Photo by Bruce Heavin
My name is Chris Orwig, I'm a photographer, author, teacher and on the photography faculty at the Brooks Institute. Thanks for reading and let's dive in!
"A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is in a word effective."
Actress Isabel Lucas photographed at Gaviota Beach.
Penn was right, good photographs have a dynamic force that affect us and sometimes even bring about change. And the photographs that I like most, are those that help me to celebrate and savor life. These are the photos that capture fleeting moments that would have otherwise been lost. They make me feel, think, remember and thrive.
Surfer and rock climber Jeff Johnson photographed with large format camera and expired film.
You see I'm a photographer because I was once hit by a car (you can hear more about that in my TEDx talk, Finding the Magnificent in the Mundane). A few years after the incident, while I was still in bad shape, my Dad gave me a camera which changed my life. The camera helped me to shift my focus from pain to something else, and looking through the viewfinder gave me new resolve and new life. It literally helped me to heal.
Even more, the camera became a passport to go out and experience the world in a deeper and more wonderful way. And so that's why today, I'm a photographer who clings to his camera and who sees photography as a gift. It's not something I do because it’s trendy and cool, it's something I do because it renews who I am. Photography is a lifeline that deepens and enriches my life. The French photographer Marc Riboud was right, "Photography is savoring life in 1/100th of a second."
Broadway performer Jarod Mason on the NY Brooklyn Bridge.
Well that's my story, yet what is yours? Why do you make photographs and what qualities do you look for when striving to make an image that is good? Obviously, we all have different answers to those questions and we all have different taste. Yet, what unites us all is that making good photographs is something that fuels our life. We make photographs because of a passion that runs deep. So how then do we make better photographs? How do we get beyond where we are today?
Surfboard shaper Danny Hess in his San Francisco workshop.
What I've discovered, is that it's not just about the composition, gear or even how the photograph was lit. What makes it good, is that it is illuminated from within…. like true wisdom and beauty which wells up from the inside. Good photographs get beneath the surface of things and reveal more.
World champion surfer Tom Curren looks out to sea.
The art and craft of photography, it's a mix of the inside and out. Photography requires learning to see, arrange and compose the external appearances of life. Yet, often it's this side of photography that gets in the way, good photographs are about more than all of that. The best photographs help us to see what isn't even there. As photographers, we know this is true because we have experienced this first hand. Like in those moments when you hold your camera up to you eye, and its like looking through a microscope that magnifies our vision to see what otherwise would go unseen. In those moments, the camera deepens our senses, clarifies our focus so that we can capture something unique, intriguing and strong…. something that that goes beyond visual clich©.
Isabel Lucas photographed just a moment after the first image in this post. Sometimes it's the slightest changes that help make an image come to life.
Yet, this doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes our cameras work against us, like a cumbersome curtain that blocks out the light. Sometimes, inspite of our best efforts, our photographs fall short. Why is that? Just like in other forms of art, like music …. why is it that one musician can take a guitar, three chords and the truth and write a global hit? Surely, it's not about the quality of the instrument or the notes. Then what is it? What's the secret sauce? I think it's the mixture of technique (three chords) and a passion to convey what we believe and what matters most (truth).
One day I was in the front yard testing out a new camera. I looked up and saw my daughter Annika walk through the front door. I quickly asked her to pause and I captured this frame. Capturing authentic moments like this feeds my soul.
This "secret sauce recipe" isn't something new. A few thousand years ago Aristotle wrote, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." You want to take better pictures? Make photographs that are externally interesting and internally strong. And if these photographs are significant to you, there will be a greater chance that they will mean something to someone else.
World Champion surfer Kelly Slater is someone who I deeply admire and respect.
Too often we make pictures of things that don't mean anything to us at all. It's like we are afraid to fail and afraid to be ourselves so we use caution and create images that we know will be a success. Then we share these photos and all of the hits/votes/likes distract us from being original and we decide to follow the majority crowd. Yet, great art is rarely achieved by walking in the middle of the road.
Australian singer and songwriter Angus Stone creates music that honestly reflects who he is.
Great art and great photography require that we bravely challenge the status quo. And to be a great photographer, you have to tap into who you truly are. No one can compete with your uniqueness, claim that and use it as your edge. Veer from the well worn path and go out and make photographs for your self. Take a risk to create photographs that authentically reflect your vision and voice. And who cares if you fail. It's always better (and more fun) to fail while being original than to succeed at something that isn't authentically you.
Chris del Moro is a surfer and artist who is authentic through and through.
Next, come up with your own definition of what makes a photograph good. Then strive to make photographs that match your ideals. And along the way, constantly ask yourself, "What makes you come alive?" For what the world needs is photographers who are brimming full of life.
If you would like to experience this blog post in audio form, you can listen to it here or download a free audio mp3 version here.
For more about who I am and what I do check out the links below:
â— TEDx Talk
â— Framed Episode
â— Portfolio + Blog
Becoming a better photographer is a lifetime journey that never ends. Therefore I wanted to highlight a couple of ideas and learning resources that might help you along the way.
1. IGNITE + THRIVE
I am about to launch a creative inspiration resource I think you will really enjoy – it's called "IGNITE + THRIVE". This resource is series of audio programs that will help you ignite the creative spark so that you can truly thrive. Think of it like having your own creative coach.
If you're wanting to become more creative, curious and alive, click on the following link to sign up to be notified when it goes live: IgniteAndThrive.com
2. FORGE YOUR OWN PATH
There are many different ways to learn photography and grow: photo school, workshops, online courses, books, blogs, assisting other photographers and so on. If you're reading this, I assume you're already doing some of that.
Yet, don't underestimated the power of forging your own path. I love how Herman Melville put it, "A whale ship was my Harvard, my Yale." And because of that whale ship journey, Melville wrote one of the greatest pieces of literature of all time. Maybe what you really need to do is take a nontraditional path. Why not hop on a boat, go on a journey and get some more life experience under your belt?
3. LEARNING RESOURCES
Always be on the lookout for resources or workshops that are mainstream and some that are not. This will get you out of your comfort zone and help you stay sharp. On that note, it would be great to hear from you about what workshops, courses, books, etc. that have helped you in the most significant ways. Add your suggestions in the comments. To get the thread going here are a couple "off the beaten path" ideas that I recommend:
1. Celebrated photographer Rodney Smith is offering a unique workshop this spring that I am planning to attend. This one isn't cheap, but Rodney has a profound way of helping others find their voice. To learn more click here.
2. My friend and highly successful commercial photographer Erik Almas, has recently released a unique photography and photoshop training DVD – find more info here. For one of the bonus tracks on the DVD, Erik and I sat down and talked. Watch that interview for free here.
3. And of course, there are a ton of other amazing and affordable resources/workshops put out by some great people and organizations. The ones that I have on the top of my list that I want to attend are by: Jeremy Cowart, Zac Arias, Julieanne Kost, Tom Bol, Matt Kloskowski, Jeff Lipsky, Nevada Wier and David Robin… to name a few.
Thanks for reading and a huge shout of thanks to Scott and the Kelby crew for the honor of being a part of the mix – THANKS!!!
I’ve listened to a lot of your classes, big fan!
While I have done the technical training route, I am a big fan of the life experiences path to becoming a better person/visual artist. Take a risk and get on a big boat like Herman Melville. Who knows where it will take you?
i like how you pulled out that idea…. life experiences = better person + better visual artist. indeed!
Always love your writing. Great post.
Chris this is the quote that resonates the most with me. “Itâ€™s always better (and more fun) to fail while being original than to succeed at something that isnâ€™t authentically you.” The most powerful critic in this world is you and Not being satisfied with what you have shot up to the moment is a fuel and fire and to keep shooting better and to becoming more aware of what you did and how could you have done it better. Could it been connecting with the subject more intimately? could it been the angle you shot from? could of been the gear? could have been the art or pose you forgot? these are thing that I learn from every shoot i do, and this is what keeps my fire and ambition going.
i dig how you put it, “….not being satisfied is fuel and fire” – so true!
True Story – I was just reading Chris’ blog, and then popped over here and unbeknownst to me there’s even more Chris! It’s one of those kind of days (I hope).
very cool! :)
Best advice for anyone in a creative field Never forget to ask yourself â€œWhat makes you come alive?â€
thanks brian! a good reminder for us all, especially because it’s always changing as we evolve and grow. cheers!
Thank you!!.I love your photos and your writings.
“And the photographs that I like most, are those that help me to celebrate and savor life. These are the photos that capture fleeting moments that would have otherwise been lost. They make me feel, think, remember and thrive.”
I love this quote. I have a little slideshow gadget on my computer desktop. It scrolls through my entire photo library. I love it when random pictures come up and take me away, even for just a few seconds, to a happy, memorable moment from the past.
thanks bill! i too really like that when a random slideshow (or any type of photo display) catches you off guard and takes you to a moment in the past. very well put!
Take 20 mins, less actually, and watch Chris’s TEDx presentation he linked above.
Best 20 min you might spend today.
:) thanks david!
Thanks for making me click on it…was inspiring.
Just wanted to say that I’m really happy to see Chris here on Scott’s guest blog. I’ve admired and followed Chris for a number of years now and consider him one of my favorite photography educators. If only I had the time and money to go to Brooks I would but I’ll just settle for all the other goodies that Chris shares with everyone. I will definitely read this tonight after work and watch the TEDx presentation. I’ve already watched the Framed episode and recommend to anyone that hasn’t seen it yet. Thanks Chris & Scott – Love all you both do!
thanks ron – much appreciated!!
Always memorizing always Inspirational , thanks Mr.Orwig
good stuff, Chris. I’m going to keep pondering that final quest, “what makes a photograph good?”, to see if I can come up with something, but your definition is pretty compelling.
Chris, I love what you said here and even more of what you said with complete passion in the video on TEDx. Your story of more or less salvation in the tent brought tears to my eyes. Thank you very much!
Brilliant insights from one of our best educators – excellent post.
Hoping you’ll be offering up a class on Kelby Training soon! Love your work!
Great article, Chris is always inspiring & on point
Excellent article. I believe Chris’s photographs tell one a lot about what is in the soul and mind. For example the photographs used in this blog imply deep introspection and thought from each character. This is what he implies “we”, the reader should capture with photography. He encourages finding that which is interesting in a brief moment. Many times these moments tell the story of a lifetime.