What is Emotional Communication and Photographic Excellence?…

 

This is the question Kristian Bogner asked me, and it caught me off guard.  Surprisingly, I hadn’t really thought about photographic excellence before.  As I tipped my head I looked down at my knees for a bit.  A felt a calmness begin to flow over me.  I could feel that I was about to take a large step in my artistic growth.  I felt myself opening up and started thinking deeply into the meaning of his question.  

As I opened myself up farther emotionally I started to concurrently practice a bit of internal reflection.  The path towards realizing what emotional communication in landscape photography was going to mean to me began to reveal itself.  I tempered my growing excitement out of concern that I could miss out of the subtleties of the important lesson I knew I was about to receive on emotional communication.  I wanted to see it all though clear and undistorted glasses.  Remaining objective, observant and disciplined was important.  

I prepared myself like a sponge.  I wanted to be ready to soak up every last little bit of truth that I was about to realize.

A vertical pan blur photograph of a burnt forest in winter. I developed the vertical pan blur technique for landscape photography after being inspired after reading about Freeman Patterson’s wind motion blur and multiple exposure photographs the © 2001 book he co-wrote with Andres Gallant, Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image.  (Photo © www.brianmerry.ca)

Personal reflection

My thoughts defaulted to the technical side of photography at first.  The landscape photography journey for me started out in 1989 as a serious amateur.  I haven’t really looked back and have since branched out to add many different styles of photography to my repertoire.  My thoughts also drifted through the years of struggling through my own self directed photographic experiments.  I stumbled gleefully through the trial and error learning picking up the fundamentals of exposure and flash photography, refining my technical skill along the way. 

I thought about the circular polarizer and a 2 and 3 stop graduated neutral density filters that I used to use back then.  The colour intensifying filters like the sig-ray golden’ blue polarizer and the cokin blue/yellow polarizer were frequently in front of my camera lens 15 years ago.  I used to use these colour intensifying filters when I shot with Fujichrome Velvia film.

What about having Great Gear and near perfect technique?

I thought about HDR and my raw workflow through Digital Professional Photographer (for canon users), Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I thought about my decades long financial journey from my “el cheapo” kit lens to the pro set of lens that I use today.  Having Great gear does help to produce good photography.  I thought about the long road I took moving up through the lens quality scale towards eventually owning the best set of Nikon lens, the Nikon trilogy set of lens.  Then, after switching to Canon I started using the best lens in the Canon line up too.  

I also thought about how digital sensors and camera bodies have evolved over the years.  I started out shooting digitally with a Nikon D1, 2.74 MP Pro DSLR.  Now I use the beautiful 30 MP Canon 5D mark IV.  BTW, that Nikon D1 cost me about $5000 in ~2002, 15 years ago.  That was a lot of cash to pay to buy the best pro DSLR on the market at the time.  Now my Canon 5D mark IV cost less than that, 15 years later!

  “Hummm,… But all that cool equipment is just, well,… stuff!  The equipment is not Who You ARE or How You FEEL.”

The artistic side of photography

After a while I realized that having great gear and becoming technically proficient isn’t photographic excellence.  It is necessary to become technically proficient with your gear so you don’t think about it when you use it.  However, there is something more needed to achieve “Excellence” in landscape photography.  Remember the saying, “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer”, right?  Having the best photography gear on the market helps, but it doesn’t make you a Great photographer.  Just like buying the best woodworking tools or oil painting brushes and paints available doesn’t make you a master wood-carver or celebrated painter either.

 

I felt my way through the process towards digitally creating an Infrared interpretation of an RGB image. There were no examples or blog posts to learn this technique from.  I simply looked at my RGB image and interpreted through the Infrared Spectrum.  Now, six years later, I see this technique popping up all around the World.   That’s six years after I created this photograph.  © www.brianmerry.ca

After a while I could feel my perception broadening.  I could feel the muscles in my face relaxing as I began to completely understand and open up about how I truly felt about his question.  How did I REALLY FEEL about my answer to his evocative question?  Then, the true meaning of emotional communication came to me like I’d known the answer for decades already.

 

And,… the breakthrough, Intentional Emotional Communication!

To 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 our 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 an uninterrupted extension of my own personal expression through pure, RAW emotional communication.

 

To me, this is photographic excellence and this is what I set out to do every time I pick up the camera.

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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