Some Thoughts on the Art of Photography
© Blue Jasper Productions
My photographic art is largely commissioned work of people and things, utilized as powerful marketing tools, whether as headshots, portraiture, pet or product photography. The mechanics of what goes into technically good photography may be subjective, but there are quantifiable goal posts most photographers operate around in terms of what constitutes proper exposure, key to fill ratio, stuff like that. But there’s another component that is much more subjective and can be like capturing lightning in a bottle.
What I’m referring to is the chemistry created when a photographer and subject are in sync and effectively collaborating. That’s the goal of every photo session and what goes into making that happen is different with each person, each job. I think that’s really where the difference between a hobbyist and a professional photographer comes into play, because when you’re getting paid for a job, the client is expecting lightning in a bottle every time and it’s your responsibility to deliver that.
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression 'in the zone'. In my experience when I’m behind the lens, getting in that zone happens when I settle in with a subject and things loosen up… the disparate components of mood, wardrobe, setting, lighting, and energy begin to gel and we get in a groove. The creation of a photograph, or series of photographs, is very much a collaboration in terms of the subject allowing themselves to be authentic and my knowing when those moments surface so I can capture them. And there’s a difference between a technically 'good' photograph and one that grabs you for reasons that you might not immediately be able to articulate, but you just feel. That’s the goal for which I’m always shooting.
There’s often some apprehension when people think about having their photo taken and I do my best to help people see the studio space as an open, inviting place of opportunity and not something to dread because that will come through in the image. The process varies person to person, but part of creating this kind of art is knowing how to get someone to really relax and shine. That’s as important as getting the right exposure.
Portrait and headshot photography here in Southern California, in Hollywood particularly, has the potential to be mutually beneficial in a way that may be absent in other places. Certainly, the transaction is always reciprocal in some way, but working in this locale creates opportunities where a single photograph has the potential to radically and wonderfully change the fortunes and direction of someone’s life. I love those possibilities and being a part of that experience.
When looking at a photograph or any kind of art for that matter, you can come to it with a clean slate, with no expectation or suggestion about the message, and allow yourself to be impacted in that moment in ways that you may or may not expect. Perhaps someone will recognize a spark a subject brings to a photograph I have made and it facilitates an opening within themselves and makes them feel more comfortable or confident in their own skin. I love faces, I love textures, I love shapes, shadows, movement, the way the light catches the eye. And I love, most of all, looking through my lens and finding what I think is truly beautiful about someone. Whether someone arrives projecting excitement or skepticism or joy or sadness or enthusiasm or resignation, whatever their life experience is and whatever they bring with them on their faces and bodies and skin, there is always something beautiful that I see in them. Always.
Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, entrepreneurs - there’s risk in each of these fields with heavy investments at the front end. Photography is similar in that you have to educate yourself about the art form, become proficient in the craft, invest in acquiring the proper equipment, and (often) a studio space in which to use it – just like any other business. When you hire a photographer, you’re not just buying the photo session, you’re buying access to the entire scope of their professional knowledge and years of experience, as well as their unique artistic vision.
Technology has allowed us to stand on the shoulders of genius engineers who have created a virtual renaissance in modern digital photography. Never before has it been easier to “point and shoot” and get some kind of nice looking image. But, like any other discipline, there are many levels of proficiency to which one can aspire: do you want to learn how to play Chopsticks or Chopin? Understanding the fundamental photochemical process or digital photography pipeline is only the tip of the iceberg. What you are called upon to achieve as a professional photographer are consistent results in a variety of settings, capturing the essence of various subjects, whether for fine art portraiture, headshots, commercial, editorial, product or food photography.
If you find yourself struggling to focus due to financial concerns, sometimes this presents you with an opportunity to really examine the capacity in which you want to best express your creativity. Do you want to be a “professional” artist, or do you want to “do it for you”? My best advice is to picture yourself in your ideal setting, creating your art in a way that you find most satisfying and then reverse engineer your path there. Someone whose true desire is to make photographs free from the constraints of commercializing the effort need only concern themselves with acquiring the equipment and finding a suitable place to work. Someone who desires to earn a living that way has other considerations to work into the equation.
One thing remains true for any artistic endeavor, and that is the voluminous amount of time and commitment it takes to first become competent, then good, and then (one hopes) exceptional at your craft. This is a perpetual quest because there are always greater heights to which we can aspire. Of the many challenges you may face, finances are only one… and depending on your frame of mind, sometimes the least of them.
Imagine the writer who has been paid a hefty sum to deliver a book or screenplay on a deadline, but who is frozen by writer’s block. On the other end of the spectrum, imagine the aspiring artist who has all the inspiration in the world but who must work around a part-time job to actualize their artistic vision. Which one is better? Each has an obstacle to overcome, but it depends on your perspective, as does all art, and real life itself, for that matter.
I’m continually creating opportunities which enable me to marry my art with my activism, and every month or so I offer folks a chance to win free portrait/headshot sessions by raising awareness of different animal/human/environmental protection issues with which I’m involved and/or different non-profit groups with which I’m associated. Just follow me on Instagram and like my Facebook pages to be kept up to date on current contests and find out how to enter to win.