Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Don't sweat the small stuff - at least not at first.

I haven't really made a big deal out of this,but since hitting 40 I've taken some big steps to get healthy and into shape. Inspired by my constantly fit wife I decided it was time to lose the extra fat gained through the previous 40 years of not really giving a damn.

And when I started doing my research into the type of exercise that I would enjoy, and that I could enjoy over the long haul I found a lot of similarities between the world of exercise and the world of photography.

You wouldn't think it, but early practitioners of both have a very big point in common. They get hung up on the small stuff before they need to. For example, in the world of fitness you can really concentrate on the tiniest little details of diet. Eat more protein, eat less protein, carbs are good for energy, carbs are the devil, fasting is great for your hormones, fasting will crash your hormones.

Unlike the photography world, however, the fitness world is full of scientific studies that can pretty much back up any new idea you come up with. But, just like the photography world, they're often splitting hairs.

I came to see that if I wanted to lose weight I needed to burn more calories than I was taking in. It didn't really matter what form the 'calories in' part took at the start, nor how I chose to create this deficit. I could eat less, or I could move more. As long as I was in a deficit I would lose weight. Couldn't be simpler. Hell I even found a guy in America who lost 18kg eating Twinkies for three months - just to prove a point!

In terms of exercise there were a million choices, all with supposed benefits (if you listened to the authors of the programme) and downsides (if you listened to the authors of competing programmes). But upon looking into it further it became pretty clear that the one I could keep up with and continue with was the one that would give me the most benefit. And there were a million different options, with no one thing being significantly better than another.

In other words as long as I took care of the basics first - move more, eat less - I would lose weight and get fitter. All the other stuff was merely fine-tuning and best left for a long way down the track, if at all.

And that's how I see a lot of beginners in photography. A common question I get asked is "I like this photo but do you think it would have been better if I'd taken it at f8? I've heard my lens is sharpest at f8." Check the metadata of the picture - they took it at f11. In all honesty? It doesn't matter two bob.

There are far more important things to consider in the creating of great photography before you get to worrying about the tiniest details. First and foremost, is the subject compelling? Is what's within the frame enough to capture the viewer's interest? If not then it makes no difference what aperture you're using. A boring photo at f2.8 with nice bokeh is the same as a boring photo at f16 with a big depth-of-field and lens diffraction!

Alright so you've got a nice subject. Well done. Step one is complete. Second step. Is the light nice? Or at least complementary to the subject? Beautiful light can turn the mundane into the sublime, but it can just as easily turn the spectacular into the ho-hum. Choose the right light for your subject. Understand light. Learn to see light even when you don't have your camera with you.

So we have nice light and a great subject. To tell you the truth we're probably about 90% of the way there. A third thing I would add to my list is lens choice and perspective. Does your choice of lens improve the picture. If a wide-angle lens shows too much surrounding stuff and it's not interesting you might need to change to a longer focal length. If that distant background is really attractive then you might need a really big telephoto to compress the perspective. But be careful because your equipment can get in the way.

Or more precisely your love of equipment and a desire to use as much of it as possible just for the sake of using it can. Do you really need 7 speedlights for that portrait? Is it adding to the impact of your subject or is it simply a way of screaming from the top of your lungs "I have 7 speedlights and I can fire them all at once in High Speed Sync!"

Do you have to use that new fisheye lens simply because you just bought it and it cost a lot of money, or does it actually enhance the image? Let the subject decide.

Just like the move more, eat less mantra this could be your new photography mantra - great subject, nice light, right lens. If you've got those three right and you still have time to stop and think about these things then you can concentrate on the fine details. But believe me, they are the last 5% of a great picture. Without the other stuff you've got nothing, no matter what aperture you shot it at.