Another installment of the rights and the wrongs. Last time I blathered on about things technical but at the end of it all I hope the subtext was that all of that techno-stuff like what decisions to make is directly related to what you want to make and how you make it. The bottom line is that in many ways some of the techno-crap “should do” conflicts in blatant and subtle ways with what you want to make. That’s the psychological part. I used an obstinate photographer that refused to follow any of the “should do” things which would have greatly contributed to the only possible mission he was on to demonstrate a slightly different psychology — somewhat unexplainable but very related to being open minded.
Connecting Dots From Last Time
I also discussed a much more subtle psychology that on the surface of things seems obvious. Want to see motion blur, obviously don’t shut that down with too high of shutter speeds. The subtle part comes in when you start down the conflict “should do” road. I would love to count myself out of the “should do”, “right way” crowd but I can’t. One way or another all of the “right way” crap encroaches on our decisions. That’s a personal self-psychology thing that is a constant never ending battle in far more ways than can be covered in one article or maybe a thousand articles. Impossible to enumerate but I can hope at the very least to point out here and there for your consideration.
So the “right wrong way” I discussed — shutter speed or the slowness of it to get a bit of motion blur to achieve what I wanted that day. Great, so where does the subtle part come in. Candidly — I should have used even a slower shutter speed to really get what I wanted. So what possessed me not to? I had the wherewithal to not freeze it or even try where did the psychology work against me…
The ol’ “should do” committee got it’s vote — a minor one thank goodness but a vote all the same. I wanted my cake and to eat it as well. I wanted my motion blur — a touch of it but I also wanted sharpness when critically inspected of the non-blurry parts. Why? Who Cares? I really don’t after the fact. I should have shot this at 1/30th hand held. Who cares if there was a bit of motion or vibration from me.
Part II. Nothing At All Techno
Subjects, pre-visualization, getting what you want, and the best laid plans of mice, etc., etc., etc. So to one degree or another what I’m about to describe happens. It happens to everyone. Ridiculous intellectualization combined with some degree of ego may suggest it doesn’t happen, can’t happen, blah, blah. It does and if you can’t feel it and see it — usually too late then you’re just not tuned in enough.
I’ll relate this to human subjects but it applies equivalently but differently to just about everything. Well, maybe not studio still life but everything else.
What about Mary? Mary graces the post with shots I made the very first time I ever worked with her. Did I get what I want — nope. Did I get what I needed? Sure. What happened, where did it go south? I know it went south but I could pretend it didn’t — you’d never now not being the photographer. Mary at this point and prolly even now is more of a “fine art figure” kind of model. She spends a lot of time not moving and showing various tension in her body on purpose, etc, etc, etc. I was focused on shooting stuff that would “blend-in” with the other people I used for the Window Light eBook. What did I do? I forced what I envisioned onto Mary as a subject without ever having worked with her before. Well I tried and ended up with sub-optimal shots. I prioritized what I wanted to make over what I could make given the subject, the circumstances, the degree of rapport we had at that moment, our ability to read each other, etc.
When this happens — in many cases making full use of what a subject is giving you is in a lot of ways far better than continuing to pound on what you had in your head. Make the images you can instead of images you thought you wanted. In many cases they’ll be far better. Trust me this psychology works in obvious as well as much more insidious and diabolically hard to recognize ways when you are there.
I pride myself on how idiotically smart the readers of this eclectic blog are — how do I know that? I’ve had hundreds of off-line email exchanges with them. One common theme. Knowing this I’m going to skip ahead and outsmart you before you outsmart yourself — or just as deadly mistake the above paragraph to be targeted towards everyone else but smart people because it seems so so simple. It’s not. In fact I would guess if you bang against this photography thing long enough you might just put this particular psychology challenge up in the top three on your deathbed.
I’ll attempt to remove anything remotely taste or subjective from this — impossible but I’ll try by giving two counter examples mixed up together with a very subtle point about skill.
So we find are self having a vision of what we want and getting having some degree of skill to get there. Great, to some degree you will get there. Too bad that’s the wrong place to be in many cases unless you must must must make something to some specification — usually not really the case. We all have some degree of skill along a continuous spectrum — I can provoke people to get what I want. I’m better at it now than I was when I was 20. I’m flexible in my approach, and my repertoire. I don’t have the same stupid bag of words I use across everyone. Great — that allows me to get towards “what I wanted to make”. If it’s not what the subject is giving me there’s a really good chance a better path exists in pursing that. The fact you can make it work at all can be a mirage, an illusion. Go ahead — do that. Get it out of your system. Then explore the other path.
Path Number One: Do exactly what you are doing but instead of timing your trigger finger to capture “what you wanted”. Capture the things that are going the opposite way of your provocations. Counter intuitive but there’s a lot of ground to explore in the opposite of your initial intent. What I wanted is soft and fluid as opposed to formalized static muscle tensions. They’re very different things. I was doing my utmost to provoke and time my shutter to get as much of that as I could. Which means I was directing and shooting the exact opposite of what Mary was giving me. I could continue my approach but take the pictures that reflect the opposite of what my intent was instead of trying to get the “in-betweens”. There were far more of those than there were in-betweens. In fact Mary’s most likely subconscious reaction was to somehow make sure there weren’t any in-betweens. Subtle in this case — easy for me to see. Let’s put it into a generic scenario that’s very easy to relate to; You want to take a portrait — everyone wants the subject to look “natural” — and definitely nobody wants the subject to look obviously tense and especially not self conscious. If you’re getting semi-results of that why not grab some really really self conscious images on purpose. Make that your intent instead. Do that instead of avoiding that. Hell enhance that. You may not end up with the pictures you wanted but instead end up with way better pictures. Interesting pictures.
Path Number Two: Path Number One is difficult and taking advantage of the exact opposite or even seeing it as anything but images you absolutely don’t want to take is hard — consider that something that’s worthwhile in so many ways but not easy to recognize or take advantage of. Far too many times it ends up just fighting to get what you wanted — the better you get at whatever it is you do and think you want the harder it is to switch to that opposite gear. It’s far easier to recognize and change the mindset to optimize what the subject is giving you and going down the road of right here, right now. Do that instead. I tend to do that with Mary as a matter of course now. I’ve collaborated with her to an idiotically large degree over the last year. More on that topic some other day.
Food for thought. I’ll say it for the thousands time — the psychology of this thing is the difficult part. Much harder than golf.
Ps. All images are Kodak BW400CN soft whites via Kodak Classic Film Emulations For Capture One