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No Simpler

Yes, Virginia, there is plenty of gear used in photography.

Some folks just bring their camera. I bring a C-stand, sandbag, pack-and-head system, light mod, maybe a second flash for rim, and a filter to knock the snot out of everything.

I’m talking about location shooting; the studio I use has no windows, so that is another story.

Which approach is “simpler”?

Albert Einstein, a fairly smart guy with cool hair, once quipped: Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.

There is great debate today between the gear heads and the I just use a camera folks.I’m not sure where I fall. The gear heads use the equipment because they have it. Look, I’m a pro because I have/use all of this stuff and you don’t. The just-a-camera folks want to “focus on the image” you know because if you are a photographer all you should need is a camera.

I have written before of my approach and the rationale for it. I may indeed be committing the cardinal sin of letting my equipment determine my style. Or is it the other way around? And does it matter? And do I care?

I do what I do.

I like to create my own key because this gives me the greatest amount of control in realizing the vision I have for the image. On location, outside, I like my subject to stand out from the background – to be lit more than the background. That requires adding light. I could have the background lighter than or equal to the exposure on the subject – and sometimes I do this – but I generally choose not to because that is not my aesthetic.

I cannot simplify this any further. Want more light? Gotta add it.

And speaking of light, depending on what mood I want to create, I need to either make it larger or smaller. Larger = softer. Smaller = harder, edgier. So add the mod.

O, and I need something to hold it while not having it blow down the street (sometimes I admit I fail at this: my stuff has the dents to prove it).

Hmm. Check, check, and check.

Now, about that background. Wouldn’t it add so much to the photograph if Cleveland wasn’t in focus from here? You know, because my exposure is at f/22?

Yes, I could make it “simple” by using nothing but the camera – which, depending on the situation, I do often. Boatloads of photographers produce beautiful images this way. But not this photographer. For my best effort – those planned images of people – I want that key-shifted, wide aperture look. I try to do it as simple as possible, but no simpler.

I am going to use this profile image of Mickella as an example that really can’t be made any other way:

We are on a south-facing wall in Phoenix, Arizona, around noon. So the sun is coming directly behind me; if she turned to camera it would smack her in the face. I am eliminating it as the primary source of light in this picture, substituting a flash camera left. Why? Because had this exposure been made with the sun, those shadows under her chin would not be soft and open like they are here. They would be hard lines: dark/light. That wall would also be as bright as her. We could take it out of focus, as here, but there would be no exposure difference between her and the wall, and there would be that hard light on her.

This one shouts; I’ll use another that whispers.

This image of Miranda could possibly be made with a reflector, but it wasn’t:

Natural light shooters would not get that catchlight in her eye, the defining shadow under the chin (Oh how I LOVE that!), that one stop difference between the camera side and the “short” side of her face. But I get this, as well as that focus fall-off.

These are simple images of 2 pretty women. Made no simpler than what was required.


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