Impression vs Immersion in Photography

Impression vs Immersion in Photography

We take photographs for many reasons. For most, there’s a drive to photograph to record or document. Or to create an impression. Something that says: Look at where I am. Look at this interesting thing. Look at the fabulous life I’m leading (if you’re a social media influencer 🙂 ). But photography can be so much more.

Consider the images that have changed the tide of public opinion or the course of history. Nick Ut’s shocking and emotionally laden 1972 photograph of the young Vietnamese girl caught in a napalm attack during the Vietnam War still sears the soul and reminds us of the real terror of war. The image is a record, absolutely, but more than that, it holds the power to touch us in a significantly emotional way.

I’m not suggesting that we should all become embedded conflict photographers in order to create images that resonate with power and emotion. But as photographers, we need to look at how we can craft and create images that suggest levels of engagement beyond mere depiction, or beyond the obvious.

I’m going to call this impression photography vs immersion photography.

Metal market workers in their accommodation, Kolkata.

Impression photography is what we do when we see something that catches our eye. It may be pretty, unusual, interesting, unique… whatever it is, it’s formed an impression on us, prompted us to bring up the camera and to take a photo. To document or record it. 

Immersion photography takes us beyond the impression. It shows an understanding of the subject or moment and a respect for it that encourages us to find a more emotionally laden way of depicting it. In immersion photography, we move beyond the salient and look for the story, the mood, the part of it that says speaks to the heart of the viewer.

Wrestlers in Kolkata.

I travel and I photograph, and for me, creating immersive images is something for which I aim. Immersion asks us to consider the subject, scene or moment for longer than it takes to get an impression. It asks us to lay our hearts out and to let the things that we see make us feel. Sometimes, it means that we must wait and observe until we begin to connect and feel something. At other times, it requires us to risk connecting with events and people, so that we understand the spaces that they inhabit, the lives that they live.

Immersion asks us to stop saying “I want” and focus instead on saying “I am”.

I am drawn to this scene because…

I am feeling this because…

I am taking this picture because…

Immersion stops us from objectifying the world as photographers. Even the way we describe what we photograph as a “subject” reinforces the this objectification. Oh, how many times have I cringed inwardly when I hear photographers around me say, “I want this photo” or “I want to take her portrait” or “Can I grab your spot, I want the same picture as the one you took.”

Metal market alley, Kolkata.

Let’s move towards a more heartfelt, more connected attitude to photography, one marked with a respect for what we photograph and the desire to communicate the emotion through a skilful combination of light, composition and luck.

You’ll discover that when your images say more than “look at this” and begin to say “feel this”, you’ll have crafted powerful, engaging pictures. It happens when people cease describing your images as “beautiful” and “pretty” and begin to articulate what it makes them feel. You know you’ve hit the mark when you look at your images and realise that they are not stock photographs, but individually crafted emotional responses to what you have seen and experienced.

Because in your immersion images lie twin souls: that of what or who you have photographed, and yours.

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland. Food preparation.
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