Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Appropriateness of imagery

Just been having a gander at the strobist site (this entry in particular) and it got me thinking about appropriateness of images.

Note: The following two comments have since disappeared from the site, but they still raise an interesting point

Someone called David (not Hobby) said:

"I think this shot is just awful.

The lighting is far too clever by half and the man looks positively shifty and untrustworthy. It is neither flattering nor interesting

I know it is sacriledge to criticise the sainted strobist, but this is just pants and someone should say so."

This got a highly defensive and sarcastic response from the site author David Hobby:

"Wow, your own work must be TRULY amazing to allow license for that kind of condescending comment. Your photos must make me laugh and cry at the same time. They must speak in several languages at once. I cannot wait to see them."

I find that sometimes photographers, especially those of a strobist persuasion who like to light things, tend to get overly excited about the lighting.

When I personally approach a job, one of my first thoughts is about what the images are trying to say. For example, if I'm shooting a politician, is the end result meant to say that he/she is powerful, strong-willed and in for the long run, or perhaps saying that he/she is welcoming, caring, compassionate and trustworthy?

Having figured out what I'm after, I'll then look at the location, lighting and general styling of the shot to work out how I'm going to shoot it. This is where appropriateness comes in. If I'm after the first option, I might shoot in a dramatic location, make the lighting and post-processing very contrasty, perhaps shoot a lower angle etc. etc.

For the second option, it might be a very much lighter and softer feel, perhaps a shallower depth of field, overall lower contrast feel.

With this in mind, I'm not really saying much about my personal thoughts on the image linked on strobist, but I do feel that the photographer discussing that he wanted to try out a cool idea for lighting and the job allowed him to do so, is somewhat the reverse of the way it should be done.

If anything, I personally think the gridded key light gave a less "holy" feel and a more sinister creepy feel. This isn't to say I dislike the image at all, but I do question the appropriateness of it given this was intended for a local magazine talking about local hospital Chaplains. I'm not so sure that these images would have been a hit with the Chaplains themselves, portraying them in such a dark and moody way.

And as for very defensive photographers, I think we all need to remember that the majority of people who like, or even love our images, are non-photographers, so to suggest that someone who criticises the image must be able to demonstrate their ability to light or photograph better is a bit much. That's like saying that film critics should be able to direct a movie well before they criticise a movie. There may be an argument there, but it certainly doesn't necessarily follow.

Two things that I do agree should be taken from the On Assignment entry though: first that you should always try to come up with a creative and interesting approach to images, no matter how boring the subject, and secondly that testing an idea is very important if you're going to do something a bit off-beat. You don't want to be fiddling trying to get the idea to work while you're on the shoot!


Greg Smith said...

Well said. As a new student to lighting, I was trying to convince myself "this must be good lighting" based on the site I was reading from...when in reality the composition of this photo was not sitting well with me. The creativity of this guest artist is truly something to aspire to - just look at his website. But I wonder what a final image of this chaplin would have looked like had the photographer tried to communicate appropriately rather than force a lighting method on this potential-filled opportunity. Thank you for a balanced observation.

n506 said...

Thanks Greg. I just felt there was a little too much admiration and lighting focussed thought going on, and not enough reality about the situation.

The simple fact is that doing an image like that which was deemed inappropriate by a magazine could result in them getting another photographer to re-shoot the images and the first photographer losing future business. Not something anyone should aspire to. The old adage - you're only as good as your last piece of work - comes to mind.

Thanks for leaving a comment!