For Jones, creating incredible images and being fully present in the moment is not an either-or proposition. “I want you to have both. I want you to have a phenomenal connected experience when you’re out in nature and a great image,” he says. “Personally, I’ve come to the point where my photos are simply visual prayers. They’re just me saying ‘thank you’ for getting to see what I see and being able to use all my technique and technology to try to translate those experiences into a photograph.”
Finding Beauty Close At Hand
“I’ve been photographing an unfolding fern outside my house. I’ve shot it with every camera I have, every which way but loose, all just to say ‘thank you’ that I got to see this amazing plant.” Jones refers to images taken in this spirit as moments of gratitude captured in a photograph. “Beauty is God’s way of remaining obvious,” he remarks. “I’m not talking religion—‘god’ can be translated anyway you want—but that’s how I feel when I’m out shooting.”
Jones encourages the students in his photo workshops to practice active, expressive gratitude when they’re photographing in the field. “Say ‘thank you’ out loud. Sometimes we’ll have a class, and the sun will be setting, and you’ll hear all the way down the beach, ‘thank you, thank you.’ Everybody has a smile on their face, you know, because they just witnessed this unbelievable celebration called a sunset.”
“Reframe obstacles into opportunities,” Jones advises. On assignment to photograph the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, Jones came across an expansive field of dandelions. “I should have been ecstatic,” Jones recalls, “but I wasn’t.” He took a few shots, but didn’t love the light, and decided he’d return to the scene another day. When he finally did return, the dandelions had become puff balls. Initially disappointed, he convinced himself to look for what was right about the scene, and was soon fully engaged with the subject, ultimately resulting in a remarkable image.
Your Equipment Becomes Part Of You
Jones emphasizes the mindset of his approach to photography rather than the technical aspects. Still, equipment and technique are essential considerations if the goal is to achieve images that not only celebrate beauty but that are capable of translating for the viewer the photographer’s emotional response to a scene. There may be more than one right answer, but don’t camera and lens selection play a central role in finding those answers?
“To be really good, the equipment just has to become a part of you,” he explains, “You need to get to the point where you don’t have to think, ‘Where’s the button I push to change the shutter speed or the f-stop?,’ where the equipment is just an extension of your eye.”
Does Your Camera Have Truth In It?
In his TEDx talk, Jones recounts the story of meeting Adam, the 5-year-old little boy with the juice camera. We won’t retell the story here, as Jones shares a delightful narrative in the video, but he wants you to know that the story really happened. About three years ago, Adam, now in his 20s, contacted Jones through Facebook, and they’ve remained in regular contact ever since.
In that first contact, Adam said to Jones, “Before we can have a relationship, you have to answer a question: What did I mean when I asked if you had juice in your camera?” Jones admits he didn’t have a good answer in that moment. “I thought, ‘I don’t know, you were 5 years old…’ But I didn’t say that. I took the question seriously, and I thought about it for a while. I was walking on the beach when the answer of what Adam, now in his 20s, might have meant if he asked me that question. I wrote him back, ‘You meant, do you have truth in your camera?’ And he responded, ‘We can have a relationship.’ Guess I got it right!
“So, believe it or not, Adam and I talk every week. We’ve become really good friends,” he says. As a result of that initial exchange, Jones has incorporated the theme “do you have truth in your camera?” in classes he teaches. “Do the photos that you take really express who you are, or are you just snapping pictures?” he asks. “Every time I post a photo on Facebook, I ask myself that question and try and write the answer, ‘Why did I take it? What was the celebration? What did I learn from it?’ The combination of words and picture becomes more than just a cool image. Instead, it’s me saying, both to myself and to the world, ‘Here’s an image, and here’s why it moved me. Here’s why it was a celebration. Here’s my truth in that moment.’”