In prehistoric times people were referred to as “Hunter/Gatherers” because of their lifestyle and how they went about feeding themselves.  When they went out looking for animals whose flesh they could char over an open fire, that was Hunting.  When they went out to gather berries or some such thing that was Gathering.  Both were sometimes successful sometimes not.

Photographers can also be classified as Hunters or Gatherers, sometimes both.  And both approaches are sometimes successful, sometimes not.  So what distinguishes one from the other?  Why are they different approaches?  Listen up.  At times I’ve been a Hunter and at times I’ve been a Gatherer.  Here’s my definition of each.

Sometimes I go out looking for a specific image and that’s when I’m in Hunter mode.  I have a subject and concept in mind and I go hunting for that image.  Often it’s successful particularly if I’m returning to a location I’ve visited before to be in position when the light is right.  Most times that sort of previsualizing is successful and I’m pleased with the results.  Other times I’ve seen an image I admire and try to find the subject and location to match it.  More often than not this thought process leads to disappointment.  I can’t find exactly the shot I’m looking for and end up grabbing shots out of desperation.  Most of those don’t make it through the first edit.  The image of the Chollas is a prime example.  I’ve seen a panoramic image of some Chollas at sunrise with very warm soft backlighting and wanted to emulate that shot.  I spent a lot of time looking at a lot of Chollas but never found a composition to duplicate what I saw in my mind’s eye.  I ended up grabbing some shots and while the results are okay, it’s nothing I’m going to shout from the rooftops about.  Just like hunting, I couldn’t find the mastodon so I settled for a meadowlark.

Gathering is quite a different process.  That’s when I go out with cameras in hand and free my mind of pre-conceived images.  I allow myself to “see” and usually the results are pretty good.  This image is a result of Gathering and is one of my all time favorite images.  I was in Taos for a long weekend and went to San Francisco de Asis at sunrise to add images of the most photographed church in New Mexico to my list of icons.  There was a little light cloud cover which was diffusing the sunlight, not creating the dramatic high contrast views I was looking for. (Hunting)  After waiting for 30 minutes or so the clouds began to break letting some sunlight through but by then the locals were starting to gather for early mass.  The views of the church were obscured by folks greeting their neighbors and milling around the entrance waiting for time to go in.  I knew I wasn’t going to get the images I’d been there for and had to make a choice:  Pack up and head off for breakfast or switch into Gatherer mode.  Heck, it’s Taos for crying out loud!  There’s tons of stuff to photograph.  Bill to Brain…Bill to Brain…engage Gatherer mode immediately!  Walking around the church I happened to glance up and saw this image.  It was one of those moments when everything came together and I was able to capture a strong, moving image.

The moral of this story is that sometimes I can be successful as an image Hunter but more often I’m successful as a Gatherer but that doesn’t stop me from hunting. I’m planning a trip to the desert again in March…got any ideas where I can find a landscape near Phoenix that’s chock full of Chollas?