Photography, like all practices, is an ever evolving process of learning, mastery and realisation that we truly haven’t mastered very much. In all of our respective photographic journeys, there are moments when we feel like giving up, moments of sheer joy at what we have accomplished, and moments we can put a pin in and say, “This is where things changed for me.”
In next month’s Gear Talk, I have an article coming about the piece of gear that truly changed the way I work. But, here on the blog, I wanted to focus on a few of the moments in my own photographic journey where I changed course and began to work in new ways.
Exposing for the highlights
This is one of those things that gets thrown around and interpreted in so many different ways. For me, the turning point came when I heard Kirsten Lewis speaking about exposing to show the form of her subjects. While I don’t apply the exact style she does in the way I expose, there was something about that approach that caught my attention and got me looking to change the way I approached contrasty situations. There was a freedom that came with deciding to expose for shape and form rather than simply for flattery.
One of the tools that Fujifilm offers in the X and GFX cameras for making sure you’re able to retain detail in your highlights is the ‘blinkies’ (LIVE VIEW HIGHLIGHT ALERT). This makes it very easy to see if you’ll be clipping any detail in your highlights as they’ll start to blink as soon as they blow out. I have this turned on permanently. Sometimes, I choose to ignore it, but it does give a reference point for the highlights in your image.
Another application of exposing for the highlights is allowing certain parts of your image to fall into complete shadow. Yet another statement that freed me from the clutches of internet forums was one by David Duchemin. He stated something to the effect of “we’ve made such a religion out of highlights and shadows” and encouraged his listeners to just let them go. If your photograph is improved by losing detail in highlights or shadows, let it happen. For me, I have often found that a silhouette of a scene can often actually be more powerful than choosing an angle where light illuminates the subjects.
When I began my photographic journey, I had dreams of being a full-time landscape photographer or touring the world with bands to photograph concerts and promotional materials. As time progressed, however, I started to discover subject matter that called to my soul a little more. I’d originally wanted to make images to impress others, but slowly that changed and I began making images for myself. Owning this and setting my sights on the things that I love was yet another turning point for me.
My business focuses primarily on photographing adoptive families. The journey of adoption is very meaningful to me and I love to document the moments of tenderness that come with it. On top of that, creating beautiful memories for families at the time of their adoption brings a longevity to my images that not too many pursuits enjoy in this social-media fuelled world.
I have also dedicated a good portion of the last six years towards photographing the last remaining tribal facial tattoos in Asia. Much like with my work in the adoptive community, this is more about the stories and the experiences than just standalone photographs. I feel drawn to learning about individuals who have lived such vastly different lives to mine and that keeps me taking my camera out into the field.
On a more technical note, as I learnt about how perspective works and how we can use lenses to exaggerate it, I began to enjoy working with focal lengths that were not traditionally used for certain types of photography. A wide-angle portrait? Yes, please! A wide-angle portrait without any perspective distortion? Sounds great as well!
One of the techniques I learnt early on that shaped the way I made quite a few images for a significant time was to stitch panoramas photographed with a longer focal length than might be required to get the whole scene in. Essentially, using a longer focal length forces us further away from our subject and gives the illusion that a scene is ‘compressed’. By exploiting this in combination with panoramic stitching in post-production, I was able to create images that felt a little more like what I was seeing.
A wide-angle lens can take in a lot at once, but it does tend to make close objects look disproportionately bigger and far away objects look disproportionately small. Sometimes, this is what I want, but sometimes, I’d rather things look a little more like what I’m seeing. By using a longer lens and stitching multiple images, I can get the wide field of view my eyes take in but with a rendering of depth that also matches what my brain reconciles from the scene.
These are a just a few of the moments in my journey so far that have pivoted me in the direction I’m currently travelling. As I continue to evolve as a person and the gear I use continues to evolve, so will the images I make.
I’d love to hear in the comments about some of the moments that have changed your photography. Have there been words you’ve heard from others? Things you’ve come to understand about photographic technique? Internal dialogues that have led you to new work? Please do share with us below!