By MICHAEL PERKINS
ONE OF THE GREATEST PERKS IN DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY is making it easy and affordable to squeeze off as many shots on a given occasion as was only possible, in films days, for well-financed pros. The history of photojournalism is rife with stories of shooters who shot four, five, even six rolls of film to produce four magazine illustrations….a yield ratio that made put those same shots insanely beyond the budget of John Q. Viewfinder. Simply put, many of us just could not afford to shoot enough bad frames to get to the good ones.
That’s all in the past now. if we update our thinking.
We still have a tendency, when shooting a subject, to stop too soon, that is, as soon as an acceptable image emerges. Give many of us 60% of what we were going for, and we tend to stand down, move on, and live with a result that we may later see as a compromise. That’s old thinking based on our years of “I only have ten shots left”, and the idea of budgeting a finite commodity, like film frames. It’s important now, however, to actually develop the habit of over-shooting, of covering our targets from as many conceptual approaches as possible. Close shot. Medium shot. Reverse angle. Looking down from above. A few tries shooting at the “wrong” shutter speed or aperture. In other words, don’t settle too soon.
I had a great subject in a recent walk across a small footbridge as a kayaker began a slow trek that would eventually take him toward me, underneath my stance atop the bridge, and then back into brilliant sunlight. He was taking his time, so that I could take mine, and I began by thinking that the shot I wanted was the easiest one, as he approached me head on. However, something told me that his relationship to the light would change dramatically as he crossed under the bridge, and it did.
As he emerged from beneath the span, I shot him in a straight overhead, and then came the money shot, as the kayak seemed to divide the water into rich, detailed ripples on the right side of the boat, and shining sparkles on the other side. Hardly a world-beating shot, but far more dramatic than the one I originally thought I wanted. Had I decided to accept the first frame, the third one would never have been captured. It certainly was no great technical struggle to take the final picture, nor were the extra few seconds a major strain. Simply, the deciding factor was to want the picture, and to wait long enough for it to come to me. It was worth it:
If you must err, err on the side of taking too many shots of something. It’s a lot easier to trim away the excess than to mourn over the miracles that never got born.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
SOMEONE HANDIER WITH A SLIDE RULE THAN ME RECENTLY OBSERVED that the raw numerical totals, on photo sharing sites, had shifted in favor of mobile images over those taken with more conventional cameras. In other words, the war was over, and the phones had won, at least in the sheer tonnage of uploaded images. Not sure that I yet regard that assertion as divine revelation, but the fact is that, as mobiles become a bigger component of overall photography, a second shift in technique will also continue, that between conceptualizing and compensation.
By conceptualizing, I mean the system, for traditional photographers of planning their shots before the shutter clicks, choosing settings, pre-editing the composition in the frame, any kind of advance prep. By compensation, I mean the emphasis, with mobiles, on adding filters and fixes after the click, technically learning how to make the most of what you were able to get.
One rather fun element I like to play with at present is the two approaches to high contrast black & white, especially the “black sky” effect which can force foreground objects to pop with greater drama. Shooting out in the Arizona desert for years, I have more frequent use for this effect than I might in more, well normal areas of the country. Traditional approach to this with a DSLR, of course, is the attachment of a red filter. You have to grope around for the right exposure, since you might lose the equivalent of two stops of light, depending on the situation, but it’s a great look. So that’s for us “conceptualizing” folks. See an example up top of the page.
The “compensation” peeps, who might have done their original shot on a phone, in color, is often referred to in apps as “red sensitivity” which adds the dark-sky look as it converts the shot to black and white. Usually you can only tweak the intensity of the effect (sometimes brightness as well), but it delivers a fairly good facsimile of the DSLR’s red filter, albeit with a little black lint kind of texture to the skies that you can usually get rid of with a noise reduction slider in your computer. The results, as you can see off to the left, are fairly acceptable.
If you’re shopping for filters beyond those in your own camera native app, consider adding one that includes red sensitivity. It’s one more “compensation” tool that’s nice to carry in your back pocket.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THERE SEEMS TO BE A PROPENSITY, WITHIN THE DNA OF EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER, to “show it all”, to flood the frame with as much visual information as humanly possible in an attempt to faithfully render a story. Some of this may track back to the first days of the art, when the world was a vast, unexplored panorama, a wilderness to be mapped and recorded. Early shutterbugs risked their fortunes and their lives to document immense vistas, mountain ranges, raging cataracts, daunting cliffs. There was a continent to conquer, an immense openness to capture. The objectives were big, and the resultant pictures were epic in scale.
Seemingly, intimacy, the ability to select things, to zero in on small stories, came later. And for some of us, it never comes. Accordingly, the world is flooded with pictures that talk too loudly and too much, including, strangely, subjects shot at fairly close range. The urge is strong to gather, rather than edit, to include rather than to pare away. But there are times when you’re just trying to get the picture to “yes”, the point at which nothing else is required to get the image right, which is also the point at which, if something extra is added, the impact of the image is actually diminished. I, especially, have had to labor long and hard to just get to “yes”….and stop.
In the above image, there are only two elements that matter: the border of brightly lit paper lanterns at the edge of a Chinese New Year festival and the small pond that reflects back that light. If I were to exhaust myself trying to also extract more detail from the surrounding grounds or the fence, I would accomplish nothing further in the making of the picture. As a matter of fact, adding even one more piece of information can only lessen the force of the composition. I mention this because I can definitely recall occasions when I would whack away at the problem, perhaps with a longer exposure, to show everything in more or less equal illumination. And I would have been wrong.
Even with this picture, I had to make myself accept that a picture I like this much required so little sweat. Less can actually be more, but we have to learn to get out of our own way….to stop at “yes”.