How to be a Holistic Photographer | Light Stalking

How to be a Holistic Photographer

By Jason Row / February 14, 2015

Today, we are going to go a little left-field and talk about taking a holistic approach to photography. Regular readers will know that I often talk about pre-planning, particularly in travel photography but what I haven’t mentioned is that I often take an entirely unscientific and entirely random approach to shooting as well. This I like to call holistic photography.
So what is holistic photography? Fans of the late author Douglas Adams will know that beyond the famous five books of his Hitchhikers Trilogy, he also wrote two books featuring Dirk Gently, a holistic detective. Dirk makes use of the the fundamental interconnectedness of all things to solve the whole crime. The slightly zany idea behind holistic photography is to use the same principle of interconnectedness to bring us to great pictures.

How Does it Work?

The basic idea is to entirely defocus your mind on trying to achieve a particular type of shot and opening your mind and senses to the world around you. Rather than plan to shoot, for example, a particular building at a particular time of day, go to a random location at a time when you feel like shooting and follow your instincts.
This might be as simple as wandering the streets with an entirely open mind, when you come to a junction, simply take the route that feels right. More often than not, you will stumble across something really interesting to shot that you might never have considered.
An example of this random interconnectedness is you might see a pretty woman in a beautiful red dress and think, she might make a great subject. Rather than approaching her to take a portrait, you discreetly follow her and end up at a street flamenco party with huge potential for lots of great shots. Your mind has been attracted by the girl in the red dress because she stands out in the crowd. She stands out because the red dress is unusual and completely different to everyone else, so there is a good chance that she is going somewhere unusual. This might seem a little bit zen and entirely unscientific but it really does work.

Random wanderings led me to this. Photo by Jason Row Photography

It's Not Just About the Visual Aspect

Taking a holistic approach to photography is not just about the visual aspect. It is about tuning all your senses to the world around you. Walking along you might touch a handrail and it feels different. You look down and there is a beautiful engraving on it and the light is perfect for a close-up. You might smell food being cooked in the open air and come across a local market or food fair. Maybe you hear the distant rumbling of V8 engines and come across street racing. The point is that by tuning our senses to look, listen, feel, touch and indeed taste, we can open entirely new photographic possibilities.

2014-11-04 City of London-046
A holistic decision at road junction led me to this shot. Photo by Jason Row Photography

Become Technically Instinctive

Another aspect of the holistic approach to photography is to become technically instinctive. By this I mean that, having “stumbled” across your amazing scene, don’t get bogged down in trying to work out the technical aspects of the shot. The first thing you should do is raise that camera to your eye and start shooting. By leaving your mind free to look for the creative possibilities in the shot, you will actually find that you will instinctively set the right aperture or shutter speed.
In a controlled situation, you might find yourself raising your shutter speed to freeze the flamenco dancers that the red dress girl led you to. In a holistic situation, you ignore the need for a fast shutter speed and find you have a number of great shots with motion blurred dancers. Very often we get bogged down by the technical requirements of a shot to the detriment of the creative aspects of it.

Early Evening view of the City of London from Tower Bridge
Use your instinct for the technical matters. Photo by Jason Row Photography
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Right time right place. Or was it? Photo by Jason Row Photography

As I said earlier, this all sounds a little bit Zen and unscientific but the irony is that, for me at least, it works. Many more times than it realistically should, to be honest. Whether this is because there is some random interconnectedness in the world or just because the world is full of interesting subjects is another debate. All I know is that whenever I go on a shoot, I devote at least one day to holistic photography and that one day often supplies a surprising number of excellent shots.

About the author

Jason Row

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here


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