WORKOUT SESSION: I SO LATE
What are your top ten favorite songs of all time? Go ahead, write them down; I'll wait...
Got 'em? OK, how many have a main subject or character that's isolated in some way - a broken heart, can't find their way back home, doesn't fit in, better than everyone else, or just plain lonely?
None? You live in a fantasy world.
All? You live in a fantasy world, but it's colorful.
Some? Maybe even most? You're perfectly healthy, realistic, have thick skin, and are fit for this world. Read on.
I'll go out on my familiar limb here and guess that the songs you love best tap directly into an isolation theme. Especially sad songs, but songs that walk on sunshine too. It's what makes them stand out. I'm so lonely I could cry, croons Hank. Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been. Elvis maintained a room in the Heartbreak Hotel. Major Tom is floating off into space. Lady Gaga was born this way. Bob knows no direction home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. James feels good (he knew that he would). Strong characters and tales emerge from the jungle of guitars and keys and drums and demand singular attention. And we don't forget them.
A good photograph behaves the same way. A strong subject isolates itself from the background and takes control of the narrative. A dying leaf barely hangs on to an autumn twig and we feel for it. We can't not look at a pair of bright blue eyes and not fall in. A red balloon in a blue sky laughs all the way to the stratosphere before it bursts and says uh-oh.
When we really pay attention to what's in our camera viewfinders, we realize that unless we do something about it, it's 80% clutter. The 20% that's left is what we really want - that's where the story is, the life, the isolation. The rest can go away. But it takes work - first in the will to see the 20%, and second in forcing the camera to see the exact same 20%. Otherwise, our Nikons, Canons, Sonys, Pentaxes and Fujis see every stinking thing and nail it to the sensor with religious fervor. They excel at it and their advertisers even brag on it like it's a good thing. But the truth is that we must be mindful of not letting the 80% through the lens in the first place. In short, we need to be selfishly ruthless with our compositions.
Why? There's only one story that matters at a time. We, as visual poets and minstrels, are called to isolate and extract that one story from all possible choices and paint only THAT on the sensor. It's an act of will, a learned skill, there is no pill.
So how do we do that? Here are some practical considerations:
There are plenty of psychological considerations, as well. Shining a light inward to explore what isolates us can reveal plenty of creative photographic potential. It's an act of will more onerous than simply changing an f/stop, but arguably more rewarding too.
How else can we ISOLATE? Hmmm. Here's one... when it's late, turn up the ISO.
I SO LATE will run for two weeks, from November 2 through November 15. Happy shooting!
Keywords: aperture, art, assignment, camera, color, composition, creativity, exercise, exposure, light, photography, picture, shutter, theory, training
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