What is Emotional Communication

and  Photographic Excellence

in Landscape Photography?

 

Emotional communication through a digital RGB to Infrared digital conversion

When I created this photograph 5 years ago I felt my way through the process to create an Infrared interpretation of an RGB image. I now see this technique is starting to pop up in different places around the World,  six years after I created this photograph. © www.brianmerry.ca

 

Photography workshops are great to help you to find new ways to photographically express yourself.  I try to tak one somewhere in the World every couple of years.  Usually I take a workshop from a leading photographer who I think has some teaching ability.  That last point is an important one.  Not all leading photographers with huge social media followings have a teaching background and can teach.  So, I do my research before committing to a workshop.

A great workshop close to my home in Banff!

A few years ago I saw that a local photographer in the Canadian Rockies was hosting a weekend workshop at his home. Kristian Bogner was teaching one of his “Photographic Rock Star” workshops.  He’s a Nikon ambassador so I attended even though I’m primarily a landscape photographer.  A venue in someone’s home is not usually something that I go for.  But, the registration wasn’t expensive at just under $1000 CDN for the 2 day, 14 hour event, so I took a chance and went.  I think it’s a good to develop completely as a photographer so I have lots of different skills to choose from when I set out to express myself.  I thought that I would be able to learn something from him.  And, I did.

One of the most important things that I got out of the workshop occured during an exercise on emotion exploration.  He asked the class a simply question.  Then he gave us a few minutes to think about our answer and write it down.  The question that he asked kind of caught me off guard.   The simply question that he asked was:

“What is Photographic Excellence?”

I tipped my head and looked down at my knees for a bit while doing my best to calm myself.  I opened up emotionally and practiced a bit of internal reflection.

My thoughts defaulted to the technical side of photography at first.  Way back in  1989 I started in landscape photography as a serious amateur, and haven’t really looked back since.  I remembered struggling through the years of trial and error experiments.  Learning the fundamentals of the exposure triangle, flash photography and refining my technical skill helped me to become a better photographer, technically.  I thought about the 3 core filters for landscape photography that I used then, the circular polarizer and a 2 and 3 stop graduated neutral density filter.  But, these didn’t give me an answer to his question either. 

I thought about the colour intensifying filters like the sign-ray golden’ blue polarizer and the cokin blue/yellow polarizer.  But the camera gear that I owned and used couldn’t provide me with a complete answer to his question.

Is editing the path to Photographic Excellence?

I thought about HDR and my raw workflow through Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I thought about working my way up in lens quality to the professional core collection that I now carry standard in my backpack.  I’ve also added a few other key speciality lens, two full frame camera bodies and a pro cropped sensor body to round out my pro kit.

Briefly considering my editing workflow gave me a bit of insight into my answer to his inquisitive question.  I thought about the in camera editing that I do before I shoot with Canon’s custom picture styles.  Then I thought about my workflow to import the images and then how I edited them using a somewhat standard workflow.  I pay close attention to contrast control and colour theory as I work through my editing process in an effort to send a clear emotional message through my photographs to my viewers.

After a while I realized that becoming technically proficient in photography and owning good gear isn’t photographic excellence at all.  I think that being a skilled craftsman with top quality tools for the trade is a prerequisite for photographic excellence.  It is fundamentally necessary to become technically proficient with your gear so that you don’t think it about anymore.   I felt that this was part of the answer, but wasn’t a direct or complete answer.  We’ve all heard of the popular saying,

“It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.”

Breaking through to the next level:

After a while I could feel my emotional perception broadening.  I felt the muscles in my face relaxing.  I began to open up emotionally and dreamt about how I truly felt about his question.  Then it came to me like I’d known the answer for years but never before consciously realized it.  Emotional communication was the answer to obtaining photographic excellence.

Emotional Communication defined:

For me, photographic excellence means becoming fluent with the connection between the technical aspects of photography and our deep emotional reaction to all beautiful things so that pure, raw emotion can be captured in the camera, cared for in the editing process and communicated through the photograph later with ease to the viewer as a pure and uninterrupted extension of our personal expression through pure emotional communication.

 

For me, this is photographic excellence and this is what I set out to do every time I pick up the camera, teach a workshop or lead a tour.

 

Never. Stop. Learning.

I'm a professional photographer and recreational climber based in Banff, AB. I'm married and run my photography business with my beautiful wife, Kazue. Together we organize and lead travel and landscape photography workshops and tours in both of our homes where we grew up, Cape Breton and Japan. We also lead tours based in my hometown for the past 20 years, Banff, AB. We have been lucky to live, and now work, in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

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