PHOTOGRAPHY & SOFT FASCINATION, Or…
How to unleash your inner JamesEarlFrickinJones-itude
You can just never go wrong photographing what you love, the way you love, in light that you love, telling a story you love.
Why is that?
It’s because when you tell a story (visual or otherwise) about what you love without holding back, resistance melts away. You can’t help but communicate from a deeper truth and authenticity. No apologies, no excuses. And in that beautiful, loving, quantum way in which creation works – that voice, that particular brushstroke, in turn becomes the “secret sauce” which embeds itself into the pixels of your image as a photographer. But you can’t fake it. And you can’t hold back.
I know this from many perspectives… among them, being a voiceover professional. My finest mentor taught me this idea a bit differently; from the perspective of finding your “celebrity voice” – or signature voice, as she called it. Her point: when a director hires a celebrity voice, they’re hiring the particular vocal signature of that person. It’s more than a sound, it’s a presence.
Case in point: when you book James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) you know what you’re getting. Jones’ voice is his and his alone. It’s unique, unmistakable; and has a particular presence + definable effect on everyone who hears it. When Jones uses his voice to endorse your product, or bring your character to life… it’s going to have the James Earl Jones “touch.” It’s a mighty bankable touch; and if you’re a smart director, you wouldn’t dream of changing it. (not all directors are smart, BTW… but that’s a story for another day).
James Earl Jones didn’t get where he is by accident. Sure, he was born with his voice. (As were you, BTW.) But he went way beyond that initial endowment. He didn’t simply work hard, following others’ examples, fulfilling somebody else’s advice about what he should do – or sound like. Nope, somewhere along the line he OWNED who he is, his sound and his “touch” in no uncertain terms. He claimed his perspective, honed his point of view, his IS-ness – and learned to inhabit that voice with zero apologies. And in doing so, became JamesEarlFrickinJones.
Photography? Same Thing.
Now overlay that notion onto photography. Signature voice in photography is “unique, unmistakable, not duplicatable and has a definable effect on everyone” who sees & experiences it. It’s your “touch”, your perspective and presence, embedded into the pixels of your every image.
Getting there is no accident. It’s something you own in no uncertain terms, just like JamesEarlFrickinJones. And here’s the part most people find so challenging: it takes ALOT of work and discipline to get there (half the room clears out. That’s OK… this isn’t for everyone.).
Mind you, it’s mostly FUN work… and definitely rewarding. But the focus, diligence, curiosity, courage, desire and stick-to-it-iveness this takes can’t be overstated. “Oh, you’re just talented and I’m not” is such an easy way out. My eyes are rolling, just writing it. Some of the talented among us are savants, gilded from the get-go… but most work their collective butts off, taking chances, experimenting, failing and persevering while others around them nap blissfully.
So let’s talk about a couple things you can do TODAY to not be a napper… but instead, to unleash your own inner JamesEarlFrickinJones. Starting with focus…
FOCUSING. WHICH KIND? SPECIFICALLY SPEAKING.
The importance of being specific in your choices can simply not be overstated. In a world of wandering generalities and flabby thinking, it seems blasphemous! But here’s the thing: specificity is defining. It speaks to clarity of mind and discernment. Good life skills to have! How lovely that you can learn them through photography. So how can we move the needle that direction without stabbing ourselves in the eye? (so to speak.)
Some of you who know me, know that I talk about “What do you love?”. I talk about it alot. Why is that?
It’s because when it comes to connecting your heart + soul photography (key to opening up your artist’s voice), this is the quickest way to connect the dots, in very specific ways.
“Great!” you say. “Focus on what I love. Got it!”
But wait. Are you going to use hard focus? Or soft focus? There’s a difference.
“Hard focus” is directed attention. It’s what we use when we need to get a job done, make a deadline, drive our car somewhere, follow a map, etc. It has its place, for sure – but is fatiguing over time if you use it too much without rebalancing. Photographically speaking, we need this kind of focus at certain times… but it can get out of hand. Too much hard focus can be like handing you a set of blinders, narrowing what you see and notice. Kind of like the hunter mentality, where only one sort of game is in the crosshairs.
Conversely, “soft focus”, or “soft fascination” is about allowing things that gently fascinate you to draw you in. It’s alot like the experience of being in nature; restoring, energizing and rejuvenating in so many lovely ways. After all, there’s loads to be fascinated with in nature, but it doesn’t take much effort and leaves plenty of mental space for reflection. This puts soft fascination in the “forest bathing” lane of thinking. Which BTW, is another great topic to look up!
Soft focus/fascination is great when you want to rest your brain, open up more to what you love, see things you might have missed otherwise, get the juices going. You may even find that new insights surface gently, or even receive answers to pesky questions you’ve been pondering.
It’s still specific… but less fatiguing than hard focus and won’t give you a headache. If you haven’t heard of soft fascination, look it up! There’s tons of research and eye-opening findings you might just find illuminating.
Hard focus and soft focus are both useful, they’re just different mindsets, offering different results. It’s good to be clear about that, especially since each impacts seeing and creativity so dramatically.
A SCENARIO? I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK…
Right. So, if you allow it to, soft fascination will draw you, in a lovely and gentle fashion, to that which touches your heart, interests you, perks you up, makes you curious.
Maybe it’s a flower. You’re mind muses… Hmmm, what have we here? Ahhh, something about the shape, the gentle curves, the way the light spills over the petals. Lovely. Look how that changes depending upon where you stand, where you hold the camera. What does it feel like? Where does it speak? At what point does your breath catch, your heart flutter and make you gasp a little? Is it there? Or here? You get to choose… all from soft fascination, gentle focus.
The moment is nigh (waxing poetic here). Now is when you bring in settings, composition – but even those are ruled by the feels. Depending upon your experience level, you may need a moment of harder focus as you decide about things like depth of field, exposure compensation, final composition (which you feel as much as see… the goosebumps are the delivery system) , vertical or horizontal orientation, etc. And there it is. You press the shutter. Goosebumps!
Are you done yet? Well, let’s see… back to soft focus questions like “Is that all? “Is there more?” “What if I try it this way?” until there doesn’t seem to be more. Then move along, keeping your eyes soft, your breath going, being easy… and allowing your attention to be gently drawn.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU
What I’m describing is a process which uses a softer type of focus, lead by what you love, being drawn by soft fascination into very specific choices, whose very pointed selections reflect your unique, authentic and true perspective & point of view about what you find beautiful and inspiring.
Result? Your own JamesEarlFrickinJones artistic voice, saturating the pixels of your image. Hey… can I have your autograph?
This business of choosing the type of focus you’ll use – and being specific about it is HEWGE. Creative slump? Pffft! Who has time? Even if this sort of process isn’t new to you – how often do you actually do it? When was the last time you spent an hour taking it deeper than you ever have before, perhaps on something brand new? Knowing isn’t the same as doing. A wee lesson I am reminded of in my own life, quite often.
Hard focus has its place, of course. We have to concentrate that way to accomplish things sometimes. But even hard focus can become softer and not so separate and jolting. It can be more in service of flow.
Now then. What about the whole diligence, curiosity, courage, desire and stick-to-it-iveness thing I mentioned earlier? Ahhhh… those come next – and are the long-haul commitment required for that seemingly magical unicorn of high-level creativity and voice to become the only lens you ever photograph through.
It’s not for the faint of heart.
But I know you’re up for the adventure!
After all, you have a JamesEarlFrickinJones-itude.
I love that about you.
Professional Fujifilm X-Photographer Karen Hutton is a Kelbyone Instructor, Landscape and Travel Photographer, Artist, Speaker and Educator. Through stunning imagery, humor, thought-provoking ideas and a genuinely positive outlook, she inspires people to discover their artistic voice in photography — while making it all feel like an unforgettable and eye-opening adventure.