Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Wellspring of Great Results

I've been trying to help a friend take more porny food photos. He'd been under the impression that there are things to know and techniques to learn, and I've been struggling to explain that it's a matter of intent rather than knowledge.

I think I've finally managed to express it coherently here:

This example shows how - without moving anything around - you can try a little harder, and wait a bit longer until you find a delightful framing.

You need to experience some giggling “that’s it!” delight, rejecting the easy satisfaction of a shot that looks like lots of photos you’ve seen before (i.e. the clich├ęd postcard/magazine view).

I giggled while shooting this. If I don’t giggle, I don’t push the button. Simple as that. No “technique”, no “learning”, no “talent”. Just a stubborn refusal to shoot until I giggle with surprised delight.

Plus, I maintain a nearly religious faith that such a result is always a few millimeters away. That’s critical! For any given scene, there are billions of delightful framings, always. Even with empty milkshake glasses.
The above applies to any pursuit. But some purely photographic notes: If I'd taken a less precisely framed shot and trimmed it down later, I'd never have arrived here. This shot is palpably the product of myriad interdependent small choices made in the moment. Similarly, if I'd moved the objects around before shooting (you can just feel that I didn't), I'd have lost the beauty of the haphazard. For example, if I'd removed the paper place mat behind the right-hand glass, the result would have been a prettier, more postcard-ish picture. But my driving goal is to accept all elements and conditions as they are, so I didn't take the shot until I'd made that element add something. I found a framing that made it perfect. The photo provides a vicarious experience of my snakey, patient, persistent quest to capture the perfection of the haphazard. That's why it seems lively.

In one of my favorite postings, "The Times Everything Worked Out", I explained how I'd stumbled into surprisingly good results on a few occasions in a few far-flung realms. My first example was photography.

I'd fallen rapturously in love with Portugal on my first trip to Lisbon. My nights were spent playing jazz in a local club, but afternoons were free, so one day I took a trip to Sintra, a mystical mountain renowned for its lush beauty. I brought along a camera, though my photography skills were minimal (I'd point the thing toward whatever I wanted to document and push the button. There: my cousin. There: the boat. There: the building. After all, isn't this what you're supposed to do? I was following the instruction manual to the letter!).

But this day on gorgeous Sintra, I was moved. I saw beautiful scenes, but, raising my camera, felt the daunting near-futility of trying to do justice to them on film. So I applied unfamiliar levels of time and care, refusing to snap the picture until what I was seeing through the camera expressed precisely what I was feeling. Until then, I waited, patiently peering through the lens, micro-adjusting the composition by a millimeter in one direction or another. There were still subtler nano-adjustments, where the shot didn't change but my intention somehow did. Only when I felt an inner swelling of exultation, moved by what I saw, did I push the button.

To my flabbergasted astonishment, the photographs were gallery quality. Everyone who saw them fell in love with Sintra just as I had.

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