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on Mar 12, 2010 in Friday Thoughts

Invite the Viewer In!

It’s the big day, you’ve been planning it for what seems like months. You’ve got the house all spruced up so the first impressions are as good as they can be. You’ve laid in plenty of drinks of all flavors and types. You’ve labored over the menu for months and then went out and bought only the best ingredients. Then you slaved in the kitchen for days to assemble all those ingredients to what has to be the best tasting goodies imaginable. You get all the goodies arranged and set on the table. You make sure the last minute preparations are done, flowers here, napkins there, it’s a thing of beauty. The clock reaches the magic hour and you wait by the door. But no one comes, not a single car pulls up. After all of that, you forgot to send out the invitations!


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The summer thunderstorm season is fast approaching. You’ve always wanted to get out to the southwest to get that photo you saw of red rocks, massive gray clouds and the drama that comes from that light. You’ve just bought that brand new camera body and knowing you’re going on this trip, you buy that lens you’ve always wanted and now have the perfect excuse to buy it. You see that Split Grad Filter at the store that Moose tells you you need in your camera bag. You buy that too. The week prior to leaving you get all your gear out, cleaned, arranged and ready to pack. The car is serviced, software updated, hard drives cleaned off, it’s time to go. You make the drive, you get in the right place, the new camera and lens perform perfectly and you make the click. You get in the computer and take great care to finish the photo. You bought only the best ingredients, you assembled with great care and then you share your photo, but no one gets it. You forgot to send out the invitation!


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“What’s this photographic invitation I am  talking about?” That question has to be going through you mind. You’ve never read any book talking about an invite, there are no articles proclaiming an invite secret. So what just the hell am I speaking of? It’s one of the elements that isn’t spoken of, it’s just known by those who have found it and understand how to incorporate it. You probably have experienced what I just mentioned, the planning of the perfect trip, having the perfect gear making the perfect click with the perfect finishing in post only to have the viewers of your photograph not moved, not effected, to have it pull no heart strings. That’s because you didn’t invite the viewer to get involved in all that you did to make the photo happen, you didn’t invite them into the moment.


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If there is one thing I truly believe about photography as a whole is, the photograph has to grab heart strings to be truly successful. The last thing the world needs is another technically perfect photograph. What it needs are more photographs with passion. And it’s that passion that is the opening of the invitation of the viewer into your photograph.  That’s the one element there is no recipe for, no step by step directions for inserting the magical ingredients into your photos. Have you ever looked at wedding invitations? There are thousands upon thousands of styles of them with a variety of verbage and paper and thoughts and sayings and, and, and…there is no one invitation that fits all. Photography is no different.


There is no difference in photography which is why you probably have never heard of it. You have to have the camera body and lens, the f/stop and shutter speed and light, but how do you assemble these pieces is totally up to you. That’s what makes the photo, yours and yours alone. Then there is the experience that comes from taking the photo, the toils and troubles, the highs and lows and the experience itself of that very moment in time and space. Then the most important ingredient, all of your life experiences that are summed up in how you experience that moment you go click. Your life experiences are a very important part of the photograph, one that is often overlooked. But this is still not enough to invite the viewer into your photograph.


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What’s the invite you ask? It could be a glint in the eye, a lilt of a wing, the color of a rock, the wisp of a cloud and so much more that a droplet of light brings to life and invites the viewer of the photograph into that moment in your life, the life of the subject and the life of the world. Look at all the great photographs, you will see there is something, often very small and insignificant on its own but in the context of the photograph grabs you and draws you in. It is those very subtle details that tend to be the invites, what the viewer finds special, unique or interesting enough to stop and look deeper into your photograph. It’s those little details that get past the, “Here’s a rock” impression and into the “Here’s a gem” feeling. Not to start some cliché festival, but to have the viewer feel what they are viewing is a diamond in the rough and by only taking a heartbeat or two or three, the gem will shine and the investment in time will grab more than a sense of place.


Not every photograph falls into this category, but often those are the ones you and I are probably not after taking in the first place. Since we deal more often with subjects that are heart grabbers though, this important and unspoken element is something you need to seek. What’ the major problem with this? You can’t buy it, you can’t teach it, you can’t fix it in post, it has to come from a relationship you establish with the subject even if it is fleeting one and transmit it through your click to the viewer. Can you draw the viewer’s attention to this with your camera gear and technique? You betcha! Can you finish your photograph in post so the viewer has no choice but be taken by it? Damn straight you can. But you can only get to that point when you get beyond the frustrations of what’s the best f/stop or should I shoot Canon or Nikon and open your photography up to the possibility that it transcends capturing a moment, but captures a heartbeat! You have all the makings of a great party, you can celebrate life and all its splendor with the gear in your bag, techniques in your head and tools of post. So after you assemble all of this in your photograph, don’t forget that to share it with others, you’ve gotta invite the viewer in!