On Photo Safari: Discovering Yourself and Great Photos

Under the Boardwalk

Leslie Saber is very excited about the places her upcoming series of photography classes will take her students, physically and creatively. Secrets of Travel Photography: Weekend Safari, Photo Safari: Daytime and Photo Safari: Nighttime will not simply involve photo shoots outside the classroom; Saber aims to guide students in how to frame and capture the feelings they harbor for their subjects within the moment.

“I use a variety of techniques, most of them with the goal of ‘getting out of your way’ or removing blocks to my creativity,” says Saber. “I find a lot of value in Julia Cameron’s approach found in her book The Artist’s Way. I use a couple of her techniques in class.  For example, by writing ‘morning pages’ – basically journaling in the morning before your inner critic has a chance to wake up – I and my students isolate stuff we say to ourselves that stops us from taking a photo. I notice all the negative stuff I say to myself, and can then identify whether it is true or untrue and then find myself taking the photo I’ve wanted to capture for months!”

Saber cites a discovery she made after months and months of taking the ferry. “I know there’s an interesting place ‘under the boardwalk’ but I usually stay in my car,” she says. “Recently, there was a low tide and I gave myself the assignment to photograph it and make it interesting. When I took the photo, I felt the patterns reminding me of infinity, so played the image and transformed it so it’s just light and shadow and shape.”

When Saber cast off her negative thoughts and expectations around exploring the space under the boardwalk, it made a beautiful and striking image. “Once those silly negative thoughts are identified and put aside, there’s this powerful free space that can appear, which can be filled with that wonderful piece of art you want to create! The more you practice, the better you get at recognizing that criticism is not real, and possibilities become exciting.”Tunnel Zombies

The negative self-talk and crippling self-doubt are far more common than many realize. “It’s incredible to me that most everyone experiences this,” says Saber, “from seasoned professional artist, to first time student! Somewhere along our way we’re told we’re not an ‘artist’ and that we shouldn’t spend time with ‘Woo-Woo’ stuff like feelings! So my goal is to create a place like a photography class to allow yourself to take a risk and share the real YOU!”

For photographers there is a tremendous difference between “looking” and “seeing” their subjects. It is something Saber looks forward to exploring with her students. “I love this distinction!” says Saber.   “We’ve all had the experience of hearing something, but not listening, like a song lyric that is familiar, heard 1000 times, but suddenly takes on a new meaning when you take the time to hear it. The same thing happens with the visual. When you make a photograph of a scene or an object or a person, you transform a three-dimensional experience over time, to a two-dimensional print (or computer image), that is frozen in a moment. Now you can manipulate it, zoom in; look at just a small portion. You discover how expressive the eyes or a smile can be.”

Saber proved this discovery process when she had opportunity to photograph the recent closing of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.  “When they opened the tunnel and part of the structure to the public, we walked through the tunnel, I ‘looked’ at the cracks in the structure, the worn asphalt, etc. But when I turned around and ‘saw’ the crowd coming towards us, it felt like we’d stepped into a zombie movie! Sounds silly? Maybe. I took the photo anyway, and love the result!”

Saber recognizes that students entering her classes will do so with all manner of camera devices in hand, but she does not see this as an issue. “One of my favorite stories I like to share in class is about the photographer who is invited to a dinner party. When she’s introduced as an ‘excellent photographer’, the host says, ‘Oh you must have a great camera!’ She agrees, yes, she does. After dinner, she told the host, ‘Thank you for the excellent dinner. You must have a great stove!’”

“There is no shortage of opportunities to spend money on newest, greatest, fanciest technology, but it’s the chef doing the cooking, not the stove!” says Saber. “Like cooking, if you know the basics, you can make a great image with any tool, whether it’s mirrorless, film, or a cell phone. No matter the camera, if you understand light, how to control it, and how your camera captures it, you can make delicious images!”

Shooting out-of-doors is unpredictable and exciting, but only if the photographer remains open to the possibilities before them. “Last week I led a class outing to the Edmonds waterfront,” says Saber. “A couple of trains went by as I was discussing panning (moving the camera at the same rate of speed as the object, so it’s clear, but the background blurs). Usually my class practices with cars passing by, but the train made the photos EPIC and exciting!”

Panning TrainThe locations for Saber’s upcoming classes will be abundant with similar possibilities. “Students will have a chance to explore the endlessly fascinating Fisherman’s terminal, or find new places at the University of Washington campus, or take a ferry and forget what you thought you knew about Bainbridge and discover new locations so close you might just go back and stay.”

There is creative strength in numbers, and Saber likes to emphasize that interacting with fellow photographers is vital to those looking to improve their skills. “I always learn something new when I photograph with other photographers, because no two people see the same way,” says Saber.  “I can be photographing with someone all day, and we’ll always create different photos, ones that help me SEE possibilities beyond my own ideas. “I never noticed that texture on the flower!” “I didn’t look up (or down) and see what you saw! And, like all my classes, I look forward to the fun we’ll have!”

Learn more about Secrets of Travel Photography: Weekend Safari, Photo Safari: Daytime and Photo Safari: Nighttime.

All photos courtesy of Leslie Saber.

Learn more about Leslie Saber's work by visiting her website.