by J Rae Chipera
Sometimes as a photographer, I get stuck in what I like to call "the abyss of the perfect frame." Film shooters might know more about what I'm saying. You go out with your camera and shoot 24 or 36 frames. Limiting yourself to just a few dozen photographs ensures you only shoot when everything is perfect. Then you develop the negatives, and when viewed under the enlarger, there is only one frame out of those few dozen that you think is worthy of your portfolio or just one that you think garners the vision you had for that particular shoot.
But that doesn't do if the client paid for more than one image. In fact, it can be a death sentence if you only have one frame you deem good enough. One saving grace is that inevitably, the client will always have a completely different opinion about which image is the perfect frame.
"The Haunted Shower" - model: Calissa Lieben
For this particular shoot, I wanted to shoot glamour model Calissa Lieben as the ghost haunting the shower. Though I had many shots, this was the only one that I thought really captured that story. But I needed more than one to satisfy the shoot. So what do I do?
Well sometimes, even though one image tells the story just fine, adding a few other frames gets the story better. Calissa didn't get to see the images after I took them, as I had to scurry back to California right away, but I have a good idea of what models like, and I discerned that she would like the last image in my series the best - the one that looked the least like a ghost and the most like a model.
These three images were not taken in this sequence, but when looking at each photo individually and rearranging the negatives or thumbnails in different ways, I was able to find the perfect three-photo series that tells the story of the sighting of the beautiful ghost and highlights just how beautiful Calissa is.
These are my two main objectives as a photographer who shoots horror: 1) Show the fear. 2) Show the beauty. The different emotions that Calissa was able to show on her face is an added bonus.
Adding the extra frames made me as the photographer - the creator - wonder what would happen if I took her hand in the last frame and followed her. I wondered how she died. What is she disgusted about in the second frame? If I as the photographer now have questions, the photo series tells the story needed.
by J. Rae Chipera
Every artist ends up with a style they become known for, photographers included. Most of the time, that means choosing a photographic genre like portraits, landscapes, wildlife, etc. Exhale, though, because that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the genre you choose exclusively. Even some of the greatest photographers of all time ventured outside their chosen specialty if there was a photo that was screaming to be taken.
Ansel Adams is known for black and white landscapes, but he also shot in color. He took some portraits too. Robert Capa took a few landscapes.
But how should you choose your genre? There are a few different approaches you should consider when answering this question.
First, there is the mind of the businessman to consider. Lots of photographers do this. If you put “what kind of photographer” into search, the first suggestion is “what kind of photographer makes the most money.” However, there is a reason why this doesn’t work for most entrepreneurs: how much money you make does not have anything to do with the subject matter you shoot. Instead, it has to do with how well you shoot, and to a greater extent how good you are about bragging about your work.
If you decide to photograph weddings because you think wedding photographers make a lot of money, you should do it if you like that style of photography. If you don’t like what you do as an artist, you will grow to be resentful of your own creation, and that is the recipe for failure every time.
Of course, I’ve known some photographers who have made a decent living shooting only what the world around them demands. They are photographers for the business and had no attachment to the art whatsoever. So it’s not all-exclusive that one must be an artist as a photographer, but I would say that at least 99% of photographers consider themselves artists at least to some extent.
It’s best to satisfy your artistic mind. Most people don’t become artists because of the high pay, but because they enjoy their medium, whether it is photography, painting, sculpting, or otherwise.
Photographers take pictures of what they like and inspires them. Ansel Adams was an environmentalist, so it makes sense that he mostly enjoyed landscape photography. Capa was a photojournalist and Co-founder of Magnum Photos. He liked living on the edge and documenting atrocities of war, but that doesn't mean he didn't enjoy a pretty view every now and then.
Following this train of thought, maybe you should look through the photos you have taken, and see what you like to photograph most often. Maybe you like sunsets. Maybe you like flowers. Maybe you like wildlife. The first consideration when choosing a photography genre should be what you enjoy shooting most.
But what if you can’t decide? What if you like photographing everything? Okay. Next consider where you live. Travel to other places is often expensive, so what is around you that you can photograph? If you live in the city, wildlife photography might not be the most affordable option for you. Maybe you also like shooting sports. Choose something that fits with the area nearby where you live.
Are you still having trouble deciding? This time, consider choosing a style instead of a genre. Maybe you simply want to be known as a black and white photographer, but not specify the subject matter. Maybe you have a specific mood or emotion you enjoy portraying, no matter the subject.
Most people should now have an idea of what kind or kinds of photography they want to specialize in. If you still don’t know what to pick, you would be best off remaining a holistic photographer. You might not be ready to choose one thing over everything else yet. If that’s you, then you probably just need some more time to do more exploring of everything you can make photographically. And that is perfectly okay.