Most of us see what we want to see, whether it is a beautiful landscape or a beautiful person.
We see past the flaws and blemishes. It is a matter of selective seeing—looking with our hearts more than our eyes.
The still camera is void of a heart or any emotional baggage, so it records whatever you point it at. This puts the focus on you, the artist and the creator.
If there are loud or busy backgrounds—trees or wires growing from or impaling the heads of your subjects—it’s all on you, not the camera. The camera doesn’t take good or bad pictures. You do!
I once heard about a photography professor who assigned his students to purposely make a picture that was badly composed. The more lines, mergers, ugly foregrounds, competing backgrounds and tilted horizons the better. He used this exercise to awaken students to how the camera sees differently than the human eye. I also now use this assignment when teaching composition.
Many years ago, while photography director at a Southern California newspaper, I began a project photographing the land I loved, looking beyond the wires, pavement and signs our modern world has birthed; to make images that looked and felt natural and pristine before man eroded the beauty.
Rather than hike into the backcountry, I challenged myself to make pictures of the beautiful fleeting scenes we see while racing past in our cars—all within 30 feet or so of a paved road or highway.
The goal was highlighting and celebrating the natural God-made landscapes.
By using shadow, composition, light, lens choice and cropping—without the aid of programs such as Photoshop, which feels like cheating—I tried to get the camera to see what I saw and felt. At times, I felt I was channeling the late, great Ansel Adams—the famous landscape photographer who once said he never photographed the way the land looked, but rather how he felt about it.
This required avoiding speeding, reckless drivers and biting dogs, and meant watching and working with light and shadow, to hide fences, power poles and electrical wires. Nothing was eliminated with Photoshop, only what I could do in the camera with the limited time I had available before and after work.
It became a mission—a calling of sorts—maybe even an obsession. Most mornings, I was out an hour before sunrise, scouting locations. I did it religiously for three years, feeding the creative, photographic side of me while temporarily escaping the desk, fluorescent lights, budgets, meetings and computers. As Johnny Cash said in his song “Understand Your Man,” a way of “breathing air that ain’t been breathed before.”
Remember: The camera has no heart, no emotion and isn’t swayed by nostalgia. It sees everything and records everything, without judgment.
Take the Reader Photo Challenge
Look for a scenic landscape that has been encroached upon by the modern noise of signs, traffic lights, poles and wires, and see if you can eliminate or at least minimize the noisy visual distractions with changing light, shadows and creative compositions.
Email your best image (just one, please) with caption information, including an explanation of how it affects you, to GPH@pur.coop. We may share submissions on our website and social media channels.