I’m often asked “What do you shoot?”. I usually have some long-winded answer like, “Oh, I do urban architecture, urban landscapes but also street photography but also I also shoot details that I find interesting and oh yeah the I do the occasional model shoot.” Follow my mostlyfotos blog and you may agree.
My style is hard to define or pigeonhole. It’s all over the place with no apparent rhyme or reason. I often thought this was a disadvantage. If I could only shoot one kind of subject, I thought, I could more quickly establish my look. But recently, it’s occurred to me that, there is a pattern to my photography. I shoot what catches my eye. So I’m coining a phrase. I’m calling my style Observational Photography.
The great thing about Observational Photography is its variety. What catches your eye is different from what catches my eye. There isn’t a pre-canned look or a standard way to do this. There are no compositional rules that need to be followed. The popularity of iPhone photography shows that others are also interested in this free-from style. And this is where a small device like a iPhone or a point and shoot works so well. In fact, a big DSLR makes this kind of photography more cumbersome.
It’s socially awkward to whip-out a big camera, at a restaurant, or at other intimate places. This is where the smaller mirrorless cameras, like the Olympus Pens or the Sony NEX, work so well. They don’t get in the way and don’t attract attention. And unlike smaller point and shoots and camera phones, which have small sensors, these mirrorless cameras give you high quality images that rival DSLRs.
With practice, you begin to see more things that catches your eye. With repetition, your world expands and small details become larger. When I first started making pictures like this, I found it difficult to find anything interesting around me. I didn’t see the angles or compositions. I didn’t see the light or reflections. I didn’t see the juxtaposition of shapes. Over time, with practice, I think I’m improving and so will you.
Now, it’s a fun challenge, a game of sorts, to spot multiple photo worthy scenes around me. The rise of digital has made this accessible to anyone. With film, every shot is more precious. You ration your frames. You take less chances fearing failure and wasting a shot. When you fear failure, you don’t grow. Digital makes failure less painful and gives you an opportunity to improve quicker (if you are willing to learn from your mistakes).
With Observational Photography, I find that the world around me has grown. There is life and interest everywhere, you just have to observe. You begin to see like an architect and appreciate a building’s lines. You become an interior designer and appreciate the blend of color and texture. You notice the grittiness of a downtown. You become fascinated by people and what they wear. You become a social scientist observing how people interact with each other. You glory at the variety of natural landscapes. Or simply, capture mundane moments of time, that would be forgotten, if you didn’t take action.
I shot the photo above, at a restaurant, after a photography lecture. I noticed my friend’s iPhone reflecting the neon beer sign and the ring of menus. Is it great art? Probably not, but it is a study in observation. It works for me on several levels. Not only does it document a mundane but a fun time with friends but it incorporates reflections and neon with I find attractive.
Ultimately, you savor life because life becomes less automatic. The world no longer passes you by in a blur. You now grab pieces of it, little scenes, and appreciate its complexity and beauty. The photographs freeze time, make the temporary permanent and allows you to share this with others. This to me is Observational Photography. I hope you find my observations interesting and I hope you share your unique observations with the world, too.