I often say that photography is “Jazz with a camera.” And I say that because I believe it to be absolutely true.

A Jazz performer has to know their instrument so well, that it is second nature for them to simply play it. Jazz requires improvisation (and if it doesn’t, it ain’t jazz…) and photography is all about improvisation. Imagine the mastery it takes to not only play the instrument, but make the music up on the fly with other players accompanying you. Trying new and daring twists and turns while the drummer and bass lay down a sweeeet groove… yeah.

Photographers do the same thing. They get to know their instruments so well, that they can simply start to make stuff up on the fly, while not losing the goal or reason for the photograph. Let’s try this- or that, or change lenses for a different POV. What happens if we get down low and bring a shiny card in from the edge here…? Choices flying by and we have to be able to choose them quickly to keep time.

See – a jazz player is playing a couple of bars ahead in their minds, and they can keep the chord structures and the ‘changes’ fluid. They hear the music to come before it is played. All the while being totally aware of the other musicians and what they are doing.

A photographer does the same thing visually. A photographer ‘sees’ the image as a it will be seen from their camera and lens combination even before they put it together. They begin to ‘play’ the images by composing elements, trying this and trying that. Knowing the final image (or close) before tripping the shutter.


Jazz, baby.

This is something I used to do a lot. And I mean A LOT. We used to call it ‘testing’, but now it is called “creative”. Shooting creative is like working that axe in the woodshed. Woodshed’n makes you play better because it keeps your mind and instrument in tune.

“Creative” shooting keeps your vision tuned up as well. There is no substitute for shooting… ABS, as Nick Onken says: Always Be Shooting.

So this is my first of the year improvisation. It will not be the last. I plan on doing these at least once per week (next week is a fork… a single fork).

My rule to myself is to not shoot more than one hour, and to shoot within a single set or area. Working the shot out and making as many variations as possible. Hopefully we can keep the setup included in that hour. As a jazz musician too, I expect I will break said rules and do whatever the hell I want – but, we gotta start somewhere.

Today I went outside and noticed my daughters shell collection. She collects them as she visits different beaches when we are on vacation. I think they each have a name… or did when she was younger.

One was filled with gunk and water and it caught my eye.

I decided right then to make those shells the subject of my improv. I set up on the front porch area and decided to use the sun as my source. A 5-in-one reflector kit scrim was the single modifier, and a piece of white fome core was my surface. Clean and graphic. I spent 45 minutes from setup to tear down.

Here are the shots:

I used two basic lighting setups: One with the scrim vertical in back of the set to create more shadow in front of the shells. And one with the scrim over the top of the shells for a broad, soft source. The sun was my main light source today.

Vertical Light Panel creates more shadow to the front of the shells as the light is not seen from that position.

You can see in this shot that the light is not covering the front of the shells, so it creates more shadow.

With the scrim over the top, more light comes to the front part of the shells and eliminates the shadows in front.

The top scrim brings the light to the front of the shells. The sun was fairly high in the south sky and we had moderately scattered clouds. I had to work with the sun, not the clouds ad it made the light too flat. Having a bright, powerful source behind the scrim made the light a bit more punchy.

Thanks for coming out today.

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