Embracing Constraints

When I talked about The Shirt the point was trying things that were not in your original plan and how they may work out to a degree as to influence what you actually do plan or think about down the road. So in a sense it was about not being bound by initial constraints that you put on yourself and what was in your head. I wanted to offer a bit of counterpoint to that. Namely that while freeing yourself from mental constraints is always a good idea, freeing yourself from all constraints may not always be a great idea.

I bring this up because a lot of the evolution of photographic imaging technology has been all about removing constraints. Constraints of light sensitivity in terms of ISO, constraints of absolutely nailing focus exactly where you planned no matter what the conditions, constraints on shutter speeds you can use in any given circumstance, constraints of what focal length you can choose without even the effort of stopping to change lenses, etc, etc, etc. All of those things may allow you to do things you could not do before but that is not always a good thing.

I could probably write a multivolume dissertation on this subject because I have thought about it so much over the last decade. Thought about the choices that I make and others make when producing images and how they are influenced so so much by the gear we happen to be using and the somewhat insane desire in photography to completely remove any possible constraint perceived. In the briefest way possible I'll try to illustrate why constraints are not necessarily a bad thing along the lines of why the mindless choice of "appropriate" shutter speed and the ability to do so will make very different images that if you happened to be constrained to 100 ISO.

Check out the image at the top of the post. Not a bad image but that's not actually important. For the purposes of this discussion what's important is the particular framing of that shot. You might remember that I shot the entire session that day with an 85mm lens even though I brought a bunch of them. It happened to be appropriate for all of the previous setups that we were working. It also was appropriate because I set a constraint on myself that I wasn't going to mess around with rearranging all the furniture in the location I was shooting so an 85mm made it very convenient to frame out things that would have been majorly distracting without giving the location the whole hollywood production treatment.

This shot was one of the last setups of the day in a different room and the little bit of ambient light was fading fast. My camera bag was downstairs and not conveniently accessible. The bed that my subject was lying on gave me only about 3 to maybe 3 1/2 feet of working distance. While shooting this series I really really wanted a bit more of a 3/4 length framing so that I could get some of Rebecca's shape and the light spill on her leg in the photo.

Given the fixed 85mm lens attached to the camera and the working distance I had no choice but to frame her in this manner with the fairly extreme positioning of her face and the tight crop on the top. I can tell you without a doubt that I probably would have zoomed out a bit if I had the choice and was shooting with a 70-200 or a 24-70. I would have made a completely different image. I happen to like this framing and probably would not have shot it or even thought of it if I were not space constrained and lens constrained.

Same thing goes for this shot in terms of the framing choices that I madeā€¦

My point is that constraints - the kind that are equipment driven will definitely cause you to solve problems differently than if you remove them. In many cases producing completely different images than you would have otherwise if you actually had the choice. Eliminate the choice and you get a different and many times better solution to what you are trying to achieve. Just something to think about next time you are attaching a lens or just about any kind of gear solution to some circumstance that may come up. Do without it and shoot it the only way you can at the moment before going for the gear based solution that crosses your mind. Sure - go ahead and do it the other way too if you must but I will bet you surprise yourself some pretty decent images and completely different approaches if you leave the constraints in place.


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