Jan 7, 2010


Keep.  It.  Simple.  (Stupid.)

Listen, we all have our "look", our creative point of view, we all want to put our personal stamp on images and make them stand out from the crowd.  I get it.  But we become like kids let loose in the kitchen to make dessert: adding sprinkles, adding frosting, adding hot fudge, adding, adding, adding, adding.

What's wrong with a nice sugar cookie?

What's wrong with subtracting?

It's something you see all the time on Flickr or other community sites: folks just getting their feet wet with studio lighting or serious photography and wanting to use every trick they can get their hands on...opposing kickers, tone-mapping, comping multiple frames, replacing backgrounds.

How many posts per week are there about trying to get the "Dave Hill Look"?  Last year it was the "Jill Greenberg Look", right?  The year before it was "Draganizing"?

And yet, so little time spent thinking about the subject of our photos.  When you're spending so much time and energy constructing that much stuff around an image, how much time and energy is left for the person you're photographing?

I'm finding myself working with just a single strobe more and more.  It can be nervewracking - look at all those shadows!  But it's freeing at the same time: once that light is placed and looking good you get to be done with the production, it gets to be time to think about the person.  Thinking about the performance, the styling, the mood.

The photo of McKenzie at the top of the post was done with just a single beauty dish against a white cyc, a white reflector panel in front to lift the shadows a bit.  The photos of Isabella to the right were lit with a large octabox against the same white cyc.  In both cases there are probably a number of things I could have done by adding additional lights or modifiers - if I sit and look at them long enough I'll find five things about each that I would do differently.  But for every ten minutes I spend futzing with gear and tweaking and revising I'm losing ten minutes of time with my subject...and I'm losing ten minutes of their patience and interest.  I think it pushes me ten minutes further away from the photo that could have been.

Perhaps my creative point of view is all about getting out of the way and letting my subject speak for themselves?


Anonymous said...

beautiful portraits there--nice work, and good working philosophy. KISS is a perennial working method.

Patrick Trautfield said...

Great post, and I couldn't agree more. Sometimes I find myself futzing with equipment and lighting and I always regret when I do...my best shots come when I keep things simple and interact with the subject more. So thanks for putting this into words :)

Rick Wenner said...

Couldn't agree more with ya on this. Although I am somewhat new to studio lighting, I do find myself with more gear to use and only using one strobe in the end. I know that adding a light here and there may make for a "better" image, but I like to keep it clean and simple. Looking forward to your workshop next weekend to see what else I can be doing.

Ken said...

I find myself doing different kinds of lighting because it's an interesting technical challenge. But the thing that gets me trying different lighting is that the result/steps are easily quantizable.

I do find posing models harder because it's not as easy...i.e., you do A and get result B. Every model is slightly different and it takes a while to find out what works best. I'd love to see a blog post on how you pose models, come up w/ ideas for themes, etc. like benjikan has done...

Holly said...

Sometimes things are overthought. Woulda shoulda coulda. I think sometimes the idea of the simple and most awesome shot gets lost in the idea of all the fancy equipment. Though some fancy equipment is needed.