This morning I read a rather lengthy post in a pet photography Facebook group I am in about the “correctness” of a particular image. Immediately I thought, “EGAD, this is the perfect subject to blog about!”
FACEBOOK FOR FEEDBACK
Likely, most of the people reading this post are my clientele; let me explain a few things first. Us photographer types are usually very eager to join as many groups and forums as we can online; not only for networking, but for learning, and for drinking in the artwork that others are putting out there. Some of it I LOVE, some of it I CRINGE at, and some of it I am so very ENVIOUS of.
But, the one thing about my responses to the photography or artwork of others is that they are subjective. These are MY responses, and I would not be pretentious enough to think they are the only possible ways they anyone should respond to those same images.
Sometimes, I question if I have any taste in photography at all! An image I think is amazing gets zero comments, or one I think is particularly “unpleasant” gets a million shares! The moral – my opinion isn’t the end-all, be-all and may not always fit in with the majority! This is actually a very good way to look at your personal opinion toward anything. And, it certainly does not make your opinion “wrong”, OR, “right” – just “yours” and built on your unique set of skills and experiences.
So, what started the lively debate on this particular image? A group member posted an image of a black dog in a pet photography forum (not a competition group, and not a people portrait group) with the comment: “Critique welcome”. In my opinion (again not right or wrong) when you say this, you open yourself up for critique based on the varying experience and opinions of the others in the group. None of them wrong, just different.
A PPA juror (someone who judges photo competitions to a certain, particular standard formed over many, many years) gave their feedback, which was very subjective based on his position in the photography world (again, that’s ok!). But, I think where this particular person went wrong was pointing out that any other way was NOT correct. As to be expected, this got a lot of the other members quite hot under the collar! (hee hee, see what I did there??)
In my body of work and my career as a pet photographer, I have learned one thing. There are no rules when it comes to creating art. Art is, and always will, be subjective.
Disclaimer: There are rules if you choose to participate in a competition that has rules. LOL. I would not enter a PPA competition expecting them to change their rules just because I don’t agree with them. Competition, for many, builds confidence, which results in more clients and higher sales. This is not a BAD thing.
THE DEFINITION OF PHOTOGRAPHY
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary online, the definition of photography is as follows:
“The art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor)”
Notice, it says NOTHING about the kind of light (or energy for that matter), the location of the subject whether it be indoors or outdoors, nothing about the kind of lens, or if “real” photography is from a film or digital camera.
THIS STUFF IS ALL UP TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER! Isn’t that exciting? Millions of people interpreting this particular method of art are so many endless, beautiful ways! There will be something for everyone to swoon over (AND cringe over! LOL)!
WHAT CRITERIA DO I USE TO DETERMINE A “CORRECT” PHOTO?
OH boy, my turn, my turn! How do I decide how I am going to make a photo?
Honestly, number one, the ANIMALS. I put the animal’s needs and wants before the needs and wants of their pet parents – or the needs and wants of myself for that matter. That’s just me! Only rarely does this annoy my clients. LOL. Usually, when they really, really want a particular style of image that their pet isn’t comfortable giving them/me.
If a dog were afraid of a light, why would I force it to make it “correct” for competition? Off camera flash is frequently used in competition images so, if I wanted to compete I would find a model that is not afraid of flashing light! (makes sense, right?)
If a dog is afraid of me, I use a lens with a long focal length like a 70-200mm. Why would I force a dog that is afraid of me, or my camera gear, to be three inches from my face so I can use a wide-angle lens? Part of this is also my safety. I really would like to keep my nose attached to my face thank you very much! BUT, on the other hand, a very goofy and confident dog would look so very “in character” with a photo created with a wide-angle lens!
If a dog is very active and moving around a lot, I will probably have more success with a zoom lens, rather than a prime. A prime lens would have me moving around a lot with the dog. Me personally, I would miss things if I was getting up and down and bringing my camera away from my face to see where I am going.
Here is what’s in my bag: (besides scads of noise makers and food, etc)
- Canon 1DX Body
- Sigma Art 20mm Prime
- Sigma Art 35 mm Prime
- Sigma Art 50 mm Prime
- Canon 24-70 mm
- Canon 70-200 mm
When photographing outdoors, I also carry a reflector (which helps move natural light around the subject), a scrim (which helps filter natural light to make it softer), and the PROFOTO B2s (which are artificial lights that are required to get a certain technical result). I am prepared to deal with whatever situation I should come in contact with! LOL.
I should also note that I don’t cart all of this gear around with me. Most of it is left in my car “just in case”.
Studio lighting – I am also able to shoot studio for dogs that maybe are easily distracted or maybe they are fearful of people or dogs. Being indoors, behind closed doors will probably make these guys more comfortable. If they are afraid of the light, we work on that during the session.
CASE ONE – HADEZ – natural light, indoors:
This is Hadez. Hadez is not feeling well. He’s a very proud cat who has not been himself lately. His parents wanted to have some images to always remember their little man. His session took place in his home – a place where anyone not feeling 100% would be more comfortable. This particular image was one of the first that caught my attention when culling their session. In fact, it made me cry – A LOT.
In this case, my reaction to the photo, and the reaction of his parents (saying it reflected their boy’s personality) meant that the image was successful and correct. Technically, it met enough of my criteria to present this image to “the world”, even though there are blow out highlights in the image ( a big no-no in competition ).
Could I have avoided these blown out highlights? YOU BET! I do understand the technique and equipment required to do that! Would it have affected the expression and comfort level of this guy? I really, really believe it would have. He’s not feeling well; this is one of the last big, special experiences this family will share with him, I would have preferred to not muddy it up with a big show of lights and production.
ME Happy, PET Happy, CLIENT Happy = Success in my eyes! For some people success is fame, fortune, happy clients, peer respect, or winning awards. ALL ABSOLUTELY ACCEPTABLE!
CASE TWO – DANTE – natural light, outdoors:
I took this particular image when I saw the clouds rolling in and the sky turn dark. It was taken just after I lost my heart dog, Porter. Porter was the second of my seniors to pass in the last few years, and this old man, Dante, was the last one left. I titled this image “The Last One Standing”, and this image speaks to me in so many ways.
However, when I presented it for critique to one of the nicest, most generous, sweetest people I know – someone highly successful in the photography competition world, she said “it just looks like a dog’s butt”. For that reason, it probably would not be the best image for competition. LOL. Bless her, she doesn’t know the back story (hee, I did it again!), but neither do other PPA judges, so this is very valuable feedback. I didn’t take it personally – I asked!!
I have plans to print and frame this image to put on display in my home. I love it!! I have no plans to enter it into competition. LOL.
CASE THREE – GULLIVER – artificial light, in studio:
GULLIVER! What a big ball of goof this guy was! He came in to be photographed for a wig project I had going on. But, he was so big and jumpy and crazy, that darn wig did not work. However… when I presented this image to the same super sweet gal mentioned above, she told me that it would probably do very well in competition! YEAH! I was not aiming for that! In fact, if you think about it, this session should have been considered unsuccessful because I did not get the image I set out to get. But instead, got this treasure. OMG this is so him!
Do I plan to enter this image into competition? I don’t know. It’s not really my thing, but I might! Why not??!
***UPDATE!! I did enter this image in the 2016 IPC Competition and it did indeed merit!***
CASE FOUR – THE FAMILY – artificial light, outdoors
This session was planned for BrindleBerry acres (my fenced acreage) because one of these pups does not do well in strange places. He would not do well in a park or anywhere were he could run into other dogs or people. The bummer about my place this time of year is that there are no leaves! I have trouble finding ways to filter the light to get a pleasing result! So, instead of worrying about my light, I introduced artificial light to keep the image pleasing, and make that doggie comfortable. None of these dogs cared about the flashing of the light. BONUS, no plan B required. LOL.
This was one of my favorite sessions of 2015. I loved that it pushed me to learn something new, because I feel more confident the more technique I have in my toolbox. Did I use off camera flash because it’s trendy at the moment in pet photography? NO, I used it to get the job I wanted to do done, and this was the way I knew to accomplish that.
I get discouraged when I see people that think in absolutes. That could apply to religion, politics, fashion, photography, anything. I don’t believe you win when you think this way. Keeping an open mind keeps you open for learning and growing. Another issue with being close-minded is that it creates a lot of artists that are doing the same things. That is a real shame in my mind. Gosh, our world would be awfully boring if no one ever went outside the box.
Be true to yourself and you will attract the client’s that appreciate you and your work. Don’t worry about the “correctness” of an image (unless your end goal is to meet someone else’s criteria, in which case, study away!) If you ask for critique, be prepared to hear all kinds, and take and leave what you wish!
I would love to stop seeing so many black and white opinions about everything in this world – and start hearing more “I had never thought of that!”. No changes or progress is ever made, with a closed mind!