Turning Down the Volume

Waves and Rocks

Waves and Rocks. Canon 5D2, 70-200 f/4 @ 200mm, f/29, 2.5 sec, ISO 200.

If you are in a crowded room, and yell out “Mike!” a handful of people will turn around, and most of them will be named Mike.

If you are in a crowded room and yell out “Asshole!” everyone will turn around. None of them will be named Asshole.

The point is this: It is easy to get attention, but much harder to sustain it.

Photographs are the same way. They can scream or they can speak softly. They can overtly preen and posture, trying their hardest to get your attention, or they can be discreet and subtle, and slowly win you over without you even realizing it. They can repeat a well-known highly palatable joke to predictable laughter, or they can be original, possibly confusing or offending most of their audience, but endearing themselves to the rest.

Upon closer inspection the loud photo is often revealed to be exactly and only that: loud. Once you turn down the volume, you realize the photo is saying the same thing that’s been said before, though perhaps not as eloquently. The photo tells you little about the artist who took it. Worse than that actually is that the photo doesn’t tell you anything at all. It was so focused on getting attention that it neglected to prepare for any conversation afterward. It is left stuttering and stammering, not knowing what to do next.

Raining at Sunset

Raining at Sunset. Canon 6D, 24-105 f/4 @ 105mm, f/11, 1/40 sec, ISO 400

The screamers are rewarded, at least in the short term. In the current electronic age of mass photo consumption, a loud photo can easily drown the voice of several quiet photos. For some photographers, the success metric for a given photo starts and stops with how well it is received and by how many.

A shouting match soon breaks out among the photographs. So desperate in this nuclear arms race for attention, photographers do things that, without peer pressure, they would never ever do. They push the bounds of good taste. They play it safe and take no risks. They invent, digitally misrepresenting the scene to a staggering degree to fit in with a watered-down group aesthetic. Most of all they copy. Freely, liberally, and without shame they copy.

Ocahui Agave. Canon 6D, 24-105 f/4 @ 105mm, f/11, 1/40 sec, ISO 400

Ocahui Agave. Canon 6D, 100mm macro, f/3.2, 1/50 sec, ISO 200

I am going to let you in on a secret: I, too, used to be a screamer. My voice became hoarse.

I have since stopped singing for an audience. Instead I try to produce photos that are meaningful to me, though many will be tone-deaf, out of key, and hard to hear at first.

For those who are willing to stop and listen and strike up a conversation, my photos will at least have something to say. Granted, it might be a crude joke about assholes in a crowded room, but that’s still something, isn’t it?

If you would like to learn more about how your photographs can sing rather than scream, consider buying my Beyond the Grand Landscape through the Dreamscapes store. 

Ron Coscorrosa

Author: Ron Coscorrosa

Ron Coscorrosa is an unprofessional nature photographer who loves referring to himself in the third person almost as much as he loves photography. Ron took a few years off from his "real" job to pursue photography, deplete his savings, and, unexpectedly, move to Denver from Seattle as well as co-author three e-books: Beyond the Grand Landscape: A Guide to Photographing Nature's Smaller Scenes, Forever Light: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Iceland and Desert Paradise: The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Death Valley National Park. While Ron has won no photography contests nor has he been published anywhere of note, he is pretty sure his mom likes him quite a bit. You can see more of Ron's photography at naturephotoguides.com.

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