the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Principles of Photographic Improvisation – Contribute Something and Try Something

In my last post, I mentioned how I am reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin, and I described his first of four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation – agreeing or to say “yes” and not “no.” Today, I look at the second and third principles – Contribute Something, and Try Something.

To contribute something, you need to make the scene your own. DuChemin explains, ” Photography is not objective… We bring our own thoughts, opinions, points of view, and interest to the scen and to every single decision, from aperture to focal length to shutter speed to composition. We chose what to include and exclude. It’s not so much about what’s there as it’s about what I see and how I see it.”

Say you travel to a famous landmark or scene and want to photograph it. Don’t worry about how others have done so, make the scene you own. Sure, take that one composition that you’ve seen before, the shot the maybe even inspired you to come in the first place, but then explore the subject scene on you own, making your own compositions. Or as DeChemin says, “Own it. Add to it. Make every photograph you create a collaboration with what’s before you.”

This, I think, directly relates to the third principle, try something. DuChemin urges his reads to “take a risk and try something. Don’t just wonder what would happen if you moved the camera over to the right. Move it! Slow the shutter, use a wide lens. Listen to the questions, but don’t let them go without a response. And if the first answer doesn’t work, try again.”

It doesn’t even have to be a famous scene, just maybe one you’ve been to or photographed many times before. Do you take the same shot again and again? Perhaps. But to improvise, you’ve got to make it new again for you. Maybe try black and white, or shoot it with your phone instead of you DSLR, or shoot only high-key images, whatever!  Sometimes to make it your own you need to try something different.

For example, for the past several years, I’ve been offering walking photo tours of downtown Seattle. These tours are great for my clients, as they see Seattle through fresh eyes. But I’ve seen it and shot it all before. It’s a real challenge for me to find something new. So on a couple trips, I pulled out the fish-eye lens. Now, a lot of what I shot didn’t work so well, but some of the images aren’t so bad. In fact, they are kind of fun, and definitely something I made my own by trying something I hadn’t done before, even after shooting the same places dozens of times before – such as Pioneer Square (above and below), the ferry terminal (below), and the waterfall garden (below). That is photographic improvisation.

8 responses

  1. Is the waterfall garden fairly new (after 2005) or did I miss it all those years I lived there? 🙂

    July 11, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    • I guess it falls under the hidden gem category, Marie. It was built in 1978. It is located in the Pioneer Square district, just a block off of Occidental Square.

      July 13, 2020 at 7:11 pm

      • Wow. I worked just down the street in the Federal Building for about 10 years.

        July 15, 2020 at 8:41 pm

  2. Nice Photos! New lenses are like new eyes…

    July 11, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    • Thanks. So true, they give new perspectives

      July 13, 2020 at 7:11 pm

  3. Beautiful photos and words of wisdom Joe. Thank you once again my friend!

    July 12, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    • Thanks Ernie, you are too kind

      July 13, 2020 at 7:12 pm

  4. Pingback: Principles of Photographic Improvisation – There Are No Mistakes | joebeckerphoto

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.