Friday, March 9, 2012

Photographic Artistry The Hard Way

Whenever I talk to someone about the importance of hiring a good photographer, it seems that they always say, "You need someone who has the right artistic vision." While I tend to stress, "Someone who understands the technical side of photography."

I think that a person who is very artistic can still take lousy photographs because they lack the skill to realize their vision. But someone who has the technical skill can be lead to the artistic images simply by understanding posing, lighting, composure, etc.

I rarely envision a photograph before I arrive on location. Rather, I arrive at the location and then "see" the pictures as I look around. My artistry comes from a grounding in technical skill. The ability to look at a space and see elements that will make a good photograph and then compose and shoot that photograph is an artistry all to itself. Since, in my mind, it's mostly "technical" in nature... I tend to shy away from calling myself an "artist."

But that's okay because I've learned that if you have the technical skill the art will find you. :)

Last week I was shooting a Florida Beach Wedding. It was small affair and I had limited time with the couple. After the ceremony, they went across the street to The Hurricane, a restaurant on St. Pete Beach.

Their dinner was on the second floor which was closed down for their small party. Whenever I walk into a new location, I immediately start scanning for someplace that will produce a good picture. Immediately, I was drawn to the bar (but not for the reason I'm and usually drawn to the bar!)

I immediately noticed all the different light and shadow. "There's a picture here.." I thought. So, I quickly took a snapshot. I've found that it's easier sometimes to see the picture if you look at the "set" in the camera LCD. It helps you to figure out the framing.

As I photographed the toast, cake-cutting, etc I wandered back to the empty bar from time to time. I shot it from another angle to see if the picture would magically appear to me. No dice.

Finally, I looked at the light. What did like about it? What I realized was that I really liked the spot light on the ceiling that was hitting the corner of the bar. I needed to figure out a way to put my couple in that light and then frame it so that the rest of the image would be interesting.

This presented a problem of it's own, as my couple had a height difference. The bride was taller than the groom so I knew right away that I couldn't stand them at the bar. So, I grabbed a stool for the bride to sit on and brought the groom in behind her. Then, I placed them in the light and framed the image so that the bar would act as a leading line.

What's funny about the final picture is that, when shooting quick snapshots of the bar and hoping for inspiration, I never shot from the angle of the final picture. It was almost a default angle... the others didn't work so this must be the one!

When you look at this picture, remember that I didn't walk into that bar with an idea in my head for a shot like that. I saw the bar, saw the light and then used technical knowledge like "leading lines" and directional lighting" to guide me towards the final shot.

You can have all the "vision" in the world but it won't help much when you don't get to pick your locations or your subjects. That's when technical skill can lead you where you want to go.