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The Lens is a Microscope

This is not something metaphorical. We’re not talking about the soul here. We’re talking zits and lines and stray hairs.

Personally, I thought zits left in high school. I was wrong.

When you are being framed up close and personal by a 200mm lens (my preferred weapon of choice for the tight headshot), I often feel like I should be wearing a white smock and one of those reflector thingys on my head. On the other side of the camera, I’m sure the feeling is probably more like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. “What is he saying to me? Is it safe”?

The fact is, like I try to explain to my victims subjects, the lens isn’t real. (Here he goes again about photography not being real). No one looks at another human being that clinically. And ahem no ones eyes are that good either.

When we gaze upon another human being, our visioning system plays a series of games that present our version of reality to us. It is this process which explains why 6 eyewitnesses to an event will give 6 different stories. He was short. He was tall. Etc.

If I look at you (without the camera) what I see is influenced by the relationship we have, what happened last night, what I ate for lunch, which f-stop I am thinking about using. If I’m distracted (f/4 or f/2.8?) then a lot gets filled in from memory because I’m not really paying attention am I. If I’m in love with you or if I don’t like you then a lot gets filled in based on those emotions – puppy eyes or Cruella de Vil.

The lens isn’t so emotional. It is clinical. It does have personality – my G glass (like the 200) is warm and the Zeiss ist, vell, fery Cherman, ja. Es ist colder und more exact. Javol! But still, there is no emotion. Only photons passing through on the way to the high resolution sensor where that zit can be beautifully defined, thank you.

No, the emotion must be added back in. So the image becomes what we humans expect it to be. Not some specimen on a slide. A person. A loved one. Me. You.

Some of this occurs during image creation. Eye contact. Expression. Posing to counteract the optic’s┬ádastardly plan to add weight, to enlarge, and the other sinister tricks it plays. Lighting and focus to direct the viewer’s attention. Aperture selection.

Then comes the secret sauce added to the recipe in post production. Retouching those things that serve no useful purpose in the image (and that very often our eyes edit out for us anyway in the real world). Adding emotion back in.

It’s the photographer’s job when creating a portrait to make it real. Not clinical.

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