A while ago, I got to talking to a friend on Writing.com, and his comments spurred Identity Crisis. However, these’s one aspect of his comments I didn’t cover there, and I actually forgot about it until a month or so ago when I attended a premiere at a local photo gallery. That aspect is audience expectations.
Steve (said friend) said that artistic photography should make some sort of statement about reality. I’ve already stated the reasons I disagree with that idea. In recent weeks, though, I’ve found I might not be the only one. Let me clarify that. I’m not the only one among photography consumers that merits technique and aesthetics over commentary. This is a mindset that can be found even among some (semi) professional photographers. This exhibit was held at Minneapolis Photo Center, a place I didn’t even know existed until last summer. It’s a place that you really only know about if photography is a big deal to you.
The premiere was really crowded, and I had to wait a bit to move from photo to photo. As a result, I had a chance to do some eavesdropping. It was incredibly fascinating. Many people who attended the show focused on the form and technique photographers employed. The nature (heh) of the exhibit certainly encouraged technical remarks. Even so, there were a lot of comments that could apply to most photo exhibits. In particular, I heard one gentleman remark on people downright abusing Photoshop to turn photos into paintings. I totally understand that complaint. Even so, at least these individuals used Photoshop in a plausibly convincing manner.
It was a pleasant surprise ti hear so many people focus strictly on what was in front of them. (Pardon the pun. Again.) There wasn’t any speculation about the photographer’s intent or any larger message. It was people simply enjoying the photos at face value. More to the point, it was people who regularly peruse photography taking everything at face value. Seeing and hearing people admire (or criticize) the images themselves proved enlightening. It also made me wonder about other photography audiences.
I admit I haven’t been around non-photography audiences as much as I’ve been around those who are more immersed in the photography world. When I’ve been around the former, the comments are less technical. At the same time, there aren’t many people seeing the exhibited photos as grandiose statements. Some people remarked on how the photos reflected the times. Others noted very general observations about the composition of the photos. You could hear a pin drop when nudity was involved. Hey, I live in the US and am speaking from experience in US museums. What do you expect? In any case, the comments were broad and superficial even in museum settings. I found that to be intriguing. I think I’ll need to make some more observations, though, to see if this holds up.
Confession time. I occasionally forget to adjust my shutter speed when I move from a bright environment to one with less light. As a result, I get some underexposed shots. The thing is, I sometimes get frames that I really like. When I Google deliberate underexposure, there’s very little that discusses the shutter speed tweaks that I use without any post processing work. So for all I know I’m using horrible technique! Let’s take a look at what I’ve done. It’s not a whole lot, and it’s spread out over four years/two cameras. My oblivious nature is the uniting thread in all these.
As you can see in this example from 2010, I accidentally use an ultrafast shutter speed when photographing a brightly colored object in the shade or other muted lighting. I usually do this when I’m constantly switching environments and am not paying attention to the lighting changes. When you think about it, we photographers spend a good amount of time switching environments even if we’re in the same locale. Light can change in the space of two minutes and/or two feet. I’ve worked to pay closer attention, so I generally don’t create these accidental but interesting looking shots all that much. When I got Rigoberto, however, I had a whole bunch of these moments. What was weird about that was I’d already had Rigoberto for a couple months and had done extended shoots before. We could probably write it off as me being a space cadet or being overwhelmed by the kids around. In all fairness, I was there around 2:30 or so on a Friday afternoon, so toddlers and any kids who could get out of school early were bound to be there. Maybe I should try for 10 AM on a Tuesday or something next time. We’ll see about that.
Okay, that last one wasn’t a good example, but I felt like including it since it had a related effect. In any case, I might try deliberately underexposing shots and see what happens. I’ll just need to make sure I can find enough brightly colored objects, and I’ll try to photograph things besides flowers. I have so many flower photographs it’s not even funny.
Before I begin, I’d just like to make it clear that I adore alliteration. Ask anyone who’s known me for a long time, and they’ll confirm it. Anyway, I stated back at the beginning of the year that I was going to make a portfolio. I haven’t reneged on that and am in the process of selecting possible photos. It’s a pain going through 12 years of archives to find the true classics. While I have selected some more recent photos for consideration, I aim to make my portfolio representative of the total time I’ve been taking photos. After all, there are some photos I took in 2000 that have stood the test of time very well. I would be remiss to not include some of them. This process is still ongoing, but I anticipate having it completed within the next week or so. When I have my photos uploaded and selected, it will be time to conquer the next step in this process: setting up the portfolio book.
The only thing that I even kind of know is I’ll be using a classic black background. Since I have a tendency toward vibrant colors and don’t anticipate many black and white photos being included, black strikes me as the best all-around choice for having my photos pop. Then there is the issue of the title. I have a few choices but need some help narrowing it down. So you know what that means. Poll time! I encourage anyone reading this to click an option, and I’ll combine this poll’s results with its sister poll on Writing.Com to select the title. Click away!
On that note, I’ll leave you with a taste of my most recent photo adventures: wandering around the North Shore of Minnesota.
While photography is just a hobby for me, I’m looking to develop a portfolio as a means of getting myself out of a photography funk. It’s been hard to take photos lately with a busy work schedule and a dire lack of snow in Minneapolis. So to keep myself from slipping too far out of practice, I’m going to follow the inspiration generated by this article on ways to not hate your photos. I’ve been shooting pretty consistently for 13 years, and as I’ve mentioned before so much has happened. At this point, a portfolio will remind me what I like to photograph and what I can build on during future photography adventures.
The real challenge will be getting 13 years worth of work whittled down to the 50 best photos. I’ve already started to ask people I know for input, but I haven’t gotten anyone to rise to the bait. I think I’ll ask a couple non-relatives for advice. Before I do that, though, I’ll be spending time sifting through my photo albums and determining what really looks good in print. A lot of things look good on a monitor, but prints are a much different story. Thank goodness for those 3M page tabs! Given how many albums I’ll be perusing, I don’t anticipate my portfolio being ready until summer or autumn. Hey, I have a script to write and movies to watch before I turn my back on movies altogether. At least this will give me something to do with the time that I’ll have from not watching movies. It might take all that time (especially since my tendency to watch movies is kind of out of hand). The last thing to consider is what will be in the portfolio. The author of the article implies that the portfolio should reflect your favorite subjects. While I’ve touched on subjects that make me skittish, I’ve never really looked at what subjects I like. I’d have to say that flora, fauna (especially birds) and architecture are probably my favorites. We’ll see if that holds up when I actually start selecting pictures for this project.
With that said, any thoughts from the peanut gallery?
Nikon recently asked their Facebook fans what subjects they like for black and white photography. I must admit I’m kind of “meh” toward black and and white photography, but I have done it. Like a lot of people, I tend to favor black and white more for portraits. The more I think about it, though, I realized that my preference is even more detailed than that. I like black and white portraits of blonds and redheads. For some reason people with darker hair just look more dynamic in color; I just don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for brunettes in black and white photos. I find that darker hair loses so much of its nuance in black and white. Let’s take a look at these two pictures of myself.
Yes, I realize that they are at two different angles (roughly). However, you can see that my auburn highlights (evident in the color photo) don’t show up at all in the black and white portrait (which, incidentally has more light to emphasize the various shades in my hair for color photos). I only used the sun for my light source, thus I do recognize that under the right conditions darker hair’s nuances can be depicted in black and white. Even so, the amount of light needed would infuriate every environmentalist on Earth. With lighter hair, less light gets absorbed. That means less effort to depict nuances in hair.
Now why am I going on about hair when the portraiture is about faces? There are two reasons. First, I am a a bit of a hair junkie. I am the type of person who notices hair before just about anything else, be it seeing someone in person or in a picture. Second, hair can make all the difference in the composition of a portrait because it’s so variable. With black and white, the eye tends to be drawn to the darker shades first, so in a lot of cases hair will be the first thing the viewer will notice. This leads to a harmonious transition to viewing the faces of blonds and redheads. With dark hair, though, the eyes better have it. Otherwise, the hair will hog the spotlight because it’s so dark.
Will I get to capture photos of blonds and redheads to test this theory myself? Probably not anytime soon. I actually have the lightest hair color out of anyone on my dad’s side of the family. My mom’s family trends toward somewhat darker hair as well. The same goes for my husband’s family, and I have more friends with dark hair than not. So if I want to capture any portraits like the black and white number I linked in my previous portraiture entry, it will be a long ways off.
I think I’ve posted enough photos on here to show what subjects I favor. Artwork is one of my favorites due to the immense amount of detail at play. Plant life of all sorts has a similar appeal. The color possibilities are tremendous when shooting outdoors; the weather doesn’t even have to be sunny. I’m becoming more comfortable with snapping photos of animals despite their being unpredictable and not always happy about facing a camera. Indoor and night photography are mixed bags but become more manageable.
With all that said, photographing people is HARD. Psychologically, I have a hard time focusing on the subject if it’s a person. As someone who is a detail freak, I feel rather uneasy focusing on a human subject. Is it secondhand self-consciousness? Is it an aversion to the softer light that skin tones demand? Is it the fear of being examined by the subject even though I’m behind the lens? I have no idea. All I know is it’s been a bit frightening for me to even contemplate portraiture.
Maybe it’s rooted in my ill-fated attempt at getting a job at Glamour Shots during my college years. That was a rough experience. My family thought I had solid photography skills and encouraged me to look into jobs at portrait studios. So when I found myself in need of employment, I decided to pursue this particular path. I can’t remember each step, but I recall sending two batches of photos involving human subjects. The first batch was dismissed as candids, but I was given an opportunity to present a second batch, this time conducting my own portrait session. I managed to get my aunt’s help in creating a very makeshift studio. I used a brand new bed sheet for a backdrop. My aunt ended up serving as my model for this impromptu portrait session. The results of this endeavor were a lukewarm reception and being handed some phone scripts to practice. They said if I was able to handle that I’d be considered for employment. At that point, I decided that my plate was full enough with five senior level courses and pursuing other job leads. Therefore, any potential photography career in that particular specialty was derailed.
I’ve been hesitant about shooting portraits since then. Time has allowed me the chance to contemplate portraiture and what I (dis)like about it. I find that I am of two minds about the concept. On the one hand, I feel a sense of disconnect from most of them because I know they’re posed/staged. I can feel it the instant I even glance at the frames. On the other hand, there have been a few portraits that have struck me with their unassuming tone and and natural feel. This photo and everything seen here are good examples of portraiture with a less rigid (but still polished) feel. I would like to achieve that balance with my photos of people. I’m just not sure what I need to do to get there. Since a lot of this is rooted in psychology, how much can a formal class help in this regard? If anyone has any input here, I’d love to hear/see it. Until then, photographing people will be my Achilles Heel.