a story, whether that’s a family playing in the woods or a candle on a table, but beyond that, there’s really not one particular thing we’re looking for.
I think the variety of photographers and photos that hang on the virtual walls of our gallery is part of the beauty. As long as someone has a personal connection to mental health issues, and a camera to tell their story, they are welcome, no matter their level of experience.
Is there a tip you could give to bloggers who are interested in weaving text and images, but aren’t sure how to approach it?
I think using photography thoughtfully can really enhance text on a blog, and draw in new readers. Some people might be turned off by using photography because they think they need photos that are of exactly what they’re writing about. I encourage people to think outside the frame, and use photos that might not be a literal match for the text. Photos can be a match in tone or feel even if they’re not a match for the subject or content. Nature and still life images are especially good for this purpose.
Technically, I encourage people to use what I call “focus with intention,” which means the subject or a piece of the subject is in focus unless blur is purposeful, and to be aware of the background. A messy background can take away from the subject, whereas a clean background brings attention to the subject.
It’s amazing how you can shift your body positioning while you’re shooting and increase the power of the shot exponentially. However, for every “rule” there is an amazing photo to break that rule! So, the only real rule is to keep taking photos, and to experiment and have fun along the way.
As we begin this series, my biggest tips for bloggers who want to explore photography and add more photos to their blogs would be:
- Always keep a camera with you, even if it’s your phone camera.
- Have fun with it!
All that we’ll explore and learn in this series can be used to take better photos, but how you use the tools and techniques can make the difference between a nice snapshot and a visual story. Keep shooting, trying different things, and pushing the boundaries of what feels comfortable to you.
We asked Danielle to introduce the main elements of photography that we’ll cover in this series. Click on any image in this gallery to get a taste for what we’ll explore:
Thanks, Danielle, for introducing your process and philosophy of photography with us! In the next post, another photographer will talk about viewing the world with a visual eye and dive into the element of composition.