Tanzania is home to 30 species of monkeys, did you know that? I didn’t. I read it on a Kenya Airways’ Msafiri Magazine. Then spent three quarters of an hour, 30,000 feet in the sky between Nairobi and Mombasa, wondering why the editor felt that information is relevant to me.
Msafiri is a travelers’ magazine largely targeting tourists. Or bored travelers whose jaws’ drop on finding out Tanzania has 30 species of monkeys. Clearly that piece of information is at the right place. I only want to highlight the beauty about books (or magazines). Regardless who the target audience is, you pick one open its pages and read, communication will take place. Take me (and now you) for instance, knowledge of Tanzania being home to 30 species of apes (31 if you include Tanzanians and its tourists) now resides in a corner of my brain (and yours). This fact seems pointless now but might one day make me seem smarter than I really am. Like when I end up in a conversation with the Tanzanian president and need to make small talk but still appear well read about his country.
“You have a beautiful country, Mr. President.”
“What do you like about it?”
“It is home to 31 species of apes, did you know that, Sir?”
On an interview I was in recently, I was asked to I explain the process I take in making photographs. As my mind was spinning to state it out, I realized part of the process is one common question I answer before capturing a shot, what is my message in the frame? For a split second right before squeezing the shutter button under the tip of my index finger, I have to decide what my message in the frame is. Like a book placing its strength in its message to readers, a photograph places its power in its message to viewers.
Often we forget photography is art and end up practicing it with the wrong or without purpose. This sways us from holding true to the craft. Photographs then become books of words without a message. We need to elicit emotions, whatever they may be, in order for photography to have soul. Have you ever wondered why some photographs are more powerful over others? The ones that draw in people into discussions do so because of the messaging in them. For our work not to become just other images among the billions created everyday, it needs to make people feel something; happy, sad, excited. Something. Shots that are able to make connections with viewers are ostensibly held with high regards. Messaging gives them purpose.
Evoking feelings from viewers has to be deliberate. This can only be possible if you aim to tell a story in every frame. Right before you decide what needs to remain in or out of it, you make the judgement on the different elements that work together into giving your final photograph. It is a split second decision but one that you have to make nonetheless. The message will be subjective depending on who is decoding it but the elements remain the same; light, perspective, texture, rhythm and color or lack of it just to mention a few.
The question on the ideal settings to deliver your message then become inevitable. Here is the thing, there are no template settings to stick with. You will have to work with the vision playing at the back of your head on whatever it is you want to say. The time you have is normally very short and you have to be quick altering focal length, focus, shutter speeds and aperture. At the same time, you will be minding your composition, what you want in and out of your frame.
“We need to elicit emotions, whatever they may be, in order for photography to have soul.”
If you are making a portrait of a model, conditions will be lenient on you. What happens when you are capturing a lion on a hunt and have to decide about the message in the frame in a fraction of a second? Two things are then important to note. Start with composing in a calm state every time you do it. You will lose some ‘perfect’ shots but that is fine, other ones will always come. Then take time to train your eye to see messages every time you aim your lens. You develop the ability of capturing shots that connect with viewers. Like any skill under the sun, perfecting it is an equation of practice and time.
Let us conclude by agreeing there is no one way of saying what you want to say in your shots just as we do not all understand literature the same way. What matters is to have a message in there because for sure, it will come out.