John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

one spot photography

One Spot Shots

one spot photography
When it's time to sit down

When we think about doing photography, we often subconsciously emphasize the word “doing.” We imagine moving around a room taking shots of some exciting event, hiking through a beautiful natural landscape capturing pictures along the way, skillfully navigating through busy city streets on the lookout for an exciting image, searching the backyard and inside our home for something we never noticed before, or arranging and rearranging an intriguing still life.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired. It also hurts my back and legs to be standing for long periods of time. And so I sit down somewhere, on a bench, a wall, a rock, whatever seems most comfortable. I often find myself sitting at some point when I take my camera along on shopping or tourist trips, when my wife would like to visit the stores while I prefer to stay outside to “do” a little photography. I try not to wander away too far, lest my wife have trouble finding me. After scouting out some shots in the immediate area, I’ll simply find a place nearby to park myself.

Creativity thrives under restrictions

Does my photography end while I’m sitting? Mostly, no. I like to think of it as a challenge. One theory about creativity is that when you place restrictions on someone, you force them to get innovative. One spot shots are a good example of this. If I sit in this one spot and look around, what do I see? What are the different photographic possibilities? Look up, down, left, right. Try to see the big pictures, the small pictures, and everything in between. Shoot from above my head or between my knees. Take a few self-portraits. Maybe I'll notice some interesting textured surfaces nearby that might come in handy as an overlay in Photoshop processing. I'll play with different camera angles and different camera settings. In fact, one spot shots are a good way to get to know your camera better because if you're not moving around, it's easier to move your camera settings around.

The resulting one spot shots might not turn out to be magnificent photos, but at the very least you'll enjoy the relaxed opportunity to develop your eye and shooting techniques under limited circumstances. Actually, in all types of photography situations you'll encounter obstacles of some kind. So you can consider one spot shots as an opportunity to develop the style of thinking that helps you grapple with such limitations.

New shots come to you because things always change

Taoists say that everything is always changing. One spot shooting teaches us that lesson. You may not be moving from your seat, but everything around you changes. Especially if you’re at some social event or on a busy street, all sorts of things are happening. That’s why old people sit on their porch all day long. They realize the most interesting show isn’t necessarily on TV, but right there in their neighborhood. With your camera in hand - if you’re patient, receptive, and quick on the draw - you can capture the highlights of the show, without moving at all.

I took the photos here while sitting on a bench at Disney’s Epcot. After lots of walking in the hot sun, I really needed a cool place to sit and recuperate. Needless to say, Epcot is a visually rich place for photography, not just the environment itself, but also the endless variety of people. So it’s a perfect opportunity for one spot shots. I did take pictures of people passing by, which was an obvious photographic choice, but here I’ll show some of the other not-so-obvious options that I noticed: a wooden gate across the street, the architecture above me, a reflection shot in the window behind me, and, my favorite of the bunch, a reflection in a puddle near my feet, which I hadn’t noticed until I hung down my head, feeling a bit weary and thinking that I had already exhausted all the photographic possibilities from the perspective of my bench.

Of course, if you’re alone in the woods, you’re not going to witness a whole lot of human hustling and bustling while you’re resting on a log or rock. Your one spot shots will be limited, at least in terms of human subjects. That shouldn’t stop you from developing your powers of vision. Look around and really SEE the subtle details of color, form, and texture surrounding you. Give yourself the chance to notice what you wouldn’t have seen if you had been walking on by. Cultivate your meditative awareness. Keep Thoreau in mind. Maybe you’ll spot some movement of insects or birds, or maybe some other forest creature will stroll your way. At the very least, if you’re patient to sit long enough, the sunlight will certainly change – if not by cloud movements, then simply by the inevitable fact that the sun progresses across the sky. The lighting of the scene around you will transform. Can you see it? Isn’t that what photography is all about – noticing and appreciating the subtle changes in light?

The changes, Taoists will say, also occur inside you. Our mind is a stream. As you sit there, different thoughts, feelings, and memories will float through you. This flow inside your psyche affects your perceptions. It changes what you can and want to see, what you can and want to photograph. It widens your awareness of yourself and the world around you. This is why one spot shots turn into a type of meditative, even mystical experience.

They say you can see the universe in a grain of sand. Well, if that’s true, then why not also see it in the scene around you as you sit patiently on that bench, rock, wall, or log? If you have the whole universe just paces away, how could you run out of opportunities for photography? All of the mysteries of life are right there in front of you. You don’t have to run around to seek them out. They’ll reveal themselves to you, if you just sit patiently while openning your eyes to see.


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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche