My Photography - WHY and HOW
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
— Don McCullin
I LOVE this quote and so many others sprinkled throughout this post...
As I was putting some final notes on my idea and plan list for an upcoming photoshoot this weekend, I thought it might be interesting to share with you my process. How I find my initial inspiration, how the "scene" evolves, and the organic path the process takes to the finish line. I thrive in this creative outlet. I love design/style coffee table books and drool over magazines. The pictures with their styling are so intriguing to me and I, for one, "FEEL" those images which makes them so meaningful to me. My photography provides me an opportunity to create something on my own that I can picture in a book or magazine...a HUGE goal
Since I work a full-time day job, I find that during the evening is my dreaming and planning time. Once my work day is done, I completely detach from that role and grab one of many countless notebooks and begin writing down every idea I have. These notes are random, sometimes erased, and ever-changing.
THE BLANK SLATE
I love to wander through Pinterest with a variety of subject searches and have gotten quite enamored with Instagram. I makes notes of images that captured my attention and why. This becomes very important when I find a subject or theme from my stash that I want to use. I never try to duplicate another artist's image but rather study the composition, lighting, and colors.
I love color but typically in muted tones. This time of the year, before everything starts to green up is very intriguing to me. Grasses and fields along the drive to and from work have such incredible shades of grey, brown, taupe, and cream colors. Every now and then this view is punctuated by a gorgeous rich caramel tone or even a dusty wintered sage hue that pops life into the scene. These visions help drive the color palette I decide to incorporate into the photoshoot.
For example, last Sunday I was sifting through my vintage pieces in the studio and was searching for a unique piece to use. Hoping the weather this weekend is as nice as they are predicting, it is was my goal to get back into the big studio area and shoot some larger pieces. As I searched through the stash, I recalled a set of moose horns that Mike was given years ago that have hung out in the garage for as long as I can remember....this started a tsunami of note-taking!
“Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.”
— Marc Riboud
The moose horns have so many shades of tans and grey and make the perfect prop. Once I have a subject piece, the focus becomes the styling. What my brain quickly realizes is that most horn mounts are hung on a wall so I must find a different way to shoot them. They are quite beautiful and need a stage of sorts to show them off. What type of stage would make sense and yet be unexpected??....the thinking continues....
I have found that when I remove limitations and "in the box" thinking from my standard thought process it helps come up with a unique idea. When undertaking anything creative, I have always leaned toward the "if everyone is going to the right...what's to the left?"
“Only photograph what you love.”
— Tim Walker
Once I thought of the perfect moose horn "stage", my brain went into warp speed and the ideas shot out and onto paper so quickly that my hand could hardly keep up. This is where the initial idea becomes a sea of future ideas so it is important that no matter how off the wall they may be, they are documented.
Throughout the week I sketch, plan, erase, and add to the vision. Usually by Friday I have a pretty clear idea of how I want to set up the scene, the mood I want to capture, and a pretty good idea of the outcome I am "shooting" for.
When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams
I start making lists....lists and lists and lists. Things I may need to purchase, borrow, or create. Realizing, after much experimentation, that I am happiest shooting a more minimalist type of scene, I try to keep the items list short. I make lists of vision words I want to portray such as rustic, clean, modern, or soft, etc. These lists help keep me on track and focused for the final outcome I am striving to achieve.
My first steps in the studio include completely clearing and cleaning the space I want to use. I open all the doors and windows, crank the stereo, and grab the coffee. From past experience in this awesome studio space, I have found the most perfect light happens early afternoon so this leaves the morning to prep and create any special props I want to use. Working in the bigger studio space requires more prep than the smaller family room set up so I like to take my time to ensure the foundation of the shoot is ideal. I organize my props and plan out the styling to incorporate as many ideas as I can possibly fit in.
I review the wall/floor space I have chosen to use to make sure it fits the scale of the props. This is also the perfect time to fill any nail holes from previous shoots! Scope out any outlets in the wall that may get in the image and plan prop placement around those. I love the white walls with the concrete floor in the studio as they make the perfect backdrop for any idea. Finally, I will make sure I have all of my camera gear out, battery charged, and lenses ready to go.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
— Elliott Erwitt
As I look back through my blog over the past year and the images in previous posts, the business plans, and idea sharing, the one huge thing that stands out the most to me is how my photography has evolved. It appears that since the start of 2017, I feel I have found the start of my style, my niche, my passion. My image intentions are more solid, my planning focus is sharper, and I am happier than ever when exporting the images from my camera to the computer.
My ideas for the shoot include many "scenes" and some more involved than others. I have learned that to make the best use of time and ensure I capture everything I hope, I start the placement with the simplest pieces and begin shooting. It is at this time I try all types of angles, focus points, and lighting checks. Do I like the shadows? Is something covered up or placed crazy? Is that a pen in the background? Damn, there is that outlet peeking out in that shot! Yes, being a one person cleaner, organizer, stylist, and photographer leaves ample opportunity to accidentally leave something behind in the scene!
As I continue rearranging and moving/removing my props, I am thinking about the technical pieces as well. Is my exposure where I want it for the style I refine in post-processing? Do I need to add extra lighting to create more depth? How much, if any, Bokeh do I want with this angle - is my aperture set where I want it? For variety I will move my aperture based on how close I am to the scene and props to best capture the focus area for the shot.
“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.”
— Edward Steichen
My camera, a Canon 70D, is a dream to work with. It loves the 50mm 1.8 lens and seems to read my mind when I move around for another angle. I received this camera as an unexpected Christmas surprise upgrade from my Canon Rebel T3 and let me be the first to tell you, don't fall prey to the "full frame or forget it" notion. I grew so weary of reading that unless you had a full frame camera you are not creating quality images, not reaching your full potential, not taking full advantage of your lenses, etc. etc. etc...... Use, enjoy, and love what you have - I DO!
(rant ended - sigh)
Quickly, lets talk about lenses as this ties into another photoshoot idea that I have. I love my kit lens and am planning images to share just how awesome this little workhorse can be - stay tuned! For the most part, I use my Canon 50mm 1.8 prime lens (less than $130) and not only love the close-ups but the distance shots as well. Yes...EVEN on my cropped sensor camera! I have used both lenses enough to know that for my purposes, they are perfect.
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.”
— Yousuf Karsh
I should also share that throughout the shooting session, I rarely use a tripod. I have used a tripod in the past and felt a little restricted. About two months ago, I was getting irritated by this lack of flexibility and simply took the camera off of the tripod to see what would happen. I learned how to position myself to prevent shaking/blur, how to properly focus and squeeze the shutter (softly and slowly), and was delighted with the outcome. I had achieved so many "new to me" angles and freedom with this technique. Of course, due to lighting and shutter speed, there will be a time when I put the camera back on the tripod, but for now I am enjoying the looseness of the photo capture process.
To wrap up, it is Friday afternoon and I am preparing to dive back into the creative photography world that I love. The moose horns are ready, the "stage" pieces are prepped, the weekend plan has been discussed, the "extras" will be designed and created, the camera battery is charging and I am soooooooooo READY!!
I hope this quick insider view of my process is helpful to you and your process. If there is just one small takeaway you find, I am thrilled. If you have a question, I would be delighted to try to answer it. I am going to finish up the day with my sights set on the weekend and will look so forward to sharing the outcome of the moose horns with you...and flowers, and a unique piece of rusty wall art, and winter grasses, and worn wood and old boots and...and.....STAY TUNED!!