What Kind Of Photographer Are you?

Landscape, or portrait, or documentary, or street, or a dozen other things might be the first thoughts that pop into your head. The question goes beyond merely genre. Let’s assume you care about whatever you point your camera at no matter if it’s still life, flowers, bugs, people, trees. A tiny bit deeper and we start to venture into bigger questions. How do you want to represent things in front of your camera? How do you want them to feel? Why?

These are questions that are easy to answer if you’re doing commercial work; Anything the client wants. When it comes to your own projects and photography they start to get harder to answer along with a thousand other more perplexing conundrums. I wanted to share some of my own proclivities and how they play out in terms of decisions related to more technical matters such as gear, tools, software, and other such things debated endlessly on the internet. I realize that none of us are singular dimensional. We all have different flavors and needs here and there but for the sake of discussion let’s pretend we only want to do “that one thing” that we gravitate to the most. I hope to give a glimmer of insight to your own thought processes as opposed to suggest you use mine. Think of them more as a template to get to your own answers.

What’s floated my boat for as long as I can remember is making photographs of people in certain documentary-like circumstance. Somewhat of a cross between street photography, environmental portraiture, or some strange mutated baby of the two. I’m looking for a certain something that happens. Far too complicated to go into here but I am familiar with conditions, gear, and approach that are better suited to what I’m looking for than alternatives.

Tripods, and lights, and reflectors, and assistants are not conducive to getting what I want. In terms of imaging aesthetics I fall into a particular rendering I prefer. Negative film way back a decade ago happened to give me the response in real world light that worked well. I shoot at wide-ish apertures and slow-ish shutter speeds like 1/125th and 1/250th and use ISO 400-1600 in 80% of real-world circumstances. Easy. My images are not that dependent on insane amounts of detail from a lines per millimeter measurement. I do have strong reactions to overall “look” that’s either working or not working with various image capture medium sizes, focal lengths, and the way the whole deal renders holistically at f/1.4 thru f/4 or sometimes f/5.6.

When it comes to output I really like more intimate images somewhere between 6 x 9 to 11 x 14 in actual size viewed close up. When viewed close I want really great tonality and depth. Up until my retina MacBook Pro LCD screens just don’t cut it. Now they do but I still hate distribution on the web because of the complete lack of control over the end viewing experience, size, color, etc. That puts me in “I don’t give a flying [email protected] mode” for web distribution.

Every once in a while I’ll make a crazy big print for myself for my own work on my own projects. I mean crazy big like 4 feet x 6 feet or 6 feet x 9 feet. That kind of scale. Output wise pixel counts or ultimate resolution are inconsequential to me for the work I like to make most. I was fine with 35mm and 120 ISO400 speed film. Both made fantastic smaller more intimate prints with fantastic tonality and color. Crazy big print sizes don’t really count since no camera has enough pixels to do 300DPI at crazy big sizes for close examination. It’s more a matter of certain pictures “work” at big sizes and others don’t — far more subject and lighting dependent than pure technical quantities. Put another way I don’t care if I can only make 20 inch prints at an output beyond human eye sight resolving power or I could make a 24 inch print at the same resolution for even a 30 inch print at that resolution. All of them are beyond my target print size for close and intimate examination for the feel of a “real photograph” or even on a retina display. If I’m making a huge print than the difference is a nit between 12, 16, 24, 36… or whatever. In other words I’m okay and have been with 35mm or 120 film print sizes.

I also happen to like the inherent aesthetics associated with capture medium of those 35mm or 120 dimensions and focal lengths associated. I would feel differently if I shot things really far away or I wanted everything near and far in focus. I would also feel differently if I shot static subjects locked down on a tripod with tilt-shift lenses. The mechanics vary but the discipline and dynamics of the situation are similar to shooting large format back in the day. Yea, done that here and there but not my main interest; Still isn’t.

I’m pretty simple to satisfy but that’s only driven by what I like to shoot. What do I need? Not much, something that approaches 35mm or 120 film “look” when I output the sizes I like. A device that is smallish, with reasonable sized normal-ish lenses and a capture medium that allows me to shoot in real-world light without bringing gear and assistants to the equation. No lights, stands, reflectors, nothing. Negative film did all those things for me. Only in the past two years am I starting to get to where I was for my requirements. Doesn’t mean yours are the same but all of the decisions you make about cameras should one way or another relate to what subject you like to shoot. Trying to optimize for all subjects usually compromises all of them to a degree.

More to come.

RB

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