Noise Reduction: Paul Sanders on a mindful approach to photography
Posted: 06 Apr 2018
Paul Sanders has been a professional photographer since 1984, his career in newspapers and photojournalism culminated in his appointment as The Picture Editor of The Times in 2004. At the end of December 2011, he left The Times to pursue his love of landscape photography. Paul’s journey from news photographer to landscape photography began as a form of therapy to help him deal with the stress and anxiety that resulted from the pressure he was under at The Times. Printing his own images forms the last, but most important part of his workflow and completes the connection with his subject.In this blog, Paul shares how photography helps him to shut off from the pressures of daily life.
You can find out more about Paul here
Often in life we struggle to really hear or see what is really happening. We are surrounded by noise, colour, the bustle of daily life, and it all serves to really deaden our senses. I suffered, and still do at times, from the unwanted and unhelpful noise in my head that comes from having the volume of real-life turned up to 11.
How can you even begin to photograph a subject, any subject, but especially landscape when there is so much white noise in your head and clouding your vision?
I’m sure you are all familiar with the feeling of a whirring mind - whether it’s the pressure of work, family, or that difficult judge who will critique your camera club competition entry. All of these things stop you giving your inner vision the chance to breathe.
The photography process in itself is fraught with unwanted noise (excuse the pun) - exposure, hyper focal distance, filters, and lens choice all combine to blind you to the actual process of turning the feelings you have into images.
At which point can you stop and shut all the noise off?
Photography for me is purely about connecting with my subject, not just recording it, or trying to please other people. I’ve ceased trying to be other photographers and visiting those well-known places where the tripod feet have left bare patches in the soil. I shoot purely for myself. Some might say it’s self-indulgent, but if spending time alone in the places that resonate with me is self-indulgent, then yes, I am. And I love it.
The key to photography and making it your own is being able to take the image that matches the emotions you feel when stand in the landscape.
Ansel Adams is quoted as saying “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
How true is this quote of many of the images we take?
Do you stand in the field and really connect with the landscape, allowing your emotions to come to the surface, blocking out the noise and distractions to truly record what you feel? This is the most important aspect of photography to me. Sure, the technical bit matters too, but what is an image without emotion or feeling? What’s the point of producing something that is technically perfect if it lacks soul?
Don’t get me wrong - the technical skill of photography is important, but it shouldn’t be the driving force. The camera shouldn’t get in the way - It's only a tool for recording what you feel and observe. When I get to a location, the very last thing I do is get my camera out. I feel the rocks with my fingers, listen to the wind or waves, smell the aromas in the air, watch the light moving, and usually sit or stand for ages before committing anything to the sensor.
When I am in this place, the rest of the world goes quiet. People around me vanish, the worries of bills, home life, and work pressures all stop. Things that kept me awake suddenly get put into perspective and usually fall in to the category of insignificant.
It’s taken me a long time to arrive at the conclusion that the only person who needs to like the images I produce is me. If it ticks my boxes and truly reflects how I felt when I made the picture, I am content. What other people think is up to them. It's beyond my control and therefore not worth the worry. Interestingly though, in doing this, I've found that it's possible - if not likely, to create success. Rather than no one buying my work becuase I shoot and image for myself, I fond that there are many people who buy my work because they really emotionally connect with what I was trying to get across when I took the picture.
That’s my advice for great photography. Put the rules, technical details, and critics to one side. Shoot with your soul, empty your heart into your pictures, and enjoy them as they take you on your own journey of creativity.
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