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For photographers, experimenting with new ideas and techniques can be a good thing. A positive thing. An expanding-your-photographic-horizons thing. Equally important, it can often be quite personally rewarding. More so than, say, following the pack -- ideas and techniques wise -- with almost everything you shoot.
When you discover something that works through experimentation and trial and error -- whether you find it via pre-visualization and experimentation or stumble upon it accidentally -- and it really works well, who knows? The pack might even decide to follow you! You might end up becoming something of a photographic trend setter. That doesn't always happen but, if or when it does, how cool is that?
A few days ago, I made a semi-snarky comment on a photography forum where a photographer posted a portrait of two people standing in a woodsy, daylight environment. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on in the foreground: There were odd, beige, out-of-focus, semi-transparent, artifacts, very pronounced, visible in the lower third of the image. I couldn't figure out what created them. I commented: "I give up. Is that flaring? Are you shooting thru a window? Is that swamp gas?"
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Finally, the photographer who snapped the pic ended the mystery: "It's just a cheapo prism I got at Amazon guys. I put it in front of my 85mm lens."
I then defended part of my original guess: "Hey! I was close when I asked if he was shooting thru a window. A window is a prism... well sorta... okay, not really. LOL"
The shooter who snapped the pic then commented: "If I made u look at it for more than 3 seconds then that's a triumph for me. You don't have to understand it, that's the beauty of art."
Well, I can't argue with that even if my more-than-3-second pause when looking at his image wasn't because I thought his experiment was a success. Nor did I think it was beautiful art. I do confess, however, that I didn't understand it. Whether that's a good thing or not, you know, a positive element of the photo I'm not sure. Sometimes, creating confusion in the minds of viewers can be a good thing. Sometimes it's not. For the image in question, I think is was not. (Not that I'm an art critic to a greater extent than all of us generally are.)
I did offer the photographer one bit of advice in his forum thread: "A simple caveat tho: If/when you're being paid to shoot, don't experiment on your client's time or dime."
The image at the top is one from some experimentation I've been doing lately. Specifically, I've been experimenting with various gear and techniques that yield rather lo-fi images. I've been experimenting both in production and post-production to achieve the sort of look I'm hoping to create. To that end, I've occasionally been using "toy" lenses like those produced by Holga and Diana. I've also been using a few filters to create the look-- filters like Tiffens' Pro Mist filters.
The image at the top was snapped with a plastic Diana+ lens on my Canon 5D classic. The second image with my Canon "nifty-fifty." I later played with a few post-prod techniques to further compliment the look produced by the decidedly lo-fi Diana+ lens, as well as the 50mm pic. Please note the images above, as well as others I've shot using similar approaches, are what I call "personal project" pics. I wouldn't experiment like this when shooting for a client.
If I later decide I really like the looks I've been experimenting with, I might decide to incorporate some parts of them into my professional work -- altho I doubt I'll be shooting pretty girl pics for clients using a Holga or Diana+ lens -- but not until I've nailed the processes down and am very comfortable with the gear and approaches to the images that represent my experimentation. In other words, I won't incorporate any of the results of my experimentation into my paid work until I'm able to confidently shout, "It's alive! It's alive!"