Working With Subjects Etc

As I've mentioned in a few of the last posts. I did make a whole lot of shots while instructing the window light mini-workshop. I made far more in the second session than the first. The fact is that I made no images from the sidelines in the first session. And I made only one or two images for each setup no more while explaining items on my agenda. Why is this? Well I was super worried that I wasn't going able to get through the material and also give one-on-one shooting time for each participant. I did get it done and only went over the two hours by a hair. No big deal. The first session had more people - which surprised me so I was much more comfortable with fewer participants in the second session. This brings me to the meat of today's post. A few thoughts on working with subjects.

The model I used for both sessions was someone I have never met or shot before that day. Not my usual M.O. for sure. I was in such a hurry I didn't make any attempt to direct her beyond stand here and face a little that way or this way - end of story. I made a shot within 5 or 10 seconds, chimped it for exposure and then either made another one immediately or entered into discussion with the participants - hence one or two shots and that's it.

This was on purpose - I prioritized discussion with the people that were there to pick up a few things. It was a very hard thing for me to do. Both in the act of just shooting whatever was there as well as not discussing any sort of direction/subject interaction kind of things. I may have offered a few asides here or there but I knew if I went down any of those roads instead of sticking to the light and in-camera decisions that could be made it would turn in to a two day event instead of the two hours we had. The truth is - I made mostly bland crappy shots - not because of the light but completely due to the lack of direction and interaction with the subject. I felt compelled to apologize to the model a few times while we were moving to another room or she was taking a quick 5 minute break for my completely and utter lack of interaction with her.

Here's a funny thing that happened though. Even lack of interaction is interaction. Even people that couldn't possibly articulate things in terms of why react or don't react based on non-verbal signals that they pick up without even trying. Sheba is an art model for the most part. She holds very still for careful studies by people that paint or draw or take carefully composed photographs. She's good at that - done a lot of it. I could tell immediately based a lot of things.

Take a look at the shot at the top of this post. This is absolutely night and day compared to any of the other demo images I made during that first portrait oriented session. It's probably the only one I actual like even a little bit. Remember the one or two shots that I said that I made for each setup? Well this was actually the third shot I made about 15 minutes into the session. Specifically I had photographed 4 different lighting setups and contrast ratios within the same 3 feet. This was the fourth. So within the previous three and that 15 minutes Sheba got a read on my shooting rhythm and without direction happily complied - specifically she didn't move or change anything from the first shot expecting me to make another in short order. She figured out - probably without any real thought that I was not going to make a third.

So what happened here? Well… I made the first shot, chimped it, bumped the exposure up from my initial guess, raised the camera again and immediately shot. As I was about to lower the camera and start yammering about the setup, exposure choices, etc on what was going to show up on the tethered laptop I saw her immediately move - I would assume to make some adjustment to hair, shirt, whatever. I grabbed it. That third shot. I grabbed it as a reaction - not as a plan. I didn't even discuss any of this. It was definitely within 1 second of that previous shot. Maybe more like a half second.

The position of her hand just caught my eye and I reacted. You can see significant motion blur in that hand in the foreground. I was shooting at a relatively slow 1/125s. There are exact 8,347 things wrong with this shot which I would absolutely attempt to fix if I made even one more but I love that hand.

I do have a couple of things for you to consider with all of that context out of the way. Things that I knew when I was shooting. Things that crossed my mind while other people were shooting - even though I wanted to intervene like all get out. I also have a few things I just thought of as I reviewed the few images for the first time today that I shot in that first session. Yes I even review and reflect on stupid stuff I make that I know won't be that great - there are always things to be considered for anything you shoot.

In no particular order…

  • The primary point: Even if you don't explicitly direct your subject you absolutely positively will influence them to some degree. A fairly large consideration for those of you that photography people.
  • Have you ever noticed how easy it is to make lousy photos of people? I don't mean technically, I mean it in a sense that it's crazy easy to make images that make people look way worse than they do in the mind's eye. Way worse then they look at first glance, etc. The truth of it is - it's a crazy difficult and variable thing to show them at their best in a photography. One that deserves a lot of care and consideration and respect for your subject. This pained me when quickly shooting Sheba for the very first time with no exploration and no time spent on directing her to avoid that. It was actually painful to hit that shutter when the light was good without spending time getting the best point of view and expression and angle and, and, and, and.
  • On the flip side even though it is way easier to make a bad picture than an optimal one of most human subjects does not indicate that it take's a long time. It can happen really quick as long as you are tuned into what you are actually seeing in front of you. On the other hand if the problem is self-inflicted by the subject due to discomfort being in-front of the camera that might take a bit of time while you as the photographer overcome that - how? Differs by subject. Here's the rub - once you do overcome that you may have only a very very short time to make the good image as normal people really get worn down quickly. I would say if you go beyond an hour expect a serious decline - expect to fail. Your fault - not the subjects.
  • Are there people that are impossible to take a bad photo of? Bad as in - they always look good no matter how you photograph them? Yes - VERY VERY rare. I have a very short list of the ones I have worked with. I call them fool-proof. Nobody can make them look bad - even if that was the intent. Any light, any angle, any expression, bad timing, etc. Nothing you can do will make them look bad even if the image is horrible in every other way. I used to use the few I knew when I did travel workshops to exotic destinations. If you run into any great - make hay while the sun shines but if you shoot normal people and even crazy pretty people be warned - this is absolutely no good at making you better at that endeavor. The really funny part is when they are not in 2-D on camera they don't really come across that way unless you are a photographer that has been looking at this kind of thing for a long long time. Even now I run across people that surprise me in terms of how great they look in 2-D.
  • Here's something that seems obvious but apparently it's not. If something looks really bad through your finder it's not going to look better by pressing the shutter.
  • A closely related corollary for things that might not have looked too bad in your viewfinder but absolutely look horrid on the back of your screen. Taking more pictures of the exact same thing will definitely not make it better either. You need to change it.

Just some random thoughts for the day.

RB

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