By MICHAEL PERKINS
EVERY PHOTOGRAPH YOU TAKE IS OF CONSEQUENCE.
That doesn’t mean that every subject you shoot will “matter”, or that every mood you capture will be important. Far from it. However, every frame you shoot will yield the most positive thing you could hope for in your development. Feedback. This worked. God, this didn’t. Try again with more of this. One more time, but change the angle. The light. The approach. The objective. Nothing that you shoot is time wasted, since the positive and negative information gleaned is all building toward your next ah-ha miracle.
Your greatest work has to come as the total of all the building blocks of all the little details you teach yourself to sweat. And that is why you must, I repeat with religious fervor, Always Be Shooting. Something from a photo that won’t change the world will wind up in the photo that will. The what-the-heck experiment of today’s shot is the foundational bedrock of tomorrow’s. You are always going to be your most important teacher, and you get better faster by giving your muscles lots of exercise.
Light changes, those hundreds of shadows, flickers, hot spots and glows that appear around your house for minutes at a time during every day, are the easiest, fastest way to try something…anything. A window throws a stray ray onto your floor for three minutes. Stick something in it and shoot it. A cloud shifts and bathes your living room in gold for thirty seconds. Place a subject in there to see how the light plays over its contours. Shoot it, move it, shoot it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The image at left came when a shaft of late afternoon light shot through my bathroom window for about three minutes. I grabbed the first thing I saw that looked interesting, framed it up, and shot it. Learned a little about shadows in the process. Nothing that will change the world. Still.
Many cheap, simple opportunities for learning get dumped in your lap everyday. Don’t wait for masterpiece subject matter or miracle light. Get incrementally better shooting with what you have on hand. Grab the little glows, and use spare minutes to see what they can do to your pictures. And, on the day when the miracle saunters by, you will be ready.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks…?” —Shakespeare
LIGHT IS A RAW RESOURCE, MUCH LIKE IRON ORE OR GOLD NUGGETS. It needs to be refined, alloyed for it to truly be a tool in picture making. For the purpose of photography, what we call “available” light means just that; it’s there, but not in its final form. Making images means becoming an active shaper of light–bouncing it, boosting it, adding or subtracting bits of it, harnessing it if you will. Turning “available” light into usable light is the true alchemy of photography.
That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit greatly from accidents.
The above image was the result of pure seat-of-the-pants whimsy, a momentary impulse to try an idea just to see what happens. However, it was a lucky reworking of available light that drew me to the location before the idea took shape.
I have written volumes on how very harsh the pure midday sunlight is in Arizona, and how it can only be of use if it is filtered or softened in some way. To that end, I have identified various sites around my house which get that done beautifully, depending on where the sun is in the sky during different parts of the day. Some of these sites occur just inside the garage, in the living room, and in a spare bedroom, and shoots will work wonderfully depending on when and where you schedule them. Best of all, the house apparently still holds a few more surprises.
Several days ago, I discovered a new and most unusual site…..a dense art window just to the left of our master bathroom shower stall, which turns out to be a triple softener for late afternoon light, just pre-golden hour. As light streams through the window, it gets softened for the first time, then hits the mirrored closet doors on the opposite wall, where it diffuses some more. Bouncing off the mirror, it then angle-bounces to the back wall of the shower stall, still fairly bright but now really fuzzed out and warm. And that’s where I saw it, as I was walking through the room.
As soon as I spotted the light, I started brainstorming about what kind of object I might stage in this little “studio”, and I hit on the idea of a ukulele, since I always have scads of them around the house, they’re colorful, and it’s kind of an absurd variation on the whole “singing in the shower” cliche. I liked the shot from a purely light effect standpoint, and the unique shaping of the glow in that space will definitely be back for a return engagement.
Maybe a saxophone….