Sunday, March 01, 2015

Are you a Photo Ditto Head?

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I read plenty of photography stuff about gear heads versus those who are less focused on the equipment they buy and use and more focused on the creative aspects of photography. It's been a fairly common discussion in recent years, more so because of the many advances in camera, lens, and lighting technologies, as well as photo processing software.

There's an old Egyptian proverb that tells us, "A beautiful thing is rarely perfect." With the possible exception of gemstones, where perfection is highly regarded and sought after, I'm a big believer in that old Egyptian saying. Especially, when it comes to photography and, even more so, as it can be applied to photographing models. You see, many of the advances in photographic technologies, the hardware as well as the software, have been aimed at helping photographers create more perfect photos and/or more perfect photo subjects.

If there's a common denominator to the way in which many shooters process their (model) images in PS or LR or however they might do so, it's that many of them are all-too-often focused (consumed, it sometimes seems) on manipulating their images in ways that reflect high levels of perfection, both in terms of creating perfection in their models' physical appearances, as well as the photographic processes themselves.

"A technically perfect photograph can be the world’s most boring picture," famed photographer, Andreas Feininger, once said. I'll go a step further by saying that creating perfection (or near perfection) when shooting models and processing their photos can produce the world's most boring pretty girl pics. And they often do. Trust me on this-- I've shot a ton of technically competent yet overall boring model pics. Course, that's what they were paying me to shoot but it doesn't change the outcomes... but that's another story.

There are more than a few well-known model shooters who consistently produce perfect-looking images of perfect-looking models. Many up-and-coming photographers see those photos and they say, "Hey! I want to shoot models like that!"  So, the first thing they do is try to learn how to emulate those shooters of perfect-looking pics and (seemingly) perfect-looking models, often asking those photographers a gazillion questions (via Facebook and other ways) how they too can create that sort of photo-perfection. They often seek step-by-step instructions for shooting and processing perfect-looking photos of perfect-looking women so they can proudly post their perfect-looking images. 

Emulating the work of others by learning from them and mimicking their work can be great ways to practice and learn but, at some point, doing so can also stifle a photographer's ability to develop a personal style. Plus, there's this: I've shot enough models over the years to know how rarely any of those models look perfect, beauty wise. They all have "flaws" (for lack of a better word) of one sort or another, just like we all do, some of us more than others. Some of their "flaws" are worth fixing. But other flaws, if flaws they are, are what makes some models stand out from the pack. That's right, it's often a model's so-called flaws or imperfections which are responsible for them standing out from other models, rather than their inherent degree of physical perfection.  But then photographers come along and, not being satisfied with a model's natural beauty, flawed in some way I suppose, they think,  "Hmm... she's perfect except she's got that one thing. That one flaw. That slight imperfection. But I can fix that in post."

Sometimes, that's the right decision; fixing the perceived flaws and imperfections, that is. Other times, it's a very wrong decision. How do you know the difference? i.e., when to fix it when not? That's where your personal sense of aesthetics (and more) comes into play.  It's also about whether you want to be, as a photographer, a ditto head or something else-- something less like most of the others who are making those perfect photos of perfect-looking models.We see it all the time on the covers of magazines and elsewhere. Occasionally, someone comes across before and after photos of those perfect-looking models and, all of a sudden, viewers realize those fantasy girls are just that: a fantasy.

While editing my images, when I spot flaws in the model -- again, for lack of a better word --  flaws that I may or may not have paid much attention to when shooting the pics, I don't automatically think, "How can I fix this? How can I make her perfect?"  Rather,  I first ask myself a simple question: Does the model's "flaw" or imperfection add more interest to the photo or does it detract from viewers' interests in the photos? Or, does it  really matter one way or another?

You see, even when a model's flaws are quite subtle or barely noticeable, they can sometimes add much interest to the photos and fixing them can reduce potential interest. The same goes for other aspects of the photos, aspects that don't reflect the model but, instead, reflect how you, the photographer, snapped the pics. And that's what it's all about, isn't it? We want viewers to be interested in our photos. To find them memorable in some way. Often enough, that sort of interest is generated by things that go beyond (or fall short of) perfectly photographed photos of perfectly perfect models.

You know how some photographers choose to shoot with crappy cameras or inferior, plastic lenses, or with expired film?  Do you know why they're doing that? Well, it's not because they want to produce technically perfect photographs or perfection in other ways. It's because they are actively and purposely seeking imperfection. They are hoping for flaws. They know that beautiful things are rarely perfect. They also know that Feininger was correct: that the world's most technically perfect photos can also be the world's most boring pictures. Yep, it's often those flaws and imperfections which make images all the more memorable in our photographs.

Food for thought... assuming your mind is hungry.

The pretty girl at the top is Devin, snapped in the front foyer of a large, spacious, luxury home in Las Vegas a few years back. It was my client's house. I used to go up there two or three times a year to shoot for him. I'd stay at his house for about a week and shoot, either at the house or we'd venture elsewhere. The 2nd floor guest bedroom I'd stay in was larger than many rooms in most luxury hotels in Sin City and came with a big bathroom and a private balcony. No maid or room service though. Bummer, right? Oh well. There was a large, sweeping, stairway to the right of the table with the vase and flowers. That stairway made setting my lights a bit tricky, but do-able nonetheless. Devin is posing under the stairway. I really liked the way the vase and artificial flowers looked so that's why I shot some in that spot. I was going to move the table and vase to another spot in the house, one that would have been easier to light and place my model, but my client was very persnickety about his house and his stuff so I said, effit, and just shot there.  I'm easy that way. Plus, his checks always cleared.

1 comment:

Winston Cooper said...

Well said my friend. My preference in my hobbyist shooting is ladies in their 50's and 60's so there is..ahmm..more then a few so called flaws and imperfections in my images due time, gravity and life experiences of the model. Surprisingly, when I edit with them at hand for prints they mostly say leave that mole/freckle/wrinkle, I was born with that or acquired it over time, its mine and I want to keep it. What they do request is, could you reduce that belly a little or maybe lift that breast somewhat or whiten those teeth. Suffice to say my adventure with Adobe CC 2014 is a rather steep immersive learning curve. As I cant pay my mature models, prints and shopped data are their remuneration. Point being here is that imperfections are perspective bound. My models give a Rats Ass about warts, they aren't vain or dummies. They just want to look nice for whatever reason. do I..

Thanks for your great blog Jimmy.