On average, there are approximately 14,600,000,000,000 photos taken in one day on a global scale. This makes it extremely difficult for the average photographer to take a unique image.
Think how hard it is now to capture something that no one on planet earth has managed to yet. Unless you’ve been lucky enough to witness a spirit bear riding a killer whale, and had your camera with you at the same time, you’re going to find it pretty difficult to shoot a photo that makes someone say “I have never seen anything like that”.
As a photographer, I found it daunting to think how impossible it would be to make that happen, and it’s quite easy to feel like just giving up. But – it soon occurred to me that, in reality – every image is unique. Behind every photo there is a different story behind it just waiting to be told. The story is not always visible, so its up to the photographer to communicate it. Essentially, if you are a photographer, in one way or another – you are a storyteller.
Take this image of a spirit bear for example. I love this picture, and it’s not because it’s the best photo I’ve ever taken, or the most beautiful, and it certainly isn’t the first one ever taken of a spirit bear in the rainforest. It is the moment and everything that followed when I snapped this shot that brings feelings emotion and inspiration to me, and hopefully my audience…
It is the moment and everything that followed when I snapped this shot that brings feelings emotion and inspiration to me, and hopefully my audience.
A gentleman named Chris visited us in the rainforest, he was recently diagnosed with ALS, and figured that he’d like to see as much of the world as he could before he wouldn’t be able to anymore. I told him we could go on a mission to find the white bear, but it would be a challenge. Everywhere Chris went, he had to carry an oxygen tank on his back, and a spare, and he had just about lost the use of his left arm, except his shoulder.
It took a while, but we hiked up one of our steepest river systems, and down into the canyon. He told me he had had enough and asked if we could just sit where we were. We sat down, set up our tripods (he shot on an old Nikon film camera using one hand!) and waited.
It didn’t take long before a white figure peered from the bushes on the same side of the river as us. The spirit bear posed on a rock for a while before walking down into the river to catch salmon.
I can’t explain to you the feeling of sharing this moment with Chris. He was well rewarded for his relentless attitude to climb that steep trail into the river.
The story behind the image doesn’t always have to be about you, the photographer. Of course, almost always it should be about your subject. On this occasion I guess the story is more about Chris, and his amazing experience. But this next image of a black bear means so much more when you know the meaning behind the subject.
I call this image “Content”. The bear is very calm and relaxed as he watches the salmon swim and jump up the river below. I thought it was beautiful the way he rested his head so elegantly upon his paw, watching the world go by. Unfortunately, this behaviour is rare these days as the salmon start to decline and the rain is sparse. Bears are having to work so much harder to get enough nourishment to feel satisfied. When I look back on this image, it makes me so happy to think about how content his bear was, that he was so well fed, that he was just as happy watching the salmon as he was eating them.
Now that you’ve had a chance to understand the image, and the subject, does it not bring a whole new emotion that you didn’t have on your first glance? If you’re well equipped with the knowledge of bear behaviour, then perhaps you already understood what was really happening in the image. But most of my audience are not bear experts, so feeding them this little story that is 50% beautiful and 50% heart breaking will stir up some emotion and cause them to look at this photo in a whole new light.
Like any storyteller, a photographer can control the feelings that they want the audience to have when they look at an image. Happy, sad, a bit of both, anger perhaps. Mostly, I want my photos to generate inspiration. I want my artwork to be more than a pretty picture, to be my essential tool in which I use to engage people into the planet’s beauty, and its tragedies. This is what makes my photography unique. And your photos are unique too! You just have to tell the story.
Visit Jack’s photography website at www.jackplantphotography.com