Photography: It Always Comes Back to Simplicity

I don’t tend to write too much from a photographer – to – photographer perspective. I’m not a teacher (that’s John) and by no means consider myself an expert in the field of photography. I love to photograph. Typically the response I get to my photos is positive so I do allow myself to feel comfortable in my abilities and creative process. I talk to a lot of local photographers and am often in the situation of being asked what photographers I follow, have I seen the latest work by “So and So” and so on. My usual answer is a bit of a blank stare because I don’t really follow any famous photographers specifically and I don’t seek out work by famous photographers either. I tend to just allow my eye to gravitate to what it likes and take it in. I could stare at a photograph for hours. It doesn’t matter who took it (and most times I don’t even look to see who did). To me, it matters what story the photograph is telling, if there is one. Sometimes a photograph grabs me simply because it is dramatic or perplexing. Sometimes it’s the beauty or the striking nature of the photo that draws me in. Either way I don’t normally take much time to dissect how the photo was taken or why. I typically just allow myself to enjoy it, or not, and move on.

Then one day I just so happen to walk past the tv and saw a glimpse of Annie Leibovitz on the screen in the middle of a shoot. I was instantly sucked in. It was incredibly interesting to me to see how she actually works on her jobs. The way she talks to her clients, the way she gets them to do what she wants them to do (which, c’mon….it can’t be that hard to get the facial expression you want or the pose you want from famous super models and actors…that’s what they get paid to do) and also how she had her scenes set up with equipment. I wasn’t so much interested in what she produced, but more in just watching her in action.

Everyone has pretty much heard of Annie Leibovitz the same way everyone knows Ansel Adams. She has kind of become the household name in professional photography. I guess that’s one reason I never really took the time to get to know her work. You can easily get sucked into believing there is a right way and a wrong way to do things based on the fact that the person you are reading about is famous. But I was so intrigued, not by her work but by how she works, I just had to read her latest book, Annie Leibovitz at Work. And WOW I am so glad I did. After reading the book and taking in her photographs I realize that, even with uber-famous Annie Leibovitz, photography always comes back to simplicity.

What I loved learning about Annie was that she kind of followed the same process John and I follow in our own style of photography: use what your environment gives you, don’t be afraid to take risks, and most importantly, there is no formula for good photography. That last one is what excited me the most. Often times we photographers get so wrapped up in our own insecurities we think this one photographer has the “right” way to take a photograph or this other photographer has the “right” way to light a photograph. There just is no right way. Photography is exactly like all art: it is subjective to the beholder. There were times Annie used off-camera lighting (I mean seriously, like soft boxes the size of trees) and there were times she just knew that only natural light could capture the true nature of her present subject. She also had a lot of “oopses” that actually turned into art and a lot of off-the-cuff shots that have gone down in history.

I am happy to say that I am walking away from this book feeling fully confident in my approach to photography. I have always said that each person or couple that I photograph is truly unique from the next and because of that, there is no formula, and could never be, for how we do what we do…especially in wedding photography.

After reading this book I feel a sense of freedom to continue exploring each photographic opportunity as a totally blank canvas just waiting to come alive. And thanks to the incredibly interesting and unique individuals and couples we work with, it comes pretty easy. 🙂

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