You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. ~ Mark Twain
Ian's #8 -- I have been photographing along the same stretch of creek with LF since 1979.
These two scenarios are (forgive the pun) the focus of what I do in the field whether or not I have a camera. I don't fret over numbers 3 and 4. Regarding number 2: There are times when tools I have aren't right for the scene, but I set up anyway and make a serious attempt to stretch the limits of the possible. If I can't make it work, I know that I have learned something.1. Pleasing compositions possible w/ my tools.
2. Pleasing compositions not possible w/ my tools.
Like others, Ian's #8 rings true for me, as well. I've been photographing a particular stretch Deadman's Creek and it's canyon in the Sonora Pass country since the mid-seventies. There is always something new to discover, either subject matter wise, or in the conditions of weather and light.
When I do get that, “There’s no shot around here – time to head home.” feeling, I try to think outside the box; freeing my imagination to see the possibilites, rather than obstacles. Sometimes, just sitting on a log, or on a rock, and feeling all the good things going on around me gives me the impetus to hang around, while keeping my eyes open.
"If you want nice fresh oats, you have to pay a fair price. If you can be satisfied with oats that have already been through the horse; that comes a little cheaper."
There are good replies to this thread, as we probably all have had similar experiences.
I am not a fan of quoting photographers, however, for this thread I think a couple of them made comments appropriate to the topic, not specifically addressing the landscape:
"I'm always mentally photographing everything as practice."
"Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar things, waiting only to be perceived".
The latter qoute I am particularly fond of as I contemplate a book of my work.
I don't believe you can 'force' images, but I do believe you can persevere in a relaxed and open state that leaves you receptive to seeing. I think the two are fundamentally different. As a result, while one may be able to spend some time in an area, exploring that openness and trying to 'connect', there is no guarantee that it will happen sufficiently that you will be able to make a photograph you feel worthwhile.
I understand the musical analogy of practice, but in most cases that is a process of (to use AA speak) performing someone else's musical score i.e. more analogous to practicing your printing. Creating the original photograph is therefore analogous to composition, or to writing, where writers block, or simply fallow periods, are to be expected. I am not sure you can just smash through, but perhaps walk away, let go, and come back with a fresh mind. After a few days off, the words flow. After leaving a scene and coming back the next day, images may leap out out you, because you have changed. Heck, it sometimes happens when you turn around, or kneel down to pick up your bag!
I think it is magic, quite frankly. I might be able to explain what happened when I made some of my strongest images, but I would never be able to describe to someone else how to 'make such images happen' because this would suggest that we can construct great images from a cold start and I do not believe that is the case. I believe there is a 'flow' that is central to the process and over which we have little ability to force. The only forcing I do is to stop myself trying to overwork or force things, but instead to relax and try to achieve that 'flow.' If that means stopping everything and walking away, so be it.
As someone said earlier about cycling about with a Holga, I agree. I do the same with a lot of my photography, but in such cases the photograph is a response to an experience or seeing something and so is not forced, from the outset, as an act of photography. You are by definition (in the Holga, bicycle example) constantly moving, so not forcing anything, but being open to things you may see. The LF example here would involve seeing and interesting subject and getting off your bike and 'making it happen.'
I think exercise is useful in terms of familiarity with kit and one's patter (for street/documentary work, for example) but sometimes when I do this I know I am not creating strong images, but I am immersing myself into a state (or trying to) in which I might.
I believe it's all in our heads and the day we can reliably make photos happen at will, every time, there will have no mysteries left, or interest in the photographs we have created. The contrary position is that sometimes we must let go and head for home.
Often when I'm out with my camera I see the image subconsciously before I see it knowingly. I stop and backtrack to where I got the subconscious signal and start to try to locate the image.
I cannot do this if I'm trying too hard.
I've got a scenery I want to photograph, somewhere on my half hour drive to work. It's a flat land with some treelines and rural road. Nothing spectacular, but it practically screams for a nice clowdy sky. I haven't had a chance to take a decent picture. I've setup my (small format) camera maybe ones or twice in half a year, but never up to the point of actually taking the shot. It's kind of frustrating but that's part of the game, I think. You just have to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment.
Part of shooting nature photos is the waiting game. Waiting for the right moment. But what is the "right" moment? Do you want to make the same image as they are in your mind? With the right amount of clouds, perfect light, sun at a certain height? Or do you make pictures from a decent (but not perfect) condition and see how it turns out?
(I’ve noticed that in many healthy threads, it’s usually the posts in the 30’s that serve as its heart and mind. The posts that come before are still maturing; those that follow begin attracting the cynics & wayfarers. A quick Thanks to the thoughtful posts immediately above. Maybe we can print, frame, and display this uncommonly wise series in the Lounge.)
This thread reminds me how different the practice of photography can be, even for sub-groups of B&W LF photographers. At my most passive, I watch for a *composition and shift my perspective as my subject interacts with light and space, and in more active practice I nudge the composition a bit, as I tend to do in the "studio", orienting the camera, subject, background, and lights. This seems far removed from driving around, or hiking around looking for views to photograph, but I do overlap with this practice. Sometimes I need to expose some film for a test, or I just feel like making some photos, so I'll grab a camera and head out for a walk. I usually, but not always have a route in mind, and some secondary purpose, like getting a cup of coffee, or stopping by Glazer's. En route, I'm in visual overdrive. With a film camera, my goal is to use the film I've loaded before returning home, which is rarely a problem. A digital camera is another matter entirely, and I find myself "shifting gears". If I take the time to see what's around me, and make a composition of everything interesting, I don't make much headway, and I become kind of visually saturated, and need to walk a little. I think walking gets the blood flowing and resets visual perception to a slightly different mode of operation -- eyes on path, scanning, predicting, evaluating -- but then that path crosses something visually interesting (or my brain has had time to reset and notice interesting things more readily), and before I know it, my path has become a ramble again, and I'm working, composing, calculating, extrapolating, etc. And so that's how my walks go, in fits and starts of visual perception and calculation, most often in the context of the equipment on hand and my goals for the materials. If I'm carrying a pinhole camera, I'm looking for ways to exploit that particular set of advantages while accommodating the set of limitations, and the same goes if I'm shooting color, very slow film, panoramic format, view camera, etc., etc.
I think this ability of the brain to adapt to a mode of visual perception based on a set of imposed conditions is fascinating.
* I'm not sure I'm conscious of looking for a composition in the moment, or if it's more vague and moody, and I just click the shutter when it feels right.