Chase Jarvis, photographer, CreativeLive co-founder By Alvin Soon
“Being yourself is actually the most powerful vehicle. It’s not necessarily about being better.”
If you’ve heard the phrase “the best camera is the one that’s with you,” chances are it’s thanks to Chase Jarvis. The American photographer popularized the phrase while evangelizing smartphone photography in its early days.
Jarvis has also photographed for big brands like Volvo, Nike, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung. He’s the co-founder of CreativeLive, an online education platform. More recently, Jarvis has developed a ‘Photo Lab: Crafting Your Shot’ program for the Apple Store, where participants can learn how to improve their photography using three simple principles.
Photography can be really simple
“I hope to help people understand that photography can be really simple,” Jarvis told me. “If they just put a basic amount of energy into it, they can unlock new levels of ability to take great photographs.”
The three keys to making great photographs
“My personal belief is that all photography can be distilled into three things: creating connection, crafting composition, and shaping light. If you think about these three things, you can start making pictures rather than taking them.”
What creates connection in a photograph? “Connection is the magic you feel when a photographer nails the shot. It’s this moment when they have an intimate connection with the subject, whether it’s a person, an animal, or even a place.”
The second element is composition. “Composition is what’s in the frame of your photograph, and what’s not. What people forget is that they’re actually in charge of what’s in their frame. I see people taking pictures of their kids and there’s an ugly park bench in the background. If they take one or two steps to the side, they can create a different background and have a great photograph.”
“Connection and composition are key,” Jarvis says. “And then the third element is shaping light. There’s a reason why photos that are taken early in the morning or late in the evening look richer. And why light that falls on a subject from the side looks more interesting than light falling straight on. If you start experimenting, you can look for good light and recognize it.”
Overcoming fears and doubts to unlock creativity
In his book, The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield calls the inner doubts that block our creativity ‘the Resistance.’ Jarvis has talked about the Resistance several times in previous interviews. I asked him about ways to overcome the fears and doubts that prevent us from doing creative work.
Jarvis says that keeping things simple helps. “A professional camera is complicated. So much of the initial resistance for people comes from that. There are all kinds of settings but the iPhone has none of that. So we can remove that barrier, and Apple’s done an amazing job reducing all that complexity. The iPhone has democratized taking great photos.”
Launch Instagram and you’ll instantly see photographs taken from around the world. What about the person who’s starting out? How does someone like that show his work when there are so many good photographs out there?
“I believe that there is a creator in all of us,” Jarvis affirms. “Realize that you have lived a set of circumstances that no one else in the world has lived. Being yourself is actually the most powerful vehicle.
It’s not necessarily about being better. We all want to improve our skills.
But you see the world in a specific and different way from the other seven billion people on the planet.”
Jarvis cautions not to compare real life with the highlight reels on Instagram. Instead, focus on “taking photographs that are special to you, about your experience, about the people you care about. Realize it’s about sharing your individuality and life through your own eyes, and by extension, through your own lens.”
It’s why Jarvis recommends going to the Photo Lab in the Apple Store and connecting with other people. “It’s that connection in real life that gives us the courage to share our work. It reminds people that with a simple camera in their hand, with a couple of simple ingredients like connection, composition, and light, that you actually do have something to say.
“It’s important for us to remember that the goal is to be you. It’s not to be somebody else.”
Photography is about stories and moments, not fancy gear
“It goes back to the idea of simplicity,” Jarvis concludes. “Most people ask me about settings or lenses. They see big fancy cameras and think that’s what photography’s about.
“I’m going to be clear: photography is not about technology. What Apple has done, and what technology does, is in service of photography. Photography is about stories and moments. We all have these stories and moments in our lives, and that should be the focus. How do I share these stories and moments that I see with the world?”
PICTURES (HEADSHOT) APPLE, (IMAGES) CHASE JARVIS