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Never Underestimate The Value Of Access

A few weeks back I was chatting with a friend, a ski instructor, who also enjoys taking photos.  The conversation was like so many others I’ve had with amateur photographers in recent years – I wanted to see some of her photos and she wanted to go through some well rehearsed excuses about her craft, from lack of confidence using a dSLR camera to the limited amount of time she had to make photographs.

But, looking at a two page spread of one of her photos that was printed in a ski magazine, all those excuses quickly melted away like snow off the trees on a spring day.

The photo was a contextual portrait of a skier powering down a steep slope, waist deep in powder snow, glorious blue skies framing the valley below. Sure, I could pick out a few technical issues with the photo but there was one simple truth I couldn’t avoid.

I was never going to take that photo.

What we can do with a camera is, in many ways, not as important as being in place to make an amazing photograph.  Sure, if you have two photographers working side by side the more technically competent one might have an edge.  But, my friend was the only photographer on the mountain that morning and the sheer difficulty of just getting to that spot makes it hard for many photographers to follow in her ski tracks.

Too often we underestimate the value of access.  We compare our technical abilities (or limitations) with the people we admire.  But, we forget to place value on the access we have available to us.  What may feel mundane, or everyday, could be exotic, unique or hard to reach for others.

Kids, with their expressive nature and curiosity-driven way of engaging with the world, not only make amazing subjects for photography, they also provide a rich source of surprise for writers, artists and designers.  But, unless you have kids of your own, access is an issue.  In most countries you can’t just walk onto a playground and start photographing kids!

It’s worth pausing to reflect on this.  Our pets, our workplace, our favourite cafe, our elderly relatives, our daily commute.  All these feel so familiar and yet it’s easy to forget how much the details of each of them are really quite specific and unique to the life we live.  The moment we take a good look at any them we actually have access to a distinctive original story we might share.

Think about the street where you live.  However mundane and ordinary it might feel to you, I guarantee it is radically different, alien in fact, to the small backstreet I live on in Tokyo.  Show me your street and you are showing me a whole different world!

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5 Comments

  • Toni - 20th March 2017

    This often goes further than just access – take the photos you can rather than the ones that other people can. While it can be useful to emulate the style of others, we should be looking to see what photos open before us in the way we see reality. When we travel I always encourage my wife to take pictures because she sees things differently, and it’s unusual for us both to take the exact same photo, even though we’re in the same places together.

    Something else worth thinking about is how you might get access. A common suggestion given to those wanting to take amazing landscape photos is to go to amazing places at times of day when the light will be wonderful. If you only visit mildly interesting countryside when the light is uninspiring then your landscape images will be dull, almost regardless of the tricks you do in PP. This is talking to myself as much as anything: I dislike getting up before dawn, especially between spring and autumn, to get the early light, especially as one can never tell if the morning will be a dull grey instead of bright regardless of the forecast.

    Reply
    • fernando - 19th April 2017

      Toni – agree. So much of good photography is about the way the photographer sees the world. It’s fascinating to photograph the same place with other photographers then realise everyone has come away with different perceptions of the same place.

      Reply
      • Toni - 20th April 2017

        I always try to encourage my wife to take pictures too, even though she’s reluctant, because she always has a different way of looking at things from me.

        Reply
  • Daniel - 10th April 2017

    Excellant point, one that I can do well to remember when I’m pining for the backstreets of Tokyo! I should go out into the Vancouver mountains instead..

    Reply
    • fernando - 19th April 2017

      Daniel – I would pay handsomely for any of the Canadian photographers I follow to guide me around their backyard, but none want to!

      Reply

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About Fernando Gros

In his Tokyo studio Fernando combines his life-long passions for art and technology. On the road, he is always looking to take the next wrong turn, just to see what kind of images and stories might unfold. A photographer & writer, with a background in music, Fernando has lived in Chile, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Read More.

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