Capturing Stillness in Stills by Jess Santos

Close your eyes, imagine yourself sitting amongst the towering boulders of the Southwest, the stars above you blinking silently as if signaling endless uncoded messages to each other. Silence starts to settle in all around you, the only noise you can make out are the faint choruses of crickets and clicking of bats whirling aimlessly looking for a quick snack. As you’re sitting there taking it in, you feel an overwhelming sense of stillness, of being in this place in this moment only you and nature. As landscape photographers we often lose track of the overwhelming awe of being still in nature. We are constantly on the hunt for “the shot”. From the moment we arrive on location we are scouring for a composition, checking our phones to confirm sunset times, setting up gear and dialing in the settings for the perfect photo. All these thoughts take over our senses.


After feeling like I had missed out on the experience, I started to practice finding stillness in nature and my photographs for the past couple of years. The goal here being to better connect with the ancient scene I was capturing, achievable by taking a few minutes to sit there and close my eyes and use my other senses to experience the moment and settle in amongst the stillness of the desert. During these times I would imagine what this landscape had transformed through, how many years it had been in existence, and these rocks (if they had eyes) what they had seen throughout the millions of years they’ve been standing guard over these desolate places. From this practice I’ve found a greater connection between myself and the landscape I am photographing, then I use that moment of connection and peacefulness to better tell the story of these places through my experience in them.


We are often taught to constantly capture motion with stills, but often the stillness tells a better story in our photographs, giving the viewer a twinge of nostalgia. We can use this concept of “stillness” to transport our audience to that peaceful moment in time of watching the sun sink below the horizon or stargazing in the woods. Personally, I correlate stillness with the peacefulness and vastness that is in these wild places, this is my experience and I try to convey this through my images as much as possible. Capturing motion in water for example is a great way to convey the strength of the current, but capturing the stillness of a reflection in a lake is a beautiful way to capture the calm found in the moment.


The scene doesn’t always have to be still to capture “stillness”, but how can we convey stillness with a moving scene? Try decluttering the frame, isolate the subject a little more to take away the distraction. The goal here being, we want to create a sense of calm and let the viewers eyes float through the photo, versus bouncing around unnecessary clutter. Creating this negative space is one of the best ways to let the viewer’s eye settle for a moment on what we as the artist have deemed the main subject. Be very mindful of what you are including in the composition, everything in the frame should be serving the overall theme, less is more when it comes to conveying stillness. If an object doesn’t serve the story it is best to leave it out.



Next time you are out photographing the beauty of this planet take a moment to breathe and settle in, let the perceived stillness and sense of peace fill your frame and your story line. Convey to your viewers who cannot be in that moment alongside you, what it feels like to be surrounded by such glorious natural features, and never lose the sense of awe you felt when you first watched the sunset or the stars rise through your lens.


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