Life is filled with photographic moments. You know, those milliseconds that grab your attention and make you think “wish I had that camera in my hand”, or if you have your camera in hand, you find yourself pressing the shutter button trying to capture the essence of the moment. Trying to do this with quality on a consistent basis is something I struggle with. Are there times it’s more important to just get the shot than to try and do it perfectly?
Yesterday I found myself in such a circumstance. The conditions were not perfect: low lighting, flash attached and on, directed to bounce where I thought I needed the light to come from, and ISO set to grab the most light I thought I could safely get without having so much noise in the photo that it would detract from the picture. Add a large crowd of people made up mostly of very excited kids, one special little boy being the center of all this attention and the subject above all the others which I was trying to get those “perfect” shots of. Allow me to share this experience with you.
Cyle is an 11 year old boy. He’s had a pretty hard life for his 11 years. He has battled Leukemia for the past few years and he was in the foster care system. When it became necessary for him to seek medical treatment, his foster family decided to adopt him so that it would be less complicated to get the needed treatments.
This past summer, Cyle attended our Junior Camp, sponsored by our church. While he lives a distance from our island, his family is connected to our community via another foster family who attends our church. They invited him to attend camp. He was assigned to a group of boys whose counselor is a friend of ours. Jon, the counselor, and Matt, our youth director, became attached to Cyle. During that week at camp, Cyle learned about Jesus and by the end of the week had decided that he wanted to give his heart to Jesus and to live for Him.
When they returned from camp, Jon and Matt stayed in contact with Cyle and his family, visiting him frequently and following Cyle’s progress in his battle with cancer. Sadly, in the past few weeks, it has become evident that the battle is drawing to an end, with cancer being the winner. It was determined that Cyle has only a short time left to live.
One of Cyle’s desires was to live long enough to have Christmas. It’s appearing that this might not happen so it was decided that Christmas should come early for Cyle. Many people donated gifts and baked goods. A small tree, lights, decorations, a snow making machine, and “instant snow” were all gathered to help set the atmosphere. When the call went out to our church and homeschool group, I offered to take pictures of the day, hoping it would bless this family with lasting memories of the special time. Adam, my 14 year old, came with me to help by being a 2nd shooter.
Cyle was very quiet at first, I’m sure taking it all in and maybe a little overwhelmed by the surprise. However, once things got rolling he gained more energy and showed enthusiasm while opening gifts and enjoying the celebration. Several times I heard him call out “Mom! This is EXACTLY what I dreamed it would be!!” Let’s just say that it’s not easy to take pictures when you have tears in your eyes.
One of the special gifts Cyle received was a Wii. He opened it and the first words out of his mouth were “Wow! WE got a Wii!” It wasn’t about himself; it was about “we”, his brothers and sisters, the family, anyone who was there. The gifts were for everyone!
Once the excitement of gift opening was past, things settled down just a little and it was clear that Cyle had experienced just about all the excitement his little body could handle for one morning. He sat down to eat something and was too tired to really enjoy any of the baked treats that filled the table.
We decided to try and get some family pictures before I left so we assembled the family in a couple of locations and took some very quick pictures. I was more concerned about just getting a couple of nice photo’s for the family before Cyle was too tired to be able to do it. I wasn’t as concerned about perfection.
Everyone realized it was time to wrap things up and leave the family with a quieter home where Cyle could find rest. We all gathered our belongings and headed out. As I drove home, I found myself reflecting on the morning and what I learned from it. Here are a few of my reflections:
1) I always care about how well I do when I’m taking pictures, regardless of the occasion. I want to do my best, but I know that what my “best” is will vary given the different situations I encounter.
2) I have a new camera, one I’m not completely familiar with. I again realized how important it is to be comfortable with how to use your camera and other equipment so that when you are in situations where you want to capture those once-in-a-lifetime moments, you’re ready to do so.
3) Once in a given situation, things begin to roll along quickly and it’s not always easy to make adjustments along the way. Learning as much as I can before I get there helps it to become second nature. The more I can learn about how to get the right angle on a shot, how to pose individuals and crowds, how to work with varied light, and the myriad of other elements I’ll encounter, the better the results will be.
4) I would rather jump in feeling less than prepared than to miss the opportunity altogether because I felt I couldn’t achieve perfection.
In the end, it’s really most important to just be in the moment, to capture the essence of what is happening around me, to try and tell the story of the day through photo’s. It’s not perfection, as we think of it, where there’s noiseless photo’s, perfect light, excellent white balance, spot-on focus. It’s perfection if I am able to visually return to this event 5 years from now, look at the photo’s of that moment in time and relive it through uncluttered pictures that tell me a story about a little boy named Cyle, who knows his time here on earth is fleeting and his time in eternity with Jesus is about to begin.
For me, part of the joy of photography is helping others learn. I love to play, experiment, try new and different things because it helps keep everything fresh and new; teaching others to do the same is fun and motivating for me.
We homeschool and part of our school week includes participating in a local homeschool co-op. Parent’s teach the classes and the kids get to choose which classes they want to take. This fall I’m teaching a Photograph 101 class, along with 2 fellow photographers.
After spending a couple of weeks discussing the “boring” topics of proper exposure and composition, we took a field trip during our class time and went to the beach. I gave the kids an assignment of photographing various lines: diagonal, vertical, horizontal, and circular. They had fun and came back with some very creative shots. (They came back with some wet and muddy feet as well since it began to rain while we were there)
For the past two weeks we have played with light. First, we just laid a few objects out on a piece of white foam board, turned off all the lights, closed the curtains in the classroom and used flashlights to paint light over the different objects on the whiteboard. We also used a black colored board to see the difference in how the light would react with each color.
This week, we took our play a step further. We added more objects and varied the type of light. One group of students used Christmas lights and ended up spinning them to see the different designs they could create. (that would be the group of boys)
While the boys played with spinning lights, the girls were across the room playing with off camera flash portraits. They tried positioning the flash in a variety of ways to see how the different positions would affect the way the light hit their subjects. There was lots of laughter coming from their corner of the room which let us know they were having fun with their project.
I think that they learned a few things from these days of play and, if nothing else, they hopefully learned that photography can be fun, challenging, endlessly creative, and always changing as they grow in their knowledge and creativity.
I learned that staying a step ahead of them is not as easy as it may appear.
The one subject you can always shoot is yourself. Well, that’s assuming you have at least something to set your camera on that is fairly level and that you can run quick enough to get into the picture before the shutter clicks.
I marvel at my kids, who can turn their cell phone camera’s on themselves and take pictures. There is a whole generation of self portraits out there that are shot from above their head looking down on themselves, one arm showing, the other arm looking as if it’s been lopped off because it’s the one holding the camera. I’ve tried and I just can’t get the hang of it. That’s okay; I don’t want my photo’s to look like everyone else’s anyways.
It took me a long time to get comfortable enough in front of the lens to do self-portraits. I began to get over my phobia of it when I was doing my 365 project and one of the weekly theme’s was “Mid Day Portraits”. I could only find a couple of willing subjects (Thank you, Lydia, and my family!) to do portraits of so I ended up having to use myself as my subject. By this time I had acquired a tripod, remote, reflectors, and off camera flash so my entry into the world of self-portraiture took a giant leap and landed in……..the world of “how on earth do you pose yourself in front of the camera?!”
After watching a few workshops on CreativeLive’s website (take a peek on the right side of this page and you’ll find the link) I have begun learning how to pose others, and myself, in more flattering ways. Not to say I have it down, but I can practice on myself in my back yard until I feel the neighbors beginning to question my vanity or my obsessive-compulsive tendencies!
Once you get beyond feeling like you’re standing in your bathroom posing for the next time you win a competition and have to be crowned the winner, it’s not all that bad. I would venture to say it’s kind of fun! I have complete control over cropping away the negative aspects of my profile, getting rid of elements in the picture that are less than flattering, and producing an end product that I might even think is okay to let out beyond my grasp. Sort of like posting it here on an online blog where 3 or 4 people may see it!
I’ve actually learned a few things by doing this exercise that I’ve been able to apply to the portrait work I’ve done. I can see how silly a certain pose may appear on camera and learn that it’s not a good choice to have someone else pose in that way. I can see how light plays off hair, how it effects facial features, how I can work to position a face so that the light plays off it in a more flattering way. I understand more completely how natural framing of my subject can help flatter them, or hide things they just plainly don’t want the camera to capture.
My camera, my tripod, and my remote are my best friends when it comes to learning more about portrait work and my venue is self-portraiture in my own back yard. It’s a winning relationship that results in a fresh new crop of portraits that my husband can put on his desk at work. Nice, isn’t it?
The cat’s out of the bag so I can finally share some of the photo’s from the family photoshoot I did a couple of months ago. You see, the kids all got together to surprise their dad and mom with family portraits and they asked me to share in the surprise with them by taking the pictures. It’s VERY difficult to keep such a secret when their mom is one of my close friends and I had to avoid any shred of a comment about the weekend we did this.
It was another great learning experience for me. I did a family photoshoot a couple of years ago. The learning curve that time was huge! I came home, looked at the pictures and thought every single one of them were unworthy of giving to them. As time went on and I began to edit them, I found redeeming qualities in them and the ideal of perfectionism began to drop away a bit. Fast forward to the present and I found myself having many of the same thoughts only this time there were more photo’s that I sort of liked and with editing I felt a bit more confident letting them leave my grasp.
It’s amazing to me how difficult it is to share one’s “art” with others. It’s a very personal thing to take something you created and allow it out “there” to be critiqued by others. Art is so highly subjective that sometimes I have trouble separating my emotions from my reasoning. By this I mean that I might truly like something I do yet others may critique it as needing improvement. How do I deal with that? What do I do with my personal vision and attachment to what I create? How do I deal with the insecurity of it all?
Difficult questions, I assure you, yet I find that each time I have that camera in my hand, I feel the thrill of the “click” when the shutter button is pushed. I feel the anticipation of hope that I was able to capture what I saw as my personal vision for every frame I shoot. I try, hard as it is, to allow myself to forgo the perfectionism that I can never seem to achieve and enjoy the true pictures of life that I seem to crave deep inside.
Thank you to this family, who happen to be one of my favorite families, for allowing me to learn and grow through each experience I’ve had in photographing moments of your lives. I hope you enjoy the treasured memories that photo’s conjure up each time you look at them.
Who out there dislikes rules? I’m raising my hand with you, even though my kids would be aghast that I would say I didn’t like rules. After all, we have had a lot of rules while raising them. Admittedly, some of those rules were really illogical ones and, as in everything, some of them were just made to be broken. The same thing goes with photography.
I’m currently teaching a Photography 101 class at our homeschool co-op. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the rules of photography, most notably the Rule of Thirds. In the rule of thirds, you basically take what you see through the viewfinder and divide it into horizontal and vertical thirds lines. Wherever those thirds lines intersect is considered to be a “sweet spot”, composition wise. Frequently, that rule helps an otherwise mundane photograph become a more pleasing one. It assists in drawing the viewers eyes to the subject. Rules are made to be broken.
I clearly state that I am certainly no photography expert. I’m very rough around the edges, some of it due to lack of knowledge and some of it just because that’s the way I am. I like being rough around the edges, for the most part, but at the same time I prefer not to appear as if I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Interesting dichotomy, liking my lack of knowledge yet not liking to be caught in it. Maybe it’s because when you lack knowledge, you can go on your merry way just happy to be doing whatever it is you’re doing. When you’re caught in ignorance, though, you have no choice but to look, well, stupid!
So why do I worry about the rules of photography? Most of the time I don’t. That being said, one of the things I learned while doing my 365 project was that there is a time for rules and then there is a time to break them. When I employed the rules, I found that my body of work improved. When I learned how to break the rules more effectively, my body of work improved. It’s a win/win scenario!
Do I still follow the rules? Yeah, I’ve got to be honest that I do still consider the rules and try to abide by them. There are days, however, that it just feels good to be a rebel, to step out and take pictures my own way, regardless of what all the perfect rule followers will think.
Just don’t tell my kids it’s a good thing to break the rules because, unlike photography, their breaking the rules more frequently has an unsatisfactory ending.