Saturday, May 18, 2013

How Do You Know When You've Got the Right Shot

Someone asked, “how do you know when you’ve got the “right” shot?” I’m not sure who asked the question. The message appeared on one of my social media sites. A few hours later when I went to reply, the sender and the message had disappeared. Hopefully the sender is still out there somewhere and will allow me a moment to share my humble opinion. 

I’m glad they asked because this affords me an opportunity to explain something that can’t be summarized in a few simple words. Knowing an image or a photograph is the “right” one or the “perfect” one is highly subjective. Yet, from a design point of view, there are things to look for that may make an image more pleasing than any other. The most pleasing forms of nature have followed an identifiable set of rules. Things we are most naturally attracted to share a commonality of form, shape, line, color, value, space and often times direction . Instinctually, we are subconsciously drawn to these compositions and have accepted them as the basis of our visual reality. It is the benchmark for our interpretation of art, music, mathematics, engineering, nature and all that makes up the tangible world. It is referred to as The Golden Mean. 

Without getting overly technical or even metaphysical or mathematical, this “Mean” defines multiple disciplines from music to architecture. It has become the benchmark by which artwork is measured and has been the blueprint that has guided (and continues to guide) our creations for centuries. As an art student, you will learn about The Golden Mean as it relates to composition. You learn how artist like da Vinci and mathematicians like Pythagoras employed the Golden Mean principle and how other artists, scientists and  mathematicians still follow this principles today.

On a conscious or subconscious level, the art and design we find most pleasing tends to follow The Golden Mean pattern. When a painting tends to draw more attention it employs the Golden Mean form. When an interior space or form of architecture feels harmonious and balanced it tends to fit within the space of the Golden Mean. It is not strictly defined in all cases. Yet, some component of it is reflected in what is deemed as good composition. 

However, it alone is not the sole determinant of good design or art; it is simply an instinctual norm humans have developed over thousands of years via our symbiotic relationship with nature. But good design is influenced by several things that fall outside the strictures of fixed space or rules of principle. Art is also emotionally charged. Art may or may not require a context to be understood. More often than not, meaning is a mental construct in the creator’s mind and is deemed successful when the artist can convey purpose through shapes, color, composition and lines, the true essence of its existence. If the art has no meaning then that may have been the creator’s intent; to stir imagination and to have the viewer surmise it’s purpose to their own satisfaction. That could be the single component that may make it great art or the “right” image or photo.

However, in a commercial context, art generally has more directed purpose. It follows finer parameters and driven with promotional purpose. Graphic designers create layouts of magazines, websites, they design products, manuals, brochures and signs among other things. They follow principles that have been proven to instigate action or to compel someone to perform a function. Photography with graphic design often times performs a commercial function for the sake of advertising. The composition is driven by a financial mandate which is likely to create sales by creating interests to spur action. The design and layout follows a set of principles designed for advertising and to often times maximize textual placement relative to a image component. Therefore, every picture a photographer takes doesn’t work. If it is to be the cover a magazine, an editor or team will narrow 50 images down to 10; 10 will become 3 and 3 becomes 1. They will not all make the cut for a variety of reasons. The editor must consider the market, the placement of ads, the color, the light and consumer reaction. Does it achieve the purpose for the magazine or periodical? Does it suit the market? What are the legal and ethical implications? If they are selling a product then does it show the product well? Only then will they know if they have chosen the “right” shot. 

The “right” shot is the best shot because there isn’t any other that is better. Often times I see amateur photographers and other artists display serials; meaning they show nearly every capture of a single look on their website or blog. In a commercial setting, serials are only seen during the image vetting process. These pictures are narrowly differentiated if at all and not all of them will not be published or made public.

Outside of a commercial setting I see serials everywhere. These artists or editors have a difficult time judging their own work and quite frankly haven’t quite learned that every shot is not a good shot. I think we’ve all been guilty of it early on in our photography careers. We want people to see everything but every image is not and should not be meant for public consumption. On occasion I have at best managed to gain what I believe to be 5 above average shots from what may have began as 25 from a single series or look (I’m pretty hard on myself). Should I choose to use all 5, I will attempt to place each image in a context in which I feel it will gain maximum appeal and feedback based on the market, site and/or publication. So while you may see one image on my blog; you may see a slightly different image on my Facebook or on my website. Why? Because the audience is different and have different tastes and preferences. However, if I’m designing a magazine cover, only one shot makes the cut for the cover. 

Vogue doesn’t put 30 photos on their cover. Nor do they put even 10 images of the same look inside the magazine; maybe 1 or 2 if it is differentiated enough. In a spread, you may see one look twice but more likely you’ll see multiple images with totally different looks and styling but using the same model. They place 1 on the cover. Do you believe that is the only image the photographer took? No. The photographer likely took 50 or 100, perhaps more to get that single shot. A team of potentially a dozen people combed through hundreds of images and narrowed it to 5. These 5 were presented to the editor or creative director to find the 1 shot that would make the cover; the 1 shot that was the “right” shot. Ever wonder why they don’t allow cell phone pics and stray photos from the shoot to be taken other than their own? They want to be the first to release the shots. Secondly, they want full proprietary rights to the images and any leaked image would diminish the impact of their release and that would have a financial impact. Also, any image that has not gone through their brutal vetting process could diminish the quality of their brand; again influencing public opinion and having financial consequences. Any professional working model would tell you how using their cell phone camera is a major no-no on a photo shoot job. Securing the quality and rights of those photos is of paramount concern and no photo except the “right” photo will be released and only when they want it to be.

While The Golden Mean and other drivers dictate our course, as you can see there are other aspects of art that can determine whether a shot is the “right” shot or even the “best” shot. It is subjective to a point. Beyond basic consumption there are more stringent guidelines that determine what is the “right” shot and what is not.

I hope this helps to answer the question. Hopefully I haven’t made it more confusing. I like writing and tend to get overly philosophical at times. I encourage any photographer or model interested to try visiting a commercial photo shoot and if possible to sit in on the behind the scenes process for selecting an image for publication. It’s quite the eye opener. There are numerous resources online that go more in depth on the subject and show videos of the process. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Emote: The Secret to the Best Photographs

You know the photos where the subject looks exactly the same in every single shot; every frame has an identical expression no matter the context? Maybe even you yourself may be on the short end of the lens in situations such as these. The most interesting photographs in portraiture or fashion are those where the subject is able to project emotions. 

What does it mean to emote? Simply put, it means being expressive and relating one’s feelings. If you’re the subject of a photograph or film, you do project emotions through facial expressiveness, eyes and body language all in concert to give the audience a sense of what you’re feeling. While a model or actor may say one thing, their bodies may project or emote something completely different. That is why psychologist and other behavioral scientists dedicate entire branches of study to body language. It is far more telling than anything, including verbal communication.

If you’re looking thru magazines and books you’ve noticed that some people recur in print far more than others.  Are they more photogenic? Are they simply more beautiful or is there some secret they are not telling everyone else? The truth is, they are probably more skilled and practiced at emoting than the average person. That allows them to project any persona or feeling, often times without saying a word. They do it largely from the eyes and then the rest of the body follows.

Occasionally, a client or model very interested in improving and expanding their “looks” ask me for tips. They often complain that they look almost bored in all of their past photographs and have a difficult time conveying a mood, persona or feeling. Often times they simply want to take a better picture. Some people simply feel they are not photogenic. 

Now if you’re a client or model and you’ve worked with me, you know what you’re in for. You’re in for several hours of silliness, trash talk, and some fun conversation. Why? Because that’s my job. I want you to be you. I want you comfortable and at your most relaxed state. I want you to be malleable and open. Above all else, I want you to be silly with me and to trust me. I also want you to be serious when I’m being serious and so on. It’s so much easier for me to give you something to laugh about than for me to ask you to smile. It’s far more genuine and unforced for me to say something serious than to tell you to give me your serious face. Although, I have been accused of asking to “show me your bed-roomy eyes” in order to purposely gain a genuine laugh I can capture. 

All Rights Reserved
Model: Kim Jonet
When I asked the model featured here for her bed-roomy eyes, she erupted into a hysterical laugh. But immediately, and without pretense I looked serious and said “No, I’m serious.” She immediately stopped laughing and looked at me surprised and said “Really?” with wide eyes. I took the picture. That’s what I wanted; a genuinely surprised, unplanned look which turned out even better than anything I could have hoped for. You can’t fake a look like this no matter how hard you try.

It’s not all on the subject either. Peter Hurley is among the the best head-shot photographers in the business. But it’s not for reasons you might think. It’s not because of his technical skill, his lighting, or equipment. It’s for his ability to get into people’s head and pull out whatever emotion he thinks would make the shot. If you’ve seen him in action he comes across with a bit too much swagger bordering on arrogance. He talks a great deal of trash and seems somewhat dismissive but in a comical way. Yet, the way he interacts with people and what he can get them to express is undeniable and perfect. It’s camaraderie and a synergy that he gets from every client. That’s what makes the shot; not the lights or equipment, but a genuine emotion he captures at just the right moment.

On the other side, Coca Rocha is an extremely well known fashion model. She’s been featured in more magazines and shows than I can name. What I find so remarkable about her is her ability to project sadness, pain, glee, silliness, anger, happiness, reflective, sensual, etc. pretty much any emotion imaginable just in her face. She’s somewhat melodramatic but believable and daring. You believe what she projects is genuine and we buy into the idea and the look. One of my favorite photo shoots of her is She jumps in uninhibited, daring, wild but with purpose and completely unafraid. to watch her is an experience all it’s own. I think my camera would explode trying to keep up. Think she’s worried about looking bad? I think not. She’s thinking about getting paid by getting the perfect shot.

It’s a team effort to emote. As the photographer and pretty much the director, I have to provide the context and the motivation. The client/model need only trust and relax, knowing that all will be beyond anything he or she could have hoped for. It really comes down to genuine feelings and letting your guard down. 

I suggest that you go out there and be silly, be serious, be sexy, be contemplative and spontaneous. But above all else, be you.