I took this shot of Amanda at my first workshop. It was all very new to me. We had a group of people standing around, the studio lights were setup and our first model, Amanda, was there waiting for my direction. The instructor picked me to step up first to start shooting.
I had no idea what I was doing.
Every image I’d ever seen of a model in a magazine, advertisement or any photo immediately disappeared from my mind. I had no idea how to direct her. What do I ask her to do? Is the power of the studio light correct? Am I using my favorite aperture (inside joke)? A million thoughts raced through my mind as I approached Amanda for our first portrait shots.
The thought that didn’t hit me until it was over is that I had a distracting background running through her head.
Fortunately for me, a workshop is a forgiving place where you can experiment and make mistakes without disappointing anyone else. You sign up to learn and mistakes are part of the experience.
It is very easy to let yourself get caught up in the experience of photography and forget about the reason you’re there — to make an image. Some things will be out of your control, particularly if you’re shooting at an event where you can’t move your subject.
Even in those circumstances, I’ve learned that I still need to pre-visualize the image I expect to make. Let’s use the concert class I took last month as an example. My subjects are moving around on a stage, lights are everywhere, fog is blasting out of a machine at random intervals and I have 39 other photographers around me vying for space. Even with all of those distractions, I knew that I had to look for the opportunities to frame my shot to exclude the distracting elements.
Sometimes that means you miss a moment, or perhaps you catch a moment with the distraction as part of the scene. You have to decide if the moment you captured was important enough to excuse the back of someone’s head blocking the lower third of the image.
In this case, my distraction was letting myself get overwhelmed with an unfamiliar situation. As a result, I ended up with a photo of a lovely woman with a distracting piece of wood shooting through her head. Given the way it closely matches the color of her hair, it’s a real pain to extract that mantle in Photoshop. It would’ve been far easier (and smarter) to simply ask her to move to another spot without a distracting background. I’ve heard people say “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.” Sometimes I’ve been one of those people. If it’s not just a matter of moving a slider, it’s far quicker and easier to fix the problem before you take the shot.
The trick is to not let yourself be so distracted that you can’t see the problem. Slow down a little. Modern cameras can rip out frames very quickly, but that’s not a benefit if they all suck because you didn’t eliminate some distraction.