Are you a killer or are you a listener?

Hi there,

I must reckon have had this post in mind for some time already. It all started some years ago, when I saw guys in videos running around freezing environments in short sleeves crying around and holding the tripod as if it was a spear, about to being thrown against Mother Nature to steal from her a killer shot, a trophy photograph, a forum-raver, a social network viral post, a pay-to-win-contest award and a soon-to-be-saturated-and-tweaked new image to be added to the collection of another hunter-of-the-shot-forget-about-the-experience-you-are-here-to-grab-it-and-run kind of person.

You might by now discover a certain irony and bitterness in my tone. Maybe it is because once, I was one of them? Or maybe not. Or maybe a bit. Maybe all of us start like that. We love Nature, we love photography, we put it together, and the cocktail explodes. For some time, we run with “the shot” in mind. We dilute the experience we once liked so much, and the camera becomes a barrier. Then we taste the sweet flavors of public appraisal, and the truth is it tastes so good… You want some? Just go and post your image on FB. Some more? Easy, post it on G+. Chances are you will get some dozens of likes, I add that, I put that on top of my head, or maybe collect a number of “awesome-man” awards for free and given in different sizes and measured in kilograms.

Too much temptation for the ego we all have inside. Too much pressure from the gurus of marketing. Just too much barriers to go on being “simply” a nature photographer…an artist…Or maybe not?

I must confess that more and more I realize that all that temptation, all that circus taking place around me has helped me to deviate from that treacherous river. A river which leads to the sea of abominations in the art and practice of photography, of self-expression, of finding and showing to the rest of people who you are, of using photography as a life style which opens your eyes and your heart to what surrounds you, a tool which encourages you to give to people without thinking of what you will get in exchange. Even if when I started I swam in the same flow as anybody else, I realized and still I realize every day that the only reason I dumped all my career to devote myself to nature photography was not to make money, fame, inflate my ego, chase for the killer shot or become the best nature photographer of all times. I became nature and landscape photographer because I loved being nature and landscape photographer. Do I need money? Yes, because I want to go on doing that and I need to pay bills which seem to arrive whether I want it or not. Do I need appraise from my peers? Yes, because it is kind of nice and serves me to evaluate from outside the box how my vision is evolving. Do I need to become the “best” photographer out there? Nope, because it is simply impossible. Even if I were the best, I would still need to compete with myself, which is virtually impossible by definition since as artists we never stop growing. So in a way, I am thankful I realized a number of things and simply reached the shore of that treacherous river, from which I still see many swim like crazy trying to reach that sea of  never-ending-rat-race in the field of nature photography.

All this rant and sorrow comes from an attitude I see more and more around the community of landscape and nature photographers. Bit by bit, it seems like delicacy, intimacy, introspection, reflexion, poetry, etc in photography is undermined and seen almost as not “proper” for a real “man-photographer”. If you want to become a nature photographer, you’d better wear short sleeves, run through deserts with beard of 5 days, swear and scream with a knife in your teeth, looking for the next “photo-victim” to fall under the weight of your tripod. A kind of modern version of the Neanderthal mammoth hunters looking for the trophy, the killer-shot, with the difference that those ancient guys tended to say thank you after the kill by painting on the walls of a cave, when modern ones limit themselves to post the image in the walls of a social network just to collect more “wows” and “awesomes”.

Do not take me wrong, I have nothing against sharing our images with others. In fact, photography without being shared is nothing at all, and our audience gives a big dose of meaning to what we do. We do what we do (or at least we should do it) for sheer passion, and there is nothing stronger and more beautiful than wanting to share our passions with others. A “client” shedding a tear when looking at any of my photographs is more valuable to me than all the money that client can pay into my account. What I am saying however is that focusing on the audience when we take photographs is normally a great disguise for the reality: we are photographing not for others, but for our egos, and we see others just as a pump to inflate that great balloon we esteem so much.

The other day I was reading an interview of Michael Kenna. A great artist, life liver and photography poet who said something which resonated inside of me so strongly. When we photograph we should not be stealing photos from the land, raping it, killing it, grabbing a trophy, hunting a shot, capturing, recording, imposing ourselves on what is out there as if that out there had no spirit in itself…We should just be listening to what (who?) we have in front, establishing a connection, a dialogue. We should be asking permission to make a photograph, be making a friend, showing the photograph to the subject and saying “this is how I saw you today,  see you soon” since we will surely come back to grow on that relation. I could not agree more. Basically, I imagined trees could photograph and thought: Would I feel good if a tree would grab a photograph from me without saying a word, run and post that image just to prove how great he was as a photographer? Maybe I would feel pity for him, since had he asked me first, I would have adopted a special pose for him, or make my flowers bloom just for the great occasion.

Please, next time you grab your camera and go out there, think out loud: Am I a listener, or am I a killer?

Personally, I have realized that the more I listen, the more I realize how deaf I was before…In the end, nothing needs to be killed. Life alone will do that for everything which exists. Do not kill it thus, just enjoy it while it is alive.


categories: Philosophical, Voice for a photograph
tags: Philosophical, Voice for a photograph.


  1. andreibaciu says:

    I was thinking these days about much of the things you mention here, dear Rafael, in this very well written text. I completely agree with your wisely balanced perspective.
    All the best,

  2. Andrei Baciu says:

    I was thinking about the same things lately. I completely agree with your wise perspective, dear Rafael.
    All the best,

    • Hi Andrei. It really pleases me to know these ideas were already making some noise into your head…I think, these reflections are what really make evolve our photography and our artistic life, not a new technique, not a new lens, not a new magazine…All those things are great to grow, but first of all, one must want to grow. Questions and “self-provocations” like these give us a bigger pot where to stretch our roots and rise higher…
      Take care ;-)

  3. Una buena disertación filosófica sobre fotografía o mejor dicho sobre el comportamiento de los fotógrafos (o de muchos).
    Eso de llegar y “ametrallar” el lugar a fotos con la cámara para tenerlo todo no es buena política. Siempre es mejor pararse a pensar, impregnarse del lugar y luego hacer las fotos con mimo, carió y pasión o por lo menos esa es mi filosofía.

    • Me alegra que te haya gustado Daniel. De hecho, de vez en cuando hago el ejercicio de dejar la cámara en la mochila y sentarme a contemplar el paisaje. O de dejar “marcharse” un fotón de vez en cuando. Aunque al principio duele un poco, con el tiempo uno se da cuenta de que muchos seran los momentos que pasaran por delante de la cámara. Es un buen ejercicio para evitar mirar el mundo sólo a través de un visor, con el peligro que eso conlleva, paradójicamente, para el fotógrafo….

  4. Alister Benn says:

    Good rant… It’s a tough call between the idealistic path of self-expression and the fiscal necessity of paying the bills, and the travel required to build a portfolio of experiential images.

    I think the bottom line is attitude and intent. It’s how we portray ourselves, how we interact with our peers and those people who pay for our living through appreciation of either our writing or images, or both.

    “But strewth mate – you got the shot, you damned well got that shot!!” Keeler…

    Great post my friend, I will take these words with me into the high mountains at the weekend…

    • Great to know you connected mate.

      I must say that it is more and more my opinion that the best way to pay bills is by really sticking to photography in the most idealistic way you can. Basically, the quick way to generate income is by producing beautiful and easy pics, but in the medium term that opens the door to becoming a simple stock-shooter, which quickly becomes the recipe to generate low income per photograph, dilute your work with the general standard and becoming just “another one” out there. I’d rather focus on something else related to photography to pay the bills, but know that every single time I click the shutter I am really paying the higher respect to my vision and to the reason why I chose photography as a new career (or should I say life style?).

      I totally agree with you about the attitude and intent…Many worlds collide in the field of photography nowadays, and comparing photographers is quite impossible. In the end, a photographer is just a person using a camera…too broad to generate a profile out of that!

      Maybe it is about time to use other words to identify where each of us stand or strive to stand in that broad stage…

      Enjoy the trip amigos and have fun! ;-)

  5. sserban says:

    Thank you for these thoughts, Rafael. It’s certainly good to hear such words with all these popular, social and agitation going around.

  6. Thank you for the post!
    Photography (generally speaking) is not the portray of a nature, man, place, but a portray of ourselves. When we as photographers understood that, we make the step forward in our passion, art.

  7. Crockett Gunn says:

    “rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” Thoreau. Also, give me the ability to stay out of my own way. Thank you for re-directing my thoughts.

    • Hey Crockett, it is I who thank you. Knowing that my post has strung a chord in you and helped you somehow is really great. Thanks for that quote, really appropriated indeed!
      Take care and enjoy discovering YOUR path ;-)

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