Life, in a photograph

Taking a photograph is a lot like life: the key considerations
we make in creating a photo are the same decisions we make in our lives in
general: 

Composition – It’s
a conscious decision as to what’s in the photo and what’s not; what have we
chosen to have in the image and what have we chosen to exclude.  Which elements in the photo are dominant and which ones are not? Is there
balance in the image? 

Zoom in or zoom out
– While it's part of composing an image, zoom needs separate consideration. Some images demand a closer, intimate look while others need the bigger
picture emphasized; sometimes we need the details while other times we need to
pull back and see more in the image.

Focus – Too sharp
or not sharp enough? Sometimes we need a sharp image – really crisp and clear
and in other situations we need a little less focus – soft focus if you will –
or even let the image be out of focus. 

Exposure – How
much exposure we need depends on the situation. Generally, there’s a desire for
just the right exposure – a good balance of lights and darks with rich middle
tones. Sometimes we need less exposure, with darker tones being dominant,
obscuring some of the details. Other times, overexposure is called for to
emphasize the highlights and clean up the darker tones. 

Contrast – Too
much, too little or just right? We definitely need contrast in our pictures to
keep things interesting. Too much contrast can be impactful (and sometimes
distracting) while too little is boring. 

Color or black and
white
– Neither one is better than the other; they’re just different and most images dictate what's needed. Color
taps many senses and adds variety and impact to an image while black and white
brings gives clarity to an image and brings out the richness in textures. 

Finally, Selection
– Not all pictures are perfect and one never keeps or shows all of their images.
Do you only keep the flattering and pretty ones or do you keep some of the ugly
ones as well that tell a different story? Are they all in focus or are some of
the fuzzy ones important as well? 

Making photos is all about making decisions – there are
always multiple options available when we create an image and our decisions on
the critical elements ultimately determine the final product. Just like life.

 

 

On digital

My leap to digital was actually more of a saunter. I’m
sentimental by nature and switching from film – which had been my close friend
my entire life – to digital felt like betrayal. I loved (and still love despite
many years of not hanging out in a darkroom) the magic of watching an image
materialize beneath the safelight; the truth appearing before my eyes.

Yet the world had gone digital and it was time I became
current. When I made my entry some five years ago, it felt strange. Here were
these images in color, when I had always worked in black and white. The images instantly
appearing on the little screen on the back of the camera felt like I was
cheating as I was seeing them before I had done any work in the darkroom.
Sitting at a computer “working” on the images with a mouse instead of standing
in the dark with tongs was just plain weird.

But I’ve grown to appreciate the benefits of digital. One
key one is when taking photos of people – and I’m not working with models –
nothing opens them up more than seeing their image on that little screen. Once
they see what I’m shooting they become so much more receptive, enhancing our
connection as we work together. It is an absolute game-changer that was
unavailable with film – unless one had the luxury of sharing Polaroid images.

I still have my negatives and it’s amazing to see how many
times I had one – just one – image of
a subject to work with. It was a result of being conservative with my film due
to cost considerations from when I was first learning. Even in later years, I
took only a few images of a subject maximum. There’s a certain beauty in that;
a certain discipline in trying to get the exact image one time. Most of the
time it worked but there were many times that one image didn’t work and I was
left with nothing.

But then I sometimes question my craft with digital – am I less
precise with digital than I was with film? Because there is no cost of shooting
hundreds of images versus a few, I find myself shooting many, many more of a
given subject than I ever would have with film. Does the nearly unlimited space
for images make me a sloppier photographer than I used to be? I actually
believe the answer is no, however the jury is still out as I have too many
images that need attention for me to fully ponder that one for now…

I’m now accustomed to working on images in Photoshop or
Lightroom, making the same adjustments that I would have done in the
darkroom – working the contrast, dodging, burning, cropping. The only thing I’m
missing is a fixer-scented candle to light while I’m sitting at my
computer…

Just pull one weed

When I look at needing to accomplish a lot of tasks, or one really large task – like getting photos ready for a show – I remember advice I received years ago concerning weeding a garden: Simply, don’t go into the garden planning on weeding the whole thing, but rather just pull one weed. That’s it. Just one weed.

The reality is that one cannot stop at pulling just one weed, as that leads to pulling the second and the third until at some point the task is finished.

I was needing to retouch some photos the other day. A lot of photos and I was not looking forward to the size of the task or the time it was realistically going to take to complete the job. Yet it needed to be done and was going to wait for me as long as I was willing to wait to do it.

So, listening to the advice of so long ago, I sat down with the goal of retouching part of one photo. Of course I completed the whole photo and the second and the third…

You get the picture (so to speak).

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