Think about the intricate ways in which the five senses intertwine. For instance, you open the door to mama’s house on a special occasion. A powerful waft of fresh tomato gravy, baked clams and slow-roasted cheese manicotti emphatically stimulates the olfactory receptors. Your sense of smell enables you to taste the meal before you even see it! If you closed your eyes, you could hear the sauce bubble and feel the heat from the boiling pot.
The fact that our senses are very much connected got me thinking. How can I connect this information to my photography? I constantly engage my eyes to create images. What if I add other ingredients to my new “photo recipe”? It took mama 40 years and much experimentation to finesse her cooking skills and she constantly used all five senses to concoct the perfect ingredients. What if I toss smell, hearing, touch and taste into the baking side of my camera bag along with sight? Try the following recipe, feel free to season it to taste and consume it every day or once a year—it’s up to you. Give it a whirl as you may find it’s the ultimate meal for which you’ve searched all these years.
The next time you go solo into the field, go about your normal routine, but every once in a while, sit on a log or rock, think about absolutely nothing, put your camera by your side and simply listen. Don’t stop there. Now close your eyes to prevent vision from influencing your thoughts. What do you see now? As you listened to the river flow, the wind blow through the trees, crashing surf, chirping birds, etc., without even realizing it, the tones that vibrated your eardrum will influence where you look. Wherever your eyes now rest, make a photo. If necessary, change a lens, add flash, alter your perspective and attach a filter if needed. Your eyes may enjoy the end result of your ears’ vision. Your sense of hearing may contribute to the best photo of the session.
What if you didn’t hear anything? Keep listening to the silence. Before you sat down, did you glance to your left or right or think to look behind you? As you hear the sound of silence, think about the environment that appears in each of those places. When your eyes reopen, have a look and another listen. Perhaps the silence will direct your eyes to a subject you’d have overlooked.
Been There, Done That
I’m blessed to have a job that provides income while I teach photography in Tanzania. As a result, I’ve seen and photographed a number of giraffes along with a multitude of other species. Unless the light was spectacular or the subjects performed dramatic behavior, I began to keep my camera by my side instead of up to my eye. Being someone who practices what they preach, I applied the multi-sensory concept to myself. I needed to be re-motivated. I closed my eyes and heard the sound of the giraffe’s tail swatting flies. I grabbed my 600mm, attached a 1.4 converter and waited for separation of both legs and the tail. The multi-sensory strategy worked.
Sense Of Touch
The elephant photo also came as a result of my newly incorporated game plan. The light on the herd was fantastic, but the backgrounds were awful and they all merged. I opened my brain to let all five senses in. Ironically, the one that worked for this photo is touch. On the right side of my face, I felt the warm sun—it was welcomed. I don’t normally make images of wildlife that’s side lit, but when I caught a quick glimpse of the positions of both tusks and the strong shadow, out came the 600mm with the 1.4. I zeroed in on the strong sidelight on the tusks, which eliminated the clutter around the herd. The multi-sensory strategy worked.
Lapping water has a distinct and soothing sound. One of my favorite subjects to photograph locally is the wood duck. Thankfully, there’s a small pond less than 15 miles from my home. It was a calm morning, there were plenty of ducks and the light was very nice. While the sun was still low on the horizon, I closed my eyes and listened. I was immediately drawn to the gentle sound of water hitting the bank of the pond. The concept I heard was water and when I opened my eyes, I was drawn just to the reflection—a new photo! The multi-sensory strategy worked.
Sense Of Taste
Both the starfish reflection and close-up spray of green on the rock were made along the Oregon Coast. The early-morning light was spectacular, but we totally lost it in low clouds. The warm golden color lasted but a few minutes. It was during that short span I made the tide pool image. It was a minus tide and rarely-seen subjects were revealed. Given the gorgeous dawn and first light, I was determined to continue making photos. I walked toward the bluff to find a rock upon which to sit and closed my eyes. When I opened them, there it was, just to my left. It was time for some close-up photography and to work the intimate landscape as opposed to the grand scenic. The multi-sensory strategy worked again.
Take the close-up tactic to the next level. Always be on the lookout for an intimate landscape. A more powerful image may reside at your feet, on the bark of a tree or in frozen ice crystals. Look for patterns, shapes and textures regardless of your location. A gentle cascade in a stream may net a trophy. A crack in a lichen-covered boulder may produce a winner. Don’t just key into the overall view, look elsewhere and everywhere. An isolated backlit aspen leaf may call your name if you first hear it rustle and then notice its stand-alone value.
Listen to the voice inside your head that tells you the rules of photography. Once you find a comfortable rock, section of forest floor, beach or patch of green grass upon which to sit, try the following. If the multi-sense strategy doesn’t trigger anything when you open your eyes, to further stimulate every sense, say the rules of photography out loud but in a soft voice. As you verbalize each, look around and study the area. See what the verbalized rule tells you to apply to notice a photo with your eyes that heed the words of your voice.
Make a connection with the two images for which I provided no text elaboration. See if you can solve the mystery of what sense motivated me to press the shutter. There’s no correct or wrong answer, so don’t worry. The fact you took the time to think about it wins a prize—it shows you’re already applying the technique—bravo! If you’re familiar with the song “The Sound of Silence,” play the tune on your drive home! It will encourage you to incorporate the strategy over and over and over.