Monday, June 22, 2015

SWAGO: The Biggest Secret on how to Make Great Photos

I'm back from a highly rewarding (also photographically) trip to lovely Greece, and my bags are full of souvenirs. The most valuable ones, however, are things you can't put into bags. They are experiences and meanings.

image of a beach
When you are in this scene, stuff like "Dynamic Range", ISO, focal length, etc., become utterly meaningless and - frankly - hopelessly incapable of conveying the sublime feelings you experience

In terms of photographic lessons, the most important one I learned during these past two weeks can be summed up in a single acronym: SWAGO. But what is SWAGO and how does it help you get interesting photographs? It's simpler than you think (and yet it revolves around photographic issues so deeply embedded into modern photographic minds, that it can be hard to embrace). SWAGO stands for
Stop Whining And Get Out

Stop Whining
Stop whining about your camera or your lens
Stop whining about having 12MP instead of 36MP
Stop whining about having a DX sensor instead of an FX one
Stop whining about your lens being f/4 instead of f/2.8
Stop whining about ISO or dynamic range
And Get Out
Get out of the house, see the world
Get out of the house, travel, experience
Get out of the house and find wonderful scenes you can photograph
Get out of the house taking any camera available to you (if it's a D3200 and the 18-55 so be it - that was the only camera and the only lens I carried with me; all photographs in this page are with this combination)

image of Greek presidential guard
Like all other photos of my trip, taken with a humble D3200 + 18-55. So what? It's all about having something to say with your photos; it's not about the camera.
This concept, expressed in the SWAGO acronym is not anything new. We've been talking about this before. But maybe for the first time I personally realized exactly to which extent worries over photographic equipment are meaningless.

Focal length too short? Go closer.
Focal length too long? Go farther back.
Light too low for the exposure you want? Choose another one.
Everything technical fails you, stars are falling and worlds collide? Stop whining about it and move on, seeking the next experience.

You see, the biggest secret on creating interesting, captivating photos is this: Be present, allow your mind/spirit to connect to the sublimity of the scene. Any camera that allows you to set exposure (or at least exposure compensation) is enough.

image of couple kissing under the Acropolis
To capture a scene like this you don't need 20-whatever-bits of portrait depth, nor a camera with 90-whatever DxO marks, nor 14-whatever stops of dynamic range. You just need to be there, both physically and mentally.
Photography - as I explain in great detail here - is not about photographing what you see; rather, it is about making an image of what you experience. This can also happen in your own house, your own yard, your own town. But travelling to other places, meeting new people, seeing new things, has a crucial effect on your ability to photograph emotions (provided you're not preoccupied with your camera).

image of a girl in bodypaint
When you apply SWAGO principles, when you stop whining and you explore the world (rather than diagrams of ISO 6400), you will find yourself in more and more interesting situations. Walking along the lovely port of Mikrolimano, I met this girl in bodypaint who kindly posed for a photo.

We'll talk more about this in future articles, but the important thing to remember is this (I'll use my big bold font to convey its importance):

Your camera doesn't matter.
Your lens doesn't matter.
Your ability to connect to a scene, to discover emotions and experiences, DOES matter

image of a man in Plaka, Athens
This old man looks a bit peeved. Maybe he doesn't know how to apply SWAGO and he's too preoccupied with how many stops of dynamic range his camera has.

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