Sunday, June 21, 2009

Asking the Right Questions

One of the most important things that I learned from my MBA program (actually my Psychology program) was that the right answers are not as important as the right questions. It's cliche these days but having the right answer does not help a photographer nearly as much as having the right questions.

For example, knowing that I should use a softbox instead of a beauty dish when taking pictures of older people isn't going to help me figure out what kind of light modifier to use on a model that has no makeup on. Neither will this information help me choose the correct light modifier for the style or feel or theme for any particular shoot. Asking, "Why are softboxes the preferred light modifier in almost every studio?" will allow you to understand the thought processes and the theory and the physics behind all that is relevant in the decision-making process for choosing light modifiers during a shoot.

I alluded to this concept towards the end of the last post of Amber McNeil: Anne Hathaway Lighting. I spent hours trying to figure out why the highlights in my recreations would not appear under the chin. Shining a light source under the chin wasn't the answer because it would create highlights elsewhere. However ultimately trial and error, I created a very similar look
one that ultimately led me to believe that the picture was created with a single large light source, hence the bedsheet.

The truth is I have unanswered questions in my mind all the time. I'm still relatively new at this and can benefit from more research as well as experimentation. Being curious and asking, "why does this work, but not this?" usually gets me moving in the right direction. Experimentation is your friend and once you have the right questions, the right answer isn't the answer itself but the process by which you attain your answer.

Another example of asking the right questions is the following picture:

This picture haunted me for a long time. For a long time I couldn't figure out why the picture sucked. This was primarily because I kept asking myself, "Why does this picture suck?" It wasn't until I started asking, "Why doesn't this picture have the 'punch' that I'm looking for?" that I asked myself, "Well, how do you define 'punch'?" Answering my own question I said, "Contrast between light and shadows (difference in exposure)" Suddenly I realized that the problem was that the subject was too evenly lit. Even though I used 3 light sources, the way that I used these lights was too similar. Without remembering the settings, it's obvious the background and the foreground don't have any contrast thus the lights were probably set to the same exposure on the subject. Furthermore the black background is painfully obviously black paper! Lastly, the subject doesn't have any shadows across the face therefore lacking the 3-dimensionality that I strive so hard to achieve in my work today. All these things were results of asking myself what I was trying to achieve in the picture and why the picture failed to achieve the effect. Asking why it didn't get me anywhere.

Never stop asking why. But in asking why always give yourself time to research and experiment. I'll leave this here and pick up with research and experimenting next time.

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