The Art of Photography and Shooting with Intention
By: Janielle Granstaff of Lens & Beauty
A security scare at my son’s elementary school had me reaching for my camera as therapy. Photography for me has always been a way to capture my daily life. To pay homage to the life of my boys.
But this day something was different. I needed this for me. I needed a way to express myself. There is no way you can possibly imagine the surge of feelings after an experience like this. Fear. Extreme fear. The one that reminds you that there is nothing on the face of this planet more important than the health and safety of your child. Helplessness. The one that leaves this awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. These emotions may leave you feeling completely drained, confused. Not knowing where you stand or where to go from there. And if you’re an introvert like me, well, you may have an even harder time resolving what to do with them. Being an introvert, I just don’t really know very well how to express myself verbally. The written word has always been easiest for me. As words failed me that day, photography was the only means of expression left. It was a first for me, but it came naturally and the vision was very clear. So I reached for my camera. It was the only thing I knew to do.
It just so happened that my youngest son had found a sticker with the sign of “peace” on it and had started to play with it. This seemingly unimportant sticker suddenly bared all the meaning in the world to me. Now, I am mostly a reactive shooter. Inspired by light, yes, but reactive. I don’t really plan sessions, unless I am wanting some portraits or the occasional shot where I ask my boys to scoot over a bit so I can catch them doing whatever they’re doing in the perfect light (guilty! Hehe). But I had a specific purpose for these. I am a visual learner, a visual person. I needed to see what I was feeling, in order to cleanse. Get these feelings out in the open so I could understand them more clearly and work through them. So I could feel happy again. The bottom line was I wanted to feel happy again. I wanted all these awful emotions out of my chest. I wanted the squeezing I felt around my heart to stop, and the pit at the bottom of my stomach to just. go. away. I felt the anxiety creeping in because I didn’t know how to process all this. I wanted it all erased. I wanted to feel like me again.
The first thing I did was to place my son by a window. While the images I obtained were beautiful they were still not what I needed them to say. The light was even, beautiful light coming in from a south-facing window. Not accurate enough for my own turmoil. Nothing felt even and smooth inside my chest. It was all rather jagged, uneven, misplaced. I had to keep trying. I then noticed this other room. The light was coming in beautifully that evening. It was very subtle, reflecting only on part of the bed and wall behind it. It was dappled, uneven light due to the blinds and the angle the light was streaming in, providing a beautiful blend of light and shadows. In this harsh light I was able to highlight just parts of my subject. At a time when I wasn’t feeling particularly cheery, this allowed me to add a certain atmosphere to my photos that clearly reflected my personal inner conflict. I exposed for the highlights to accentuate light and shadows even more and play into the symbolism of each. I wanted to use this mixture of light and shadows, harsh dappled light, to represent some of my own feelings as their mother. My innermost, innate, personal, and fierce need to protect them, represented by bars of shadows keeping my boy partly covered, and echoed by the lines of the wallpaper behind them.
The placement of my subject and the “peace” sign were of utmost importance to me while creating these images. A boy, quiet, almost buried in darkness. Hidden. With evil threatening to swallow him, but pockets of light here and there, breaking up the darkness, to symbolize hope trying to break through. I wanted to especially highlight the symbol for “peace”, which was an integral part of not only my message, but of my own personal healing and therapy. I did not want this incident to take away from me. I needed to know and to feel that hope and peace are still out there and achievable.
I also wanted to especially highlight some of his features, such as the eyes. Eye contact was very important to me, as a way to connect the viewer with my subject’s soul. To symbolize hope for our future, as represented by a boy, and hope for humankind, represented by the wonderful “windows to the soul” that are a person’s eyes. By using a tight crop I hoped to keep the viewer emotionally connected to my subject. There is no place else to look. In that moment, to me, he was all I had that mattered. My focus, my attention, my life, all him and nothing else.
The monochromatic processing helped me transfer my feelings onto something visual by maintaining the atmosphere. By stripping away all detail and possible distractions that color could potentially bring, I was able to focus on the most important, which was the feeling and mood, the symbolism, and that sense of protection that came with having my boy enveloped in shadows.
Finally, I increased the grain. I am normally not a fan of grain in my own work but for this project in particular I needed a way to help communicate the rawness of my emotions. I felt vulnerable, exposed, unprotected…very human, very natural, very raw. There was nothing else around me but this whirlwind mix of various feelings and I elected to use grain to help me transfer the texture of that raw emotion into something visual.
Now, while I was mostly feeling defeated, I needed healing. Healing was the reason I picked up my camera to begin with. And healing could only come with the knowledge that hope is still out there. And nothing says hope better than infusing a photograph of a child with color.
I can only say that this particular exercise in shooting with intention was eye-opening for me, maybe even trans-formative. It really helped solidify in me what I’ve known all along. That photography is just a means. A mean of expression for some. A means of documenting for others. A means to tell some truths about us, whether they are physical truths about all that surrounds us or more ethereal truths about what makes our innermost true self. Maybe we do it more than we give ourselves credit for, this shooting with intention thing we hear about often. Maybe not. But there will inevitably come a time, I would bet, for all of us, when shooting with intention is the only thing we know to do.
Peace, world. Please.
Janielle Granstaff of Lens & Beauty | Facebook
Janielle is a natural light hobbyist photographer enamored with capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. By using light and details she strives to find beauty in the everyday. Through her photography she wishes to express her feelings as a mother, how she views childhood, and most importantly the things she notices in boyhood that make it special to her. Her belief that the present time should be acknowledged pushes her to use photography as a means to prove the existence and importance of those little moments that make up our daily lives.