Simple But Shocking Photography Advice

Simple But Shocking Photography Advice

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the dramatic portrait workshop with portrait and advertising photographer, Chris Knight after following his work for a while. I enjoy Chris’s work because it’s different than what I usually shoot, but I like his references to great art and cinema and I especially appreciate how he works with shadow. His images are generally low-key, but it seems to have a little extra detail and interest in the shadows that I am looking for in my portraits.

I was happily surprised that his partner, beauty and fashion photographer Lindsay Adler, was accompanying him for the workshop. After watching nearly all of her classes on Creative Live over the last 18 months, it was great to have the opportunity to thank her face to face for her inspiration. Additionally, I have some upcoming opportunities to shoot fashion for a couple of fashion brands, and I was looking forward to asking Lindsay if she had some tips or thoughts about shooting for a fashion brand vs. a portrait shoots, which I am more used to. Finally, as I was waiting to shoot, I had a few moments to chat with her.

In my mind, I was hoping to get a few pointers, some insider “pro” techniques and maybe a good modifier that would really impress my clients. But that’s not what I got. In fact, her answer really shocked me in a couple of ways: It was unexpected and because it’s the type of simple wisdom that a true professional would share. Paraphrasing, she said — get to know the brand and the vibe of the company and take that feeling and that vibe and work to translate that in an image… then she walked me through a list of potential questions that I could use to get them to talk about their brand if they weren’t clear already…I was shocked in the best possible way.

Photography is interesting because its an art where the tools still seem to have an outsized role in our imaginations. For younger photographers and many amateur photographers we spend endless amounts of time on camera gear:

- what lens should I get
-what camera brand is best
- Full frame or APS-C, etc.…

Photo of Hasselblad 500c/m Medium Format Camera

But it occurred to me that even as we grow in maturity and skill, we can become susceptible to another form of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome)— TAS (technique acquisition syndrome), where we begin to imagine that a particular technique or lighting scheme will offer us a magical new look or instantly improve our work as we once hoped gear would do. 

Seriously, many of us experience it, especially if we move outside of our photographic comfort zone, from natural light to strobe, from portrait to fashion, from fashion to landscape, we sometimes revert back to thinking the tools will help us more than they actually do, or at least that’s my experience. If I am going on vacation, I start to think: I need a small zoom, or a simple, lightweight Fuji X100 series, or a new telephoto because I am going on a wildlife workshop, etc.… I am definitely not pointing fingers, I am as guilty as the next photographer for damn sure.

I won’t argue that, on a certain level, new tools can aid in certain genres, or that some photographic assignments require specialized equipment, but I think we can quickly feel the need to acquire the tool before we require the tool.

In the end, I admire what Lindsay said because it called me back to what brought me to photography in the first place: slowing down and taking what I felt and what moves me and using a camera and lens to bring that to life in a two-dimensional image that has the power to give someone else the same or similar feeling. So that sunset I want to shoot, that person I want to capture, that clothing line I want to capture…the way forward doesn’t require another lens or modifier, but just requires me to listen, interpret and create something personal. That answer has given me so much peace because, it’s my favorite part of photography…interpretation and being open to the muse.

Now comes the hard part… acting on the advice :)