Taking a break from the film emulation thing let’s talk about “right and wrong” when it comes to making photographs. I’ll try to not be so verbose — which means a subject as broad as this is definitely going to be a multi-volume set. The internet is a strange thing communication wise. Strange for me because it’s so limited as compared to an in-person conversation. A dialog is better — even phone conversations lack certain characteristics of being there live and in color.
The Setup And Context
Yesterday’s post generated a out of left-field dialog via the internet. The result of that got me thinking about right and wrong in terms of “how to do things” in photographic terms.
One one hand you’ve got a pedantic narrow minded point of view of what a photograph should be. Sharp, detailed, accurate this and that. Free of distortions. Blah, blah — you know the drill. That can be the “right way” but it all depends on what you are trying to show. Then there’s the other diametric mob-think… anything is okay and “good” or anything is the “right way” or there is no “wrong way”. On the surface of things you might mistake this as a completely open minded point of view — purveyors of this notion without any qualification however are for the most part equally as narrow minded.
I’ll explain — there certainly is a “wrong way” if you are trying to show, portray, or accomplish something and what you are doing is at cross purposes to that end. Sometimes this might take you somewhere else you wanted to go which can be good… but that starts getting really meta and all wishy washy and is more of an exploration kind of conversation.
Let me illustrate two different “wrong ways” one productive — at least from my point of view. Productive in terms of portraying something the way I wanted to portray in the way I wanted to portray it. The other “wrong way” does nothing to contribute to whatever your mission might be, worse it actually is a giant obstacle in getting there. I’ll offer no judgement on either destination as that’s a question that’s entirely a personal quest.
I’ll start with the really wrong “wrong way”. It’s a story — a true story that I’ll do my best to tell objectively and truthfully but I may call people names along the way.
The WRONG Wong Way
In helping some friends get a new studio space off the ground I spent a long time hanging around. Other photographers using the space would occasionally need some assistance setting up lighting gear. Whenever I was around I would be glad to help. So… a photographer comes in and needs some help finding/setting up stuff. Of course I’ll assist. First up I say “Okay, what’s your lighting plan. As in how many lights to you need? Soft or hard? Modifiers? What aperture are you thinking about shooting… etc.”
Well, he didn’t feel like sharing any of that. Instead he just wanted what he wanted. Some help setting up one light at a time. Not after testing and considering anything just for me to do whatever he said as quick as possible. You see he didn’t want to waste any time for the 3 hours he had a SINGLE MODEL BOOKED. Okay then, it might be a good idea to at least tell me how many lights and which modifiers you’ll be using okay — that way I can make sure…”
Nope, won’t give me a clue. Fast forward I set-up light after light and put a mish-mash of modifiers on them in order with no idea what was coming next or where we were going. Where did this end up… Something like six lights for a single subject. The modifiers made no sense for what he was trying to do — how do I know what he was trying to do? Well I spent 20 minutes fiddling with the WRONG modifiers and positioning to get the back of his camera to look like he wanted which would have taken exactly 3 lights, maybe four. I was trying to make six lights look like three with the right modifiers.
You think that’s the punchline? No, it’s not. After we were all done this the WRONG lights were in the wrong positions with the wrong modifiers. So what you say. Well here’s so what; The last two lights he kept secret from me in the “plan” happened to be the most powerful lights in the universe. He put them in reflectors — I told him this was a bad idea. Nope it’s fine just do what he wants… Okay so that leaves us with nuclear powered lights that have to be run at minimum backed way off which makes the spill really hard to deal with (hence twenty minutes screwing around after setup). What’s worse is we’ve got a relatively low power light being fired through a GIANT OCTABOX… So he starts shooting. Guess how he “works”. Yep motor on full speed Nikon D3 as many shots as possible with no model direction. Yes somewhere north of 5FPS for three fucking hours.
Take a wild guess at how many times the flashes actually all went off? The nuclear lights running at low power almost kept up. The main light — not a chance. Worse yet is every five or ten minutes he would call me in and tell me “something is wrong”. Why? Well you see the main light wouldn’t fire at all… Ummmm, no shit sherlock — geuss what happens when you fire it full power as fast as it will possibly re-charge and pop? Ummm, it shuts down because it overheats instead of exploding. I fucking told you this even before I knew you did stupid shit like use a motor while letting the model stand there shooting 1,000s of shots. I also told you why the fucking thing is overheating last time I was in here. Sure I’ll check it again — yep, overheated. See that flashing light — when it goes off you can go to town again… You sure you don’t want me to swap heads around like I’ve offered to do the last dozen times you asked me why the octa isn’t going off? Nope — okay. See you in five minutes again. Asswipe.
I swear — I can’t make this shit up. What’s wrong with this?
- Not giving the subject any input/direction at all? No if that gets you what you are looking for then fine do it.
- Ummmm, five FPS in a studio of a model not actually moving or doing anything. Nope — if that’s what gets you what your looking for fine.
- Six lights instead of three that would do the same job. Even that is not so so wrong. Maybe there’s a nuance I’m just not seeing (Umm prolly not in this case but maybe). Hell it may be the only way you know to get that look and want to spend no time learning something new… even that kind of “wrong way” is fine.
I used this example because there is actually a wrong “wrong way”. If you are going to do all that shit it is very very wrong to use the fucking low power light at it’s highest power and the high power lights at their lowest power. It’s double wrong if what you’re after is continuous uninterrupted shooting as fast as can possibly be done. See — there are “wrong ways”. Even for stuff I deem worthless — as in I’m not interested in. Not my call — that’s a personal quest. Even within those parameters there are “wrong ways”. Don’t be that guy.
The Right Wrong Way
This will be short and very familiar. The “right way” to take pictures of subjects that are moving are fast shutter speeds that will eliminate any blur. Sure, unless of course you want blur. How much blur? Hmmm, that takes some experimentation, some serendipity, some timing, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.
Obviously slow shutter speeds are the “wrong way” if you don’t want any blur and everything really really sharp. In this case I didn’t — I almost never do but that’s a strangeness of mine. So in this case it’s the right “wrong way” for what I want to show in the way I want to show it. The rest of it all is a personal call. There’s a million ways to skin that cat by the way. Different timing, different focal length, different angles of motion relative to film plane. Hell if you want you can do it in post. That’s what is really meant by there’s no wrong way. It really means there’s no one way. It also means there is no right way to prescribe the outcome of a look that is “the right way to portray” any particular thing according to some standard. Do what you want, just do it in the way that is effective to achieve your ends as opposed to a way that is at cross purposes.
The images scattered about happened to be my particular “wrong way” on this particular day.