The ability to formulate an idea for a photo or series of photos is key to the execution of it. Read that again! The next step, is to develop a train of thought to follow through with the idea and create an image or works that take the idea to its fruition.
There is a difference between a snapshot and a photograph as there is between a memo and a novel. We’ve all seen photos that were exposed well but left you let down. Dull, boring attempts where the camera was left to interpret your intention. Ideas are what make the difference between a technically well executed image and art. Whether preconceived or realized in the moment the thought process of formulating an idea is the key to success as a photographer. You wouldn’t expect to publish a best selling novel simply by taking a pencil in hand and putting words to paper on a subject you have no interest in, it would be random, pointless babble. You must say something of interest. The same applies in a photographers reason for raising a camera, there has to be a something about the subject that appeals to your senses and that you wish to convey to the viewer.
On a trip to Italy, I stayed outside the town of Cortona for a week. Upon arrival I had a few hours to walk through the town before heading to the villa. The next morning, starting out early from the hills above the valley, my colleague and I were surprised by a blanket of fog covering the valley floor. Continuing to our destination, Cortona, I began to formulate an idea based on a view from my scout of the town the day before. I returned to the area and continued fine tuning the possibilities in my head, though the scene was completely shrouded in a blanket of fog. I committed myself to the idea, grabbed my gear and, guided only by instinct and a few distant landmarks above the fog, walked to my best guess at the vantage point along the side of the road. My colleague, unable to share my enthusiasm and patience that early, left and went into town vowing to return with cappuccino later. When what must have been an hour passed and the sun warmed I could sense the fog settling lower in the valley and prepared to shoot. To add a little more adrenaline and urgency to the situation, I was in the wrong spot when my vision began to take shape through the thinning cloud and scrambled farther up the narrow road to the better vantage point. I did get a shot close to what I had conceived in my mind as the fog descended below the cemetery and lifted it to the heavens. The series of photographs produced, and the final image printed, were only possible with the ‘idea’ I formulated when presented with the circumstances of the fog that morning and the knowledge from a brief walk around the town. That and my willingness to see the ‘ideas’ through to the end. To me there was nothing more important that morning than that idea and the potential for it to be realized. I was oblivious to any photos I may have missed elsewhere as I was in my moment.
I have started keeping a journal of my ideas. Till that point I am sure I let most ideas with some merit slip away by not acting upon them in a timely fashion. I may want to return to a special place at another time, right place wrong time happens a lot, or plan a side trip when visiting an area on another adventure. Inevitably most ideas are lost without keeping notes. Even taking a preliminary snapshot doesn’t work most times as I have photos that I just can’t pinpoint the location for in my files, other then ‘southern Alberta’ as a caption. The process of writing down my thoughts allows me to go back when I am in a different state of mind and examine the idea again and again, giving me a reference to expand, reshape and continue to develop until the ‘ideas’ realization has come and any more time would be merely procrastination on my part. Some ideas, in time, blossom into multiple photographs or projects. Some do not, but still remain in my journal for some more thought.
With the advent of digital photography and its technical leaps and bounds there is no reason not to be able to produce a technically good photograph. The term ‘idiot proof’ has evolved but will never replace the need for originality, creativity and commitment to elevate your work to a more personal level and become art.
“There is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea” Ansel Adams