I don't always click between poses (that may be stretching the truth a bit), but when I do, it's to capture something like this. Annnnnd, I like it!!
Which seems to get people into the discussion of planning, posing, waiting for just that……NOW versus the ol’ spray and pray.
To me, spray and pray is indiscriminate, and I don’t think I’m indiscriminate. Well, usually. But while we’re moving around, getting into a pose, developing an idea I sometimes still have the camera in my hand. And if the camera is in my hand, there’s still a part of me that’s watching. In this case, I could see her hands coming up to adjust the pearls. So I shot. Probably a few frames, I don’t know, I’d have to check. Was it a spray and pray? Likely. In a sense. I didn’t know if I’d get anything, and more often than not, I don’t get that shot. I have hundreds, probably thousands, of near misses. Or even ones that I hit it dead on, but it just didn’t do anything for me when I looked at it later. Once in a while there’s one, like this, that I love. One that has something to it that makes me want to jump into developing and see if I can make it “feel” the same way that made me shoot it in the first place. Oh for the camera folk who always ask: 1/200, f/3.5, ISO 100, 200mm, on manual, one strobe….. somewhere. Not planned, remember?
So in the end, is it better to wait for the pose, direct everything exactly where you want, get that perfect expression, lighting, angle, exposure? Or just shoot willy nilly?
Yes. To both. Do what you like. You just never know.
I know, crazy, isn’t it? Here’s the story.
I was after a wonderful friend of mine for years to get her portrait done, we’ll call her Jane. There was always some reason not to sit for a portrait. Most of the reasons you’ve heard me say before: she needed to lose weight, she wasn’t photogenic, it just wasn’t a good time, her hair needed to grow out. Her husband and my best pal, Jack, wasn’t much help to me. He just couldn’t see the value in a portrait. There were a lot of more important things to spend money on, and they already had casual images of Jane anyway, so no big deal. So we never made the time.
About a year ago, on a Tuesday morning, Jane had an aneurysm. She was gone later that same day.
I talked to Jack a few months ago. He said, “You know, I have a bunch of pictures of Jane: Disneyland, Europe, family gatherings. I don’t have a beautiful picture of her. I don’t have one that shows me “her”, the real her. I don't have the picture. I’d give you $50,000 right now if you could come up with one for me.”
I really wish it wasn’t too late. For you, your partner, your parents, your kids. For posterity. For history. It’s that important.
GET YOUR PORTRAIT DONE. NOW.
I posted this shot to social media recently.
I'm actually really happy with this image, it pretty much looks the way I imagined it would. And there's the thing, right there. It appears the way I imagined it would. Because it certainly isn't the way it really looked. It isn't the way that the camera saw it.
As photographers, we do a lot of crazy things. We argue about which brand of camera is better or worse when, if fact, pretty much nobody can tell on a finished image what camera it was taken on. We dissect grain in a photo, disparaging it's appearance at all from having shot in far too high an ISO setting. And then there's a bunch of us that ADD grain like crazy, trying to make the image look like it wasn't at all shot on digital.
Here's what the scene looked like to the camera. (The way it looked to my Canon, in case anyone wondered. I'm suuuure it would have looked measureably different on a Nikon. Or Fuji. Or Hasselblad. Or........... bah. That's another can o' worms.)
Hey, it was a pretty blah day. The days that some photographers say that there's no point in going out to shoot. To which, of course, I say that any day is a good day to go out. I know I've said it before but, unless you're a documentary photographer that isn't permitted to change anything but what the camera sees (and remember, that only applies to content of the photo, because the sharpness, saturation, contrast is all applied in camera, so you tell me what the "truth" is there), change whatever you like! That's okay for composites, you say, but if it's not a composite............ oh my.
Ok, I know, for a lot of this it's just my own warped, twisted, personal, wrong opinion. So be it. For me, the camera, the software, everything is just a tool to create something pleasing. Something that tells a story. Something that evokes a response. I don't care what reality looked like, I care about what I can create with these tools. I can't use a paintbrush, I don't know one artistic medium from another, I don't own a piece of canvas or art paper or whatever else it is that "real artists" use.
Funny how I get into a rant every time I do one of these. Bottom line is, the top photo is what I saw in my jangled head. The second photo is what my camera saw. Oh, and this one right here below? That was the other one I saw in my head. Sometimes I see more than one thing. I might require medication.
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
1902 – 1984
But they're just old wooden boxes.
That's what I thought. I've often read or watched that a great many pro photographers (and cinematographers) have all of these "apple boxes" lying around. I just couldn't figure it out. It's a box, for heaven's sake. But they are darn handy for things like elevating a client by a few inches (think about a couple that have a substantial height difference), a quick seating stool, something to rest a prop on, all kinds of stuff! Because of course, you can also place them in New York, Texas/Chicago, or LA positions! Just Google it, it's easier than me explaining.
Anyway, these things also cost about $150US for a set. For wooden boxes. And if you're not too handy, this is a great option. I happen to have used a hammer and nails on more than one occasion, usually successfully (though there was that one time.......but I digress) and I happen to have "stuff" lying around. Let's not get into the hoarding discussion either.
These here boards, for instance.
These were, at one time, the support layer for a long since gone futon. All screwed together with a couple lengths of nylon or polyester (or some other nubby fabric), straps. Why throw 'em out? So, a bunch of roughly 1" x 4" boards.
Apple boxes are a standard size, by the way. I have NO idea why. Yeah, Google that too. A 'full' apple box is 12" x 20" x 8". A '1/2' is 4" high, a '1/4' is 2" high. Now, my boards were 39" long (did I mention that they're free?), and totally disregarding that the photographic / cinemagraphic / film industry cops might take me in, I figured I could get the best box for my (free) buck by making them 19" long.
Ok, 19 and 1/16 long, to be precise. My sister graciously brought her mitre saw into the shop (mine is heavy and I'm old and tired), so it was pretty much of a breeze to chop them to length. The end pieces had to be 10 1/2" long to get the full 12" depth. Again, no biggie with the mitre saw. A few handfuls of screws, pre-drill the boards (because they're pine, and pine splits like.......... like pine splits!!) and slap 'em together. One section then would end up being 12" x 19" x about 4 1/4" high. Which is about the height of a half apple box! Annnnnnnnnd, if you put two halves together, oh yeah baby, a FULL apple box!
Oh, quick side note, the screws are Robertson head screws. Which are, I believe, known by our American neighbours to the south as "square head drive" screws. (Come ON, it's easier to call them Robertson!) Which is one of the greatest Canadian inventions EVER! Created by P.L. Robertson in 1908, patented in Canada in 1909, and in the US in 1911. Um, again, I digress.
I didn't measure out the total amount of wood that I had to start with, I figured I'd be happy with whatever I could get out of these boards. Free, remember? So I ended up with one full and two halves!! And yes, I did sand the edges so that nobody will get splinters. Much.
All ready for someone's backside to grace them in the studio, to elevate a portrait subject, or to hold their cup of coffee!! I can see where these are going to be of some use!
And I have my eye on some old shipping palettes sitting out in the back parking lot...................
Perception is truth, or so I've heard. That seems to be so more and more. Mark Twain said, "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." But we don't do that. We see something or hear something and we say that it must be so. Actually a much more contemporary figure than Twain, Stephen Colbert, summarized it well. He said, "It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything."
We shape a lot of perception through our photography. I recently shot the image above and it garnered a lot of response, which I truly appreciated. Many of the comments mentioned what a beautiful spot this was, asked how I found it, or how far I had to go to get to it.
In fact, it's right across the road from my workplace. Here's a wider shot of the same spot.
Not quite the same thing, doesn't quite stir the same feeling, does it?
Here's the thing though. In photography, unless you're a documentary journalist, it doesn't matter. We're trying to tell a story, evoke a response, create a feeling. This same shot could make you happy, sad, wondering, bored..... all depending on how it's cropped, how it's processed, how it's ultimately dealt with and presented to you. That's how art works. It's not about statistics, numbers, or other "facts". Somebody else, who I can't recall at the moment, said, "Photography owes nothing to reality". Yup.
Reality works a little differently. 2+3=5 isn't really negotiable, although I'm sure I can find you someone who doesn't believe it and refuses to accept it. In fact, I know a fellow who does not believe that what we see in the night sky really exists. It's an illusion. So the moon landing, the Hubble telescope images, the space station, all propaganda to keep us believing this "cosmos" thing. Ummmmm, sure. Ok.
Bottom line is, photography is art, it's subject to interpretation, and don't mistake it for reality. Enjoy it for what it is. And when you're presented with real facts, try to accept them, whether you like them or not.