“The breakthrough for me was realizing the great photography is much less about “technique” or even creativity than behavior: you need to really get close to people, physically and emotionally, to take good pictures of them.”
Photographs are like windows into the past. Although they are moments that have been captured within a split second, they encompass more than just snippets from the universal spectrum of time. Photographs are much bigger than the people and objects in their frames. Frames do not defy the stories told within their borders, they keep them from escaping.
No two people know this photography mantra better than George Lange and Scott Mowbray, authors of The Unforgettable Photograph: 228 Ideas, Tips, and Secrets for Taking the Best Pictures of Your Life. To our advantage, they’ve compiled a book of their own knowledge to help photographers from all over capture their own “Unforgettable Photograph.” Though they cover a wide variety of tips and trick in their book, a few questions were left unanswered. Lucky for us, we here at Six-Word Memoirs had the opportunity to dig a little deeper and find out more about the masterminds behind this incredible book.
1. Six-Words: In an age of constant clicking, how do we organize all the images into something that has meaning and staying power in our own lives?
George Lange: A teacher of mine at college taught me about the beauty of chronology, and I think Facebook’s timeline has it right in that regard. Still, we are taking so many more pictures than we will ever get to ever see. Part of the process is just about appreciating moments through photography. The fact you have a real image is besides the point. A mental picture might have worked. Then there are those amazing pictures we want to make a part of our personal histories. Lately I have not been posting in the moment I take the picture. Even Instagram. We are missing out on live experiences when we are posting, tweeting, sharing – and never looking up from our phones.
But the question is, how do we organize all the imagery? First, I would suggest letting some time pass before you edit the images. Having some time allows you to see more clearly what you have, and even in the short term what kind of meaning it has.
There are a ton of great ways to organize your images. Books, prints, magazines you can design online. Even videos that animate your stills.
2. SW: Do you believe that we’ve swung too far from “real” photography by allowing everybody to be a self-proclaimed “professional” through apps like Instagram?
GL: Being a professional is not about your camera—it is about how you capture your experience. While everybody can take great pictures on Instagram—if you follow a great imagemaker, you can definitely tell the difference. The 10,000 hours (or more) a professional puts into his/her craft allows them to see in ways that are unique. Instagram has democratized image making and created it’s own vocabulary. I love that Instagram includes words, too. Some of my favorite people to follow I pick for their captions as well as their images.
3. SW: Can you describe a little bit about the moment you took your first “unforgettable” photograph?
GL: It was the Cake Boss shoot, 25 years into my career. It was the first time I felt like I owned the picture. I kind of paused for a moment; I knew how I got here and I knew what I was doing.
4. SW: What is your theory on the relationship of photography and storytelling?
Scott Mowbray: After watching George shoot over the past few years and writing this book, I have embraced his idea that photography is a way for people to more deeply and emotionally engage in experiencing life. Done right, it’s not about distancing yourself by putting a camera up between you and your life, but emotionally engaging in moments through the process of seeing and feeling those moments. I think a lot of people do use photography as a distancing tool, a sort of cool-temperature hobby that removes them from being really present. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re trying to celebrate joy—and explore hurt and hard times too—then that will come through in the pictures. As George says, life is a series of moments, much as music is a series of notes, and the story you’re telling is really the melody of your life. Beyond that, there are fun ways to tell small stories within the big story: to shoot someone you love every day at the exact same moment, for example, for a month, or shoot every cup of coffee you drink on a trip through Europe.
5. SW: How much does experience plays into producing an “unforgettable” photograph?
SM: George is the pro shooter who has been doing this since he was a kid. I’ve really become serious about taking better pictures since I started working on the book with him: and what he’s taught me has had a profound effect on my pictures. The breakthrough for me was realizing the great photography is much less about “technique” or even creativity than behavior: you need to really get close to people, physically and emotionally, to take good pictures of them. To some degree you need to violate their personal space—and this requires building trust. This, in turn, requires some social skills that, if you’re shy like me, just take some practice: talking to people, praising their appearance, etc. It’s also about having the nerve to pull out a camera when other people might not, taking a LOT of pictures (because you never know when you’ve got that great shot), and dozens of other things easily explained in the book. So, yes, experience is important, but a certain kind of experience. I’m positive anyone can gain this kind of experience, because I did. Oh: and it’s fun and rewarding.”
6. SW: Can you describe a little bit about the moment you took your first “unforgettable” photograph?
SM: I took this picture of my two daughters a few years ago, not that long after meeting George. It happened because I followed a couple of George’s simple rules. We were out walking on a small island near Vancouver, B.C. one August, and the girls picked some flowers. It was very sunny and hot. The direct light was too bright, and the shade under trees was too contrasty. So I waited til we were back at the house and took them out of the direct light, and had them stand in front of a neutral-color background with some interesting lines to it. The light is lovely. I didn’t use a zoom, I got quite close, and then we just fooled around until I had several shots that were natural, relaxed, and very true to my girls. I just loved this shot the moment I saw it, and I wouldn’t have got it without watching George at work.