Technique

Louden Swain at the Viper Room // LA, June 2016

I’ve really wanted to see Rob Benedict’s band Louden Swain play a concert ever since I first heard them at the conventions, especially after the Saturday Night Special became the big event it is now. The photographs that I took at the concert they played at VegasCon 2014 are still some of my strongest (and I wonder if I will ever top them) so to see them play outside a convention and get an opportunity to photograph it was something I wanted to do for a long time.

I was actually at VegasCon earlier this year and heard that they were going to be playing a gig in June at the Viper Room, and coincidentally it was going to be the weekend before PhoenixCon. Being impractical, I thought …. Well this could be my chance. I’d come over for the concert and stay for PhoenixCon.

I’m so, so glad that I did. It was incredible, challenging and inspiring and solidified how much I actually do like shooting concerts. There’s something about the energy crackling under the surface and the give and take between the band and the audience. Louden Swain are such an incredibly talented band and have such a connection with their fans that it’s this amazing thing to witness that you really want to do justice to when you’re capturing it. Because I’m so fond of them, I really wanted to do a good job.

I got to LA on 6am the morning of the concert, because I like to make things difficult for myself. So by the time the concert started I was already exhausted but wired, and a little awestruck at shooting in the Viper Room. I was so glad my friend Kat was with me, because she helped me calm down and feel less nervous about the whole thing.

 

June 3, 2016

June 3, 2016

Because I wasn’t really sure what it would be like shooting at a concert venue as opposed to a normal con venue, I felt like maybe my 70-300mm lens would be too unwieldy to use, and because its widest aperture was only f4, I felt as though it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. The only other lens I have is an 85mm f1.8 prime lens, which is mainly a portrait lens. But because 85mm is longer than the average human eye distance (which is around 50mm apparently?) there was still some “zoom” and the aperture would be more flexible in the darkened concert space. This way, theoretically, I could keep my ISO lower, stopping grain, preserving detail, etc.

Which I didn’t end up doing. But I told myself I could, and made myself believe I was making a professional decision.

 

Rob Benedict

Rob Benedict

Brian Buckley

Brian Buckley

Billy Moran

Billy Moran

The truth is, I ended up having to adjust my settings constantly throughout the gig. Depending on which area of the stage I was focusing on and where the guys were standing in relation to which spotlight, key lights, coloured lights etc I had to adjust everything. I tried to keep my shutter speed fairly constant at 1/125, because it would reduce camera shake but also freeze some motion while still showing some movement. But because I refused to budge on that, it meant that I had to make compromises on the other two aspects of the exposure triangle, so my ISO ended up being really, really super high. Which isn’t really a big deal, because shooting a lot of convention photography I do end up using a high ISO and have to clean it up in editing. But I had been trying to get out of the habit, because I felt like it would become a crutch and I would lose detail because of it.

 

Rob Benedict

Rob Benedict – at 1/125, some parts of this photograph are frozen, but the blur shows motion and movement that makes the overall affect more dynamic, which in turn tells a better story

I feel like I’ve developed this certain that style that is quite “close up” and personal, so shooting with a lens that was limited to one focal range was a huge challenge. It’s like having one tool taken away from you; you have to find new ways to sell a narrative. So I was going into an unfamiliar shooting condition without the tools I would usually use, which made me extra nervous. When I first came back and started looking through my photos I was really worried that maybe they all looked too similar, because the ability to shoot at different focal ranges just wasn’t there.

 

Mike Borja

Mike Borja

Stephen Norton

Stephen Norton

Rob Benedict

Rob Benedict

The concert itself was incredible; they played quite a long set and we got to hear a couple of new songs. The audience was loud and passionately singing (and kazooing) along and the band fed off it. It got so cramped and so hot in there that towards the end I had to go and stand towards the back of the room where it wasn’t quite so crowded. But it was such an amazing thing to witness and be a part of.

On the one hand, photography-wise it was a great challenge and it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone to only use the one prime lens. But on the other, I think if I was to shoot a concert like that again, I would definitely try to rent a 24-70mm f2.8 which would give you more options – wide angle, zoom, aperture etc.

But that’s why we do these things – we try and see what works and what doesn’t and then the next time we try something else. It’s how we slowly build our knowledge and the biggest secret is to never let the failures, or the things that don’t go right, to knock you down. I was so, grateful for this opportunity, and I feel so blessed that I found this amazing network of people that are so inspiring and so willing to help and encourage and support. I think that’s one of my driving factors in wanting to improve myself – not just for me, but for these people that I respect and admire so much.

I was also overwhelmed by how supportive and encouraging people in the crowd were. I knew many people there from the Supernatural fandom, and people were just so nice to me and I’m just a very, very lucky person.

 

Mirror

Mirror

Rob Benedict

Rob Benedict

Doubt

Someone once said that the only person you should compare yourself to is the person that you were yesterday. I think the same goes for people who create.

(This is one of those times where I completely don’t take my own advice, by the way)

I’ve just been through a period where I’ve felt burnt out and started questioning why I was doing what I’m doing. I couldn’t face editing, or taking photos, and just tried to ignore everything. I was actually tired of it.

We have a tendency when we create things to measure what we create by what is out there already; it’s natural. It’s very human. We see what others are creating, we admire it and on a good day it motivates us to strive further to evolve and learn and create new things, that will in turn be looked at and inspire others etc. It’s a perpetual, self-feeding cycle.

On a bad day though, we look at what others are doing and can’t help but think that everything we’re doing is wrong / bad / not good enough / insert self-deprecating adjectives here. Suddenly what once became a shiny point in a tantalizing distance for us becomes an oasis in a desert that for some reason we’re stuck in but no one else can see. So while your friends or family or even strangers are telling you that what you’re creating is good, you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it’s no oasis is it?” A future that seemed ripe with possibility is suddenly …. Not. You start wondering why you’re doing it, why you are expending so much energy and time and passion (and money!) into something that you’re obviously never going to be “good enough” at. Do people think I’m wasting my time? Are people just being polite? “Oh this month she wants to be a photographer let’s support her, but you know, how long will that last?”

The truth is, people don’t think that way. Sure, your Mum maybe is being polite because she is polite. But we’re the only ones who actively compare our work to other people. Other people look at it from this magical place we’re not allowed in, called an objective space. They see two photographers and they don’t compare them, they just think, “Wow, all these people are giving me pretty things to look at, isn’t this cool?”

So why do we compare ourselves? Why can we see beauty in what others create but not find it in our own work? I am extremely guilty of this. I will look at other people’s photography and say, “Why doesn’t mine look like that? My colours aren’t punchy enough. My focus isn’t sharp enough. Is there some professional filter people run things through that I’m not aware of? Is it a plug-in for Photoshop?”

I can see that my work has an emotionality that people connect with, but I doubt every time I post anything. I think technically I’m not where I want to be, and I feel like it shows. Every. Single. Time. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been excited about sharing photos because I’ve felt like I’ve come far technically – the Louden Swain Saturday Night Special in Pasadena, 2015 and Osric Chau’s Captain American cosplay shoot are two examples in a tiny list.

 

Rob Benedict, Louden Swain SNS, PasCon 2015

Rob Benedict, Louden Swain SNS, PasCon 2015

 

Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016

Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016

 

It’s only because I had such a strong reaction personally to them that I felt like they would be successful. The whole process – taking them, editing them, posting them, there was very little of the usual doubt that I have. There was nervousness, there always is. But not the same doubt. It was liberating, and I wish I knew how to feel like that more often, but so far I haven’t mastered it.

The thing about creating, and about photography, is that it is such a personal thing. There are technical considerations that are universal, but other than that it becomes very much about how each person sees the world and how they want to show others how they see the world. There are always many, many photographers at the conventions but each one gets something different. Even pressing the shutter simultaneously, we will all have different interpretations of a moment. That’s what makes it incredible. But we also have to remember that each person is coming to that moment from very different circumstances – over and above different camera equipment, we’re sitting in different places, we’ve been photographing for different periods of time with varying experience levels, we’re concentrating on different things, we’ve focused on what we think tells a story.

I think what makes it so difficult today is the rate at which we can find information is so fast that we seem to expect ourselves to be able to learn just as quickly. The technology is so advanced that there isn’t the slow burn of learning how to process a photo in a darkroom, or really lining up a shot and being deliberate like you would using film because you don’t have as many chances to make a mistake. Film was very unforgiving compared to digital photography. Because that side of it comes relatively quickly (it’s still not easy, but you know what I mean), it’s too easy to think you’ll be the photographer you want to be in the blink of an eye. But things like photography don’t work like that. The people that I look up to mostly have been working for ten, twenty years longer than me. To them I’m probably an upstart who wants everything to happen for her straight away.

Instead of thinking about who we want to be, we should try to be gentle with who we are now. Doubt is normal. It keeps us honest and keeps us learning. If we felt 100% sure of everything we would never try. We would never push ourselves in directions we didn’t think we were capable of. We’d become complacent, and our work would suffer. As long as we don’t let doubt cripple us, we need to use it.

And I know it will take me time to listen to this, and I know I’ll go away and still compare. But I’ll try to focus more on comparing who I am now to who I was when I first started and there’s a surprising distance between the two of us. There’s no doubting that, and that’s something to be proud of.

Shooting At A Con // Some Tips

There isn’t really a magic formula to taking photos at conventions. It’s like all things in life – it takes a mixture of practice, patience and grit and more luck than people like to admit. What works for me won’t necessarily work for other people, but there are several questions that I get asked a lot that I thought I might try to answer here. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and things like actual photography theory and detailed editing would take too long to go into. But I can touch on some general things to help make it all seem a little less daunting.  I’ll also pepper the blog with links to articles explaining terms that I think might need more explaining, and add some useful links at the end.

That was one of the biggest things when I started out – it all seemed too big and too complicated and I just read and read and practiced and I was lucky that I had people willing to give me advice.

EQUIPMENT

I didn’t start out using the camera or lenses I have today. When I first started taking photos at conventions, I was using a Sony “bridge” camera. It’s called a bridge camera because it’s not quite a point and shoot, not quite a DSLR. It had a fixed zoom lens and could actually zoom quite far.  It was a great camera to learn on, and I used it at a few conventions. But as I started wanting to improve myself, it wasn’t giving me enough detail in low light.

 

Misha, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony "bridge" camera

Misha Collins, AHBL 3 2012. This was shot using my Sony “bridge” camera

I then moved to a Canon 600D (which I’m not sure they even have anymore?) This was the camera I did quite a lot of learning on. It was close to what I’m shooting with now, just not as robust. Again, it was a great camera but it wasn’t giving me the scope I needed for the low light situations I was shooting in. At every step though, I made sure it was the fact that I felt I was outgrowing a camera rather than just upgrading because I thought it was what was expected, or thought the camera would somehow make me a better photographer. It was about what I thought me and the camera could do together.

That’s when I got my current camera body, a Canon EOS 5D MK III.

 

 

Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III

Jared Padalecki, SFCon 2015. Shot using my 5D MK III. The benefit of not only a robust camera body but hours and hours and hours and hours of practice in photography and post-processing.

I have 3 lenses – a 50mm f/1.8, an 85mm f/1.8 and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L Series. The 70-300mm is the workhorse and the one I use most often at conventions. It is by no means what they call a “fast lens”, meaning that it doesn’t have a particularly wide aperture setting  (http://digital-photography-school.com/what-is-a-fast-lens/) So it takes a bit of work to use it in low light settings like a panel room, but I’ve used it for three years now and I’ve made it work!

If I ever wanted to experiment with other types of lenses, I would hire them. Hiring is a great alternative to outlaying money for a new lens. A quick google search brought up this example in the US, and to give you some idea, a Canon 70-200mm  f/2.8 would cost you over $2,000 US, and yet you can hire one from borrowlenses.com for 10 days for $112 US. Perfect for having before a con weekend to play around with.

Photography is an expensive hobby and despite how appealing it seems to want the best equipment, especially because you think it will make your photos better, it is unnecessary to outlay so much money on something that in all likelihood will sit in a bag in your room for the majority of the time. Unless you are seriously considering making a career or a serious hobby of photography, there are much more cost effective ways to shoot conventions and renting is a big one.

There is a lot of talk in the photography world about how mirrorless cameras are going to take the place of DSLR’s, but I have never used a mirrorless camera so can’t really comment on it. It is another route to go though, if you’re interested in looking at different equipment.

AT THE CON

My camera takes both SD Cards and Compact Flash cards, and I use CF cards 99% of the time now. When I first started out, I was extremely reluctant to go over any of my cards, especially if they had photos that I was proud of, or of cons that I wanted to remember. The hard truth is, like everything else about photography, Compact Flash cards especially are expensive. So I had to give up being precious about my cards and I had to reuse them at each con.

When you start out with a card, if you’re going over an old card or even if it’s just out of the packet, don’t forget to use your camera menu and format your card. This completely cleans your card and gives you a fresh slate to work on. You’re much less likely to end up with a corrupted card, which is a nightmare. Take a few cards with you, since it’s always better to have more than you need than less. I actually carry a small pencil case in my camera bag, and once I have used one card I will put it in there and I know it’s used and not to go over it the rest of the weekend. Professional!

 

On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card

On the left, an SD Card and on the right a Compact Flash Card

SHOOT IN RAW. If you are at all interested in doing a lot of processing and making big editing changes to your photos after the con, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. Raw files contain every single scrap of information; JPEG compresses a lot of that information. JPEG is fine if you are simply wanting to capture photos and share them online without too much fuss. It’s quick and you don’t need specialized software to open them and work on them. But if you’re wanting to perhaps fix up some photos – recover any exposure mistakes, make any big changes – you’ll need access to as much digital information as possible and that means using a RAW file. RAW files are subsequently much larger and take up more room on your cards. You also need dedicated software like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open the files and work on them. But if you are serious about working with your photos, your best bet is to always shoot in RAW.

Always remember to have your charger and charge your batteries at night. I have a camera grip on my camera, which is an extra attachment that means that I have two rechargeable batteries working rather than one. This lessens the chances that I will run out of juice during the day of a con. It’s not necessary, but it’s something that has helped me (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/847530-REG/Canon_5261B001_BG_E11_Battery_Grip_for.html) It’s also useful because it means that when I’m shooting portrait and turn the camera vertically, I have a vertically positioned shutter button and control dials. Which, again, isn’t necessary but it helps ergonomically for photographing for long periods of time.

I do have a flash gun, but I never use flash at conventions. By their nature, the reach of a flash will only work if you are in the first couple of rows at best, and if you’re that close chances are you’ll have light spill from the stage lights and won’t need it. You’re better off trying to work with your camera settings organically, rather than introducing an artificial light source that in all likelihood won’t help much anyway. If you’re not using it outside the con, it’s an expense you don’t need at one.

EXPOSURE SETTINGS

This is a topic that could take another whole blog on its own. I can put some links to some basic exposure tutorials, but it’s impossible to give a strict guideline about how to expose because every con venue is different. There’s even often differences from one panel to the next in how they are lit, and so how you need to best adjust your settings is a matter of experimenting.

If you’re working with a DSLR, you will have Automatic, Program, Manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority settings. The camera picks all the settings for you if you use automatic, the camera picks settings but allows you to make adjustments if you want if you use program, and manual it is all up to you. Shutter Priority means you will set how fast or slow you want the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the other settings to compensate, and the Aperture Priority is the same only you set how wide or narrow your aperture will be. People will often talk about going “full manual” as if it’s the pro thing to do, and while it will give you maximum control over your exposure choices, it is perfectly acceptable to use the other settings, especially in an environment as complex as a convention panel where you have absolutely no control over the light sources. I will often use Shutter Priority, because I want to keep my shutter speed up to avoid camera shake, which can happen if you have your shutter set at a slow speed which you can tend to do in a situation where there isn’t much light.

Probably the single biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to be afraid of grain.

Exposure is an equilateral triangle. All three settings – shutter speed, aperture and  ISO work to expose an image correctly, but they are entirely dependent on each other. If you change one, you have to change the other two to compensate. In low light settings, one of the things that often have to be pushed to the limit is your ISO. The ISO determines the sensor’s sensitivity to light.  The higher the ISO, the more grain or noise is introduced. Have you ever taken a photo at a con and it’s come out very grainy like an old photo? That’s digital noise and often comes from having a high ISO setting.

The thing about grain is that it can be cleaned up in editing. Poor exposure is a lot harder to fix. So if you need to pump up your ISO, do it. Just be aware that it can also affect how sharp your images can look, so go high but not overboard.

 

EDITING

I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop when I’m editing. There are other options, but these are the ones I’ve always used. Unless you have the physical software from a few years ago, Adobe now works on a cloud based subscription, and you can purchase a Photographer’s Bundle that is Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC for $9.99 US a month.

I use Lightroom mainly to as a way to catalogue my photos, open the RAW files and to do very basic early touching up. I’ll open the RAW file and adjust white balance if needed, and sharpen and reduce noise in Lightroom, then export the photo into Photoshop to do the bulk of the work. Don’t be afraid of either Lightroom or Photoshop – they are daunting, but there are plenty of online tutorials to show you how to make your way around them. I’ve used Photoshop for over ten years, even before I started photography again I was using it for graphics work, and there is still a lot I don’t understand. But like most of photography, it’s about experimenting and finding what works. The beauty of it is if you do shoot in RAW, your files will not be destructed by anything you do – that original file will always still be there and recoverable for you to work from and start again. One of the joys of this is to go back on old photos and edit them with all the updated knowledge you have gained along the way.

 

Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes

Events like Karaoke at the SPN Creation conventions are a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and pushing your editing to extremes. Matt Cohen, Karaoke, PasCon 2015

REMEMBER

The biggest tip I have for shooting at a convention is not really to do with photography technique at all. It’s to do with looking after yourself.

I am a big believer in how you are feeling affects your output. If I am having a bad day, or I’m not feeling very well, I really believe that my photos won’t be as good. A convention is a very unnatural environment. It’s frenetic and emotional and it’s very easy to get swept away in the adrenaline. But there are a few ways you can keep an even keel and it will help you avoid such a startling crash at the end of the weekend.

Drink water. All the time. Even if it’s a con like VegasCon where there is a steady supply of alcohol, drink water too. Water will help you concentrate, help you sleep and help you function.

Eat. Even if you can manage one sit down meal with friends at some point in the day, where you are actually sitting and focusing on eating it’s better than nothing. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, just one proper meal. Throughout the day, try to snack on things like nuts or fruit.Trail mix is great. You will mostly be running on adrenaline and chances are you’ll be too nervous to eat much, but try to eat something.

Sleep. Even if it’s a couple of hours a night. You’ll want to stay up all night deconstructing every photo op with your friends, and that’s part of the fun of a con. But try to snatch a few hours just so that you are somewhat refreshed for the next day.

Shower and take any medications you need. Showering will make you feel more human, and take any medications you would take at home. If you’re on blood pressure meds, or anti-anxiety meds or anything like that, be responsible and take them during the con when you should. I am on anti-depressants, and I am of absolutely no use to anyone if I don’t take them. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I do.

If you have any questions or concerns or something has gone wrong, speak to someone. A volunteer, a staff member, a friend. Don’t think that any question is stupid, or trivial. Chances are, you are not the first person to ask it and you won’t be the last.

Thank the cast, thank the staff and thank the volunteers. They all need to hear it, especially the volunteers. It’s a hard job and they have to do and put up with a lot all weekend. (If you’re at a Creation convention, thank Chris, the photographer in the photo op room!)

Have fun! It’s one of the most fun things you will ever do but it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling anxious and overwhelmed that you miss out on the fact that it is fun. Especially if you’re wanting to photograph the con, you can get distracted by wanting to do such a good job that you forget to really listen and enjoy a panel. It’s okay to say you want to sit a panel out and just be there and experience it rather than photograph it. There’s no shame in that. A few years ago, I had a bad migraine on the Saturday night at SPN VegasCon, and the next day I couldn’t focus properly to photograph Misha Collins’ Sunday panel. He brought his son West out on stage and while I was extremely disappointed I didn’t get to photograph that, I knew that in all likelihood my photos wouldn’t have been very good anyway because I was so sick. So I just got to be there and enjoy the panel itself, and there are still lots of other photos of the panel out there.

This may all seem like strange advice for a blog about con photography, but taking care of yourself on a weekend like this is a big deal, and your photos, and your experience overall, will be much better for it!

 

USEFUL LINKS

Exposure Guidehttp://www.exposureguide.com/exposure.htm

Cambridge In Color: Learn Photography Concepts –  http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/learn-photography-concepts.htm

Digital Camera World Lightroom Tutorialshttp://www.digitalcameraworld.com/tag/adobe-lightroom-tutorial/

Digital Camera World Photoshop Tutorialshttp://www.digitalcameraworld.com/category/tutorials/photoshop-tutorials/

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC Photographer’s Bundlehttp://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html?promoid=KSDQE

Borrow lenses US – borrowlenses.com

Fstoppershttps://fstoppers.com/

How To Become A Rockstar Photographerhttp://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/ – a great blog that is geared towards concert photography but the principles between that and con photography are often the same

Digital Photography School on twitter – @digitalps

Fstoppers on twitter – @fstoppers

 

 

 

Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015

Osric Chau and Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6 Melbourne 2015

PasCon15-6566wm

Rob Benedict, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, PasCon 2015

Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015

Bruce Campbell, OzCC Melbourne 2015

Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, DenverCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015

Briana Buckmaster, PasCon 2015

Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday NIght Special, DenverCon 2015

Gil McKinney, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, DenverCon 2015

SPN Cast, VegasCon 2015

SPN Cast, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special, VegasCon 2015

Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015

Matt Smith, Whoniverse Melbourne 2015

Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello

Mark Sheppard and Osric Chau, Jus In Bello V, 2014

Suitable For Framing

Framing is the technique of drawing attention to the subject of your image by blocking other parts of the image with something in the scene *

There’s an old writing technique that says that it is more effective for a writer to “show” rather than to simply “tell”. The same can be said for photography. While the nature of photography means that everything is more or less there in front of you to see, there actually is this element of holding back, of not quite showing your whole hand in order to tell a more impactful story.

One of the simplest ways to do this is through framing and composition. Framing, like the quote above says, is the act of drawing attention to something in your shot. Composition meanwhile, is all the individual elements that are in a photograph that help to draw the attention of the person looking at it. Things like rule of thirds, depth of field, colour, repetition and framing are all methods of composition.

When we take a photo, the particular framing of the photograph is one of the biggest things we think about. Framing is hugely influential in the way the photograph will look overall, even down to the emotion it will evoke. Not only is it an aesthetic decision, but it ultimately becomes a narrative decision – what are we choosing to put in, and almost just as important, what are we choosing to leave out?

Boiled down to the simplest choices – will we shoot a photograph in landscape or portrait? Will the main focus of the photograph be centre-framed, or framed at an extreme left or right side of frame? When I first started taking con photos, one of the first aesthetic choices I really felt comfortable making on my own was that I didn’t really like shooting centre-framed shots. I’m not sure why; I didn’t understand why I was doing it, it was just a personal stylistic choice that I made that has stayed with me ever since.

 

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2012

 

Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015

Timothy Omundson, AHBL 6, 2015

 

That’s not to say that I don’t centre frame at all – I do, and I do a lot more now. But I am still a huge advocate for negative space and the strength it can give an image. Negative Space is basically all the parts in a photograph that aren’t the subject of the photograph. So in the photo of Timothy Omundson above, the black above and around him is negative space. It’s an element that can be used as another way of telling a narrative through your image – is there lots of negative space because the subject is isolated emotionally and physically? Is it being used to denote space and vastness, like in a photo of a hot air balloon in the sky? For the photo above, I liked the way he was looking up into the space. The blackness added a sense of drama. It’s not necessarily telling a story, but to someone looking at it maybe it will.

I’ve been looking at the incredible photographs by Vivian Maier recently, and the photo below seemed like a really good example of the way negative space can denote a sense of the unknown. Who is this woman and where is she going? Towards that car? Does the act of us looking at her going towards the black negative space give us a sense of excitement because she’s obviously all dressed up to go somewhere? Or does it make us feel kind of uncomfortable because she is heading into the unknown?

 

Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida

Vivian Maier, January 9, 1957, Florida

 

Which is another one of the big motivators behind things like framing and composition, it’s not only something that we choose because we think it looks good. The way we choose to present photographs goes a long way to influence how people will feel looking at them. So what we choose to show – and leave out – plays a big part in that. I noticed that when I started going back and re-cropping some of my old convention photos I could add a different emphasis to a photograph just in the way I chose to frame it. I could more or less “make” the viewer focus on what I wanted them to.

Another one of Vivian Maier’s photographs highlighted this sense of emphasis for me.

 

Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY

Vivian Maier, July 27, 1954, New York, NY

 

This couple are obviously very close, but we don’t need the extra information that would come from having them fully in the photograph. We don’t need to see their eyes, or them looking at each other. We can get all the information we need from how close they are standing to one another and their hands being loosely intertwined. It shows comfort, stability and intimacy in a non-conventional way. There are few elements in the photograph but the ones that are there all work towards that one idea. We can formulate our own stories about what is happening beyond the boundaries of the frame of the photograph just by the very small window we are shown within it.

It’s one of the things I most love about photography; that it is a tiny piece of a much greater whole. I would often cut limbs and faces out of photographs because I wanted to show this idea of the dynamic – the people I photograph could not possibly be contained in a small frame, they belonged to a time and a space well outside it. I was only there capturing what small part I could.

 

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

 

Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015

Rob Benedict, PasCon 2015

 

Dani and Dad, December 2012

Dani and Dad, December 2012

 

Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

Richard Speight Jr and Misha Collins, DenverCon 2015

 

I am by no means even anywhere near the league of people like Vivian Maier, but these same principles can be used in photography no matter what level you are. It helps you to focus on what you’re trying to do with a photo, and what kind of a story you want to tell. It’s ultimately the goal of all art – to tell a story. Just like writers have rules and tricks, so do photographers.

 

 

If you would like to check out more of Vivian Maier’s beautiful  work and read the fascinating story of her life and how she was discovered, visit her site here

*This quote is from Digital Photography School Online and can be accessed here

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This isn’t a photo I took today, so technically it probably doesn’t count. I took this photo of Misha in 2012, at All Hell Breaks Loose here in Melbourne. It’s interesting to see how far I’ve come. I can look at this photo and sort of see the foundation of a “style” – the “tightness” in the way it’s framed, the unusual angle, the way he’s looking outside the frame – that are all things I still do today. But I can also see so many problems; the degradation in the detail because the camera’s ISO is pushed too far beyond it’s limit, the softness in the focus, the lack of detail in the shadow, the editing.

Because it’s a JPEG file, I can’t really go back and try to salvage and edit it in a way that you could with a RAW file. So it will always be the way it is. Flaws and foundations and all.