It feels good for things to move again

I wrote a song in high school that kind of reminds me of where I’ve been in photography lately. “Inspiration doesn’t come here anymore,” was the first lyric. That basically describes the feeling I’ve had the past three shoots. I couldn’t get inspired to find that shot you’re looking for. Tonight I think I finally figured things out a bit. The chorus describes that perfectly.

“I’m stuck in this place going at the same pace. I’m only trying to get things done but I’m still here at one. All I need is wit to get me out of this, but if nothing else I love this rut I’m in.”

That song isn’t about photography at all. It’s mostly about a trite high school relationship told through the metaphor of writing music, but it applies pretty well to photography. I’ve been in a rut lately and trying to figure out how to get out. Tonight made me appreciate what I’m doing and enjoy shooting pictures.

I was talking to Mary Margaret about how I don’t enjoy going out with the mindset that I need to sell photos. I shoot photos that people will buy. I’m more apt to look over making great artistic photos or shooting a good journalistic photo. No, instead I’m looking for cute babies and dog lovers. While that’s fine, I really want to find a median for what I’m doing so I can enjoy it.

Something Keith and I were talking about earlier today was that people are a lot more likely to buy the photos of themselves or their kids, even if they’re just decent photos. People will look at our artistic photos and say, “Hmm, I like that. It’s nice,” and keep moving until they see a shot that means something to them. This is what brings out the mindset of shooting pictures that sell, not shooting good pictures.

Good “sellable” photos aren’t necessarily good photos. Most people don’t care if you cut off their kids feet or if you put the horizon in the middle of the photo. Rule of thirds? What the heck is that? And who ever heard of a photo being hot or soft or back focused? My point isn’t to ridicule any one’s taste. My point is the difference in what we’re doing now and what we’re used to. No longer do we have to think of all of these problems and rules. We can put a head in the middle of the frame. It’s natural.

Talking to Mary Margaret about all of this and complaining about my desire to shoot good pictures to me, not just John’s parents or the vendors at the festival, I started thinking about what the differences in process were. What do I do differently when shooting a graduation to sell the photos as to when I’m working for documentation? What makes a good photo?

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This is when I got the idea to show you a shoot I had tonight. I’m not showing you the whole shoot, but just enough to show you the differences in photos. None of these photos have been toned or cropped, just re-sized to fit the blog. This is the part of Ventura where I live, shot from a scenic overlook. This is your typical disposable camera photo that is fine for any scrapbook. This is the first frame I took. Now I want to show you what I did to make this photo better.

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A few shots later I saw this great tree over near where a gentleman was flying a remote control plane. As I walked over to it, kid 1 runs up to climb the tree and his companion, kid 2 comes to check out what is going on. “Great,” I thought. So I changed my exposure because now I’m facing the sun. I wanted to have the kids silhouette and have as much of the background and the pilot exposed correctly as possible.

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So kid 2 definitely got creeped out by strange guy with camera and kid 1 bails, which is what you see here. I tried for nice separation as he ran away but didn’t really get what I wanted. Now I have to work with the pilot and the tree.

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I didn’t really want to shoot a silhouette with all this great light coming down on the tree and the pilot. So I moved around and adjusted my exposure again to try and make a nice photo of this gentleman and his plane. Now I’m seeing these stupid power lines in my way and I’m pretty upset that the State of California would ruin my frame with their need for electricity, but this is the type of thing you get over quickly.

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In an attempt to block the power lines I shot the frame putting the tree to the left part of the picture, framing the pilot but giving you nothing on the right. I think the city is more important than these out-of-control juniper plants. So let’s see what else we can do.

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I liked the cross that was behind me so I thought maybe I could frame it up with the pilot in the foreground and this great tree behind him and the cross behind him. The man seemed kind of reserved so I thought I would be polite and ask him if he would mind. I got a quiet answer and told him I was a photo student and just wanted to practice shooting and use the nice light while he flew his plane.

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You’ll notice he’s saying something in this picture. It turns out that soft-spoken reply was him actually saying he didn’t want me to shoot a picture. “Didn’t you hear me? I told you I don’t want you to take my picture,” he said as he tried to walk out of my frame.
“Sorry sir, I thought you said it was OK,” I replied. I tried to make some conversation in an attempt to apologize but I must have really upset him. Although I was hoping for a second chance at photos I really did just want to talk about his planes. Ah well, maybe I can find another pilot up there sometime.

But I liked this frame (er, well the one before it where I’m not being asked to leave) because your eyes just follow that line of grass all the way back to just keep finding more and more. You can see the tree which leads you to the cross, which leads you to what appears to be mountains but is actually a mountain of fog. Below that is a blue horizon which is actually the Pacific. With a few more shots I could have had those power lines out of the top as well.

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So since the gentleman didn’t want me to shoot his photo I just started working with what I had left: the great tree and old mission cross. This shot was taken by laying my camera on the ground, which proved to give me too much grass when I could have more tree.

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See the difference when I laid down on my side and framed the picture myself? You have all the layers from the photo with the pilot but everything works together to frame up the points. The smaller tree helps the cross be the focus of the photo even though the cross is the smallest subject.
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Now I made another slight adjustment, to turn the camera and get just a little of the city. While the city doesn’t do that much for you, it does get rid of that ugly tree to the left of the good tree and lets the big tree’s branches come to an end. This is the frame that balanced the best.

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The park closed before sunset, but I was able to snag this nice photo of a guy and his dog. I have another photo that works well as a horizontal but I think this is a vertical picture. The tree’s main trunk points up, the man is upright and the cross makes a very strong vertical line. The diagonal tree trunk helps frame up the man. While I wish he had more separation, I think it’s a decent photo.

After leaving we shot some on the Avenue, which may be my new favorite place to shoot in this area. I shot two simple photos, but they’re two that I think really explains the street. Both show the type of businesses that are lined up with with the beautiful mountain behind them and the pretty palm trees that line the road.

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This photo is my favorite of the two. It gives you a sense of place. You know you’re near the beach. You can see the street sign which is also the city name. You can see the mountains with the great light on them. But most importantly you can see the business and the sign against the tree. These two things really tell you the story of the area and you can tell this photo was taken in a working class area in a beach city.

If you can’t tell from the longest post this blog has ever seen, I really had fun with Keith tonight. We shot some good pictures and got some good ideas for later. I may still be in a rut, but I’m glad it’s in Ventura, California.

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4 Responses to “It feels good for things to move again”

  1. Ronnie Loach Says:

    So you’re settling into Ventura? Nice choice.

    You should’ve told the dude with the airplane to take a few long steps out of the frame! Like over the edge! What ever happened to the free country thing? You been getting permission from everyone you take pictures of? Not necessary. Free country.

  2. Brad– I feel inspired to become a photographer!!! Well, maybe just pull out my little digital camera (as pitiful as it may be) and take some pictures… You are an awesome photographer— you know that I loved the last frame of the old tree and the cross in the middle…. beautiful… Denise

  3. Very nice pic loved the cross. Hope all is well Brad.

  4. Loved the pics.

    Very interesting explanation of what a “professional” does when working on a shot…I still think you should have handed the pilot a business card.

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