Worth a Shot: What I Learned as a Photographer making a Photo Series

 

Worth a Shot

Written and photographed by Marie DeFreitas

There are a lot of things I learned as I studied photography. A couple of them being: getting a good shot is hard as hell. Getting several good shots for a series is harder than hell. I admire photographers now more than ever now, because I know, getting that perfect shot is hardly ever easy. 

We all love pretty pictures. I did so much that I decided I wanted to do it myself. There’s something about capturing a moment, and knowing that it is one like no other that fascinates me. But I found that the only thing more difficult than purposely creating a single photo, was creating a series of them. I got myself a Nikon D80 and shot what I could. Which at first ended up only being cats and flowers in my parents backyard, and I quickly discovered I was no Ansel Adams. Out of hundreds of photos that I took I only ended up liking maybe three each time. But soon enough I realized that that was okay. Because sometimes within those three photos, together, I had captured something that was worth looking at.

Photography is one of those very subjective practices where I found that each time I came up with an idea there was a little voice inside me that was disappointedly whispering “but that’s been done so many times.”  Portraits, landscapes, fashion, food, wildlife. What’s left? And then there’s the more important question, what’s even accessible to you? Because we’ve seen those railroad tracks at sunset and we’ve seen those hands holding the pretty flower. What’s next, Leibovitz? So your photos might not be something new, chances are we’ve seen whatever you’re shooting a million times before. This is when I realized that only way out of this dilemma was not to focus on shooting something new, but on shooting something that had the ability to make my viewers feel something.

Before you pick up that camera, think about why. What are you shooting and why? Be sure not to drift too far, but don’t confuse this with how deep your concept runs. It can be as deep or as simple as you want, but it must be accessible. If you're photographing someone laying in the dirt and you want to communicate how that represents a connection with nature, go for it. But don’t try to tell us that the type of tree means this, and that we’re supposed to get that the green leaves means that because green was your grandma’s favourite colour. Don’t. There’s no way your audience is going to pick up on details that even you are projecting onto your work. Locate your concept, the reason you’re creating this. Define it. Keep it close. Don’t lose focus.

 

A few photos from a black and white hands series I did:

In addition to the big idea, be aware of the little ideas within your creation as well. What’s that foot on the bottom of the frame there for? You don’t know? You didn’t notice it? Nope. Get rid of it. If there’s something there for your viewers to interpret that you didn’t intend to be, get it out of here. One thing I’ve heard time and time again about creating a photo series is that you must make everything deliberate, or at least try to make it look that way. Only the important things should work their way into the composition. No lazy feet. No ‘something you didn’t notice’ that’s glaring at the viewer with no intended purpose. Get in the shot what you need to and capture it.

Now you’ve at the overwhelming stage where you camera is full of hundreds of slightly different compositions and angles of the same thing. Yes, you’re going to have to go through each one, stare at it for way too long,  and narrow it down to the winners. After hours of frustrating indecisiveness eventually you’ll get those hundreds down to maybe twenty, then maybe ten, and finally your five beauties.

You’ve made your decision, congratulations. Now you get to make them look even better. Yes, editing is somewhat lying. You didn’t get that awesome exposure with only the light of the setting sun. But you must know how far is too far with lying. A few adjustments. A little turn up on the blues, a bit of tweaking with the highlights. But if you’re cutting entire figures out the photo, if you’re flat out handing your viewers a big ole’ film roll of lies, get out of here.

Photography isn’t easy. It’s a lot of contorting yourself into strange positions for that perfect angle, a lot of capturing the same moment dozens of times until every detail is just right, and a lot of just waiting for the sun to rise. It’ll take a lot of frustrated moments before your photos look the way your pictured them in your head, and sometimes that might not even happen. And that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering what you’re capable of when you’re looking through a lense that suddenly becomes an extension of yourself.

You are creating those moments as if they are little wisps of time frozen in a frame and presented to your audience. And if you do something right, you might actually make your viewers feel something with those moments. And they might not even know why they are staring at it for so long. But they are. And that’s all that matters.