I was long ago given the advice to breathe before I pressed the shutter on a camera, but I can’t remember who told me, or if no one did and that I read this piece of advice. Either way it is a piece of advice that has stayed with me. There are two reasons I can see in taking a breath before embarking on any activity. The first is to force a brief moment of reflection upon yourself and the second is to steady the nerve and hand.
The ability to bring calm to chaos and find quiet amongst noise requires an inner peace that makes time where there is none in which to make considered decisions. Any professional sportsmen or women will know how that moment of calmness in battle gives them the extra space and time to show how good they are.
A similar sense of awareness can give a photographer a similar advantage.
How tall are you? Do you make photographs by placing a camera in front of your face? Then your photographic view of life is defined by your height. And that is not a good thing. You may be short in stature in which case you will always be looking up, if you are tall you will be looking down. The composition of your images will be defined by your genes rather than your eye.
This may seem obvious, but it is a fact that it is often ignored by photographers caught up in the moment of ‘getting’ a photograph, the importance of equipment or post-production. The best angle and composition for a photograph will rarely be resolved by the height you have reached.
I know that as a tall man I often have to bend my knees to make a photograph, but I often have to do more than that. I have been seen with my camera lying on the floor, crouched in a corner, standing on a chair, or on one occasion hanging from a roof! This is not to create a ‘trixy’ photograph, but to find a photograph that will interest , engage and inform the viewer. There are times when none of this is needed, however, I need to explore options and to do that I need to create time in which to make a decision.
This is when breathing slowly and bending the knees become essential elements of making a photograph. You may not find this advice in a ‘How To’ photo book or within an online training video, but I guarantee that employing these simple tactics will make you think differently about how you make photographs and how successful those photographs are. You have to be present in the moment to capture that moment and being present is far more than being there.
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2022