Stoked to announce one of my images was recently featured on the Nat Geo Creative blog in the post titled A Wave of Emotion. I did not see this perfect heart shape in my camera while taking the image on the island of Molokai, Hawaii – but sure was glad I was pressing the shutter release when this happened!
Wanted to let all Nomadic Photographer readers know that Think Tank photo is running a special for the month of February. If you order a Think Tank camera backpack, you will have a choice of a AppHouse 8 or AppHouse 10 tablet case for free. As always, followers of the Nomadic Photographer get a free item on orders over $50 (clicking the link above will automatically enter the code).
A place very close to my heart – it makes up less than .1% of US land but has over 25% of the plants and animals found on the nation’s endangered species list. Please join me in helping the Molokai Land Trust save the last of wild Hawaii. I am giving away signed 12×18 prints to the first 10 people who donate $125.
When I was living in India, I managed to spend some time in the Andaman Nicobar Islands where I captured the above image of a young man free diving in the ocean. I would have never guessed that this image would find its way onto the cover of Jake Stephens debut album “How The Water Feels” – but am super stoked that it did! I met Jake many moons ago at Virginia Tech where we spent every free second rock climbing. Jake went on to ride as a nationally ranked cyclist (inspiring one of the songs on his album The Ride to Key West) and work as a solar company executive. Over a year ago Jake made an abrupt break from the rat race to pursue this creative endeavor. The album drops on November 15th. Pick it up on iTunes HERE!
The dance begins again. Packing, unpacking, weighing my bags and double checking my equipment list. I am heading north to Alaska with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions for the next three weeks. Most important item besides my cameras? My Xtratuf Boots. Follow my adventure on Instagram @JonathanKingston
When I began shooting video more regularly, it did not take me long to figure out that in order to get smooth shots I needed a fluid head for my tripod and a shoulder mount for ‘run ‘n’ gun’ situations. The fluid head I am currently using is the Manfrotto 502 (HERE) and my shoulder mount of choice is the Zacuto Marauder (HERE). Two things that slow me down when switching from video to stills (or vice versa) are changing the tripod heads (which I found a solution for HERE) and re-mounting the camera to the various base plates for every system. For still photography, I have been using Arca style base plates for over a decade, and figured there must be a way to adapt the Zacuto and Manfrotto camera mounts to the Arca-style plate on my camera.
I am often asked how many good photographs I get when I am out on assignment. In the days of film, this question was framed “Jonathan, how many usable photos do you get per roll? ” Today the question is simply reframed “What’s your ratio of good photographs to bad?”
It took me a long time before I could articulate an answer to the above question that didn’t leave me feeling strangely drained and awkward. Not because I didn’t have an answer; there was a time in my life I knew precisely how many good frames I was averaging per roll of film and could return the figure as accurately as a cash register printing a receipt. What always rubbed me the wrong way about the question was that I never liked the connotations of my answer – whatever the number was. I disliked the idea that one of the metrics of how good or bad a photographer I was could be measured by how many good or bad frames I captured on a roll of 36, or on a memory card.
Many moons ago, I posed the same question to one of my mentors, Dewitt Jones. He returned my question with a knowing smile and let just enough silence fill the space after the asking to make me feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When Dewitt broke the silence he said “If your asking that, you’re asking the wrong question.” Feeling a little like young Luke Skywalker learning the force from master Yoda I replied, “What is the question I should be asking?” Dewitt answered, “The question you should be asking is ‘did I get THE shot’?” He then went on to explain, “You either get the shot or you don’t get the shot – it’s as simple as that.” The light began to dawn in my mind and I swear I saw Dewitt’s camera levitating ever so slightly on the table behind his chair. “It’s not how many good shots I get, the question is, ‘did I get THE shot?’”
So what is THE shot? For me the shot is the image, or group of images that most effectively tell the story. The frame(s) that capture both the reality and the feeling of the moment.
Cartier Bresson describes the shot as capturing the “decisive moment.” Rikki Cooke describes his process with the phrase “it turned my head.” Chris Rainier describes his approach as a “feeling in the solar plexus.” In fact, every great photographer I have ever spoken with uses different words to describe the same thing – excitement.
So what do I do when I have that feeling in the solar plexus? When my head turns to see the soft light gracing the pilgrims face?
Ask, See, Do
My process can be summed up in three words: Ask, See, Do.
Ask – I ask myself: What is the story here? What matters in this scene and what doesn’t? How can I highlight what is working and eliminate what is not? And importantly, when photographing people, I try to live by the golden rule by always honoring my subjects and asking permission whenever possible.
See – Do I see the story in my mind’s eye? Do I see this shot at my core level? Am I seeing this shot with my head or my heart? If I don’t feel anything when I take the shot, people looking at my photo aren’t going to feel anything. If I am filled with joy at the beauty before me or cry because of the tragedy in front of my lens, my hope is those viewing the image will be able to feel the same emotion.
Do – Can I let my technology and technique augment my vision as an extension of myself, or is it going to be a barrier between myself and the scene. If it is a barrier – how can I simplify to the point where it is not and still capture the frame? Do I need to put away the DSLR and pick up my point and shoot?
Great photography is knowing the story, seeing it with my heart and capturing it in a way that allows me to remain connected to my subject. Great photography happens when subject, heart and technique connect; and when they do, the result is pure magic.