The Craft of Seeing: Educating New Photographers

My blog is dominated by pictures. As it should since I’m a visual storyteller. But I want to make efforts to tell the stories behind the images and the business side of being a professional photographer.

So, I’m starting a series called the Craft of Seeing. Because photography is a craft, it is a vocation as much as it is an art form. The craft of seeing is something that has to be nurtured, challenged, and expanded. It is done by analyzing photographs and by physically going out and shooting. The more one does of both will directly impact his or her rate of stagnation or progression in cultivating the art of seeing.

I’ve been pursuing photography professionally for almost 5-years now. Every professional has to start somewhere. It begins with small gigs, assisting, and second shooting. Novice artists are easily taken advantage of by people. Especially in regards to unpaid internships and unpaid work.

I do not believe in the idea of free labor. Though I myself have done it on occasion, I do not like further perpetuating a ridiculous concept. Once I argued with someone about needing to be paid. The response was this person had to go through the process of doing unpaid internships, was broke all the time, and dealt with it for almost 2-years. My retort was that if the system and process was unjust, and having experienced it and also acknowledging such, why sustain the system and make another generation of artists suffer? So, I pay anyone assisting or second shooting for me, even if this cuts into my profit margin, I will pay them.

Another reason I call out the idea of free labor in exchange for gaining experience is I don’t believe that’s really what is being offered to a novice shooter. It’s rare that I learn from another photographer merely by watching them shoot. Unless they are utilizing a specific technique with additional gear, I don’t learn anything from them.

The reason is because photography is just as much, if not more so, about the mental workings going on within the photog’s mind. That’s what makes an 8-12 hour wedding day exhausting. Yes, there’s physical work, but it is a nonstop mental game. Photographers have to constantly evaluate the variables of the situation given to them ranging from lighting to the intoxication state of guests on the dance floor. Because all of it will influence the outcome of a photo. A friend’s point-and-shoot and photo-snapping hobby cannot compensate for a reception venue only lit by candles. A photographer with technical skill, experience, and artistic perspective can make it work.

So because my mind is constantly thinking about the images I want to create, a second shooter cannot learn much from me during the shoot. In fact, it should be rare that he or she is even near me. I want my second shooter’s images to compliment my photos, assist in fleshing out a visual story. I don’t want them taking the same frames I’ve already taken.

The usual list I give a second shooter: groom/groomsmen getting ready (because I’m with the bride), detail shots (most of which I also take and will ultimately throw out the second shooter’s), groom/groomsmen portraits (both traditional and take a leap and try something different), and then the rest are alternate perspectives. Example, if someone is giving the toast, I focus on the toaster and the bride’s and groom’s reactions. The second shooter is to focus on guests’ reactions and periodically snap a few of the bride and groom. Same thing for main dances, cake cutting, etc. This offers a more whole perspective of the environment and the moment. Aside from these to-dos, I really just try to encourage a second shooter to play. To try things that may or may not work. Challenge his or her perspective. It’s my job as the lead shooter to get all the must-have images and I’m lucky if I get to play.

The other process I’ve started implementing is to go through a second shooter’s entire take with him or her. I did this for the wedding I photographed Dec 1st. I met the second shooter the following evening to return memory cards and sit and go through the images she captured. This way I can actually discuss and educate her. I can point out what is done well, what makes this image work versus another one, I can offer a thoughtful critique in which the intention is not to break them, but to help expand the thought process in photographing.

If a photographer isn’t aware of why he or she is shooting something, and why in the way that he or she is choosing to photograph it, then that photo isn’t really being created. It’s more about blind luck. And though blind luck or a bit of serendipity has it’s place in this work, it should be limited.

Along with going through her take, I showed her my unedited selects from my take. Of course I didn’t do every thing perfectly, but showing my rejects won’t help as much as showing her what I did well. Providing her visual examples of what elevates an image to be good or great so that we can discuss why that is and what my thought process was in making each image.

This was about a 2-hour process. Though not all photogs would be up for doing this, I encourage them to do so. Hiring a second shooter is not only about having someone provide a service to photograph, but it’s about educating and helping a novice shooter as they develop his or her creative eye, their visual voice.

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This entry was published on December 17, 2012 at 4:08 am. It’s filed under Photography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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