the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ERRING ON THE YES SIDE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE, IN THE VERY INSTANT THAT I COMPOSE AND SNAP A PHOTOGRAPH, it occurs to me that, in the past, there might have been circumstances under which I talked myself out of taking that very same shot. That is, there is something in the scene before me that, at some time, might have convinced me not to attempt the picture at all. I don’t know whether to interpret this feeling as proof of growth of any type, or whether it just demonstrates my utter lack of confidence. I just know that, on different days, I can be a very different kind of photographer.

As habitual users of The Normal Eye already know, this small-town newspaper is less about the mechanics of taking a picture and more about the motivations. If we don’t understand what compels us to click/not click in particular situations, it’s pretty hard for us to figure what the whole thing’s about. Photographs are chosen, not “taken”. So, let’s peel apart my inner conversation in the making of the image seen below.

Small Town, Big Horizon, 2016

In looking at this scene from two years ago, in which some shadowy residential streets of Reno, Nevada are back-stopped by the Sierras, I could, through my own experience, easily rattle off a short grocery list of reasons not to attempt the picture. Among them:

There is too wide a contrast between the foreground and background (but is that a problem, really?).

I’m shooting through a window and therefore can’t absolutely suppress glare and reflection (but is that a deal breaker?).

There is, at first glimpse, no human story in evidence (or is there merely an absence of people in the frame? Aren’t the houses indicative of a “human story”?).

Okay, I’ll take the picture, but I’ll totally fix it later in “post”( fix it, or over-cook it and make it “ideal” rather than natural?).

……..and so on, with the additional inclusion of the most compelling “why not to” reason of them all:

the last time I tried something like this, it was a disaster.

*******

You can see where this can lead. The very experience that should be helping you make more, better informed choices can actually scare you into seeing certain shooting situations as fraught with risk, as something to be avoided. Since we know what didn’t work in the past, we tend to think we also know what won’t work in the future. In reality, though, every time we’re up to bat, some little thing is different from our last time. Huge stuff like a different camera or lens, small stuff like being tired or distracted and every other variant in between. We may think we’ve “been here before”, but that’s only generally true. The only real way to make a picture a success or failure is to try to shoot it. Guesswork, even guesswork based on real-life experience, can paralyze. Sift through what you know and what you’ve lived through. Re-live all your so-called “failed” pictures, and then get back on the horse. As Rudyard Kipling said, “meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.

I don’t preach many absolutes here, but remember this one:

Always. Shoot. The. Picture.

 

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