Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Best Advice is the Simplest

A handful of updates ago, I wrote something I titled, "10 Pretty Girl Shooting Suggestions for 2010."

It included some pretty simple advice. When I wrote it, I thought it might be too basic and too elementary to garner much attention. I kind of thought of it as a "filler" update.

I guess I was wrong.

I've received a number of requests to re-post my update elsewhere, on other sites, or to use it as a teaching tool. That doesn't happen too often. Almost never. I, of course, said "Of course!" to the requests to re-post or use it. I'm a nice guy that way. (As long as I'm given proper credit.)

There's an abundance of info on the web focused on photography. Abundance is probably an understatement. There is so much, in fact, that much of it becomes a blur and keeping up with it is like a full-time job. More than a little of that advice is fairly complicated, pimping step-by-step techniques and processes, and is either too technical or too esoteric to benefit, in easily-employed ways, many shooters. It seems people might appreciate the complicated how-to stuff but they also want plain and simple advice. Basic tips, rather than rocket science info, to improve their photography.

Frankly, I think that's a really good thing because photography, after all, isn't rocket science.

In many ways, the simplification of photography, from a technology POV, has made a fair amount of it more confusing, time consuming, and with a steeper learning curve. Photoshop, for instance, requires a great deal of learning-time to become an intermediate-skilled user, much less an advanced user. What do you gain if you quickly snap an okay pic in some auto-mode and then have to spend hours and hours processing it into some supposedly great work of digital art? I'm not dissing digital art. A lot of it is quite awesome. Become a digital-artist if digital art is what you're about.

Many people see cool pictures on the web and want to reverse engineer them. Often enough, in those reverse-engineering explanations, the instructions on how to recreate the image becomes so focused on the technical side--lighting, processing, etc.--that people lose sight of what might have given the image its power.

Image power can also come from much simpler things: Basic techniques or simply by clicking at that "decisive moment." Sometimes, it comes from volume, i.e., the more shutter-clicks, the greater the chance a winner will result. Some people call that the spray-and-pray approach to photography.

It seems to me that efficiency and simplicity might be the most important components of consistently good photography. When taking the step from hobby-shooter to professional shooter, whether it's full-time or part-time, efficiency takes on new importance. Unless you have a crew of assistants--I don't but maybe you do--simplicity improves efficiency and efficiency creates consistency and consistently good photos impresses clients more often than the occasional great photo does.

I know it's not pretty girl shooting related but that CEO or VIP you just got hired to shoot? You'll be lucky if you get 20 or 30 minutes, more like 10 or 15, to photograph him or her. But your client's expectations will be as if you had all day to shoot them. And they'll expect the photos to be as good or better than the photos in your portfolio that caused you to get hired in the first place.

Many photographers, IMO, focus too much on the technical side of things, both in production and post-production. All that tech stuff eats time and leaves less room for creativity. In production, the more of it you try to employ--the tech stuff, that is--the more focused you'll be on it rather than your subject.

I think more photographers should be focused on simple approaches to their photography. Especially when starting out! Why? Because there's less chance of missing those details that might ruin an otherwise good pic, or missing those "decisive moments" that are, so often, the biggest reason a great photo is snapped. In other words, you need more of your brain available for greater attention to what's going on in your viewfinder than what's going on with your lights and your camera controls.

Sure, the technical stuff is important. But it needs to become automatic, almost second nature. Rarely does the technical side of photography contain the elements that people will respond to with emotional enthusiasm. Instead, they're mostly wowed by the image's technical merits. Nothing inherently wrong with that. But an image's technical merits, for the most part, are but one element of a great photo... and not necessarily *the* element, especially when shooting people.

I suppose high-end technical stuff is quite important for some genres of photography. But for pretty girl shooting and portraiture in general, it ain't the end-all be-all. We see this all the time with heavily processed people-pics. They might look cool, leastwise, when they're done well, but they also seem somewhat contrived. They appear more fictional than real.

The plain truth is, no matter how much technical stuff you throw at a capture, you're not guaranteed a great photo. There's a certain amount of serendipity that often takes place when great photos are captured. Call it luck or serendipity, it is, unfortunately, quite fickle. No matter how hard we might try to align the stars and planets through methodical and complicated photographic techniques, serendipity may or may not smile on us. Conversely, the less time we spend trying to align technology with art, the same odds of serendipity taking place exists. Possibly better odds.

The pretty girl at top is Aleeta, another Eastern European model I shot not too long ago. Sometimes, when I'm in close for the shot, I just want to reach out in front of my camera and... uhh... nevermind. I won't go there. We're talking photography here, not raw human impulses.

P.S. My eBay-purchased Yashica Penta J arrived yesterday. It's in great cosmetic condition but it's inoperable. The camera body works, shutter and all that, but the lens does not: I can't focus or set the aperture with it. Those controls are frozen. That's okay. I bought it for sentimental reasons, not to shoot with it. It will look great displayed on a shelf and will be an enjoyable reminder of what I first used, camera-wise, as I began my life-long love of photography.


Sheldon Photography said...

I still have the first SLR camera I was allowed to learn on. It is an older then I am Exacta II. It was my grandfathers and technology has changed greatly since I received it when he passed away.

Steve said...

Ken Rockwell has a number of links to vintage camera repair shops on his site. Even though none of them are Yashica-specific, maybe one of them will might still be able to bring your Yashica back to working condition, if only to increase that nostalgic sentiment a bit more?

jimmyd said...


Thanks for the heads up! I'll check it out. I'm also thinking a replacement lens might be something I can find on ebay for very little $$$.

Bob said...

Hey Jimmy, Thanks for the good Advice. If you recall I contacted you in early January and you recommended a couple of books and advice. Your K.I.S.S. method has worked out great so far. My wife ( a hair & mu artist ) asked one of her clients to model for her portfolio. The shoot couldn't have gone better: simple light setup, after I got my exposure I didn't fuss with anything, and a model with great hair and makeup made for a great shoot. As for post processing, as you mentioned the photoshop learning curve is insane, so I picked up a plug-in. I just did a basic touch-up and a light soften to the skin. The moral of all this is that you are right! Its comes down to the basics, and the subject.

French glamour said...

Love this pic !