Knowing Your Subjects Well

bri-running-2-smallOne of the most important considerations of a photographers work is the subject matter they choose to make photographs. Sounds almost simplistic, doesn’t it?

But there is a great deal of thought that goes into this part of what we do. If we have chosen subject matter for any reason at all, it should resonate and help us be more authentic in the work we choose to do.

For instance; if you are a mountaineering photographer, would you not be interested in mountains, hiking or climbing? If you shoot cars, are you not interested in them at all… just metal and wheels?

Car shooters LOVE cars. They LIVE cars. They can tell you about the fins of the 80’s and how big the cylinders the Cobra’s engine had in those classic muscle cars. A fashion photographer can instantly spot the trends, know the designers who are creating them and speak the language of fashion.

And that mountaineering photographer… she knows how to climb and hike and where all the cool places to shoot climbers are.

It is how the most authentic of us begin to work within our tribe. And it shows in the images.

One of the photographers I am working with loves motorcycles, in specific the older, retro designed bikes like Triumphs and BSA’s. He is not a kid though, and his friends reflect that as well. It is his tribe, and bikes are mixed with kids and the suburbs, day jobs and long weekends.

A niche he plans on using in order to build a stronger lifestyle book, along with the rugged outdoors folks who hike the Appalachian Trail in winter, the ridges of the Canadian Rockies in the summer.

It is the same people he spends time with when not shooting or working.

His tribe. His subjects. His authenticity.

A few examples of authentic photographers working in their own tribes.

Matt and Agnes Hage: Adventure Photographers.

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The Hages live in Alaska because the love the mountains and hiking where the wild things are. They have turned that love affair with the rugged outdoors into their subject matter and are shooting for editorial and advertising clients all over the world.

When they are not climbing and shooting for clients, they are climbing and shooting for themselves. Their lifestyle IS the one they photograph for, and with the people who are part of that lifestyle.

Scott Toepfer photographs his friends, their interests and what they love. The west coast surfing, motorcycle, freedom loving youth are where he turns his lens. His tribe, his life, his subjects.

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Scott has captured that culture, his culture, very well. And advertisers are wanting that authenticity brought to their products and services BECAUSE it is real and authentic

If Scott is not shooting motorcycles, he is probably out with the tribe riding them, hanging out with the buds and living the lifestyle he portrays in the work he produces.

Scott and I chatted about photography and it is here on Lighting Essentials.

Tara Donne loves design and food and travel. No small wonder it is what she makes photographs of as well as living that life. She loves to cook, and she loves to shoot food. Her travel bug is ignited by and paid for by her photography. Exotic locations are where she loves to go, and the images show us the excitement of visiting far away places. The food, people and quirky little vignettes are what she would shoot if she were on vacation.

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Her tribe, her images, her way.

Can you work with subjects that you do not have a personal affiliation with? Sure… because you live that lifestyle through the camera, the work, and the professional friends you make while working. And you KNOW it, and how to portray it with real insight.

You may be an older guy who loves to shoot fashion. And that work becomes your passion and your subject. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out in clubs and do shooters with 21 year olds, it means that you have to understand that lifestyle and bring that authenticity to the work.

You find yourself knowing more about designers, makeup, hair trends and style than you may have ever expected to, but it is an interest that brings authenticity to the work.

In short, your tribe, your interests, your passions… they make the best subjects. And if you come to the subject from a different passion, let them engage your imagination and spark an interest that goes beyond the surface, and into the heart of the matter. Making YOUR photograph is the most important thing, and being involved helps you stay focused.

As we look at new and exciting new opportunities for photographers, it can also be wise to consider who we are, what we do, and who our own tribes are. Finding authenticity in our own lives and watching that interest become a part of our subject matter can be quite exhilarating. And fun too!

Going Back in Time

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The great shooters of Project 52 Pros, 2014 just completed an assignment I would like to share.

The work was to be shot in a style or period and be as faithful as possible in presentation. The reason for the shoot was to introduce them to the special difficulties of finding props/locations that could be used for something of a previous era. We excluded any era forward from the 60’s/

I think they did brilliantly.

An Easy Set Up For Still Life: with Virginia Smith

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I needed a quick and easy set up for the small jobs I so here and there. Branding samples, food photography, accessories for the styling that I do on the side. I love window light, shadows and color so this is my easy set up for my style. The elements are:

* a diffused window (inexpensive white sheers from any big box store will do)
* an assortment of colored art papers available at any art supply store
* odd pieces of wood or a piece of paneling
* squares of vinyl flooring that looks like slate or stone, even wood
* wide painters tape

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All these elements are about 24×24 inches square. They are taped in place along with whatever props I may need in the background to set a mood (dresses, branches, fabric…). Sometimes I place my surface right against the background, sometimes I place my surface away from the background. I have latitude next to the window to use the light and shadows that fall as well as time of day. The shadows are stronger late in the day as in these test shots. I can use a reflector to soften the shadows but I tend to prefer them strong.

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If I find the backgrounds too smooth, I will add textures that I have created from old paintings, walls, rocks, dirt and whatever else looks interesting.

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Fast, easy and fits my Modern Vintage style.

The items needed for the setup.

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Virginia Smith (Modern Vintage Photography)

SUMMER-SCHOOL

The “Test Shot” with Stephen Collins

Objective:

Shoot rare military memorabilia (medals, daggers, insignias, etc.) for inclusion in to an auction catalog and online viewing portal. Images must be large (3000-4000px, .tiff), with no specular reflection, especially the dagger blades (ornate etchings), yet show depth and texture of every item. Some edge specular was acceptable and desired.

Background:
I was invited to a test shoot; Determine my ability to produce the image quality required. Of course, the people inviting me in, are not photographers and did not completely communicate the details of how, what or where I’d be shooting. So I loaded up the car with a little bit of everything and off I went.

During the test shoot it became obvious I needed to “MacGyver” a better solution than bouncing a soft box off tabletop white seamless. I needed an indirect, side lit solution, height adjustable with the camera directly overhead.

Using what I had around the house, I needed only two extra pieces of foam board. The three black boards are taped together, creating a trifold. The two holes cut for the storbs hold the trifold in place nicely and are not affected by heat from the modeling lamps.

I was originally thinking black board for zero reflection on the knife blades. While that did work, adding a white board clamped to the center board, is much better for a uniform, non-specular reflection. And, now I have both options should the image call for a change up. I also included two white boards on each end to provide more uniform lighting.

Final Shot:

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Light stand (one side) consists of: Standard light stand with optional sand bag
Swivel umbrella adaptor with double stud adaptor
> Paul C Buff mini boom arm
> Pole clamp connected to large spring clamp holding 3×4’ white foam board reflector

Stephen Collins

Website

<a href=”http://www.lighting-essentials.com/category/summer-school/”><img src=”http://www.lighting-essentials.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/SUMMER-SCHOOL.gif” alt=”SUMMER-SCHOOL” width=”200″ height=”158″ class=”alignright size-full wp-image-8897″ /></a>MANY OF THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY <a href=”http://www.project52pros.com” target=”_blank”>PROJECT 52 PRO</a> MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.