The Importance of Repeatable Photography
Before I get started with this week’s blog entry, I’d like to thank my good friend Jeff Berlin for following up his comments in last weeks entry as guest blogger this week.
Like Jerry, I worked as a photographer, shooting primarily beauty, in Milan and then Paris. Likewise, Jerry and I both shot with large format cameras for Italian Vogue when we were young photographers. It was an amazing and invaluable experience for a young photographer to work with, and be groomed by, some of the top fashion and beauty editors in the business.
Milan, and Paris, where the market and clients are more international, served as a sort of boot camp for aspiring fashion photographers. It was well known that if one had the desire to ascend the ranks and shoot for the Vogues, Elles and Harper’s Bazaars of the world, which would hopefully lead to lucrative advertising campaigns, spending time pounding the cobblestones in Milan and knocking on the doors of magazines and agents was de rigueur, for everyone knew then that the ticket to the brass ring of fashion photography was through obtaining practical work experience, and tearsheets, in Milan and Paris.
I can only imagine what it’s like now — going to Milan or Paris like we did back in the day and knocking on Vogue’s door. Can you imagine Franca Sozzani or Ariela Goggi saying back then, Send me your link and we’ll take a look.
How many of us would have even made it to Milan had that been the case? Technology’s definitely been a double-edged sword for photography, for there’s no doubt that the while web has brought the world to your laptop, it’s also changed the game of international photography.
Indeed, had we all had websites like today, how many photographers would have even ventured on spec to Milan or Paris or London or Munich or Sydney or Sao Paulo or Tokyo, hoping to meet with magazine editors and score real tearsheets? We would instead send editors a link to our site, and upon our first and second rejection, or after not hearing back at all, perhaps we would never have persevered, plunked for that ticket on Alitalia and made a commitment to working long term in a foreign land.
Jerry said last week, “In the end, the image is not determined by the equipment used but by the person who was using that equipment.”
I have always strived, as a photographer, to find strength in my pictures by what was in front of my camera when I was shooting, and not rely on elaborate post production to whip an image into shape, and I definitely never “spray and pray” and hope for the best. This I learned back in my formative days in Milan, when there was no Photoshop or world wide web, and what I shot, on each single sheet of film, after careful, deliberate and collaborative composition, was what I got, and what I turned in to the magazine. Jerry mentions, “There is a very different feeling in hoping one shot out of 10 is the one you want as opposed to knowing the one shot you took is exactly what you wanted.” Shooting only a handful of sheets of large format film per shot, I had to know that each time I clicked the shutter, I was getting an image that I potentially could turn in to the client with confidence. Things don’t happen fast in large format, so the deliberative process is inherent to the medium. Obviously, one never gets the shot every time, but with experience and patience, I pulled a high percentage of good images from few sheets of film.
I should also mention that at this time, Italian Vogue limited the amount of sheets, or rolls of film that we could shoot per shot. We weren’t allowed many. And getting the shot came down to discipline. Spray and pray just wasn’t an option; it didn’t exist.
It would seem to me that the photographer who employs the spray and pray method would probably never reach the consistent level in their work necessary to warrant a trip to Europe for work. Hell, they might not even have the patience it takes to work, and live, in Italy, where things happen in their own time. This photographer might also be the same person who never shot a roll of film nor learned how to use a hand-held light meter, like a Sekonic, and instead ballparks their initial camera setting and fine tunes their exposure by chimping and the histogram. How would they ever consistently produce an image of quality. Or in other words, how would their work be repeatable.
And to consistently produce images worthy of world-class magazines takes a lot more than effective SEO, cool web design, and mad Photoshop skillz. (deliberate “z”)
That’s not to say that all of that isn’t important. It is, and digital technology has exponentially improved photography in so many ways. It’s brought so many more into the fray, which is great, but it’s also oversaturated the photo market, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation. Now, though every serious photographer has a website and maybe even a blog, and it’s never been easier to promote oneself to a wide audience and get seen way beyond the horizon, we’ve also learned that technology is still not a substitute for meeting with clients, and potential clients, in person. Jerry and I would never have shot for Italian Vogue had we never knocked on their door, in person, and shown to the editors that gave us our break commitment, dedication, and a bit of humor and talent. No matter how fantastic a website, it doesn’t replace interpersonal dynamics, which go far in sealing the deal.
In the end, I’m still a bit old school and love to shoot film, which of course I then digitize. But I have embraced the vanguard of digital, love just as much to shoot with my 5D Mark II and manual focus Zeiss lenses, tethered cord-free with a Pocket Wizard. I marvel at the quality of the images I produce right from the camera. Though I do still try to use my DSLR much like I do my film cameras, by using lower capacity cards to approximate a roll or two of film, and by sometimes turning off the camera body’s LCD screen and waiting to see my images at the lab, in Lightroom.
Would love to hear your thoughts,