Life Balance – The Snapshot of Your Life

I was reading my Digital Photography magazine the other day. One of the articles talks about the elements of good composition in photography. Of course, one of the main criteria is that you have to make the main subject of the photograph stand out. When you look at a photograph, you have to be able to tell, beyond the shadow of the doubt, who/what the main subject is. An out-of-focus photo is not going to cut it, of course. But a great picture needs more than just focus.

The author argues that, most photographers (amateur or professional) are afraid of getting “close enough” to their subjects. He said, when you move in so close that you can see the sweat on the forehead of the pottery artist, you have a good chance of getting a powerful picture.

But more often than not, we see the kind of photographs with so much “background clutter” that we can’t really see the main subject clearly.

Whenever we go on a vacation, I dread asking total strangers to take pictures of me and my family. First of all, they often don’t know how to use my SLR camera. Second of all, I almost always end up with either a blurred picture, or a picture where you need a magnifying glass to find us.
Don’t you just hate that?!

Now that I have a digital SLR (talk about instant gratification!) AND I’ve learned to be much more picky about who I ask to take our pictures (hint: look for those who also carry a SLR camera), my odds of getting a good vacation group picture has gotten better.

Now, you might ask: What does this have to do with life?

If someone takes a snapshot of your life today, what does your picture look like?
Is the snapshot of your life a close-up, powerful composition with you front and center, and all the important elements of your life clearly visible & arranged according to their priorities?

Are you out-of-focus, or looking sharp in the picture? Or does it look like a random snapshot of chaos, with so much clutter you can barely see yourself? Or, perhaps (gasp!) you are totally invisible?!!!

Remember that TV commercial where you see the housework being done, baby being fed, laundry being folded, BUT you cannot see the Mommy at all? Do you feel like that Invisible Mommy sometimes? Or all the time? What feelings surfaced when you look at this imaginary snapshot of your life? If you have a snapshot that’s taken so far away from you, what was it that prevented you to take a close-up look at yourself and your life? What is it that you don’t like about yourself or your life? What are you avoiding/denying?

If you have a snapshot that’s cluttered, or out-of-focus, what do you want your picture to look like instead? What elements need to be included and how do you want to arrange them in the picture?

Most importantly, what are you going to do to make this happen?

A picture is worth a thousand words, but action speaks louder than any words. What can you do this week to de-clutter, re-arrange, and re-focus your life? What will be your first baby step?

Set your intention, craft out an action plan, tell someone to get the accountability & support, and get going!!!

Snapshots, Portraits, and Fine Art Portraits

What is it that separates a ‘Portrait’ from a ‘snapshot’? What makes a Portrait a Fine Art Portrait? There’s a lot more to it than simply making a number of exposures!

First, I’d like to address some of the misconceptions about what constitutes a Portrait. Some insist that a Portrait must have a vertical orientation. Or that a Portrait must be in Black & White, or that the subject must not be looking directly back at the viewer.

Portraits may be either vertical or horizontal, color or B&W, and with the subject looking back at the viewer, or not. These are not the criteria for determining whether a picture is a ‘Portrait’ or a humble ‘snapshot’.

Let’s talk about what a ‘snapshot’ is. Generally, snapshots are photos made on the spur of the moment, with little or no forethought or planning. Snapshots capture moments of reality, usually with no artistic intent, no thoughtful composition, and no special lighting.

Portraits can be made by accident, but that is certainly the exception rather than the rule. There is a whole creative process behind the making of Portraits. For a Portrait Artist the creative process begins with the first moment of contact with the client. That may be on the phone, via email, or in person. Ah! That’s the best…In Person!

I always prefer an in-person interview before creating portraits for anyone I don’t already know personally. Telephone and email can substitute, but there’s nothing like a face-to-face interview to learn about a person. You can experience their mannerisms, body language, and determine if you have “chemistry”, or at least whether you can work well with them.

Sometimes the first meeting or contact with the client is at the time of the actual portrait session. Definitely not the most optimal, but possible to deal with. Portraits can be made, after all, without having to be art pieces, and still have merit as portrait art.

Portraits, as opposed to snapshots, are realistic renditions of the subject(s), in the most flattering presentation. This is achieved through posing, lighting, camera technique, and rapport.

Yes, rapport! The photographer-artist must be able to draw out the personality of the subject. Of course, that’s easier to do if you’ve had a couple or more meetings with them prior to making images of them for portraits. But certainly possible on a short notice, one meeting scenario.

This one meeting/planning/portrait creation scenario, in fact, is by far the most common. Think Mall, or chain-store studios. Can an ‘Art Portrait’ be created under such circumstances? Certainly it is possible, but it would require exceptional ability on the part of the artist.

A much better environment for creating Art Portraits is developed by interviewing the subject, and learning about their interests, motivations and beliefs. What is important to them. With this information, the artist can begin to construct conceptions for portraits, which will evoke the personalities of their subjects.

For individual portraits, the goal is to portray the person in such a way that the viewer of the portrait will get a sense of what the person is about. For family, or group portraits the goal becomes to show the relationships, love or friendships within the group or family.

In all cases, Portraits require “finishing”, or “post-production” work. In the majority of cases, (think Mall, or Chain studios), post production is limited to color and density correction, processing and printing. Now that most all studios are ‘digital’, some light retouching may be included, but usually at an additional charge.

When a portrait has been properly prepared for with an interview/consultation, properly lit, posed and exposed, then it is in post production that the “art” of the portrait is brought to life.

Before digital changed all our lives, retouching was done on negatives and prints. Vignetting by dodging and burning, and “sandwiching” images was all done in the darkroom with enlargers, paddles and screens, and smelly chemicals!

In today’s digital workflow, the photo-artist does all the retouching, dodging, burning, highlighting, blurring, and other effects via computer software. And while creating many of these effects are easier digitally than they used to be with film, it still requires planning, artistic vision, expertise and plenty of time to execute. Typically, I’ll spend 15 to 30 minutes working on an image of just one or two people to prepare it for printing. Longer for more people, or if I’m collaging images, or making special effects etc.

So what does it take to produce a Fine Art Portrait? Knowledge of your subject(s), usually gained during the interview/consultation; Thoughtful planning and preparation, utilizing the knowledge gained in the interview, and your personal artistic vision; Skill in the use of your lighting and camera; Care in guiding your subject(s) into poses that convey the mood sought, or that add to the portrayal of personality; Time and Pantience and Expertise in using the tools at your disposal with which one prepares the images for final printing; And lastly, the media that the prints are made on, and the finishing and mounting of the prints for delivery to the client.

In the end, Fine Art Portraiture begins with the intent. It requires cooperation on the part of the subject, and relies on the vision and skills of the artist.

Life is Full of Snapshots When Facing a Health Challenge

The newest phenomenon to become a dinosaur in our culture is Kodak’s Kodachrome film. In the age of digital film is used less and less, but this film can be tagged with lots of memories you’re probably familiar with from the pages of National Geographic and other magazines. Today because of technology we choose to get our results with the push of a button, but one thing stays the same…life is full of snapshots.

Every memory in your mind is snapshot. It contains people, places, and things that are of importance to you. They represent your feelings, thoughts, and emotions and those memories surface every time you call them to the foreground of your consciousness.

When diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness many choose to push the personal photo album to the far places in their mind. You are afraid that recalling what once was has no bearing on the life you’re living today when in fact it is the cornerstone of every new snapshot you take.

We all live life looking through a lens. Following the diagnosis your lens may alter slightly, but who you are is still the same. Your memories are the same as are the stories you’ve told for years. The new photos are not simply images, but reflections. Following your diagnosis you begin to shift from simply taking snapshots to creating your personal photo-journalistic point of view. It’s not simply about the picture, but the story that is filled with light and shadow that allows you to reinterpret your new life.

You get to choose the lens you will use for this journey. You may use a telephoto lens in order to get close up to things that are far and you want to keep at a distance. A fish eye lens may give you enough distortion to make what’s difficult more palatable. No matter the lens you use selecting it with intention is at the crux of your internal photo-journalistic journey.

It’s your choice how you see the world. After an illness diagnosis the lens you choose will impact your treatment options, your attitude, and how you live each and every day. Don’t go the way of the dinosaur; keep your snapshots in the present and glory in each and every frame of your life.