21 January, 2015

On photography

After my last post, Marie of Rock the Kasbah commented that she was reconsidering whether professional photos were worth it! Which made me start thinking about the subject...

(Quick note: all these photos are just me or me and Finn because some of the other subjects don't want their pictures posted. And because I'm really self-absorbed.)

As previously mentioned, I hate having my picture taken. Like, really, really hate it. For the most part, I like the way I look - yes, I have features I hate and ones I love (and ones I've tamed into submission) - but I have rarely seen a picture that really looked like me, the way I imagine myself.

I used to think that said something about how we see ourselves, and whether I was actually overconfident about my beauty, especially since people often shrugged and said they thought certain pictures were actually quite nice. More recently though, I've been given face sheets for classes I'm teaching, and I've realized that it's not uncommon for a single photo to bear little or no resemblance to the person in real life (and for either the photo or the real person to be much more attractive than its counterpart). So either I have some weird variant of prosopagnosia (face blindness - and I'm not ruling this out) or it is simply true that some people are not photogenic - the way shadows reshape the planes of the face, or the way tiny imperfections stand out in pale skin after the flash. Or maybe some people, more than others, have a vital spark that photographs just can't capture.

So back to the subject of hating photographs: I do. I really do. I hate snapshots - film, digital, Polaroid, whatever. I hate video. I tolerate Skype and FaceTime. I really, really hate posed portraits and can't wait to replace the 8x10 of my high school senior portrait that is still hiding in our study. For years, the only profile picture I would use on social media was a black and white (for some reason, I had black and white film in my camera) headshot taken by one of my roommates before a charity ball in my fourth year of college. I had on full makeup (we'll get back to this) and had my hair up in a French twist but wasn't dressed yet, so I'm just wearing a white t-shirt. By the time my roommate laced up the back of a sparkling red strapless gown and we gathered with my friends and our dates, whatever spark that first picture captured was gone.

By 2010, I was starting to feel a little ridiculous about how few photos even existed of me as an adult. I tried to make a scrapbook for a friend's new baby and could only come up with two or three photos in 12 years of us together, including that one from the ball. Finally, my then-boyfriend's mother wanted to get professional pics of his daughter and I started Googling. I found Jennifer Harr, who described herself as "natural light photographer" (she no longer does this but still sells her art photography, so you should check out her site). I had always wanted to do playground photos (in college, I tried taking photos of my sister's best friend wearing my prom dress and going down slides at our elementary school), so I liked the idea of having someone just follow us around while we...played, basically. So that's what we did and this was the result:

I was kind of delighted. Unfortunately - c'est la vie -  most of my favorite shots of me also contain the ex-boyfriend, but they were fascinating from a social psych perspective. I'm sure you could look at them now and predict the relationship's demise - as I recall, in one, where he was kissing, or maybe sniffing, my hair, I was staring indifferently at some trees, and in the one where I was gazing adoringly (or so it seemed) up at him, he was looking blankly at the ground.

But a couple years later, when I wanted good photos of me and my son, I went looking for a talented photographer who was up for something unconventional and dramatic and definitely not in a studio.

So the arguments for hiring a pro:

1. The clothing/makeup investment: Once you've tracked down and booked a professional photographer, and decided to shell out money for the session and for nicely printed photos (perhaps a metal print or two), you can justify spending more time and money on makeup and clothes. I didn't end up buying new clothes for any of these, but I did spend a time thinking about what to wear and talking with the photographer about what would photograph well and how to coordinate amongst multiple family members without being all matchy-matchy. Some of my favorite outfits and dresses - like one I wore on Christmas Eve this year - definitely do not photograph well because of the patterns or silhouette. In the Red Rocks photos (baby, red dress), I had my makeup professionally done at Bare Escentuals and it was amazing and totally worth it. I don't wear makeup, and I don't necessarily think I look better with makeup most of the time, but I definitely realize that it photographs better. (In the others, I got lazy - I'm wearing powder-sunscreen-foundation, mascara and lip gloss, which is still a lot for me to apply myself.)

2. Lighting expertise: Even though we did all the photos outside, all the photographers had thoughts on best angles for light, best time of day, etc. They pointed out that brilliantly sunny days wouldn't necessarily result in the best photos of us, because of the shadow potential. I think I take good landscape photos and good close-ups of my son playing, but they really were experts.

3. Interesting/unique/artistic/creative angles, shots, poses, etc.: Like this one in front of graffiti at a park in Washington State...it would not have occurred to me that this would look so cool (even after cropping the guy out).

4. Not having to smile: I'm sure part of my lack of photogenicity (is that a word?) is that I cannot smile naturally on command. Period. And most people's friends and family, including mine, absolutely can't resist the urge to tell us to look at the camera and smile, and to wait...and wait and wait...until we do. A good professional photographer is ready - and more than willing - to capture the great photo that happens when two people are looking at each other or starting to laugh or sharing an intimate moment (or giving Eskimo kisses - see my last post), which I think is honestly so much better!

5. Selection and editing: So editing is probably just a given - most professionals are going to do some sort of editing. Some of the Washington pics (green sweater) have a distinct color filter on them, which looks awesome. But the part I like best is not having to flip through the really, really awful pictures. I have no idea whether they exist or ever existed. Maybe talented photographers don't even take the kinds of terrible pictures that I'm used to seeing when I've gotten caught in someone's snapshots. But I sort of suspect that they do and that they've already been eliminated by the time I get to see my portfolio - and I'm glad for it.

And last, thanks again to Jen, Katie and Ambi for lots of beautiful pictures!