ANNOUNCEMENT: Please Join us in Hanoi This Fall!

Our Fall 2022 X-Peditions travel photography workshops, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, have opened for enrollment.
There are currently 4 spots remaining between the two sessions. Full details at our Fall 2022 program page.

Project: Taryn Simon's Secret Sites

As much time as we spend on lighting around here, it is easy to forget that flash and other technical aspects comprise only a small part of what photography is really about. To grow as a photographer it helps to be mindful of the whole process.

Photographer Taryn Simon sums the balance up pretty well in the first line of her TED Talk, on photographing secret sites in the US:

"Ninety percent of my photographic process is, in fact, not photographic. It involves a campaign of letter writing, research and phone calls to access my subjects which can range from Hamas leaders in Gaza to a hibernating black bear in its cave in West Virginia."

Sounds boring, right? Until you see where the phone calls and letters lead her...

Ed Note: Some people may find a couple of the photos a little strong. There is a body on a decomposition farm, and one photo with implied surgery. Neither are close ups, but still wanted to give notice.

I found this presentation to be very powerful and have watched it several times. As individual images, her photos are simple and technically beautiful. But seen together, the series is much more thought provoking.

Narrative like this doesn't just happen. It comes over the long term as a result of someone being a thinking photographer. The concept of a "thinking photographer" I learned from my friend Chris Usher as an intern at The Orlando Sentinel in the 1980s, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Actually, the phrase "thinking photographer" should be considered redundant. To be a good photographer, you have to be thinking all of the time. The magic, the chase, the great puzzle—the aforementioned ninety percent—is what happens before you press the shutter.

Keep in in perspective. Learning lighting is cool and fun. But the very best way to facilitate tremendous growth in your photography is to commit some time, energy and extended thought to a good project. Without exception, every good photographer I know uses projects as a way to shape and amplify their work. You should, too.

The summer is a great time to incubate a project. The days are longer, so you have extra light in the evening to work with if your 9-to-5 days are otherwise taken.

You never know where it will lead you. And once started, you'll soon find that a good project creates its own new opportunities and experiences.

I imagine (or, would at least hope) that there are some cool summer projects percolating amongst the readers of this post. If you care to share, hit us in the comments...

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