Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cultivating Curiosity To Improve Your Photography

Curiosity about other cultures and ways of life are a strong motivating force in great travel photography. I photographed this woman of the Padaung tribe in a remote Burmese village. They were as curious about me as I was about them; they had never seen westerners before! Note the brass coils around her neck!

Curiosity Makes For Better Photography
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can greatly enhance your photography! Curiosity is a cornerstone for becoming a “people person”, essential for successful people and lifestyle photography. Curiosity, about other cultures and lifestyles, is a primary motivating force for great travel photographers. And curiosity about the world we live in can open up this world for photographic exploration and documentation and lead to all kind of opportunities and even adventures.

People Will Open Up And Share
Most people have the same favorite thing to talk about…themselves! If you either have a natural curiosity about people, or can develop that curiosity, then you have the key to creating great rapport with people. Just ask them about their lives, what motivates them, what interests them, where there passions are. That can lead to far more rewarding and productive experiences, photographic and otherwise, for all parties concerned. If you can generate genuine curiosity and explore that with people they will open up and reveal all kinds of fascinating and useful information, access, and adventures. In one case, when I had been in India for only a couple of hours, I asked a taxi driver, a Sikh, about his religious beliefs. One thing led to another and soon I found myself photographing inside the incredible Sikh temple in Delhi.

Curiosity Leads To Great Experiences
But curiosity is important at home too. Recently I was shooting a model and began to ask her about her family. Before long she was sharing pictures of her parents and siblings, all great looking people, and offering to recruit them for another shoot. Seldom, if ever, has my curiosity led me to anything other than great experiences, and it has invariably left the subjects of my curiosity feeling flattered and better about themselves.

Curiosity Is A Powerful Tool For Stock Photographers
Curiosity is an especially powerful tool for the stock photographer. We are always in need of ideas, subjects, locations and vocations. How often have we allowed ourselves to sit next to someone on a bus or plane in silence never knowing what great information or wonderful opportunities have been missed? I once spent an entire flight sitting next to man, from New York to San Francisco. We finally started talking as we exited the aircraft. It turned out he was an author and I had just finished his book days earlier…and by not being curious…and not pursuing that curiosity, I missed a chance to delve more deeply into what I thought was a fabulous book…from its author no less! Just by being interested in other people, and expressing that interest, I have gained access to race cars, yachts, ultra-light flying, and the most amazing meal of my life. I have been invited to weddings and funerals and family celebrations. I was once invited to fly in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, and another time invited to photograph a mock operation on a cadaver…though I have to admit that I passed that opportunity up.

Curiosity Can Be Cultivated
The key to making curiosity work for you is to have your curiosity be sincere. Like many other things, if you practice you get better. I have to continually remind myself that I am not the center of the universe; that I already know all about me, and that other people are a treasure trove of interesting things, if I can just bring it out of them. Despite all my wonderful experiences from expressing my interest in the lives of others, I still have to work to get myself to express that interest. I have to cultivate both my curiosity and my willingness to pursue it. I seem to have an unreasonable expectation that I will be imposing on people, and yet I do not remember a single unpleasant event from investigating that interest. I am sure there were many dead-ends, but so what? What is far more important is what is to be gained by a simple and friendly greeting, followed by a sincere interest in another person. Cultivate your curiosity and practice sharing it. You won’t regret it.


Helder Almeida said...

Again, a great post. You talk about something that i'am working on, but i never realy think about'it. It cames to me in a natural way.
It was dificult to get de Model Release for that photo?

John Lund said...


The release was not a problem. Our guide handled the transaction. We also like to bring medicine for the people in these remote villages....

I might add that the experiences are more valuable than the photographs!