psyched

oh, that empty feeling…..a blank slate…..past accomplishments are but a background blur….new commission, new assignment…..it is always "a mountain to climb"   to even get to this state of "nothingness"…the state of being you are in when you actually get a "commission" and then…and then…and then…now what do i do???

the old adage  "sometimes you get what you ask for" starts seeming so so true….and when you do have an assignment, you have to figure out how you will do what you are being paid to do….stepping off a plane that has flown you to the other side of the world and walking  out on to the hot tarmac and a unfriendly customs officer is not quite the same feeling you have when you are with your buddies having a beer and dreaming of what it would be like if only you had the time and the resources to do a major magazine assignment…..

somehow the most "exotic " places can look pretty ordinary or unfriendly under certain circumstances…..pictures, good pictures, great pictures are much further away than the long plane flight…and it is the great ones that you have been commissioned to shoot…on demand ….right now….no excuses…

so for this you must get "psyched"…..like an athlete before a game…like an actor ready to step on the stage….no matter how much experience you have, you always know that what you are about to do is going to have some new twists and turns and some kinds of problems you have never encountered before….and you will have to solve them…..no excuses…no calls to the editor…you are being commissioned to take great pictures…whatever it takes…whatever the obstacles…now…today….no portfolio review….the real thing….

i remember thinking at one point early  in my career that surely a "big time" assignment for say National Geographic would somehow "transform" the subject matter….that the world would somehow  be "different" with National Geographic in it…that those "famous photographers" had "better subjects" than i had….nope…disappointment… it was same world as the world of the Topeka (Kansas) Capitol-Journal…only thing different about the world of National Geographic were  the much higher expectations of the editors waiting for my work….

more time to shoot??  not really….pictures situations move by just as fast for a magazine photographer as they do if you are working for a daily newspaper or freelancing…..events are events…moments are moments….whether you have a "name" behind you or not….reality is reality….more time in the field, but "more and better" pictures required at the end….and you are all alone…really all alone….no buddies at the bar ….

i now have a three week commission coming up in the first week in august to shoot  in seoul, korea…..a Magnum group  project…10 of us shooting different topics…mine is korean youth culture…..a major  exhibition and Magnum book will  follow…..

but here i am now on family vacation and i am starting to get "psyched"…starting to think….not worrying….but not taking it lightly either…..how will i do this???  how will the young people be?? what is the "ballet of the streets" for korea?? do koreans hate being photographed or like being photographed??  i do not know the answers to any of these questions…experience tells me i will be able to figure this out…but, i am thinking, thinking , thinking these two weeks before the shoot….slight apprehension…

i never "assume" i am going to do good work…in my mind , i must make  at least 5 very special pictures in a 2-3 week period….i should have dozens of mediocre or  "good" pictures…but, mediocre is unacceptable and even  "good is not good enough"….i am not talking about satisfying the korean sponsors….i am talking about satisfying myself….coming up to my own standards…i must now get  "psyched" to do my very best work….

in this last week i  have put a little pressure on you to "produce" in the next few weeks….in this case, we are looking at it as an exercise or as an experiment…but, on the other hand, some potentially significant  people for you  will be looking to see your work….first impressions are often the only impressions…..you should take this seriously….i would ….

now, my questions for you are these:  do you get "wired" and "psyched" before you shoot???   or do you go into a project totally confident and relaxed???

78 Responses to “psyched”


  • Hi David,

    Congrats for your latest National Geographic pictures (I appreciated these pictures more than the rap pictures). For the rap pictures, teh music was missing. In a previous post, I asked you if sometimes a movie (with images and sound) is not better than still pictures to treat a topic.

    Arie

  • I always seem to get wired before something new… or even when revisiting something old. I have just had my first solo, and now expectations of my work have risen; and I seem to be very aware of that. So many things on the horizon; not least of which is thinking around what to submit to what you have planned…

    In any case, I find going in confident and relaxed doesn’t always yield the best pictures… perhaps it helps to stay hungry.

  • I’ve got to be confident and relaxed…just be myself…maybe meditate beforehand…I’ve got to be ‘all there’

    If I’m not confident and relaxed, the subject(s) might be uncomfortable and this will diminish the quality of the photos.

    Sure, I get psyched, but I don’t really psych myself up, I just start to feel it naturally…like waiting my turn before skydiving…

  • David,

    It’s interesting what experience and life teaches you. If you’re young and not having too many life experiences you may think of only how great and exciting it would be, to be on assignment. To have that status of being a National Geographic photographer. Then, I suppose as you grow, you are then curious of what problems you will encounter and how you will solve them. You’re still excited but it’s different. A veteran’s excitement. Maybe you will rely on your experience and confidence that whatever arises you have the knowledge to handle it. If you believe.

    That’s exciting to me. Not in a naive type of way but exciting in a real way. Because you approach it thinking – “what will I learn this time?”

    I liked your spread in the new/current issue of nat geo as well. I got it in the mail a couple of days ago and finally took it out of the plastic last night. I tend to flip through magazines backwords – from the last page to the front. I came across some of your images before I knew who the photographer was – and, no lie, I thought to myself – this looks like David Allan Harvey. Not surprisenly it was your work.

    Anyway congrats on that issue. And good luck on your assignment.

    -Sherman

  • Wired like hell before the action, relaxed during… Always been this way.

  • If anything is completely detrimental to getting great pictures it’s that complacency of confidence and relaxation. I suppose it happens to most of us when we are in our home town or city, when the rhythm of life is most familiar, where our journeys have become commutes rather than adventures and the quirky has become banal. A new city is always like a blank canvas: the excitement of the unknown brings with it curiosity, the pressure of the assignment breeds concentration.

  • I get butterflies. Like I used to before playing music live at a club in DC. Nervous, excited, thrilled, a little anxiety. I guess I’d call that psyched, or “wired.”

  • It depends…
    i think i am always litle worry before assignment (i had really small assignments in my work – mostly single pictures, but 5-8 storys in one day, sometimes more important than whole on the street.. some accidents, like roof collapse where died a lot of people)… my older friends from work (i was youngest photographer) was always supriced that i am not nervous (i think i don’t show i am nervous.).. for sure i didn’t think to much about batterys or taking all possible lens… i was never worry about equipment..
    I think i am always litle nervous about situations – if i will find interesting moments… if i will “catch” the moments… if people will be relaxed…
    you never know what will happened… but it’s also somemething which i like a lot.. and most of the time (hmm.. i think always) i am supriced in nice way… that people are really nice!
    The most difficult is always firsth step! to go to meet people… after that is always nice and comfortable :-) and i feel relaxed.

    Also now, i know i want (have to!) do some project, to send to you at the beggining of september.. you gave us assignment :-) but it’s litle nervous – i am not sure i will do good enought pictures in such short time… I have to “get upset” to start new story :-) (I think i will ger upset tomorrow ;-))

  • Hi David,

    Several years ago I first saw a video of you at work in Cuba, on digitaljournalist. It had a significant impact on my approach to street photography, and dispelled my misconceptions about NG photographers, as you describe above.

    I studied that video. I noticed that when you are out shooting, just you and your camera, it seems you are very naturally in the zone. I imagined, perhaps incorrectly, that you “work” in a zen-like state of mind, and that the less you forcibly think about “it”, the more instinctive your shooting, something akin to the zen teachings of “no mind”. Am I way off??

    Have a safe trip,

    Asher

  • Before shooting assignment I got clear mind, I’m focus. I’m not nerves but I running in my head. I feel like right person on right place and time. I talk with people, smile, I’m relaxed but with adrenaline full tank, like sport car driver when race has stared at the end. I’m not looks like soldier in battle like my colleagues, I’m quiet but my car clock is out of limit.
    A few times I was get up before 6a.m, edited yesterday’s photos until 8 then go out and shooting to 1-2p.m. 6-8 days.
    This is something!! Full emotional staff! I love hard work!

    Before shooting for myself I got clear mind, it just empty. I’m nerves when I shooting people, I can’t find any reason to do that. And I always have trouble.

    Martin

  • i’ll rather say i feel psycho, before and during the assignment, and then, doubtful about the results.

  • hi everyone,

    i’ve been freelancing since the beginning of the year. i’ve had half a dozen or so assignments.

    the first one was the hardest for me. it was a portrait of an executive of a large company. i had a very specific brief for the client so i had a going idea of what i had to do. while i felt a degree of confidence that i could do it, i was still very nervous – i had fifteen minutes at most to get the shot and for the first time people were paying me to get it. it was the fact that this person was ‘important’ and very busy and the weight of client expectation that pressed me the most. more than the thought that i may not have the ability. in the end it went well. i got the shot they needed and i got paid. since then the assignment have got bigger and more complex, however, the nervousness has not grown with it.

    i think i learned a lot about photographing people with that one little assignment. if they have an impressive title ignore it, they are still just people, if you can relate to them as ordinary people it gets much easier. in general i like to get the best idea of what the client wants me to do then i just think about those ideas and how i can realise them; on the day my mind is ‘on’, i’m thinking about ways to shoot but i’m also relaxed i want to be able to respond to events as they happen, to move with what’s going on around me. there are still i few nerves tingling in my belly but i think that they keep me focused, they remind me that this is important, people have expectations – don’t let them down, most importantly though – i don’t want to let myself down.

    cheers

    Jason.

  • Hi, David
    I’m not a professional photographer. I’m an architect and also a visual artist, from Lisbon, Portugal. Recently, I started to use photography as a way to aproach poetry. The reasons that lead me to that are indeed very complex but, shortly speaking, derive from a sort of unhappiness about the way the art world become today, where everything seems to be contaminated by entertainment. Being a visual artist, (a sort of an ex-painter), I never feel nervous before shooting. But if the shooting time occurs on the street I often feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the painter needing the loneliness of his studio?

  • david alan harvey

    hello all….

    most of my getting “psyched” i think has to do with the logistics….getting there…getting permission….right place at the right time sorts of things…

    former swashbuckling editor bill garrett at national geographic coined the phrase “f/8 and be there” when asked what it took to be a national geographic photographer…

    garrett oversimplified, but he did make a point….”being there” is a huge factor in magazine work….and this is where my “focus” factor and/or “worry factor” kicks in…

    once i am on the scene, in the right place,walking the streets etc etc., i am totally “in the zone” and totally relaxed and very “zen” about the whole experience..i live for these moments…bliss…

    however, the cuba film that some of you have referred to from time to time did not show the days i spent in government offices trying to get permissions to do what i do….and also did not show the times i was picked up by the security police and interrogated when i was doing what i was doing either!!!

    all of this is just part of the job…part of the deal….i just “weather” through the bureaucratic maze and the travel time and all of the dinners and lunches and meetings that only exist so that i can have my “be there” time….

  • david:

    will have something to show you soon, that deals with this post ;))))))))))…soon,….

    running,
    bob

  • “In The Zone” fits what I feel when I’m in a place with the right light and plenty subject matter to shoot. It’s the most wonderful feeling.

    I’m the type of person who takes on too many hobbies and responsibilities and as a resulst of that I’m hard pressed to find spare time. When I travel somewhere to shoot, my quality shots skyrocket. I think it is due to the fact that I am removed from daily grind, focused on the task at hand.

    I’m also a traveller at heart. I actually like solitary travel to strange and challenging locations. There are many times when I travel to Europe to a city where I could just fly directly but instead I choose more esoteric solution because I feel that it connects me more to the culture around me.

  • I’m nearly frantic as I’m thinking about shooting a project for the blog while also juggling my daily work at the paper. I found myself with a bout of insomnia last night contemplating different ideas. Even though I didn’t sleep well, I still woke up feeling energized and looking forward to exploring a new theme.
    For my daily jobs, my emotions will range from dread to pure joy. I’m usually calm as I’m driving to the assignment, then the cold sweat starts as I take the long slow walk from the car to the subject. The Zen-like meditation helps, especially those deep breaths. In terms of projects, I’m always excited and calm, but fear the idea isn’t interesting or that my pictures won’t be good enough.
    I guess having a strong sense of self and keeping authorship in mind should allay those fears.

  • So varied. I think you have three stages. First, you have to locate and find the places and people that you want to shoot. That’s pretty hard, as you can miss all the interesting things that happen in your surroundings, and you have to learn to break your routines to get there. Second, you have to immerse yourself in the shooting. Depending where it happens it is about getting to know the people, moving very fast from point to point or simply getting drunk enough to shoot. And third, once you’re in the shooting state, shoot.

    E.g., yesterday I went to a faith healing session somewhere here in Cardiff. Didn’t shoot a single picture, but mostly because I’m between the first and the second bit. Maybe too slow? It’s already been the second time I’ve been there.

  • its a very wired culture over there, i doubt anyone will look up from their cellphones while you shoot in the street. the night life is supposed to be great though, very friendly.

    someone i know on flickr who does street stuff in korea:

    http://flickr.com/photos/toong_bo/

  • Hello, David, everybody.
    I think concerned is most accurate to describe the state i’m in when i’m preparing myself for a walk on the wild side. It doesn’t matter if it’s paid job or something for myself, i’m always concerned (not worried) about all the aspects: things i know i’m going to meet, some i just guess i can find on my way through and all the other stuff i have no idea but i’m sure that i’ll face before it ends… Maybe some days more than others, but always trying hard to stay focused.
    Bon voyage!

  • I just get scared, which is a great motivator: scared not that I won’t be able to shoot a decent picture but that I haven’t researched, planned sufficiently, or lined up enough contacts to get the pictures *I* want. Photography for me, in addition to all the technical or metaphysical stuff we discuss, is about due diligence–knowing your subject fully, getting access to the right people or situations, being able to take intellectually honest pictures instead of just cool ones. All that plus, a little light and a little luck.

    Most of us have limited resources of time and money, and no assistant or agency. The logistics of such work can sap your creativity. And yet you still have to show up, jet lagged, dehydrated, and financially overstretched and be open to finding the pictures you wanted, along with the ones you didn’t know you wanted.

  • When I’m not actually shooting, before the shoot I’m nervous, worried and excited. Will I “see” anything? Will I be welcome to shoot? etc… Once I’m out with the camera there is still some nervousness (especially since I’m new to digital and fear having some camera setting incorrect) but more of a heightened sense of awareness and excitement.

    As far as this assignment for you I am wishing I could be in India or Nepal, places where I usually shoot and am more comfortable instead of spending the summer In Santa Fe. You’ve already discussed this in the “backyard vs faraway places” topic and I agree that almost anyone can come up with a great image in a place where everyone is in an exotic costume and the light is perfect. So now I get to see what I can come up with when that’s not the case…Trying to take this on as a challenge rather than thinking there’s no way I can come up with anything great. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself to perform…even without an editor!

    I don’t have a website up but here’s a few images:
    http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=673182

  • Hi David,
    To answer your question: before a shoot I am really nervous. I am exctied and yet worried that it won’t go well. Sometimes I can’t sleep. It’s all a great kind of anticipation though and the shooting is the great reward. During the shoot I am so alive and excited. I thrive off of getting to know my subject or subjects and definitely enjoy the moment. Then there’s the after shoot when I’m hard on myself and wish I’d done something a little differently. And then it starts all over again! Never a boring day! Thanks for asking,
    Kate.

  • Hi David and all,
    There are plenty of times that when a day starts I haven’t a clue what I will photograph so there is little time to ‘psych’ …or ‘stress’ for that matter. But for those assignments you know in advance I can get a little anxious. Particularly the big ones … but they are the ones you thrive on. For many years I have travelled on some lengthy assignments. Many of those have been with the same journo who often says “the worst part of a big trip is the two weeks before you go.” … So true …. this is when I’m a hopeless case … forever stressing about the trip, lying awake at night … thinking .. thinking, what bag .., is the laptop set OK, what gear.., will I shoot well, what will I shoot!, … what bag!! ….
    But what I’m actually doing at this time is getting myself pumped!! … and totally focused on what lay ahead.
    Once the door of that plane closes I am relaxed and when it opens the other end i’m in ‘the zone’ and ready.
    I sometimes reflect while I’m away ‘what was all that stress about’ ….even though I do it on every ocassion.
    But Yeh … It’s all about getting ‘psyched’ David
    Cheers

  • Hi David,

    I will introduce a friend to you who shot a bit of youth culture here. he focused on graffitti artists but I think that might lead you to other niches of youth culture. Its all interconnected. It might be of some help to you.

    Looking forward to meeting you in Seoul.

  • I hardly set expectations before shooting except to myself. The joy of discovery is essential for me. I really haven’t satisfied myself lately. Mind you, I haven’t got the pressure from any commissions just yet. When I shot Sydney Mardi Gras this year, the nerve had got to me big time. But once the adrenaline kicked in, I just went with the flow.

  • I hardly set expectations before shooting except to myself. The joy of discovery is essential for me. I really haven’t satisfied myself lately. Mind you, I haven’t got the pressure from any commissions just yet. When I shot Sydney Mardi Gras this year, the nerve had got to me big time. But once the adrenaline kicked in, I just went with the flow.

  • I hardly set expectations before shooting except to myself. The joy of discovery is essential for me. I really haven’t satisfied myself lately. Mind you, I haven’t got the pressure from any commissions just yet. When I shot Sydney Mardi Gras this year, the nerve had got to me big time. But once the adrenaline kicked in, I just went with the flow.

  • I hardly set expectations before shooting except to myself. The joy of discovery is essential for me. I really haven’t satisfied myself lately. Mind you, I haven’t got the pressure from any commissions just yet. When I shot Sydney Mardi Gras this year, the nerve had got to me big time. But once the adrenaline kicked in, I just went with the flow.

  • Thanks David for the clarification about the Cuba video.

    Regarding your question, if I start getting psyched out when I’m heading out to photograph, I just think of one of Garry Winogrand’s great quotes: “The nature of the photographic process – it is about failure. Most everything I do doesn’t quite make it.” That takes the pressure off, usually with good results (for me at least).

  • I’m a bit of a quote addict and memorise the ones that inspire me and help me approach what I do. This thread makes me think of Bruce Lee’s (a interesting philosophy graduate as well as martial artist) approach to preparation…

    “Do not be tense, just be ready, not thinking but not dreaming, not being set, but being flexible. It is being “wholly” and quietly alive, aware and alert, ready for whatever may come.”

  • david alan harvey

    hello all….

    i just love your comments here….if all of you can make photographs as well as you can think and write, then we will really have something to show!!!

    i have another little interesting “side question” that i have thought about since…all of us seem to do two types of shooting…commissioned work and personal work…

    question:

    does the “pressure” of commissioned work yield great personal pictures for you??? or do you only get pictures for “yourself” from self-assigned work???

  • Good morning David!

    I think I’m in the very fortunate position where most of the “commissioned” work I do comes from people who’ve seen my portfolio and they pretty much want me to do the same thing. I don’t find myself trying to do a different “look” for different people.

    That being said, it also depends on the job. I’m not as likely to get pictures for myself when shooting floral arrangements for a website or shooting construction progress. (It’s possible, just not likely.)

    Shooting a reception or shooting for an in-house construction magazine or spending a day covering a kayaker to and from the river is where I’ll most likely come up with photos that get me personally jazzed!

    I try to think the same way and take pretty much the same approach whether I’m being paid or not.

  • Hello!
    Great question…
    Before: great anxiety
    During: relaxed
    Developing film: great great anxiety
    Waiting for small print: great great great anxiety
    At the end… not completly satisfied, never…

    I work just on self-assigned but with the feeling to work for a big name :)

    Ciao :)

  • Hi David,

    I am never never satisfied of the pictures I take. It’s almost like I am not able to “reproduce” (feeling or reality or sense of color) what I see into a photograph.

    David: how do you do it? how do you know if what you felt is translated into the picture?

    Arie

  • f/8 and be there….heard it many times, but I’ve often wondered where it actually came from….

    Most of my work is self-assigned, personal stuff. I like to surround myself with nature that I enjoy, so in the normal course of my own shooting there is little pressure. I like shooting impulsively, when the mood strikes. The times I feel any pressure might be when I have a commission to shoot portraits. Then there is an innate fear that the pictures may not come out well enough to please the client.

    Other times I may have shooting assignments that might involve covering scientists working in the field or fishermen gill-netting the waters. I frequently get some surprisingly pleasing personal shots out of those sessions, not only good for the actual assignment, but also good for bolstering my stock image files.

    So I guess to answer the first part, I don’t really see myself getting into a psyched mode in preparing for a shoot…. maybe some self-inflicted pressure to get some new and improved images. There’s usually research and equipment preparation, but I’d have to say that I normally go into shooting situations, relatively relaxed. But David, as you know, I am low-key.

    See you at the beach!

  • I’ve never shot anything comissioned excepting a portrait in a pub for a fiver, so no clue about that. Everything I’ve ever shot is whatever I’m interested in. Or something I can learn of.

  • My work is all self-assigned. And like a few others, I’m almost never completely satisfied with it.

    I treat almost anything I do as a full assignment though, with deadlines, plans, due diligence, etc. as I think that prepares me psychologically to be focused on the subject, to get a sense for it, to be in tune… so if the magic happens, I’m ready.

  • Hi David,

    I would like to make a suggestion to improve this blog even further: could you create a “questions” corner, where we would ask questions. I noticed that many of my questions to you are lost in the large number of emails, and can stay without answer.

    This, I think, could make the blog even better if you can refer to a section where questions (maybe not directly to the topic of the day) are centralized.

    Just a suggestion,

    Arie

  • i always have that nervous/excited feeling when i’m preparing for a shoot… like most of us here, i don’t shoot in controlled environments so i really never know what i’m in for, but i know i have to make good pictures… this creates the nervousness and excitement.

    and interestingly enough, often when i’m done with a shoot i’ll run through in my head a bunch of things i could have done better.. i need to start writing these down..

    a lot of times i don’t even like to look at the pictures i shot for some time.. i’ll pretend that i shot slides and i have to wait for the developing anyway so i do something else… then ‘open the box of slides’.. i used to love that feeling.. it’s all related to this ‘nervousness’ isn’t it?

  • “f8 and be there.” I always thought that was Usher (Arthur) Fellig. Ah well…

    Yogi Berra is said to have said, “I really didn’t say everything I said.” I think that pretty much sums is up. Funny.

  • david alan harvey

    arie…

    sorry amigo, i usually try to answer most of the questions….but surely, i do miss some….

    please ask me again right now!!! promise i will answer!!!

    the only problem with setting up a separate questions section that did not relate to the topic , is that i can imagine that i would never get out of there!!!

    i do put a lot of time already into this blog and with the shooting assignment coming up i have a feeling i will have a whole lot of work on my hands with this edit….

    as i have said before, i could probably create the “perfect blog” if i did nothing else…but, i try to be of most value for you as possible because i am also a working photographer….if i do the perfect blog i would not have time to shoot and edit and publish….

    anyway, i will do my best to answer most of your questions most of the time…..

    michael..

    maybe it was weegee who came up with “f/8 and be there”…..i will check with bill garrett….it was garrett i heard it from first…

  • You are a kind man David!

    There is my question:

    I am never never satisfied of the pictures I take. It’s almost like I am not able to “reproduce” (feeling or reality or sense of color) what I see into a photograph.

    David: how do you do it? how do you know if what you felt is translated into the picture?

    Arie
    PS: we are very fortunate to be able to exchange ideas with you. My father, who introduced me to photography when I was 10 years old (he teaches photography workshop in Montreal and offered me a HCB book) told me yesterday that he may have cancer (yet to be confirmed by medical exams), it is therefore a though day for the family.

  • I forgot to mention that for my wedding in 2002 (in Paris), I was very fortunate to receive a signed picture from HCB. It was like a dream coming true.

    Arie

  • david alan harvey

    arie….

    good question…i will try to answer…

    first of all, i am not so satisfied with my pictures either!! or, at least, the percentages are very low…but i refuse to give up…i just keep going at it…

    working with color has been a “full-time job” for me since i switched from black & white years ago…i still love black & white….color is just too damned hard!!!

    but, i do it anyway..struggling with the combination of light and moment and gesture and emotion…trying for all of it at once…

    when i work, i am like a fanatic…intense….my eye “hurts”…..pushing, straining, loving it, feeling it….jockeying for the right position and i do not mean moving from one side of the street to the other….i am talking about micro-details…i am dealing with millimeters, milliseconds, little tweaks of light…glints….shades…i move my camera just fractions of inches….i stare a hole through the viewfinder….i wait…forever…peaceful but relentless…

    when it all works, there is a brief “rush of pleasure”..sensuous…but, i quickly forget this temporary “satisfaction”…i force myself to be “dis-satisfied” and move forward to do it “better”…

    i do not know how else to describe the way i work….

    afterwards, i try to put an equal amount of intensity into the edit….although this is even harder and painful and not as much “fun” as the shooting….

    the whole process from idea to shooting to editing to some sort of final “product” like a book, is a monumental effort any way you slice it….but i cannot imagine a more interesting or rewarding way of going through life…education, expression, and communication….all are there….

  • I feel a little bit “owned” by the newspaper I work for, and it’s taking some effort to free myself from that way of thinking. I shoot “commissioned” work every day in the form of reporters’ stories that need to be illustrated. Getting psyched to shoot other people’s ideas can be draining, but good photos regularly come from them.

    The challenge for me is to banish complacency and be receptive to the unknown. Two personal projects I’m tackling right now grew out of routine daily assignments. It’s a struggle because the newspaper then wants to “own” the story, particularly if I need to spend ample time on it.

    I even found myself not shooting personal pictures at all for awhile. I felt so dedicated to the newspaper and the “team,” that I couldn’t separate myself from it. What a mistake that was! That leads to creative death. This reminds me of comments you made awhile back, David, about photographers being alone and free, engaged in a struggle and keeping the senses alive in the fight for survival and creativity. That’s essential.

  • In response to the first question: I tend to be unrelaxed while working, a little frantic. It doesn’t work out too well, usually. But I’m working on it, and this discussion (especially the Cuba video Asher mentioned, which I tracked down) has helped me a lot to be less “looking all over the place,” or however David put it in his video.

    In response to the second: I’ve only done one set of pictures for someone else, and he was a friend, so there wasn’t really any extra pressure. They were of this old, decrepit building. There would’ve been quite it was going to be torn down the week after I shot it.

    David- do you have any general tips for street shooting, besides the ones in that video?

  • David,

    You said: “working with color has been a “full-time job” for me since i switched from black & white years ago…i still love black & white….color is just too damned hard!!!”

    That’s the exactly how I feel, which is why I have decided to stay with color (mostly) until I feel I am at least in sight of what I’d like to achieve. I can think in B&W, I can decipher its meaning, its symbology and metaphors, I feel it… with color I just have a hard time.

    So, that you — one of the photographers who convinced me that you can do non trivial, just-eye-candy color photos, you know, photos with deep meaning and edge — say that is a great consolation and encouragement to keep trying.

    Thanks!

    – Giancarlo

  • switching to color – that’s a whole new topic. I still love black and white but when I do shoot color I seem to prefer a slightly ‘cross processed’ look. I don’t know whether to keep on pursuing the ‘cp look’ or whether need to elevate my experience with color.

  • David…

    Do you make a lot of picture one situation, or you waiting and then one two click? I’m asking because in Poland many people don’t like when somebody take them pictures and I make many pictures when I’m working. First is for just capturing situation always, and then I try make a good photo. But I see displeasure so many time so I should focus on few pictures only. Situation- good frame- click- waiting. Impossible…
    This is half of fun, but this is not for my fun only.
    This is question to all…

    I’m before little assignment in half and in half for myself (portfolio). Half in digi and half in positive. How I feel? This time I nerves. I don’t have a good photography now but a learning a lot every time when I working so I feel my own pressure… do I make one or a few step forward or maybe one back? Do I satisfy myself even if little? Or I push myself in depress? Do I see something new in my photography?
    but now, I’m just happy.

    Defiantly I prefer working for assignment than myself, because I always make “my” photography simultaneously. I always have m6 and b&w with me. Assignment set me free.

    I have to prepare :)

    Peace

    Martin

  • Martin kind of brings up another point I wanted to ask you about, David.

    You mention minimal adjustments to your position, inching around to find the right angle and frame, and that makes a lot of sense to me… if you have the time to do it.

    What if conditions don’t allow it? Non-cooperative subjects as Martin mentions, of street photos… do you alter your approach or try to force it on the situation as much as you can? And if the former, how do you think your less studied photos compare to the ones you take when time and conditions allow a more methodical approach?

    Thanks,

    – Giancarlo

  • hi everyone,

    question number two………..most of my pictures have and continue to be from ‘self assigned’ projects. the number of commissions i have done is slowly rising. so far my the majority of my favorite pictures have come from my personal work. i think that this is due to the fact that i have created the project, chosen the places to go to, selected the subject in that moment and snap the picture is made – the whole thing is generated by me, for me.

    i found that with commissioned work the process is slightly different: i’m making photos for other people. although i’m the one with the camera and i choose what to photograph, there is always that thought in my head that this is for them. its less organic less personal. yet i still try to push the creativity to get as much as i can out of a situation, to make the assignment the ‘job’ as personal as i can. yet there are some pictures that i have made while on an assignment that i really do like. i like the problem solving aspect of it…..the client needs pictures to illustrate an article, my job is to get those pictures, to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order that i can supply them. it feels good when it al comes together.

    i think those great pictures are the culmination of the total experience, of being in a place and a moment in time and seeing it all come together, of being ‘in the zone’ and knowing it.
    so personally i don’t mind whether its through personal work or an assignment, if it happens i’m happy.

    cheers

    Jason.

  • david alan harvey

    giancarlo…

    what i am talking about requires almost no time… i was talking about what happens in “milliseconds”..and my “jockeying for position” is happening in very short periods of time..ten seconds or less…as i said “i am not even talking about moving across the street”…..i am mostly in places where people do not like to be photographed..maybe i was not clear enough..but pls. re-read carefully exactly what i said in previous comment above….

    and also please remember two things:

    (1) i am self-assigned much of the time as are most magnum photographers

    (2) during all of my formative years in photography there was no national geographic and there was no magnum….

    but i knew then, as i know now….there was no time, no money, and no excuses…

    i never try to alter a situation other than perhaps trying to make friends in a potentially unfriendly situation…just common sense….

    but if things look impossible, i just walk
    away….go someplace else…you must develop a “sixth sense” for who wants to be photographed and who does not…

    and most of the very successful photographers i know are total masters of getting into very difficult situations…..or dealing with potentially conflictive subjects…..

    there are two ways to get good “street pictures”…(1)one way is to be “invisible”…(2)the other way is to be totally “non-threatening” or totally “part of the scene…it is hard to be invisible or totally un-noticed….i personally have worked very hard in evolving with choice #2….

    one of the things i concentrate most on in my workshops are exactly these issues…the issue of “how to photograph people” is always a stumbling block for most…..

    i will try to do as much as i can here to help all of you…however, one of the things i do in my classes that is impossible here, is to get to know the personality of the photographer and then it is easier for me to make practical suggestions about how he or she might think about the way they work…

  • Up to the beginning of shoot time, I suffer through waves of anxiety, checking and rechecking my gear, reading as much as I possibly can on my subject, and tormenting myself with self-doubt. Once I begin an assignment, however, I quickly get into the rhythm of shooting and a zone of intense awareness. It’s exhilarating and more fun than anything I’ve ever done in my life.

    I also think your recent work is stunning. Thanks for being a constant source of inspiration for us all.
    Jeff

  • I have abandoned #1 a while ago. #1 – being invisible just doesn’t work for me. No matter how small the camera is – people notice it. Even if you linger around certain area without a camera just looking around for shooting opportunities people notice you. It is, I think, because you’re not just a passerby without interest in the surroundings. Instead you are a stranger who is interested in the surroundings and that makes people notice you. I think the only way it would work for me if I had a totally concealed camera with unnoticeable remote shutter mechanism, like a pencil or something like that. But we’re moving into very creepy territory here.

    I instead keep on improving #2. With this method it doesn’t matter how big your camera is. It is a sincere method too. You are a person with a camera who takes photographs. No deception in your action. Therefore it is ok to look around and observe and to photograph. The trick is then in how do you get your shots without someone taking offense? Let’s just say this technique is a work in progress but I’m doing alright and improving. It sure helps if you project some sort of respect where people think twice before wanting to attack you verbally or worse. It helps to keep moving when possible and it helps to have good communication skill if you talk to strangers.

  • Thanks David. Makes sense.

    Do you have any plans to hold one of your workshop on the West Coast at some point? I’d love to attend one but NYC makes everything a lot more complicated…

  • Hi, everybody.
    How could i be invisible? I’m as tall as you, David, and a little bit larger — from shoulder to feet — and for me it’s almost impossible to go unnoticed. It just gives me one option: being friendly, admitted into the situation. Think that’s the main reason i started to work with amateur artists; actually they love having a photographer this close to them. This project works for me as a training for further, harder situations.
    See you all.

  • hi everybody, hi david, its 1 :30 am in my city, sat28th. willing to find a new day in your blog when i wake up tomorrow!
    espero que esto no sea pedir mucho.
    by the way,these days i’ve been really psyched, wired, hectic, mad, thrilled, confused, satisfied, not satisfied…with the assigment i’m working on, the one to show you.

  • I normally take pictures of animals so I try to be invisible most of the time. I was recently in Zimbabwe where it’s a bit different and you can be seen by every thing and they are either happy with you or not. The last night I was there I was in a big log pile when a big musk bull elephant decided to have a close look. Though I was possibly taking the best pictures I’ve ever taken I had to stop because the shutter noise was winding him up and he looked like he wanted to kill me. I was also taught some manners by a lion mum which was a heart stopping moment. In general I find understanding animal behaviour easier than people.

  • “now, my questions for you are these: do you get “wired” and “psyched” before you shoot??? or do you go into a project totally confident and relaxed???”
    Hi David! Good question for a very impulsive soul as I am :-D. Usually I just go and shoot. Just leave my adrenalin wild… Because if I think of it in advance, I really get nervous as I am not confident at all with my work, you know that….
    Now I’m working in a project. I do think of it before and make some sketchs, but I can tell you that I do not go there feeling confident and relaxed, and seeing the picture later, you can tell that I wasn’t feeling confident….
    But now I pussed myself into a big assignment: I’m planning to go alone to Senegal at the beginning of september with no idea of what I will find there but with the hope to photograph life and soul. I’m, in a way, scared because I’m going alone with a big camera but feeling that I must prove myself that I can do it… so now, while I’m getting “psyched” I feel excited but I feel scared. Will I bring with me all the things I expect? Any advices about shooting in a place like this? hmmm, I think I am getting kind of nervous. Is this a phase of the “psyched stage”?

    Good luck on your assignment in Korea. That really sounds interesting!! Sure you’ll enjoy it with or without getting psyched! :-D

    Have a nice trip and come back with great pictures!

    Ana

  • Well, all yhe work Ive evr done was for me so I never get nervous:) Just excited every time I go out with the camera. I would love to feel that nervousness though and get paid for it:) Maybe some day.

    David, I sent you an e-mail. When you get to Seoul please get in touch with me so I can bore you with some of my snaps. Anyway, looking forward to meeting you when you have time.

  • Thanks David for your answer to my question above. I have a question for everybody here:

    In an article that appeared in the Digital Journalist, it was written that, in a few years from now, still news photographers would not exist anymore. News photographers, according to this article, woud film the scene, and then extract still images from there.

    My question to you all: why taking still digital images when we could extract still images from a movie (that would contain sound as well). In other words, are we seeing the last years of still photography as we know it?

    Thanks to all for your answers to come.

    Arie

  • Hello all,

    Just walked in the door from my trip to the Pacific Northwest, Washington State with the kids and family and then on to four days in B.C. for a romantic getaway in a fabulous spa. I got some absolutely fabulous famiy photos!

    Regarding psyching up or getting nervous before a shoot–I go on automatic pilot and walk out to meet the unexpected. This trip was a very good example of how a shoot unfolds for me. I knew nothing of the area I was going to, B.C., as we decided at the last minute to go. I went to bed the first night with the water up on shore in the bay and woke up the next morning with it gone. Wonderful shots of shapes and shadows and mountains behind that created great opportunites for shooting with my 100-400. This trip that is the only lens I used. I always seem to go out with one goal specific such as using a certain lens and fit the shoot into that goal. I have had some fabulous photos come from this type of experience.

    So in answer to your question, I pay attention to instructions and jump in. Blind usually but it always works out.

    Lee

  • At the moment, all my works is personal project. You know for yourself when are you get The Shot. I was lucky enough to have the freedom on few commission jobs because of my style and vision. Even I cannot help stretch my limit and experiment some aspects and techniques I would like to try. Some works and pays off, some frustrates me. Every project is a new challenge. That is the direction I would like to go.

  • At the moment, all my works is personal project. You know for yourself when are you get The Shot. I was lucky enough to have the freedom on few commission jobs because of my style and vision. Even I cannot help stretch my limit and experiment some aspects and techniques I would like to try. Some works and pays off, some frustrates me. Every project is a new challenge. That is the direction I would like to go.

  • At the moment, all my works is personal project. You know for yourself when are you get The Shot. I was lucky enough to have the freedom on few commission jobs because of my style and vision. Even I cannot help stretch my limit and experiment some aspects and techniques I would like to try. Some works and pays off, some frustrates me. Every project is a new challenge. That is the direction I would like to go.

  • At the moment, all my works is personal project. You know for yourself when are you get The Shot. I was lucky enough to have the freedom on few commission jobs because of my style and vision. Even I cannot help stretch my limit and experiment some aspects and techniques I would like to try. Some works and pays off, some frustrates me. Every project is a new challenge. That is the direction I would like to go.

  • Arie- I saw that article in digital journalist and I read a forum discussion about it. I think the main point made during that forum discussion (including several professional photojournalists) was that it depends on what YOUR goal is: web-based photojournalism (e.g. CNN, MSNBC) vs. print-based documentary and/or artistic work (eg books, magazines etc).

    For a web-based photojournalist, all the editors seem to want is a short video clip and some low res stills. I’ve tried extracting a still from a video using just my little P&S digicam and “Grab” on my Mac. It’s very easy to get an image of a selected moment with more than adequate quality for a web news report. But it’s a far cry from anything I’d want to print and hang on a wall…

  • Arie,

    I agree with Asher and would add that in the blogosphere and in web/TV-based photojournalism video & video/shots will increase their foothold, but even with HD cams becoming cheap and available, they won’t replace cameras as the premier shooting tool for stills.

    BTW, it seems to me we’ve seen something similar with DSLR and RF cameras, and you see what’s happening with the M8.

    If anything, I think we’ll se a hybridization of cams, (video + still) with video buffers becoming larger and higher res.

    GC

  • “…are we seeing the last years of still photography as we know it?”

    I think every generation has watched still photography change drastically “as we know it.”

    However, I doubt still photography will go the way of the Dodo. Trying to capture that “moment” with a Leica or a Nikon or a 4X5 view camera carries a thrill and a creative rush that is unlike anything you get with a video camera.

    For me it is anyway.

  • martin….

    i have two kinds of patience…one is the kind where i am “waiting” and not taking any pictures at all….this patience could be for 5 minutes or for 5 days ….the other is when i am finally shooting and perhaps taking many pictures , but not the “right” picture…..but i have noticed that my very very best pictures tend to be pictures where i just have a single frame…only one…not anything close….when i have time to shoot many pictures that are similar, it feels good at the time because it seems like i am really getting “insurance”…many good pictures of the same thing…but then, later this “insurance” looks boring or not quite right…..i have also looked at the contact sheets of many magnum photographers and i see the same there too…the very best pictures are literally little slices of life that come and go quickly never to return…pieces of “magic” that required intense concentration, but then “came and went” so fast that they could barely be captured…..but, were “capturred” because of this patience and then intensity….

    for all…

    i do want to discuss this whole business of stills vs. video…but it is a whole new topic….i must catch a plane in about an hour , so no time for me this minute….but i will be back in new york on wednesday, so i will bring it up again then….if i forget, remind me!!!!!

  • Oh, about being invisible or non-threatening… it completely depends on what you want to shoot. I would say that only the invisibility works for proper street photogaphy, which is usually cold and anonymous. Being non-threatening has the problem or advantage (depending on what you do) that you’ll end up meeting the people. But it’s sort of great when you can carry a medium format camera and take pictures without anybody asking questions because already some people asked questions and now you are simply part of the scene. Not sure if it’s clear. Yesterday I was walking around when I met Iraqis celebrating their victory in the Asian Football Cup. I just joined for shooting, and after some people encouraged me to shoot as much as possible, it was simply a big party. Or another day I was just following some of my usual suspects and when I kept on shooting when new people joined in they just looked once at the camera, nobody made any comment, and stuff sorted.

  • Hi David,

    I attended a seminar in Bermuda with Flip Nicklin (he shot stories foe the Natioanl Geograohic) and he told us that a picture is in fact three pictures: close shot, medium shot and far shot (that gives the context).

    Maybe you believe that your one time shot pictures are the best because you did not get “tired” (=”overworked”?) of the subject. Maybe the single shot is more spontaneous, which allows your internal self to express itself on the picture (sorry I could have said this better in french…but I am trying!)

    Arie

  • David,

    To your point about feeling your one off images being stronger than series… I’ve often felt the same thing and attributed to the genius of the unconscious, the zen state of being in the moment without trying and without effort (“Zen in the Art of Archery ” is a great little book on the subject). And that’s difficult to sustain for any length of time — for me — while working a series.

    Have a good flight,

    – Giancarlo

  • Hi Giancarlo,

    funny that you mentionned this book, Henri Cartier Bresson loved this book, it was very close from his own views on photography. I read and re read this book several times.

    Arie

  • Giancarlo- you might enjoy “Zen Keys” by Thich Nhat Hanh, if you have not already read it.

  • Arie,

    Did not know that about HCB, but it makes sense that he would find that parallel… It is a wonderful little book and I have read it a few times myself.

    Asher,

    I have not read “Zen Keys” but I’ll check it out. Thanks for the hint!

    David,

    Now you have 2 zen books to add to your list!

    – Giancarlo

  • David

    When I’m working I never try be invisible, now I just try to talk with people or just participate. I hinge my camera on neck, everybody knows that I will taking pictures, and I’m waiting, and waiting for one or two frames (or more if it’s possible). I had so many unpleasant situation like we all I suppose so I try bypass it. I’m very sensitive on this.
    Last weekend I was working in gothic festival in little middle-aged castle. Fans of dark gothic music have faced each other there. Everybody had strange dress like on Halloween or carnival. (I don’t know word describing it “they changes?” )
    On this meeting everybody take pictures each other. So I was totally free and I was felt great!
    There were many photojournalist but I was one of first on place and all the time, so many people treated me like one of them. I had huge smile on my face all the time because I truly like them all, and they try to look very serious (dark) but when they see me everybody smiles to me too (they are most dark-positive-sunshine people) . This was best environment for work I ever could dream.
    I was learned many things in this weekend. I work on positive films so I must waiting for results. I tested make something other than just portrait people in freak dress. Shapes, light, crowd…
    We’ll see, we’ll see…

    Peace for all

    Martin

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