Editor’s Note: This was originally published in 2018. Karen’s latest KelbyOne course, The Complete Guide to Fall Photography, was just released, so be sure to check it out!
Love and awe.
Two of my favorite concepts in all of art and Life itself.
Oh, also pithy. I freakin’ love that word. It means: “a language or style that is concise and forcefully expressive.” Yeah, pithy is cool. And fun to say!
Scott Kelby… thank you for providing a place for all three of my favorite things to thrive in uncountable ways. And I don’t just mean for me – I mean for everyone who loves photography and learning. You are indeed a force of nature for Good.
BTW… I still get such positive comments about this episode of “The Chat” (a show I self-produced a few years ago, just for fun), from all the way back in 2014, I wanted to re-share it here. It was a revelation…
Which brings us in perfect full-circle manner back to Love and Awe; two of the most powerful creative forces in the universe.
Photography is Love Made Visible
That’s a statement, isn’t it? I could also say that “Art” is love made visible. Or creativity, period – if it results in something that is actually visible.
In my opinion, if you want to take a beautiful, defining image that speaks from your soul, you have to fall in love with it. Madly, truly, deeply in love.
A picture is a poem without words. -Horace
People sometimes think I’m a little “woo-woo” about all this. They (mistakenly) think I don’t focus on the technical aspects of photography.
At a certain point in my life, I got busy and focused so MUCH on the technical aspects of my photography that it simply doesn’t lead the show anymore. Sufficiently internalized, technique becomes like muscle memory in photography, just as it does in sports. It’s just there, like a car with a full tank of gas, engine humming, waiting to see where to next. Which, in turn, frees you to focus upon the feeling, vision or the message of your art. I call it: Technique in Service of Vision.
Of course, if a new technique were to present itself that I really wanted to master, then I’d get busy! I’d practice it, repeat it, over and over, till it was embedded into my nervous system, so that I could speak fluently in its language without thinking about it. Only then could I spontaneously create with it.
Mastering technique so you can go do cool stuff with it was basic to every sport and artistic discipline I’ve done to a high level, whether it was acting, singing, figure skating, equestrian sports, downhill skiing, voiceovers. I’m a great believer in “technique will set you free” in most disciplines. But only if it’s set into its proper place; which is “in service of” performing said discipline in a signature fashion – and not as an end unto itself.
Here’s how I see it…
- The camera and lens(es) you have ought to inspire you with new ideas, not demand that you conform to its way of thinking. For instance: if you hate menu-diving, don’t choose a camera that forces you to do that, no matter how popular it is.
- Settings are made to be broken! Learn which settings allow you bend light YOUR way. For instance: love to smooth the water, but prefer a bit of thready texture in it? Learn how many seconds of exposure creates that effect, under which light conditions and with which filters so you can have just the way you want it every time, quickly and without fuss. Task yourself to go out and spend a day around bodies of water (oceans, lakes, rivers, puddles, streams, fountains, etc.) and practice this until you figure it out. Then do drills under as many varying circumstances as you can find until it’s second nature. I had a ski coach once who said “You can call yourself a good skier when you can ski down any part of this mountain anytime, under any conditions. You don’t have to do it fast, you just have to be able to do it – anytime, anywhere.” I approach photography in the same way, because only then will technique sit in the background, ready to be of service and not tug at your attention like a needy kid. Only then will your mind be free to create.
- Frame the elements and relationships – no more, no less – that contain the feeling you want to get across in its entirety. I’m talking composition, of course. Keep asking yourself “What is it about this frame do I love so much?” “Why?” “Where’s the story?” and move around, close in, pull back, push yourself to get so specific until you’ve honed in precisely on what it is that’s filling you with a sense of awe. Only then press the shutter!
Learn your craft, do your homework and pretty soon, you’ll be free to fall in love and feel awestruck about your subject – and create a visual poem about it.
That’s when your images will finally become the story that only you can tell – and that the world is waiting breathlessly to hear.
It’s the ultimate blend of technical, feeling and experiential – all wrapped up into one split-second moment of time where you press the shutter and capture a moment that moves your soul.
I lead a series of retreats and adventures I call “The Artist’s Voice”, that go way into this process. And it IS a process! I’ve been doing it my whole life over several different disciplines and I’m still learning. It’ll never stop. As I change as a person, so do the stories and feelings I want to share.
The Power of Awe
As photographers, we all know the feeling Awe. Incredible sunrises, sunsets – and dramatic weather… the perfect moment captured on the streets… a newborn baby… any of these can be absolutely spiritual and awe-inspiring.
Studies have now been done to quantify the utterly transformative power that Awe has on us. We are hard-wired for it and are at our absolute best when we’re infused with wonder and awe – large or small – on a daily basis. Art becomes a transcendent medium when it moves people in that direction.
Some researchers have described awe as “that sense of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.” In those moments, we lose that tired, boring sense of self-importance. Instead, we tend feel more at peace, kinder, more creative and big-thinking (vs. small-minded).
The cool thing is that you don’t have to seek out ever-larger events like some adrenaline junkie to experience wonder and awe; you can find it in everyday, simple ways. It takes focus, desire, willingness to see it. And practice, practice, practice to capture it.
Learning to look through the lens of wonder and awe is both a technique and a discipline. It’s one that opens you up to so much more. It’s how the voice of your soul can finally be heard. It’s how you unleash the creative flow into your mind’s eye – your camera, and the lens through which you see life itself. It’s how you flip technique around to where it serves you – not the other way around.
I think most photographers forget this.
And it keeps them in bondage to the “Am I doing it right?” monster, which – as many of us know too well – leads to self-doubt, second guessing ourselves and feeling generally not creative and frankly, feeling kinda crappy about ourselves.
It’s time to STOP THE MADNESS!!
Love and awe.
Two of my favorite concepts.
Because they will set you – and the creative force that is your birthright – free.
What’s Your Story?
Why does any of this matter, in the grand scheme of things? Because every day, we create our reality selection through the choices we make. How we choose to see things, what we choose to focus upon, the stories we tell ourselves and others about our life experience. Our desires, creations and the way we choose to feel ALL become part of our “book of life.”
At this point in my own life, I’m much more interested in building a world full of people, feelings and experiences that I love. Ones that make me happy, fill me with awe and think better thoughts. And that I can talk about with pithiness. Did I mention how much I love that word?
You know that old saying “Thoughts become things”? I’ve learned for sure that it’s true, every word.
Every day we are giving the opportunity to look through the lens of more beauty, love, joy and happiness into our life. And to notice what some might call “the mundane” in delightful and unusual ways. Talk about seeing photographically!
A Primer for Practice
Wondering how to put all of this into practice? I thought you’d never ask. I’d suggest experimenting with something like this:
- Slow down. Slow your breath, your mind, even your steps. Heck, try putting your camera down for a minute!
- Feel. “Feel what?” I hear you ask. Oh – just feel. Feel your breath, the air, the light, your heartbeat. Just feel – both emotionally and physically. What do you feel in your legs? Your gut? Your throat? These are not things photographers normally think about, but they are the beginnings of putting yourself into the present moment. Which is where life (and art) actually happen.
- Ask yourself “Why?” A lot. “Why does this scene move me?” “What could I tell (show) someone about it – specifically – that would let them feel it too?” “What do I love so much about this?” Keep asking yourself these questions – and sense your responses – until you’re moved to pick up your camera. Hint: Don’t pick up that camera until you can’t NOT do it.
- Frame the shot by feel. Leave out any element that doesn’t contribute to the story. Then, like a geiger counter, sense when you get an “Aha!” response in your body. It might be a gasp, your heart might leap, you might get butterflies – some physical response will tip you off.
- Only then press the shutter. Y’know. When Awe calls.
I lead photography retreats and other photo adventures all about finding your artistic voice in photography and the power of awe. Lake Tahoe is coming up in October, 2018, and I would love for you to join me!
If all this intrigues you, check out my KelbyOne courses (a brand new one is out now!).
I love sharing my current obsessions with friends and subscribers. This week it’s this mini washing machine, which rocks the clean in tiny homes and apartments. I’ve been using one, as we’ve been going through a home renovation. It’s awesome! Now I’m trying to figure out how to bring it with me when I hit the road for some extended trips with my truck ‘n travel trailer next year. ;)
Karen Hutton is an International Landscape and Travel Photographer. 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.
She has been featured internationally by Fujifilm, presented at Photographer Talks at Google, created online courses for KelbyOne, has been translated into multiple languages and speaks all over the country about photography and inspiration.
Her adoring fans + customers have called her “Pure JOY, LIGHT & absolute FUN!”, “An inspirational gem” and “Incredibly artistic. Captivatingly genius. World class!”
Guilty pleasures? When she’s not traveling the world, you can find her watching epic movie trailers, crunching popcorn at the latest Marvel Comics blockbuster and sipping Bulletproof coffee, wondering if anyone realizes she’s basically drinking butter.
Discover the soul-vibrancy of your photographic artistic voice at KarenHutton.com and The Artists Voice Adventures, and keep up with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.