After the past three or four days, I feel like I did sitting in the school principal’s office, waiting for the imminent whipping. It is in those times that you would do anything to avoid what is coming, and it is not so much the physical beating as much as it is the emotional tension of having to look your bad decision in the face.
My current humbling experience all started a few days ago with a wonderful meal and talk with a photographer friend of mine. It was not him, but just watching some of the videos he has produced recently really reminded me what a two-bit punk hack I am. It was not the technique, but how he captured the power of the story.
Then today, I shot a very “ok” family portrait session. That is “ok”, as in, I do not want to say more of what I really think. The harsh sunlight made things tough, not only for lighting, but for the quickly wilting subjects. Excuses aside, though, I really want to know what happened. How do I improve? What can I learn here?
One of the key problems was a lack of familiarity with my lighting equipment. Well, more accurately, I was so focused on trying to balance the flash with the blaring ambient, I totally lost connection with the subject. I did not direct them. I did not let them know what they should do. And, to top it all off, I was not really even paying attention to them when I put the camera up to my face (or before then either).
Ok. How to fix it, though? What are some keys to making it different, and I mean small practical things?
Limit location/scene. In an attempt to give the mother a wide choice of background, poses, and set-ups (for lack of a better word), which she expressly stated she wanted, I ended up magnifying my difficulty at getting the lighting right. What I should have done is pick one or two spots, the ones I knew would end up best in the end, and spend more time there. Then, after the lighting was set right, I would be free to interact and catch that nice moment.
Be the director. To help them be at ease and to have confidence in me, I must direct. If I notice somebody is not smiling, find a way to get that out of them (well, if you need a smile, which this photo was certainly expected to have). If they are all just standing straight, hands to their sides, in the classic boring pose (because the photographer did not know what better to do), I need to help position them, pose them, suggest movement, or whatever.
Well, there may be more things, but every other “should-a” I can think of really falls into one of those two. Honestly, I really think I am going to call them up, let them know I have some “ok” shots, but nothing really nice, and I would be more than willing to set up another shoot in the next couple days.
And for the cold-hearted motivation, as if I were not already motivated enough to want to make this right, I found out during the shoot they will be printing this photo with some printer in the US to show as an example to other families here in town of that printer’s services. In other words, if I can really excel in this shoot, my work would be displayed before a wide(r) audience, and I would be first in line to provide photographic services for their family and group photos. I am not terribly concerned about that (because I live and work in a different country anyway), but it would be throwing away an excellent opportunity.
So, to add on the title of this post a little bit, it is good to be humbled, especially publicly. That reveals the weak areas of our photography and, if publicly so, gives us great motivation to improve.