the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ABOUT FACE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

MANY PHOTOGRAPHS BEGIN AS ONE THING AND FINISH AS QUITE ANOTHER, there being many micro-phases, each mere parts of seconds in length, between conception and execution. We can be absolutely certain what we think we want at the start of the process, and just as certain, by the end of it, that we were wise to abandon our original plan.

The best test of whether we finally “got it right”, to my mind, is that the final image seems to be what I can only call inevitable; that is, once it’s been taken, it’s hard to imagine it having been done any other way. It’s similar to the reaction we sometimes get when we hear the original working title of a novel, or are told who else had been up for a key role in a now-classic movie…the “of course” moment.

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Lots of visual information here. Too much, as it turns out…

The picture seen here was originally a story of scale, with the woman at left merely employed as a prop to help contextualize the sprawling space in a very wide shot, about 24mm. To be honest, I had originally taken almost no notice of her facial features (including the fact that she is quite strikingly beautiful), her body english, or any mood that she might be projecting. In fact, she is so much at the far end of the frame as to be Silly-Putty-stretched a bit by the lens. But at the time I was actually more interested in the play of light patterns playing through the ceiling and onto the tiles than the feelings she displayed.

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With a radical crop, the woman’s more prominent placement makes the picture a better story. 

Then I chimped the shot on my monitor and saw that face. A face suggesting a whole smorgasbord of feelings, from boredom to impatience to longing, to, well, you name it. Meaning that anything you could name is already suggested by that face: it’s what you bring to it, as well as what you can take from it that creates a bond between shooter and audience. Suddenly, the importance of everything else in the frame just fell away. The picture, from that point on, had to be about her. A severe crop gave me just enough context to her right to anchor her in time and space, but now she was the story, the reason for the frame. The final picture had become, in essence, inevitable.

Photography is a constant flow of critical choices, and none of the decisions I made for this picture in any way confers masterpiece status on it. But even in a medium-effective photo, there are ways to push the image toward a truer version of itself. It’s a game of inches.

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