the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

IF HUE GO AWAY

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IT SEEMS UNGRACIOUS FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER TO COMPLAIN ABOUT AN OVER-ABUNDANCE OF LIGHT, since that’s basically the currency we trade in. More typically we gripe about not being able to bring enough of the stuff into a shot. I mean, the entire history of the medium is one big let-there-be-more-light prayer. But that’s not to say that light can’t create annoyance when you’re in a place where there is glorious, radiant illumination of….acres of nothing.

I’m not talking about sunlight on endless expanses of starched plain. I refer here to subject matter that is so uninteresting that, even though a bumptious bounty of light is drenching everything in sight, there is nothing to make a photograph of. Nothing that compels, inspires, jars or even registers. I recently made my annual return to a festival that, due to my frequent farming of it over the years, has now bottomed out visually. There is nothing left to say about it, although all that “nothing” is stunningly lit at this time of year.

The light patterns seen here were warm and inviting in color. That's not what I wanted.

The light patterns seen here were warm and inviting in color. That’s not what I wanted.

In fact, it’s only by shooting just abstracted shapes, shades and rays, rather than recognizable subjects, that I was able to create any composition even worth staying awake for, and then only by using extremely sharp contrast and eliminating color completely. To me, the only thing more pointless than lousy subject matter is beautiful looking lousy subject matter, saturated in golden hues, but signifying nothing. Kinda the George Hamilton of photos.

So the plan became, simply, to turn my back on the bright balloons, food booths, passing parade of people and spring scenery that, in earlier years, I would have been happy to capture, and instead render arrangements without any narrative meaning, just whatever impact could be seen using light as nearly the lone element. In the above picture, I did relent in keeping the silhouetted couple in the final picture, so that it’s not as “cold” as originally conceived, but otherwise it’s a pretty stark image. Photography without light is impossible, but we also have to refuse to take light “as is” from time to time, to do our best to orchestrate it, much as we would vary shadings with pencil or crayon. We know that the camera loves light, but it’s still our job to tell it where, and how, to look.

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2 responses

  1. Finding new images in “old” events is a photographers curse after several years of seeing the same thing. I can completely relate to what you were describing; I too have been at an event right at glorious golden hour, but while drooling at the light, my eyes aren’t seeing anything worth photographing in front of me. Staying fresh, constantly reinventing ourselves, is a necessity for personal and professional preservation.
    \

    March 17, 2015 at 7:15 AM

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback. You nailed it….that horrible feeling of looking at the light, saying “this would be the perfect time to take a picture”, then finding that, so to speak, there’s no wood to light a fire with. Sometimes just replacing one small hobnail in the prevailing conditions can give you a creative re-boot of the situation, as you and I seem to agree.

      March 17, 2015 at 12:50 PM

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