In photography, less is more. The more you put in, the less you get. What?
One step forward, two steps back
Back in 2011 when I rolled up my first gradient background I would finally escape the clutches of single color backdrops that were clouding my vision of a brighter future. By the end of that year the Tier Harribel review was published and my friends seemed overjoyed because it featured a fiery sword and not to mention, a gradient background. Unfortunately I did not share the same joy that my friends did because at the time I felt it to be lackluster and had you asked me today the pictures would never have seen the light of day.
A few months earlier I stumbled upon a figure reviewing site featuring mind-blowingly good looking backgrounds and I just had to inquire how these were assembled in order to elevate and justify my own photography. The author of the site assured me that the backgrounds were of simple nature and that some pictures even felt uninspired. This puzzled me and forced a retaliation in asking for feedback to ensure I wasn’t going in the wrong direction. The words I received back were mostly positive alongside a few pointers that were supposed to be encouraging. Instead, on my end, I felt hesitation and unease. I don’t think any starting out photographer wants to hear that his or her pictures are bad but frankly, it’s something that needs to be said.
Over the following months I started experimenting with various props to fill the void my previous shots had left behind. Surely these would make my images pop and I would at long last feel pride seeing the pictures come to life. As it turned out that never happened and I couldn’t figure out what wasn’t working. The word exchange with awesome background guy kept going and the result of all that back and forth sparked a change in the summer of the following year.
July 5 of 2012 marked a highlight in my ongoing journey as a novice figure photographer. For the first time since the site launched I felt some kind of satisfaction with the results from shooting Kurumu Kurono. Ironically and to this day the following review six days later is the one I’m least pleased with.
So what had changed in the summer of 2012? For the very first time, I felt like I had evoked an emotion through photography. Not through props or immaculately built backgrounds but through one of the very basics of photography, lighting. The obsession over everything but the basics had now stopped and I took to the books to thoroughly learn the fundamentals of photography.
Heading into 2013 taught me another crucial lesson: The more you put inside your frame the harder it gets to control light. This may sound obvious but it took me the longest time to fully grasp. Not to confuse grasping with mastering here, I screw up lighting on every single shooting session but the key is to learn from the mistakes and improve upon them. If you’re unwilling to see flaws in your own work, how will you ever improve?
Now felt like a good time to head back to where it all started; with a single black background. Try every possible light source position on the X and Y-axes. Utilizing key, overhead and rim light. Fiddling around with soft, hard, reflected and filtered light. To break it down; if you want a figure photograph to look exactly what you have in mind, how do you achieve it?
I do get the impression that some find a black background to be boring and rather than paying attention to lighting you flood the picture with random colorful things effectively turning something with potential into something horrendous. You can see examples of this reasoning in my Nessa coverage where most of the shots are either underexposed, overexposed, poorly cropped or framed and not to mention stuffed with an abundance of plastic decorations. A smiling girl surrounded by flowers won’t make up for the aforementioned shortcomings seen in those pictures.
To get back up on the prop train, I do not think that there’s a right or wrong approach when incorporating scenery or props in your figure shots. Just bear in mind that exposure is absolute and that if you say, use a monitor with something like a sunset wallpaper your aim should be to match the light so that it really looks like your subject is standing in front of your chosen background. If they clash, and they often do, the result will be far from optimal. It’ll be even trickier if that wallpaper shows the inside of a building and you may have to keep in mind of multiple exposures and cast shadows to give the impression that your subject is really standing inside that building.
At the end of the day, all that matters is the final result of an image. How you got there is irrelevant, just as knowing how long it took to make or how much money you spent on it. Just because you made a real effort taking a photograph does not automatically mean that it will be a good one. It could certainly be interesting knowing just how a picture was made but don’t let that information reflect upon the image itself.