Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's NOT Magic

Or is it magic?
I teach private workshops.

On more than 1 private workshop I have disappointed my workshop photographer/student.

They always say the same thing.

"I keep waiting for you to show me that one thing that you do that makes your pictures the way they look"

Am I pulling punches? Am I afraid to give away the secret sauce? Am I hiding the magic bullet?


I open up like a book and show them everything I do from capture-to-post. I reveal every full-layered PSD/TIFF file in all its layered glory and show the original captures and explain everything.

I keep no secrets. Because it's not magic.

So how do I get that look?

Plainly, it's the combination of a lot of little things. The right model, the right makeup, the right hair/wardrobe (or lack thereof), the right pose, the right background, the right capture settings, the right light, the right angle, the right shooting distance/focal length, the right expression, the right moment, the right RAW adjustments, the right post-processing, etc.

And therein lies the "secret" and perhaps also the rub. The same photographers who leave disappointed, believe that they already "know" what they're supposed to do and that I must be doing something differently. Which is why they're unimpressed when I show them my shooting style, my dodge and burn techniques, my RAW adjustments, etc. Because they believe that they are already doing what I'm doing.

Only they're not.

The secret isn't so much knowing how to acquire proper exposure, how to dodge and burn, or make RAW adjustments. No. The secret is is how you do each of these things accurately and consistently shot after shot after shot. Because while you might be close on each of the items listed above, if you're not 100% on everything, you won't even come close to getting proper results.

Let me give you an example to illustrate what I'm saying: What is 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90% x 90%?


As a letter grade, that's an F.

The point is, if you're off by just a little on each thing. You wind up being way off in the end.

And I know some people say, "Don't sweat the little things". Well there is a time and place for everything. Because sometimes, "It's all in the details".

This is one of those times.

So I go back to one of my favorite quotes, "There's no replacement for displacement". Search that phrase on this blog and time and time again I've used it again to explain that there's no shortcut, no magic bullet, no substitution for hard work, no two ways about getting from A to B, etc. The sooner you stop searching for what you don't know and start perfecting what you do know, the faster you'll realize just how bad you are at the things you thought you were really good at.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for learning new tricks. New techniques. Using new tools. Exploring. Being inspired. But let me be the first to tell you. All that stuff is overrated. They're simply distractions that prevent you from realizing the truth. What's the truth?

It's hard work that gives the images that look.

And I understand why photographers don't want to hear that. Because it is easier to believe that Charles Lucima is doing some voodoo magic than it is to believe that I am way off on several critical components that comprise a fantastic image.

So I'll tell you the same thing I tell those disappointed photographers.

I don't know what to tell you. It's not magic.


  1. I love your success equation :) 90%x90X........ That's great!

  2. "It's hard work that gives the images that look."
    -If I was in Cali, I'd take one of your workshops!

  3. Your admission just gave me a chub.

    Thumbs up for tough love.

  4. C'mon Charles, don't hide your Magic Lightroom presets, and Photoshop actions, I heard they take the clothes off the models, make them have spontaneous O's or cramp with menstrual pain :)

    But seriously, new world demands immediate satisfaction, they assume going to workshops, watching DVD's tutorials will immediately get them the skills and ability to produce the results they want. What they forget is, getting there requires dedication and hard work, and desire to better oneself.

    BTW I love the equation, I'm stealing it

  5. As I first started taking pictures my thought process was pretty much like those workshop photographers/students. I thought to myself that there has to be a "system" of sorts to apply to get the results. But there really isn't one, is there.

    The reason for this, in my opinion is really the "uber lens" you were talking about in another post of yours. Everyone could surely copy your editing style/lighting style etc.... but what it comes down to really is the unique perspective - to see the picture before it exists - and the feeling you get when you see something you want to photograph. I believe every person sees the world differently and I mean this literally not metaphorically. Although the physics behind it is always the same the components which make a picture are assembled in the mind - which is unique in every aspect. Isn't this the reason why there are thousands of photographers out there making a living off of this? Everyone has a "style" and I think it has its roots in that (literal) unique perspective and of course the past experiences of that person.

    I don't know if all this made sense - I am not a native speaker so sorry if I cluttered up this post ;)