Photographing with Limitations

Copyright Jared RL
A couple of weeks ago, I held the first Chasing the Light workshop in Downtown Los Angeles at the Hatakeyama Gallery. It was a small, but passionate group of photographers, each of whom in a very short time discovered a different way of seeing and shooting, based on being aware of the light.

The most interesting part of teaching is having the opportunity to encourage and witness a change in a photographer's work as a result of what I shared. It was no less the case on this day, which started with an exercise in which the students go out and look for subjects which possess 1 or more of the elements: color, contrast or pattern. The limitations where:

1. You only have twenty minutes
2. No chimping - You can't review the image even for the purposes of checking your exposure
3. You can only shoot up to 7 images.

Those limits can be jarring and even uncomfortable, but that's the point. We all have our way of shooting, some of which may include some really bad habits. Working with limitations forces you not only to pay more attention to what you choose to photograph, but also makes you confront some of those bad habits such as being to preoccupied with what the camera is doing or not doing, making judgements on the worth of an image while you are shooting and worst of all...rushing.

The exercise forced everyone to slow down and to really pay attention not only to the subjects they were considering photographing, but also to observe their process and how they "felt" while shooting.

copyright Larry Marotta
It was after demonstrating to them how I wanted them to respond and photograph that I was able to introduce them to the concept of looking for subjects based on observing the light. It was then that I could begin to reveal to them  how the light can and does make a huge difference in their photography.

A big part of this was critiquing their 7 images and pointing out how they were already responding to the light. With many of their photographs, I could see that they were often reacting to the light, though they weren't always aware of it. With each image, I was able to tap into each of them was already seeing and helped them to consider how to be more in-tune with that when they were out shooting, especially when it came to staying aware of the quality of the light.

Most importantly, I repeated the concept of "owning the frame", being completely responsible for every single element they chose to include in the composition. This was important, because it not only eliminated distractions, but allowed them to build compositions that really took advantage of how they were seeing and responding to the light.

So, when they went out for their second round of shooting, their images were not only better, but also more thoughtful. Where the earlier images felt unsure and tentative, these second round of images not only reflected a greater awareness of light, but more importantly, greater consitency.

Copyright Jared RL

It was particularly interesting to see photographers who revisited subject matter they had photographed in the morning. These new images revealed the color, contrast and pattern of the subject or scene all informed by their observations of how the light shaped their perception. You could often feel and here the difference as the students reacted to the new set of images that popped on the screen.

I can't help but feel that working with the limitations of the first exercise really set the foundation for images they produced in the afternoon. Though, they were freshly pollinated by the information I shared about light, it was also about how they were more aware of not only how they photographed, but how they were feeling when they were doing so.

There is nothing better than being completely in the moment when photographing. You are observing, reacting and shooting, hopefully in a seamless and interrupted flow. Though they were still a bit self-conscious, the image reflected a shift in their perception and technique that was really gratifying to see.

Copyright Paul Edward