How to Photograph What Touches Your Heart

Photography is an exciting activity. Mostly for the person behind the camera, but we hope it will turn out to be an enjoyable and thoughtful moment for the person who looks at the photos.

I live in the city. But I often have the urge to take landscape photos, so I travel to the nearby villages and towns to see what’s on offer.

It’s important, that if you want to take good photos, then take photos of the things that move you.

Avoid trying to be smart about a shot, or emulating another street photographer who always seems to take photos of things, and is in the right place at the right moment.

This leads to generic shots that everybody already knows.

Berlin Wilhelm Strasse, Mitte. © Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2022
Wilhelmstraße, Mitte, Berlin

If you spend more time looking than clicking you’ll end up with some great shots. When you activate your thoughts to seek the things you love to look at, to consider, then you’ll take shots of objects and people who move you. They are important to you. So, you’ll naturally want to get the best shot you can.

It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself a street photography, or a landscape photography, you are allowed to photograph everything that moves you to think deeply about it. That’s the point of photography. We investigate the world around us with a camera.

The better we understand the camera, the better we can ally it with our vision of how we see the world.

If you care about what you look at, and that can mean that it causes a shift inside you, a feeling to arise that attracts you to think more deeply about it, then chances are that other people will be moved by your final shot.

When I walk about the city and look for subjects to photo, I’m not thinking “street photography”, I’m looking at people, crowds, groups that form and flow in doorways, and down escalators. I’m looking for human activities that either blend in with the cityscape, or that counter it in some way – an odd occurrence happens, and my camera is up to get the best shot I can; an argument between strangers, or somebody running like the wind along a street. That happens once in a while, a little drama on the street.

Your vision is the driving force behind your best photos.

Each time we pick up a camera and go for a walk, either in a city, or in the countryside, we know that there will be many combinations and permeations of life and nature that we’ve never seen before. This means that the opportunity to find one, maybe two great shots, hopefully a couple more, is highly possible. It tells us that it’s worth looking.

If we go out with our vision and the camera as tool to express our own thoughts, then we are on the right track.

Personal vision is hard to define. We all see things differently, all of us have opinions and lifestyles that taint our spectacle of life. But if you are moved to take photos then it’s probably because you know that your own vision of the world is worth capturing and sharing.

I try and see the world as it is; that’s hard. But at least it allows me to push away the lies of sentimentality, or romanticising things too much. A little romantik in life helps you through the day, but when it rolls into the realms of blinding a person with “wishes and horses”, then we can’t see properly. We become blind to the balance of everyday things.

As photographers, we see and perceive. We filter ideas in through our vision of life. Then we do our best to photograph it, so it will express the idea that we felt and saw.

Vision is your Thing. It’s what you chase and pursue through the streets of your city. As you do, something will occur and correlate with your vision, you use the camera to capture, and express the idea with the use of a tool.

What’s in your mind is what’s important. The camera is always a tool that you must master, and bend to your way of thinking. I always try and get the shot “in camera”. Then I only need a few moments in post processing to finish the job. This helps me to stay focussed and disciplined.

Sometimes, I take a shot so quickly, as if everything happened in a split second, the content of the shot is great, I love it, but it’s got a tad too much noise in it, or it’s too dark. It’s then that I go back to post processing and wrangle with the image, hoping to save it from the bin. A fools errand. Better to let it go and go out search for something new. It’s out there somewhere.

If you get into the habit of working with your feelings, your vision, you will begin to take better photographs. Chase the light and shadows, but learn to react to what really floats your boat. The things that fire us up will teach us more than taking shots that reflect what landscape or street photography should look like according to the masses.

When we begin to take good shots, we discover our own vision of life. We are starting to see it gel into an idea that we can feel more secure with as photographers. This gives us confidence, then we’ll know what you are looking for.

At the moment, it’s high summer where I live. I was returning home after a long day out at a large lake in the south-east of Berlin. I’d taken a few decent shots. They fired me up, so I stayed longer than planned. Then the light started to drop.

Müggelsee Woodlands Berlin. Copyright; Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2022
Müggelsee Woodlands Berlin

I was in a woodland by the lake, and thought it best to be on my way. I got on the train, headed back into town, watched the landscape pass me; the trees glowed, and I noticed each station was bathed in a special light.

The evening glowed with the remnants of bright sunshine, the sun already dipped behind the houses, the sky glorious with magenta and deep golden colours. We passed an industrial area where large mechanical wheels arched across the sky, the metallic buildings reflected the light in a way I hadn’t seen in a long time. I wish I could have stopped there and taken photos. It wasn’t possible, but I noted the place and time. I’ll be back.

As we continued on into the city, things got busy on the platforms where the train stopped. Groups of people gathered and waited. Their clothes reflected the light so vividly that primary colours looked gorgeously photographic, other objects had tones of pastel.

All of it so bright and the shadows so soft – a photographer’s dream moment. All of it only lasted a few minutes after sunset, and the dusk of a high summer and a particularly brilliant day of sunshine and heat, left the evening drawn out with a display of people and clothing, and objects that created passengers along the compartment to gasp with delight.

I got off at Ostkreuz Station and waited for a connecting train. Everything was still in full evening glow. Then I noticed that the opposite platform was full of people crammed together, milling about as they waited for their train. When I looked up at the schedule board and saw that in one-minute, their train would arrive and my view and vision would be fully blocked by a large grinding steel body.

I pulled out my camera and set it so that I would capture the light falling on their faces and shoulders, and how it spread gently through the shadows below them. After I took a shot, checked the histogram for balanced light. Adjusted and took another shot. I felt out of breath after two shots, then a train rolled in and blocked everything. Last shot of the day.

By the time I sat on my own connecting train, The evening had become twilight.

Ostkreuz Bahnhof in Berlin. Evening Light. © Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2022. Photo that touched me.

The above shot makes me think about performers on a stage. Waiting for the signal that the curtain will rise, and the director will be nervously watching from the wings.

I feel that I followed my heart on this photo. I photographed something that touched me.

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