When you see a great photo, something that just stops you in your tracks, what are you really noticing? Honestly, is it the lighting? The perfect exposure? The beautiful bokeh? These things are important, but there is something more. The photographers that I look up to all seem to see things differently. There is a reason that some of the best, most published photographers don’t always have the best light, sometimes a bit out of focus, sometimes awkward framing- but they still seem to take our breath away. The secret sauce is in the way a professional sees the scene creatively. Two photogs can approach the same scene with totally different perspectives and the unique perspective will always stand out.
There are simple ways we do this, little tricks like shooting kids from below and capturing the light in the picture to tell a story. But to be frank, that is never enough. It’s about reading the emotion and remembering the story. I don’t often take pictures of children as a commercial photographer, but one of the best pictures of a child I have ever done was from above. If you didn’t know, that breaks the cardinal rule of photographing kids.
Everyone sees children from above, it’s the expected vantage point so therefore you aren’t supposed to shoot them from that perspective- but this young girl was so full of wonder and energy. Distracted by the set and giggling and wide eyed with the lights- and this was her first birthday. I had to somehow show that quiddity and passion for life that she had. Finding that essence is the key to seeing a scene creatively.
I noticed that she was in love with the balloons. Crawling after them, trying to put them in her mouth, giggling as they floated away. I had an idea. If I shot her from the perspective of the balloon, what would I get? I had her mom hold the balloon with the dangling string just out of her reach, while I stood on a stool. Just as I thought, she reached up with all her might for the string with a look on her face of eager amazement. We tortured her this way for a few minutes capturing her personality and zest for life in a single image. No rule of photography or light mastery tip could have told me to take the picture that way. I blame it on one single tip I received early on that has changed the way that I shoot.
Forget Your Camera
Leave it in the bag. Or the car. (Once I left it at home, that I don’t recommend.) When you pic up your camera you pick up a tool, not an autonomous artist that will create for you. Your camera’s job is to capture the scene, not create it. I always start each shoot empty handed. Chatting with my subject, walking around the location, playing with kids, and letting myself get to know the scene. Then, when we start shooting, I know who I am shooting. I know a bit more of the quirks and the personality. I am way more likely to catch the scene as it’s presented and come away with something magical. As an added bonus, everyone is more natural when they get to know the person behind the camera before it is in their face.