Photography, in it's entirety is important to me. The history, historical importance, influence, technical specifications of cameras, the value of photography in the modern world... And most importantly: making photographs myself, are what I've invested almost all of my time in for nearly a year.
I can say with confidence that I've come further as a photographer in 9 months than most people have in years. I can wear my absolute undying love for the medium as a whole on my sleeve and can lecture on the history of 35mm photography in Japanese. I have an incredible amount of discipline toward my growth as a photographer, and enough discipline to sit down and look at my last 9 months since I've started photography and recognise where I need to improve.
These are 2 of the areas I find myself needing to improve in photography.
The beautiful thing about photography is that it walks the line between it's ability to depict reality and create one of it's own. Theres an ongoing debate over which one photography should hold itself to, but I believe that duality is what is so beautiful about photography. I find myself spending more of my time depicting reality, because I'm attached to the world I live in. I can compose the world around me well enough, but my ability to tell a story visually using that same world hasn't developed. In other words: I'm can write a good page, but not a good book.
When I was in Battambang, Cambodia a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I woke up early and went to Phnom Sampov, a temple about 20 minutes from the city. It's a monastery located atop a 100 meter hill, with a system of caves below housing the bodies of over 3000 people murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime. I spent the ride over thinking of the countless opportunities I'd have to tell a story of the area.
When we started to climb the stairs, leading above the otherwise entirely flat landscape, I could see the same look in my girlfriend's eyes that she had when she saw the sun rise over Sakurajima, or when she climbed her first mountain in Gunma. Before my eyes was the start of a story I wanted to tell, and yet, I took nothing. When we reached the temple complex at the top I walked around to get my bearings, and after a while Marina had called out to me. She motioned me into a nearby temple, where a monk was sitting on the floor. He motioned for us to sit, and in Khmer went through a prayer, and an explanation of the murals on the wall. He spoke only Khmer, so as he spoke we just soaked in the atmosphere. There was this feeling of understanding that transcended all off our mutual language barriers. I asked him if I could take a photo of him, and I did. A single frame. A single, lackluster portrait instead of a cohesive story of everything until that point.
I noticed my blown chance immediately. The problem is I didn't take it to heart. My goal was to work on my storytelling, and I was genuinely excited for the chance to do so. But in the heat of the moment, I forgot to.
That night, I was going through my photos of the trip so far, and I started to realise one reason my storytelling as a photographer was weak...
Too Close, Too Often.
The first rule of photography I took to heart was, "If you're photos aren't good enough, your not close enough." It's solid advice, and it's the first thing I told my girlfriend to do when she picked up a camera. The problem is that I've often forgotten the value of wider shots and negative space. I've improved this for portraits, and have found a good balance between tight, wide and environmental portraits. The problem is with everything that isn't a portrait.
For example: I take a lot of photographs of Japanese Shrines and Temples, and spend most of my time at them. They're my biggest sources of inspiration and one of my favourite parts of living in Japan. The thing is, I approach them all the same way. The minute I enter the temple/shrine, I immediately approach the smaller details, and that's all. Take a look at the photos below, and you'll probably see exactly what I mean.
Are these good photographs? yes. I truly believe that compositionally, and in terms of the exposure these are good photographs. The problem is that they're incomplete. What I want you to do is scroll through them and guess what they are and where exactly they are taken. After you've looked at them, see if you're answer is even close...
・The first photograph is part of a torii (entrance to a shrine) where most of the lacquer paint has been stripped off over time. The Shrine is located on top of a large hill overlooking suburban Chiba Prefecture, Japan.
・The second photograph is of a set of pillars along the wall at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
・The third photograph is of a row of ema at Terakuni Shrine in Kagoshima, Japan. You write your wish or aspirations on the opposite side and hang them up. The more brightly coloured one is actually the one my girlfriend and I wrote.
・The last photograph is a rope wrapped around the part of a shrine near my old apartment in Saitama, Japan.
I doubt anyone was able to pick up any context to these photographs before reading the answers, and that alone of proof I'm shooting too close, too often. These perspectives are nice, since no one really gives these small details as much attention, however without context to them thats all they are: Small Details.
I believe my 2 biggest shortcomings go hand-in-hand, and improving them both will happen simultaneously. The first step though, is stepping back.