Monday, May 09, 2011

I Suck at Photography

I should probably qualify this update's title. I don't think I suck at all types of photography. I can handle shooting models fairly well, especially those wearing less clothing rather than more. But there are quite a few types of photography I suck at and, as a photographer, I'm not so full of myself to admit it.

This past weekend was my granddaughter's 5th birthday party. It was Justin Bieber themed. (Or, as my granddaughter calls him, "Justin Beaver.")

My daughter and son-in-law, the birthday girl's parents, went all out for this bash. For instance, my son-in-law built an outdoor stage equipped with a karaoke-style pro sound system so the kids could belt out their favorite songs, Bieber tunes or otherwise. There was even a "paparazzi" wall with a full-size, cardboard stand-up of the Bieber for the kids to be photographed next to and in front of... minus a red carpet.) About 30 kids attended the party so it was pretty wild from a 4, 5, and 6 year old party-goers point of view.

My daughter designated me the official photographer for the event. I am a photographer, after all. One who makes his living with cameras in his hands. (Altho lately I've been making more of my living writing about how I've made my living with cameras in my hands.) I wanted to set up some lights but she told me, "No, Dad. There's gonna be too many kids running around. You can handle it without your lights."

"I can?" I hesitantly answered, the fear beginning to show in my eyes.

Thoughts of shooting events like this (or weddings or most any other event) makes me break out in a cold sweat. It's so far out of my photography comfort zone it qualifies as being alien to almost everything I do, photographically speaking.

Fast forward: I shot the birthday party. None of my photos rose above snapshot status. I'm not being overly hard on myself. I'm being honest. Yeah, I could keep things in focus. I could swap glass and adjust exposure on-the-fly without much difficulty. (I shot all the pics in Aperture Priority or in Manual.) But I realized, while shooting the birthday party, that what really caused me to end up shooting lackluster stuff was my lack of control of what was in front of me.

I certainly wouldn't call myself a control freak. Not even close. Leastwise, regarding most aspects of my life. But when it comes to my photography, I want to be in total control. I want to be in total control of my lighting, my models, my shooting environment, everything. When I'm faced with a shooting situation that is mostly out of my control, you know like a 5-year-old's birthday party, in a word, I "freak," and in another word, I "suck."

I'm not 100% sure if this is a good or a bad thing, that is, recognizing (as a photographer) what I can do well and what I totally suck at doing. (I definitely lean heavily towards it's a good thing.) I know there's plenty of photographers who say, "I can shoot anything." I'm not one of those photographers. I know where my strengths lie and I know where my weaknesses lie. Besides events, for instance, I'd probably suck at being a photo-journalist. Many photo-journalists don't have too much control of what they're pointing their cameras towards unless they're shooting editorial-style portraits of people being written about in some rag.

On the other hand, I think I could fairly easily adapt my model-shooting skills to things like product photography. Heck, product photography offers even more of the ability to be totally in control of every facet of the shots, even more so than shooting models where the models themselves can sometimes be a weak link in the "control" chain.

I recognize these are tough times for many professional photographers. And for that reason, many of them have become, in many ways, complete generalists in terms of what kinds of photo jobs they pursue. Nothing wrong with that. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. (Some of them have even become writers, authoring everything from blogs to articles to ebooks about the craft of photography.) I can't help but wonder, however, if many of those generalists truly excel at any specific genre of photography if they're all over the map in terms of what it is they shoot? Shoot for pay, that is. Still, I suppose there are some photographers who can handle just about any sort of photography and deliver decent results. I guess I'm just not one of them.

Anyway, just sayin.

The pretty girl on the staircase at the top is Brook from a couple of years ago, captured with two lights and a reflector. (Click to enlarge.)


MadDax said...

Totally agree man. People should realize that you can't do it all. Be the best at what you are best at. I work in healthcare and it isn't the "general practitioners" that make the big bucks; it's the "specialists." If you want wedding photography brilliance, look at David Ziser or Cliff Mautner, these guys have mad wedding skills. Just like Jimmy D, you are one of the masters of glamor and model photography. Everybody has their niche, find and use it to your advantage. Do what you are good at.

p.s. I am still searching for mine in photography.

Anonymous said...

as all ways you are a most real human
and spot on!

John said...

"Yeah, I could keep things in focus. I could swap glass and adjust exposure on-the-fly without much difficulty. "

Then I would say you did considerably better than the usual "snap-shotter"? But like you said, each class of situation requires a somewhat different skill set, and thus separate practice for that skill set.

Your column reminds me of my first family reunion after I got my doctorate in chemistry. It seemed that each family member wanted me to answer some question that THEY thought were chemistry-none of which I could answer. Taught me that I really didn't know much chemistry. Still don't, for that matter.

Josh Zytkiewicz said...

I know EXACTLY how you feel. Last weekend I helped a photograph runners at a 20k race. Not having lights and losing the ability to pose (can't really stop someone who's competing!) made it totally different than what I'm used to.

Inder Gopal said...

Well it happens with most of us when we stop using built-in flash or a portable flash for years on, heavily depending on our studio strobes or other lighting equipment placed on stands or other supports. Sure enough the results we get are basically snapshots in such a scenario. For decades I have avoided taking pictures of family functions or other similar activities. I hand over my camera to the boys. Playing safe in a way (wink).
PS: Do visit my blog and help me with your tips to make it better in presentation and content.

jimmyd said...


You've got the right idea. Hand the camera off to others for family functions and events.

I looked at your blog as well as your web page. I'm not web or graphic designer but I did notice, on your photography business web page, it's way more words than pictures. You are a photographer, after all. The first thing I expect to see on a photographer's website is a photo... a good one.

As for your blog, you use the same or a similar template to mine. The only thing I'd suggest is putting a photo at the top, either centered or to one side or the other, of each of your updates. Again, you're a photographer and i think a photography is the first thing people who visit your blog should see. Other photos, of course, can be in the body of your text.

Thanks for supporting my blog!

Royd Tauro said...

Agree with you. Finding a niche is much better than trying to do everything. I am a photographer myself, and even though at times I feel I can photograph anything, I have come to terms with the fact that I am terrible at event and wedding photography. For much the same reasons as you. I like control and losing this control freaks me out. Although I do love photo journalism, that is something that interests me a lot. Nice pictures though, you are very good at what you do!