Personal Development

My ex-wife had a simple approach to critiquing photographs; it can’t be an interesting picture unless it has a person in it.  The message clearly didn’t get through; the majority of imagery here and on my ViewBug profile are of landscapes and architecture.  The strange thing is that I really love photographs of people, whether to capture their character, their beauty or best of all both.  The thing is I’m not very good at it, and I put that down to a lack of practice.  When on my travels it’s easy to shoot landscapes and buildings; they co-operate.  Street photography can be good for capturing people in their natural state, but that poses its own challenges in moving targets and whether to shoot anonymously or not.

At the heart of that last sentence was the key word.  Poses.  I’m not very good at posing people; the very act seems artificial, and yet without it there is so much that go wrong.  With a willing participant you could carefully consider the checklist of:

  1. Head
  2. Shoulders
  3. Arms
  4. Wrists/Hands
  5. Waist
  6. Hips
  7. Knees
  8. Ankles

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The trouble is that so many people are camera-shy that finding that willing participant is a challenge, so you decide to work with a model which of course requires time, effort and planning.  Even then there are problems.  We tend to register people as a snapshot in our minds; the way they smile, the colour of their eyes and hair, etc but we rarely scrutinise them so their blemishes go unnoticed.  I have a face covered in small cysts, a dodgy gum line where a nasty cycling accident took its toll on some perfectly good front teeth, and my hair is thinning and receding, yet people tell me I’m attractive (watered down by the phrase “for your age”) nonetheless.  A photograph however is something that can be scrutinised and so we see past the brain’s shorthand and spot that double chin, the slouch, or distortion that arises when the bits nearest the camera seem enlarged.  Posing is about dealing with many of these factors so the individual can look as good as that mental image.  Processing afterwards completes the job.

This is all on my mind because I recently attended a “model night” at a local studio and again found the process of achieving good results more challenging that you’d think.  The models are the first problem; the brain registers those snapshots (generally very positive) and so knowing you have a beautiful woman in front of you, you shoot away and then checking your images later reject so many due to poor posing or composition.  The checklist goes out of your mind because a) they’re models so they’re constantly moving, and b) you’re aware of the other photographers there queueing to shoot too.

Of the 250 or so images I shot, about 20% are problem free, but of those I’ll probably only fully process about 20%.  Not a great rate of return, and yet if I end up with 10/12 quality shots from the evening that feels ok.

Why only process so few?  We’re back to that scrutiny of imperfections.

At first glance Lauren looks pretty good here, but look more closely and you’ll see that her tan product is quite patchy in places; there are small niggles like a protruding bootlace to deal with, that highlight on her nose that looks like greasy skin but is just down to the power of the lights.  The overall hue feels unnaturally green/yellow, her left cheek has a smudge of mascara…  You get my point.  Post-processing gets a bad rap when it’s used  to make people thinner or give them bigger boobs, but it also has a role in making people look as good as our brains picture them.

The great portraitist Jane Bown

would circle her subjects with her camera until she exclaimed “Ah, there you are!”  Her hit rate was much greater than four or five percent I’m sure, yet for her celebrity portraits she would be perhaps allowed half an hour.  One great image per half an hour.  Perhaps I’ll be content with a dozen acceptable shots from three or four hours!

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