Thursday, March 26, 2015

NLP's Bullshit Badge of Courage

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What is NLP? It's my simple acronym for Natural Light Photography. What is NLP's Bullshit Badge of Courage? It's what some photographers seem to wear, in a bullshit attempt to claim some sort of photographic superiority when shooting with natural light alone versus shooting with the help of flash or reflectors or scrims. Why do I think it's bullshit? Because while it takes skill (or luck) to shoot a truly terrific model image with pure, unadulterated, natural light alone, it doesn't take any more exceptional skill than shooting with flash or with reflectors or scrims added to natural light.

Lately, on all kinds of photography pages, I've been seeing more and more photographers wearing the NLP Bullshit Badge of Courage. Many of them often provide commentary that smacks of their belief that shooting their subjects in natural light alone, without the help of flash or any other lighting tools, makes them, somehow, more skillful or accomplished or better as photographers. To them I simply say, "Bullshit."

Here's why some photographers insist on shooting with natural light alone:

1. They don't own any lighting gear (or own a bare minimum of such equipment) and/or barely have a clue how to employ flash photography with daylight.

2. They don't own and/or have skills and know-how in the effective use of reflectors and scrims.

3. They are smug elitists in general and their photography is no exception to their sense of elitism and exceptionalism.

4. They know how to "create" pseudo or faux-lighting with post-processing -- be it with their own skills or with automated apps -- and, therefore, feel they have little need to effectively employ good lighting skills and techniques or even gear while in production. 

5. They simply prefer, for creative reasons, to shoot with daylight without the help of flash or other tools. (Probably the least common reason but at least one I respect, when it's actually true.)

I am regularly taken back (a bit) when I see people posting pretty good model pics but, instead of simply being happy to have created such photos and enjoying the nice comments about them, they seem to relish informing everyone how they boldly and expertly snapped it with natural light alone, making sure they add some commentary about how they didn't even use so much as a reflector cuz, I guess, they're just that fucking good.

Whoop-dee-fucking-doo!  Color me unimpressed in the extreme.

Here some 411 for those wearing the NLP's Bullshit Badge of Courage:

First off, if I had to rely on natural light alone every time someone hired me to shoot a model at an exterior location in daylight, my income over the past couple of decades would have been seriously impacted in negative ways. How so? Because great natural light is not always available at all exterior locations at all times of day and, as a result, many of my images would have suffered and so would my re-hires by the clients who hired me. (Clients don't accept excuses like, "Oh. Sorry. The light sucked. I'll do better next time if there's good light.")

Secondly, while shooting with natural light alone might seem like the most efficient way to shoot, the absolute most efficient way to shoot is not always the correct approach if that efficiency doesn't produce images that are, at the very least, minimally competent. (And "minimally competent" doesn't always cut it with clients. In fact, in my world, it rarely does.)

Third, some of us working photographers don't perform the post-production on our sets of images that our clients will be using for various artwork. Instead, we hand over images (burned onto CDs or DVDs) straight out of the camera, generally at the end of a production day. In other words, there's no enhancing or fixing fuck-ups of images that simply don't cut the mustard, whatever cutting the mustard actually means, you know, originally when people first started using the phrase.  Again, images that don't cut the mustard, be it brown or yellow or even grey (Poupon) mustard, might have a serious and negative impact on a photographer's hope and desire for being re-hired for future work.

Personally, when I'm working, I'm all about keeping it simple and using the best tools for the job. If there happens to be super-excellent natural light where and when I'm shooting, I'll go that way, without any added tools. But that doesn't happen too often and, consequently,  I often need to add some tools into the mix to capture the sorts of images my clients expect. You know, like artificial lighting gear or reflectors and scrims to enhance, modify, or control the natural light.

If you're someone who wears that NLP Bullshit Badge of Courage, for whatever of the 5 reasons I provided above, the odds are you're seriously limiting yourself as a photographer of those human beings who professionally model in front of a camera or those who are in front of a camera for various other reasons.

Trust me when I tell you the image of the model at the top, Dahlia, would have been barely competent (i.e., appearing like un-cut mustard without some heavy application of post-production manipulating) if, for whatever reason, it was snapped with the natural light alone at that specific location and time of day. In this case, the artificial light was a Paul C. Buff "Zeus" power pack with one head inside a medium, rectangular, soft box for a key light (pretty much on-axis from slightly above and angled downwards) plus the Buff ring flash mounted around the camera's lens for some subtle fill.  By the way, if you didn't already know, lighting pioneer, Paul C. Buff, passed away just recently. RIP Paul.


11 comments:

PBJStudios said...

I love your post Jimmy! You never "Cut the mustard" on any of your thoughts. Keep doing what you do because your my idol and you can call "Bullshit" on that if you want to or not... because I don't care! I love you brother!

jimmyd said...

Now you went and made me blush.

J Jones said...

I like to fire back and ask them how any light is fake light? It's all photons. Does the source make it unnatural?

Most times I'll get the typical, "You know what I mean when I say natural light!" but I stick to my guns.

Light is light. I get the shot I want, the way I want, using what I need. If they choose to limit themselves, their work will show that.

R Xmas said...

Totally agree. I like NLP but its by no means THE way to shoot EVERYTHING. Different techniques for different results. Its a tool every photographer should know how to use.

Tony Hanrahan said...

Awesome man, I agree with every word, love how you tell it straight. You rock!

Bill Giles said...

When I shoot NLP, it's usually because I'm too lazy to set up the lights.

Kenneth Ingham said...

Yea and thank you! When I have seen people saying they only shoot with natural light, I think about the light we normally have in NM. the sun is intense, and the shadows are dark. While golden hour light can be very nice, even it is often still hard. A fill flash is really useful. When working mid-day, it is normally a necessity.

jimmyd said...

Bill: I'm guilty of that at times, that's for sure. Leastwise, when I'm not working for a client. I recently shot head shots for an actor and I went with NLP. No flash. No reflector. But I did so because the light was really nice where I was shooting him and I knew that adding flash or a reflector wasn't going to improve the images. Would have made them a little different but not necessarily improved. That choice was pure "KISS" and Ockham's Razor. Course, the trick is knowing great light when you see it. And that mostly comes from experience, IMO.

Todd Mizomi said...

Great post Jimmy! I always get a kick out of checking out your posts.

I like to think of myself as an ALP - Available Light Photographer. If the natural light's good enough or I can make use of a wall or something as a natural reflector, I'll use that. If I got strobes or reflectors with me, I'll use those if needed. Whatever is available I'll use to get the shot. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes ya gotta call a spade a spade !

Don Rice said...

Back in 1978, I was at a lecture by the late Gary Winogrand. During the lecture and slide show, he stated that he shot, using only available light. Several shots into the proceedings, someone in the audience questioned the claim that a particular photograph was shot with available light, rather than the obvious flash used. Winogrand grew a little frustrated, but finally growled that the flash was the only light available.