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Archive for Sunday, August 15, 2010

Behind the Lens: Planning key for photo projects

Spending an evening with one camera and one lens limited my choices in photographing the Douglas County Fair Demolition Derby as a fun personal photographic project. It made it easier to forget about my equipment and concentrate on looking and spotting images that appealed to me.

Spending an evening with one camera and one lens limited my choices in photographing the Douglas County Fair Demolition Derby as a fun personal photographic project. It made it easier to forget about my equipment and concentrate on looking and spotting images that appealed to me.

August 15, 2010

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Between 1985 and the 100th anniversary of the Vinland Fair in 2007, I documented this community event as a personal photo project.

It became a visual exercise that I could return to each year and create a large body of photographs. It tested my abilities to look at similar subject matter over a long period of time and explore different ways of photographing what I saw. The architecture of the fair buildings, the exhibits, the people and activities came under the scrutiny of my camera.

I used color and black-and-white film, 35mm Single Lens Reflex and 2 1/4 Twin Lens Reflex cameras with a variety of lenses. Over the course of these 22 years I probably took several thousand photographs. This documentation concluded with a Vinland Fair photo exhibition of about 40 prints at the Lawrence Arts Center in 2007 and publication of an on-demand photo book.

On Aug. 6, I gave myself another fun, photographic exercise by attending the Demolition Derby at the Douglas County Fair. This project was much shorter. I took one digital camera body with one 50mm lens, photographed for three hours and took 184 exposures. I edited the shoot to 40 photographs and then put together a quick on-demand photo book using Blurb.com’s BookSmart software.

The two projects are extreme examples of pursuing personal photography projects. Having experienced both I’ve learned a few things about planning, photographing and completing this type of work. My thanks to Brooks Jensen, editor of LensWork, and his book “Letting Go of the Camera,” for some of the items on this list.

  1. Finding great subject matter is an art in itself. But any subject can be worthy of project work if the photographer has an interest in the subject. I’m not a particular fan of the Demolition Derby, but the participants and activity around the event led to some creative opportunities for my photography.
  2. Photographers are more scared of people than people are of photographers. Don’t be afraid to get close in situations where people are engaged in an activity you are photographing. I think people are flattered by being photographed. If not, they will certainly let you know.
  3. Too many choices will slow you down. During my years documenting the fair I would try different cameras or types of film in an attempt to be more creative or do something different. It seldom led to better images. It just created more options that got in the way of the picture taking. For the Demolition Derby I had one lens, one camera, shot in color, and I stopped shooting after three hours. It was a relief and a revelation. Simplifying my tools helped me focus my eye on seeing.

If you’re having a hard time getting out to take photographs, pick a subject or event to document, limit your equipment and expectations and look at what’s around you.

“The photographers with the most good photographs are the ones who spend the most time photographing.” — Stewart Harvey

Comments

kylebatson 4 years, 4 months ago

Excellent advice. I took a walk downtown with only my camera and 35mm lens. It was a lot of fun and I think I got many more 'keepers' out of that trip than I would have if I were constantly changing lenses.

windjunky 4 years, 4 months ago

Mike, I just have to comment on the vinland shots. Great works, and the one that touched me was the shot of the grandfather with grandson sitting up against the tractor wheel. That shot painted
Family tradition & the American Pioneer Spirit.

Janet Lowther 4 years, 4 months ago

"2. Photographers are more scared of people than people are of photographers. . ."

Once upon a time I wandered down Massachusetts St. around ten, maybe eleven PM with a new-to-me medium format SLR and potato-masher flash.

I was shocked at the number of girls who stopped me and asked me to take their picture. I'd have said people, but every single one of 'em was a co-ed. . .

I'd always been a fan of candid photos, so that was something of a revelation.

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