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Picture Methods Podcast 2020 Episode 5
Thanks for joining me on the flagship podcast of the PictureMethods blog where we deliver free insights and inspiration for photographers. The show drops on the first Friday of each month.
If you’re listening we’ve all survived another month in this crazy version of life that we are living since the pandemic hit.
I’ve watched a lot of Science Fiction movies and read even more science fiction books, and this seems like a plot right out of that genre. But it’s not. It’s real and I strongly urge you to listen to doctors and scientists’ advice and stay home until it’s safe not to.
But what are you going to do while at home? Well it’s the perfect time to take up a new photo-related hobby. I’ve started digging into product photography and my guest today is someone who makes a product I use in that regard. I’ll get to Mandy in a minute.
First, I want to briefly mention the photography news. COVID-19 has ended the lives and the livelihoods of photographers everywhere. It’s put a huge financial burden on the camera companies and all the small businesses like places that make tripods, bags, and other camera accessories are hurting. Camera stores are also hurting. The photo workshop business has come to a standstill. Few if any manufacturers are announcing new gear unless it was so far down the production chain they can’t pull it back. I wish it were different but it’s not. Coming out of this, and I want to stress that we will come out of this, things will probably look different. There will be fewer choices. There will be fewer opportunities. The best way to respond right now is, at least in my opinion…
- If you CAN support your favorite camera store, camera brand, workshop leader, do it. Those dollars are very important right now.
- If you cannot spend any money on photo-related stuff because you’re one of the roughly 25 million in the USA alone who is unemployed, just work extra hard to make do with what you have.
- Lastly, think of ways to innovate in this space. There’s an old saying. Out of chaos grows opportunity. A young woman in my area who ran a family portraits is participating in the porch photography craze. She drives around neighborhoods and photographs (free of charge) families sitting on their porch. She’s innovating in that she’s marketing herself in a new way that keeps her name top-of-mind for those who will, someday, want to come in and hire her to photograph that next wedding, baby or business portrait.
The news will get better. For now, all we can do is the best we can do.
And now for some inspiration…
I just want to riff on some things that I think might help you if you are a serious photographer trying to deal with all the limitations we’re all facing. I happen to think that there is great power in learning to live with limitations. So that is today’s show thesis.
PHOTOGRAPHY: PERHAPS IT’S ABOUT THE LIMITATIONS
I once heard the great landscape photographer John Shaw say “The difference between a pro and an amateur is the pro knows what NOT to include in the composition.”
I pondered that and realized that there’s some Zen to photography. I know that many times, it’s the limitations in photography that we need to become more comfortable with.
Our inclination as humans and as photographers is to ADD SOMETHING. But what if we realized that it’s all about TAKING SOMETHING AWAY?
This is most easily applied in composition. Start with a big, wide scene. Then start taking things out of the scene – either actually removing them or simply getting closer to the main subject. Changing the focal length or field of view, etc. As you reduce things that appear in your viewfinder, you get closer to finding the thing that matters most – the thing you really wanted to photograph in the first place.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Sometimes you find yourself in the field with the wrong lens. Or maybe you come upon a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you only have the point-and-shoot in the bag. Maybe you simply can’t afford what you need in the way of gear. It’s okay. That shouldn’t stop you
from making great photos because these limitations are only a road- block if you let them be. Learn the limitations of your gear. Learn how to wring every drop out of every lens. Your images will start to shine because you learned how to make images with what you had. Making do will often inspire because in the process of elimination, i.e., not carrying (or even having) every piece of gear you want will force your mind’s eye to pick up the slack. Your vision improves with LESS gear. You take away gear but you add vision.
Or how about the limitation of shooting on a bright, sunny day at Noon? The light is very harsh and downright unattractive. You can add fill flash, as many photographers do in order to balance the harsh daylight. But you can also limit the light by blocking it from overhead, putting the subject in complete shade, making the new main light the open sky in the background. Create an L-shape (like a tree – trunk forms the long stroke of the “L” and the tree branches and leaves serve as the short stroke of the “L.”) The “L” is inverted now and the tree provides shade from the harsh, direct, overhead sun at Noon and the open sky provides a pleasing main light. You eliminate the light – not add to it.
This Zen way of thinking takes practice and an open mind and patience. But I’ve seen great results by trying this approach and encourage you to do the same. On your next photo outing, think about limitations and how they can work in your favor.
I won’t get too deep into Zen because I am NOT a Zen expert. I’m just trying to get people to think a little differently about their photography. And the Zen way might help.
So combining the first part of the show with this new notion, I’ll keep the theme going.
There are three concepts in Zen Buddhism that I think particularly apply to photography (I will horribly paraphrase here).
- Less is more. Sometimes you can achieve the best picture by taking something away rather than adding it. That can be anything from gear, to light, to subjects, to background objects, etc.
- There is something to be said for photographing a place as you have lived it. Too often we get caught up seeing something ONLY through the viewfinder. It’s important to remember we are also part of that moment. We need to own that and to live it.
- I heard Neil Young (a musician I admire) say “I write and play songs that I have lived.” He understands this concept. Another way to say this is: Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness; being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion.
Zen is all about enlightenment – and this can come from the energy source contained within every subject we photograph. Try applying different senses to the way you think about photography. Hear the light, sing the photograph, feel the background. It’s a hard topic to write about in a blog essay, but if you can find joy in the click of a shutter, you are already practicing a Zen Buddhism concept. For there is only now; this moment in time. No future moment is guaranteed to any of us, therefore it doesn’t exist. What can you do with THIS moment?
Before I wrap up I want to lighten the mood by playing an interview I did with an amazing young woman named Mandy. She is the founder of a company called Replica Surfaces. She makes portable backgrounds that can be used in food and product photography. She is an admitted newbie when it comes to photography, yet, she has already built an amazing community on Facebook and Instagram because she is an ego-less teacher who is herself learning. As she learns she shares and in my opinion, she’s one of the best photography teachers I know.
You haven’t heard of Mandy but I am proud to introduce you to her. Remember her name, some day she’s going to be a big star in the industry.
Thanks to Mandy for sharing her insights. I now have 12 of her backgrounds and before you ask, I paid for every one. Same price you would pay. She deserves that kind of respect. Check out her website here. https://www.replicasurfaces.com
Be sure to check Mandy’s how-to videos on her YouTube Channel. BTW these aren’t commercials for her products. They are legit, helpful, you’ll learn something videos.
Next month, well once again, frankly I don’t know what we’ll do next month because who knows what shape the world will be in by then. But there will be a show if I have anything to say about it.
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I really hope you enjoyed this episode of the Picture Methods podcast – see you next month.
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