Winter Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite

The Yin and Yang of Photography

Conducting photo workshops gives me unique insight into what inhibits aspiring nature photographers, and what propels them. The vast majority of photographers attending my photo workshops, from beginner to professional, approach their craft with a strong analytical or strong intuitive bias—one side or the other is strong, but rarely both. And rather than simply getting out of the way, the underutilized (notice I didn’t say “weaker”) side usually wants to battle its dominant counterpart.

On the other hand, the photographers who consistently amaze with their beautiful, creative images seem to have negotiated a balance between their conflicting mental camps. They’re able to analyze and execute the plan-and-setup stage of a shoot, control their camera settings, then seamlessly relinquish command to their aesthetic instincts when the time to click arrives. The product of this mental détente is creative synergy.

At the beginning of a photo workshop I try to identify where my photographers fall on the analytical/intuitive spectrum and nurture their undeveloped side. When I hear, “I have a good eye for composition, but…,” I know instantly that I’ll need to convince this photographer that he’s smarter than his camera (he is). Our time in the field will be spent demystifying and simplifying metering, exposure, and depth management until it’s an ally rather than a distracting source of frustration. Fortunately, while much of the available photography education is technical enough to intimidate Einstein, the foundation for mastering photography’s technical side is ridiculously simple.

Conversely, before the sentence that begins, “I know my camera inside and out, but…,” is out of her mouth, I know I’ll need to foster this photographer’s curiosity, encourage experimentation, and help her purge the rules that constrain her. We’ll think in terms of whether the scene feels right, and work on what-if camera games (“What happens if I do this”) that break rules and prove that there are no consequences to anything that's less than perfect. Success won’t require a brain transplant, she’ll just need to learn to value and trust her instincts.

Technical proficiency provides the ability to control photography variables beyond mere composition: light, motion, and depth. Intuition is the key to breaking the rules that inhibit creativity. In conflict these qualities are mutual anchors, but in concert they’re the yin and yang of photography. ©Gary M. Hart

Winter Reflection, El Capitan, Yosemite ©Gary M. Hart

Join Gary in a photo workshop in Yosemite, Maui, Hawaii's Big Island, Death Valley, California's Eastern Sierra, or the Grand Canyon. Not only will you return with great images, you'll be become a better photographer. And you'll have lots of fun.

See Gary's latest images, read his thoughts on photography and nature, and improve your photo skills on his Eloquent Nature blog

Galleries

The Big Picture

The Big Picture

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THE BIG PICTURE

Sweeping panoramas and grand vistas.

Sand and Surf

Sand and Surf

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SAND AND SURF

The always dramatic collision of land and sea.

Things That Bloom

Things That Bloom

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THINGS THAT BLOOM

Intimate portraits of colorful flowers and spring blooms in their natural setting.

Color and Light

Color and Light

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COLOR AND LIGHT

Vivid scenes bathed in natural light and color.

Moon and Stars

Moon and Stars

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MOON AND STARS

Landscapes and landmarks beneath a glowing lunar disk, delicate crescent, or sparkling night sky.

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