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Thinking Like A Photographer

Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Many want to improve their photography. With everyone being a photographer in their own way, interest in how pro photographers think is on the rise. Do pros see differently and think differently about our picture-taking process than normal picture takers? We do.

At a recent simcha, a lady was annoyed by a photographer who kept photographing her while she was eating. Reading her complaint about that triggered this article. I am extremely sensitive to how people think they look and what they are doing. I realize that sometimes the best of intentions could be unobvious to subjects and bystanders.

There are many picture-taking pros at the low-budget end who never had “sensitivity training.” Many freelance photographers don’t get the chance to review their photos with an experienced pro and, given the chance, many would not bother. They show up, shoot, go home, get paid. A handful of photographers are the exception. Yet sometimes their good intentions get misinterpreted.

For example, I am known for getting a lot of unobtrusive shots and a lot of shots that are done so quickly they go unnoticed. One of my techniques is to seem to be doing shots in an opposite or different direction, while waiting for the action to peak with my intended subjects. So I may approach a subject seven paces ahead on my right and, just before they might notice me, I turn to the left and fire off a shot or two, even while continuing to advance in my travels. Maybe those persons on the left were stuffing their faces. That is OK. They are not real shots. They will be deleted. I did not focus or compose or frame the shot. Might those left-handed subjects be irritated? I guess so. But my reputation is based on the right-hand shot I take next!

A similar example might involve a combination of camera and light settings that I plan on using at the next table, where children are playing. I will be doing that shot from a distance of four feet. I know the look and composition I desire. I may test the camera settings on an unaware subject first. That person is stunned and looks up, but I am long gone. “What kind of photographer is this?” he thinks. Now I am a photographer focused to four feet! My zoom lens might be getting a distant shot, but the person a mere eight feet away thinks I am photographing her.

I can move through a crowd and get lots of great candid shots. It is swift and stealthy work. Making no eye contact, I am off to the next image. That’s doing my job, telling the story of the day. Those photos convey a moment in time. The people are in the moment. Those photos say: so glad to see you; what a beautiful dress; it’s awesome; I am so excited; come here; etc.! Those photos are the ones alleged to speak a thousand words! I can go through the smorgasbord and do hundreds of those. Each will be priceless later.

But not if every few feet I am stopped by persons who do not realize that I am doing true candid shots and think that I skipped them and that they must stop and pose for a photo. So “Hey photographer!” and “Take a picture here!” follow me. I try to ignore it and keep moving. Until someone catches up with me, puts his hand on my shoulder, and says—he has misunderstood my doing exactly what I should be doing, and instead thinks me impudent or rude—he wants me to take those requested photos. Let me be clear: those photos do not involve the event’s principals, and the subjects themselves will most likely never ever see the photos. And the client has already told me to ignore them and do what I was hired to do. But guests keep asking for photos. They are doing it in the excitement of the moment. Yet those photos will never tell the story; they are only attendance shots. They tell about the interruption of the story to pose for and acknowledge the camera. The expressions do not show joy, they show public-relations smiles. And, speaking from experience, those photos rarely make it into the album.

Also, candid shots, when done by skilled photographers, involve different camera settings than looking-to-the-camera snapshots. Changing settings from one type of shot to another wastes time. It is not practical to be doing both. That leads to errors and affects one’s rhythm. Doing one group photo leads to everyone wanting group shots. So how can the photographer do candid shots you will want later? Some photographers think it is good to set up fake candid shots. Others get cute moments of unimportant persons. But are they valuable shots? People must look good, and we all agree chewing does not look good. So a good photographer has something else in mind, while a bad photographer just may not know better. But sometimes the food is good, the crowd is hungry, and the time is short. In such situations, I downgrade to doing “look-at-me candids” where people know to stop chewing.

You can show off the photo you just took on your camera’s back. I cannot, unless I want to miss my next shot. You can see my screen but not how I intend to crop or adjust the photo later. If you like that small view, it does not mean you really understand it fully. If you do not like what you think you are seeing, where does that leave us? Do I show you the second shot too? Where will this end? Will each guest want to see his shot too? Is this what the client is paying for? Pros should think differently, because we are being paid to get better and different results. v

Gary Rabenko can be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.

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Posted by on October 10, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.