Inspiration or ways to come up with ideas

Posted on February 14, 2012

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One of the most interesting thing for me to do is watch new photographers shoot new models at meet and greet sessions. These are the sessions are interesting because usually the first thing to happen is one of the other will look at the other and expect them to know what to do, and have some kind of idea of the direction that they want to go, and inevitably, it becomes a blank look as they realize neither knows what they want to do or a clue how to start. This is one of the reasons that I find meet and greets almost worthless as a photographer: there isn’t any way to plan anything ahead of time prior to the shoot. Sure, anyone can photograph someone who is skinny and somewhat good looking or better… that is fairly easy to do. But, what do you have after the shoot? A bunch of images of pretty women. What else do you have? Not much else. Did you learn anything? Did you get anything new tried out? Probably not. As a model, you get some images for your portfolio, but are they images that allow you to market yourself? Do you think a potential client will like the images you have done? Probably not. This then begs the question of what will make this happen for both of you?

The answer: planning. Prior to any shoot that you do, you should have some idea of what you want to do and the kind of images you take. The exception being journalistic styles of photography. Most models who have worked with me are familiar with how I do a shoot. I always have “chicken scratch” ideas and concepts that I want to do with specific models. Sometimes they are completely sketched out and very detailed, other times, they may just be a pose or something similar like a line in a landscape.  Taking this further, the easiest and those I think are the best, are those that I have a story or an idea of a story for the session. But, where do these ideas come from? How do you get a story?

The ideas come from analyzing other photographer’s images. This means looking at a lot of images and finding those that you find pleasing – dissecting them, and creating new images based on what you like. Note, I didn’t say copy. As a photographer, this gives you an idea of lighting and general feel of an image. It may give you some idea of posing, but this would be copying if you did the exact same thing. Instead, make it your own. Take it and change it to your style. We will get into style in a minute.    Maybe you love the pose, and feel, but don’t like the lighting the way it was done. Redo the image with your model and lighting, but keep the same feel. As you can tell, this is the easiest way to come up with ideas for images. The other way is to come up with a story – something that is going on. For instance, a romantic interlude between two people. Or, it can be something simpler… it can be simply representing a character or characters you know or want to bring to life. What can you show about them and who they are? Is there a story you can tell with a single image about them? Let me give you an example from my personal images.

In this image, you see many things: a pretty woman, an interesting hat, expensive items, a cigar, and a striking gaze. What can you tell me about this person or character? Can you see a story with it?

This is the point when you sketch out a character idea or create a story for your images. There are many other images that were taken this day with this set – this wasn’t the only one. There were other poses, and other ideas with this outfit. This should give you some idea what is meant by creating a story.  This is another example. From these, you should be able to see how the stories that can be viewed make them better images and give meaning to them.  Stories are so important that there is one photographer who writes little stories (about 500 words or more) about each and every shoot prior to doing the shoot. All the images stay within the bounds of that story. From those images, he posts the story and the images he took.

I hope this helps you understand where you can get inspiration and that it isn’t just a pretty picture that you are after as a photographer or model. As you look at editorial layouts in magazines, you will see they all have stories in mind. The best are very easy to follow with the images. If you are looking at a single image, you need to provide enough detail in the image to give the image a story or feeling. Without, you only have a pretty picture.

Mariah bokeh imageBokeh is a word that many photographers use. But, are they using it correctly? It is a word used to describe the quality of the blur you get from a specific lens. Some people pay a lot of money for a lens with good bokeh – but is it really noticeable?  To me, it is. Take for instance, the image at the right. The blur on the image is created only by the lens – none of it is photoshop. What do you think of it? I have a bigger copy of the same image on my Flickr. If you look carefully, you can see the focus plane extends from the top of the model’s head to the bottom. But, that isn’t what we are interested. Instead, look at how the blur occurs over the skin closer and further away as it moves further out of focus. That blur is the bokeh.

The other type of bokeh is the type that talks about how bright light is rendered when it is out of focus. Most often, any lights that are out of focus render as spots based on the blades of the aperture. A few images are posted below. One of the interesting effects that you see with highlights or hot spots with mirror lenses is a “ring” effect bokeh (often referred to as a “doughnut” by those who own them).  An example of this can be found on Mike King’s Flickr page of a wind board surfer on the ocean. But, this isn’t the bokey we will be showing how to photograph in this blog entry.

Instead, we will be working with a regular lens type of bokeh and how it reproduces dots of light. There are two things we will be doing to ‘create’ a bokeh.

The first is taking and bluring the lights, most often Christmas lights (or similar types of point source lights), in the background. You will need a relatively large aperture lens – something with F2, F1.8, or larger. The easiest way to do this  method is creating a setup with the lights in a dark area behind your subject about 10-15 feet. I recommend doing this at night when it is dark out. The second is illuminating your subject from the sides (maybe a 45 degree angle from the front) so that you don’t light up where the Christmas lights are located. Key to this is keeping the aperture wide open at first, and then play with the aperture of the lens to get just the right amount of blur you want on the Christmas lights. Depending on the focal length and the distance to your subject, the amount of blur will be different. A note on cheaper lenses, the shape changes from a circle to a shape with the number of blades (typically five or seven) you have making up the aperture in your lens because the aperture isn’t perfectly round at the smaller sizes.  Some examples of this are below.

The second technique builds on this one by creating a mask of a specific shape to put on the front of your lens like a filter. By doing this, the shape of the lights then becomes that shape. Some of those are below.

All information and images are ©2012 Don Krajewski on this post.

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Posted in: Photography