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We’ve seen slow versions of everything lately: slow food, slow travel, slow shopping, slow dentistry. (We might’ve made one of those up.)
But have you tried slow photography? It’s like a yoga class for your camera.
Long conversations with subjects, patient exposures, and delicate macros will lend your photos a new calmness and longevity — so vital in these rush-rush go-go slam-crash rock-and-roll times.
Join the Slow Photo movement, and soon you’ll be measuring exposures not in fractions of a second, but in fractions of an eon.
What’s Slow Photography?
But in general, the goal of Slow Photography is to capture photos that celebrate the passage of time. You can do that by taking photos that show time passing, like the long-exposed streak of a train across the plains; or you can spend a long time preparing to snap your shutter, such as the ornithologist who waits for four hours to glimpse a yellow-bellied sapsucker.
“I like to pretend that there’s expensive 120 film in my digital SLR when I’m out shooting, so as to force myself to be more deliberate.”
You can’t go wrong if you:
Okay! Ready to slow down?
Communication: One of the most important tenets of the slow movement is human connection, and there’s no better way to connect with humans than through portraits. But we’re not talking about the high-volume click-click-click of yearbook photos; we’re talking about long, leisurely, extended sessions that are more like an interview than a snapshot.
Start by forgetting that you’re even taking a picture. Just talk. Get to know your subject. Ask them questions and listen to the answers. Pretend you’re a therapist.
Comfort: Your goal here is to learn about your subject and make them feel at home. When we spoke with pro photographer Brandon Norris about slow photography, he explained that portrait photography is an opportunity convey a person’s spirit, “something we cannot expect to do if we know nothing of our subject, or if they are not at ease.”
Contact: Maintaining eye contact with your subject can help you feel closer to them, so rather than peering through the viewfinder and poking at buttons, use a shutter-release cable. Remember, you’re just two people having a nice little chat; let the camera fade into the background and you’ll free your portraits of awkward, nervous poses.
Seek Stillness: Landscapes afford you the opportunity for optimal slowness, since very little changes in a wide shot of a city or mountainside. Seek out subjects that reveal themselves over time, and leave your shutter open for as long as you can, reducing hustle and bustle to a gentle blur.
Every once in a while, you may find a scene that’s so slow, the movement is imperceptible: a desolate desert, a suburb at midnight, the morning after a snowstorm. That’s known as “hitting the slowness jackpot.”
Limit Light: Of course, for a super-long exposure, you’ll need to cut down on the amount of light entering the lens; use a tight aperture like f/30 and a neutral density filter to diminish any bright lights. But be aware: teeny apertures can cause color distortion in some lenses. This is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to buy a “prime” lens: a lens with a fixed focal length will produce a crisper image than one with a zoom.
Potential landscape subjects:
Macros have always been slow affairs. In fact, if you’ve ever taken a macro shot, you’ve probably practiced slow photography without even realizing it.
Peruse: What’s the slow version of an already-slow technique? It involves a lot of studying. Start by turning off your camera and inspecting your subject. That’s right, with your eyeballs. Don’t forget to blink every few minutes. Take the time to get to know every molecule of your subject, and it’ll start telling you stories that you can tell with your photos.
Perspective: Photographing a plant? Start by looking at the parts you never see, like the underside of the leaves. Photographing food? Spend some time moving lights around, paying attention to how different lighting conditions affect the shine on the surface of your meal. Photographing a sleeping dog? Examine the contours of each whisker. (And try to avoid stepping on any squeaky-toys.)
Some Final Words
“In my experience, it is essential to spend time with my subjects before any shoot.”
- Brandon Norris‘s advice that applies to any subject, whether shooting people or animals or a pair or wooden teeth
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