It’s been bugging me for days now: a less than perfect photo shoot earlier this week. Editing the pictures as we speak, I only see missed opportunities and discomfort with the process. None of these pictures feel like mine. I like interiors in general, and studio’s and working places in particular, it was my main incentive to say yes to this (paid) assignment. I don’t do portraits, but I didn’t think it would kill me to shoot an interior featuring a person. I ended up doing the opposite though: shooting portraits, and oh, yes, a bit of space too. How did that happen?

The short version: lack of experience. The best thing I can say about it is that I had the guts to say yes– or at least that’s what I tell myself – although I felt from the start that it might be a bit over my head. And it was. Here’s what I think went wrong:

I was afraid of the light, because I don’t know it well enough. I don’t have the equipment or the skills to handle all sorts of difficult light situations. A gradient grey filter would have been nice. Knowing how to merge two files with different exposures would have helped. But I hadn’t and I didn’t. So the light scared me, and I based some poor decisions on it. Unnecessary, as it turned out. Even without the above, I would have pulled it off with the single raw files. But it made me insecure. I need to know more about light and how to handle it.

I know how the basic settings of a camera work, aperture, shutter speed, iso and all that. But I do not instinctively know how they work out exactly. I’d choose a f5.6 for a portrait, but in this case, the context of the studio was not unimportant, so a f6.3 perhaps, but then it matters of course what focus length I use, and my own distance to the subject. I know how these things work together in theory, but I lack experience in practice and a gut feeling of what comes out of the camera. I’m starting to develop some of that instinct when it comes to landscapes and interiors, but not portraits. And it consumed pretty much all of my energy and attention.

I feel uncomfortable working with people around me. But I need to take control over the shooting even so. I did tell them to move things or to relocate themselves, but I don’t like it and my directions lacked authority because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I failed to properly and thoroughly absorb the space beforehand. Only now that I see the pictures, I know what angles would have worked best. But I didn’t see it at the time, because I was distracted by so many things happening around me, and by the very situation itself.

I lost focus along the way. What I wanted to do, what I do best, what I thought the client wanted or needed, what the subject felt comfortable with, what it should look like in terms of design magazine-esthetics, it all became a blur, and I probably have a set of pictures now that no one really wants or needs. Even with a paid assignment I think what I want should be my main focus. I can not make someone else’s pictures for them. I need to trust that people ask me to take photographs because they know what I do and how I do it. And if they don’t, I think they should.

Placeholder taken in the Ardennen woods, Belgium, a few days prior. Not very good either, but at least it feels like mine.

5 thoughts on “Experience”

  1. You have basically described my first experience at shooting fashion portraits a few years back. I was uncomfortable with the whole situation and direction but i agreed as i was replacing somebody else and i needed the cash… At the end of the day, i did what i could. i just need to remember that for the next time i’ll have to be 100% or 99% sure of what i’m doing and how i’m doing it. I need to previsualize the situation if possible and shoot my own way.

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