Feeling What You Photograph

Is it possible that we can apply the lessons of musicians to photography? Here’s a quick thought to help you add emotion to your photographs.

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Here’s a little something you might not have known about me, but in college, I was a music major. What has that got to do with photography? Well, if you’ve never made music before, it might be a little tricky to explain, but musicians will certainly understand this feeling, I think.

When a musician plays or sings, a lot of what goes into the music is second nature. Sure, there are technical things — learning timing, the enunciation of the notes, dynamics, breathing if you sing or play a wind instrument. Just as photography has technical aspects like lighting and camera settings.

But with music, there is a whole other side to it, too. Often, when a musician plays, a lot of what goes into the sound is almost second nature, or instinctual somehow. Musicians very much feel the music as they make it, and that leads them to make unconscious decisions to subtly change the sound so that it comes across more expressively. A flutist, for instance, may adjust the amount of air used without even thinking about it, or add a little vibrato just to enhance the mood, or hold a note just a little longer than the score calls for to give it a little extra emphasis. These are things that happen not always because the musician makes the conscious decision to do these things, but sometimes, just because that is how the musician feels it should be played.

I think that photographers are capable of making these same unconscious decisions as they work. When you’re out in the field, are you feeling what you’re photographing? Are you immersed in the emotion of the moment or the scene? Are you in tune with your surroundings? If it’s a happy occasion, then you should feel happy rather than detached and apart from the happiness. Quiet, reflective scenes should make you feel that sense of inner quietude.

To me, it’s important to feel what you’re photographing. To immerse yourself in a scene just the same way that a musician immerses in music. If you’re feeling something as you’re working, then you’re likely to make those little unconscious decisions that will add extra depth and emotion to the image. Maybe without realizing, you’ll know intuitively when to snap the shutter button to catch everyone in the exact right poses. Or maybe you’ll find yourself waiting for that moment when the sun comes from behind the clouds and shines a ray of light down in the perfect place to enhance your landscape. It might occur to you to adjust camera settings so you can get a nice depth of field effect whereas without that emotion, maybe you wouldn’t have thought to do something like that. The point is if you’re feeling, and if you’re in tune with your surroundings, then those thoughts and feelings may help you make conscious or unconscious decisions that help you bring those feelings to the surface in the finished print.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will is a photographer and his love of the arts have always been a part of his life. Join Will as he shares his thoughts and adventures in the art of photography.