You can experience life more deeply through the lens of a camera

So we went to see the Brooklyn Bridge. As a giant bridgefan, what I have to say first is squeeeeeeeeee!!

Brooklyn Bridge

I took a ton of photographs, and I got some good ones. I’ll share my favorite with you on Wednesday in a post all its own.

Brooklyn Bridge

We walked halfway to Brooklyn on the bridge before turning back. The pedestrian deck was packed and slow-moving, giving us plenty of time to take in the gorgeous bridge and the stunning views.

Brooklyn Bridge

I came away from our visit feeling like I’d spent quality time getting to know the Brooklyn Bridge — and my camera was a key part of that. I don’t completely get the people who say that we should leave our cameras at home, that photography robs us of experiences. I think I see better, enjoy the experience more, when I use my camera. And you can, too.

Brooklyn Bridge

Photographer Dorothea Lange said, “A camera is a tool for learning to see without a camera.” Framing a pleasing shot helps us look at things in ways we might not have otherwise. And the more we do that, the more we naturally see those things. I know my years of photographing things has taught me to notice details I otherwise would have missed. Like this lamp. I know I would have never noticed it before.

Brooklyn Bridge

Don’t just glue a camera to your face and snap away at whatever. Don’t be so focused on photography that you fail to enjoy your people and the event. But do take a photo when it clarifies what you’re seeing.  In this way, using your camera can enhance your experience.

Start by being there, as fully present as you can manage. We walked across smelling the air, taking in the view and the bridge itself, and dodging the others crossing. We talked to each other about the experience and what we were seeing. All of these things kept us in the present moment.

Brooklyn Bridge

Take a camera that feels natural to you. I love my Canon PowerShot S95 so much. It fits into my jeans pocket, it’s got a fast and capable lens, it handles easily, and I’ve shot it for years and know it well. I also love my 35mm SLRs and all the wonderful lenses that go with them — but they are heavy and challenging to carry. And futzing with settings and lenses would have taken my time and attention away from the experience. But maybe an SLR works for you.

Brooklyn Bridge

Shoot thoughtfully. This is really the crux of it all. I love Ken Rockwell’s surprising mnemonic that helps you create stronger photographs: FART. Go read his article about it to learn what the letters mean. But basically, when you get the feeling to shoot something, first ask yourself what about the subject makes you want to photograph it. “It’s never about the obvious subject,” Rockwell says. “It’s always something more basic and subconscious that draws us to want to make a picture of something.” When you know what that is, you can compose your shots to bring that out. And then you truly see it.

Brooklyn Bridge

Most of my Brooklyn Bridge shots focused on geometric shapes — the famous gothic arches in its two towers, the rectangles and triangles created by the steel girders of its vehicle deck, and the many shapes created by the thick wires that hold the deck up. And through exploring those shapes, I easily came upon all the symmetry inherent in the bridge. The OCD part of me just loves symmetry!

Through that deliberate focus, I saw these shapes and that symmetry more clearly, more deeply, than I would have if I had walked the bridge without my camera. For me now, the bridge is about geometric shapes and symmetry.

And as I keep practicing my photography, one day I hope to fulfill Dorothea Lange’s quote: I won’t need my camera to see things that well.

Canon PowerShot S95, shot raw, processed in Photoshop.


4 responses to “You can experience life more deeply through the lens of a camera”

  1. hmunro Avatar

    SUPERB post, Jim! After years of agonizing about whether my photo habit was detracting from my enjoyment of travel, I came to the exact same conclusion you have: It has actually *enhanced* my trips. Like you, I’ve found myself noticing details I would otherwise have walked past — and I’ve found myself chatting with more of the locals, too. Plus, photos can be like a little time capsule that captures so much more than just the image. One of the most rewarding things for me is to be able to look back, years later, and remember how I felt in the instant I pressed that shutter button. I suspect your wonderful images of the Brooklyn Bridge will do that for you, too.

    As for Ken Rockwell’s FART method … it’s snicker-worthy hilarious, but also spot-on. Thank you for sharing that and turning me into another one of the legions of photographers who FART before they shoot!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you Heather! I’m glad you mentioned how you can remember how you felt at the instant you took a photo. That’s another benefit!

  2. Sam Avatar

    My favorite bridge in the world. Excellent shots Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam! It’s a wonderful bridge.

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