Some people like their eggs poached, some fried, some Benedict with a rich hollandaise sauce. I like my eggs made of platinum, displayed on a pedestal and guarded by lasers.
At least, that was the look I was going for in Zack Arias' DED PXL Assignment 06. For those who are following Zack's new community you will know what I am talking about. For everyone else, simply put, it is a new site with regular assignments, editorials and critiques of the work produced by those assignments. Until the next assignment, there have been no prizes. Just invaluable critiques and feedback with the goal of helping people become better photographers. Before this assignment I had not taken time to participate but decided it was time to get back to the photography I most enjoy and him capable of. Don't worry, there'll still be plenty of new photos of Fiona. I just found this to be the perfect opportunity to get back into shooting other things.
Recently I have been reading "The Road to Seeing" by Dan Winters. He's had quite an illustrious career and what he has to say moves so far beyond the camera settings and light setups. The vast majority of his work is portraiture but so much of his problem solving, hard work ethic, and approach to his work can be applied to any type of photography, or any career, for that matter.
When speaking about some photographers' need to explain the process in order to safeguard a photo's success, Winters rightly says, "I may find it interesting that the artist labored intensely to make an image, but the process alone is weak footing on which to stand. The photographic image should stand on its own. Perhaps this is due to digital technology and the ubiquity of mobile devices and apps – the photographic process has been demystified to the layman. The public perception that anyone can take a picture has, for many, marginalized the medium."
It used to be that to say "I'm a photographer" held a degree of credibility and understanding of the person's skills. Now with every cell phone having a camera with the capability to produce a reasonable image quality, everyone is a photographer. Even more so if they spent $399 on an entry-level DSLR kit. Both of those tools have the capability to do the job to a certain degree. But because of the low cost of entry the above statement can be made by someone with a few hours of study and a little bit of experimenting, or it can be made for someone with 30 years of experience behind them performing weekly shoots having budgets nearing six figures. That is a huge span of skill and experience in a statement containing three little words.
I know that some of my best photos were not necessarily my most elaborate and complicated setups but I know that I always place a higher value on the photos that took a lot more work and coordination. I suppose part of the value of experience is knowing when less is more, when the mystery of a deep shadow causes more reaction than making certain everything in the photo is lit and discernible. Regardless, I know how I felt when the reaction to one of my most complex photos, Midnight Rose, were not as significant as I had hoped.
That photo of a simple white rose required coordinating purchasing the roses at the right time so that one of the best ones would be in full bloom at the same time the moon was full and would rise in the sky at the time of the evening that would be suitable for shooting. The moon was the first light source. The four others were color-coordinated, set up, adjusted for the exposure of the falling light and the rising moon, all aimed and modified as I saw fit to hit specific parts of a perfect rose clamped to a stand.
The camera was in place on a tripod and as the moon rose the photo was made when it arrived in the right part of the frame. To miss that thirty second window would have meant to shot was done because to raise the rose and realign the lights would have taken longer than the 30 seconds that the moon talk to move across the frame again. I could only see through the viewfinder of the camera on the tripod at the height it was at. Had we (Angie's help was essential to this shot being made) missed that first shot I would not have gotten the angle on the flower that I wanted and would have been estimating where I was aiming and focusing because I would have been unable to see through the viewfinder beyond the time I had set up for. All of this done on a night when the sky was clear.
The next night the moon would not have been full, the lights would have to be set up again, the perfect rose would have been beginning to wilt and the moon would have been rising about 20 min. difference in time than the prior night. Had the 20 min. been closer or later to sunset, the sky would not have been dark enough and you would not have gotten the deep blue that we had on the evening of the shot or it would have been black, removing the value the tree silhouettes add.
All this shows is that there may be factors in your control and there may be an element of luck in getting the shot. Without preparation and knowing what you are doing because of forethought and experience you will not make photos like this.
Do the viewers of this photo realize the factors juggled? Probably not. Does that matter to me? For whatever reason, yes. When their reaction is mediocre I feel the defensiveness rising in me, wanting to explain how difficult this was and how, despite the silhouette of the house that I am displeased with, it was a huge feat for me and you should praise it. Obviously, that is ridiculous. The photo should speak for itself. But I guarantee you that someone who just picked up there brand-new Canon Rebel for the first time was not capable of making something this complex.
Without trying to defend or justify, only to educate, what went into the photo of that simple egg? First was selecting an egg with the exact shape I was looking for; slightly taller and elongated as opposed to rounder. Second was boiling that egg, cooling it and painting it. The funny thing about boiled eggs is that they sweat moisture through the shell as the rise to room temperature from being refrigerated. Combine that with low-quality, water-based paint and each coat you put on has a degree of futility when spots of paint just dissolve off the shell before your very eyes. I got them covered well enough that I had one perfect side of the egg to shoot.
Third was to set up the marble pedestal, lighting, candleholder made by my grandfather, tripod and camera. Once the egg was in place I made a frame exposed properly for the flashes involved in the photo and began working on the tricky part. The final element of the photo was the laser beam. Lasers don't show up unless they hit something. Fortunately I had a handy little smoke machine I bought about a year ago and, during the four second exposure, I made certain enough smoke crossed the beam to make it properly visible. No Photoshop, all in camera elements.
Does my explanation make the photo better? No. But I know the results I can achieve when the need or desire arises. I do understand that sometimes black and white is the proper medium. I do know that sometimes less sophisticated lighting setups make a stronger photo. I know that sometimes an ethereal look is more well-suited than tack sharp images. I like to make images that have a significant complexity to their creation because it stretches my abilities and makes my brain think hard about each little element of the photo. I prefer making images that are as sharp as possible because the engineers have been working hard over the years to give us the sharpest and cleanest images with the deepest colour possible. All of this can be taken away at the artist's discretion but I prefer to make the most of the best quality available to us right now.
Shortly into the final section of "Road to Seeing", Dan talks about some of his most respected peers and recorded a quote that I will be keeping in my motivation file for times when I am wondering what my style is or if I am shooting what I should be shooting. Even if what I'm shooting is not popular, salable or well-liked. The quote by Harry Callahan was "I make the kinds of pictures that I like to look at."
If that doesn't describe why I shoot what I shoot, and how I shoot it, I don't know what does.