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Photography practice through mimicry

From: The Practicing Photographer

Video: Photography practice through mimicry

Very often when teaching a class, You can start anywhere, you can go alphabetically, you can, I'm just going to knock off a couple of practice shots.

Photography practice through mimicry

Very often when teaching a class, I will ask students who their favorite photographers are. And it's pretty shocking to me how rarely students will have an answer to that question. And they'll feel pressured to say something, so, of course they'll all say Ansel Adams, because that's the only really famous photographer that's kind of entered the mainstream consciousness. If I was to walk into a writing class, and ask the students who their favorite writers were, I think they would all have an answer. It's very strange to me that nowadays hobbyists who learn photography don't learn the history of photography.

They don't have a context for their images in the larger work that has been everything that's happened in photography for the last 150 years. So, I want to talk about two things. One, just encouraging you to look at other work. Right now between the massive amounts of publications that you can get, beautiful coffee table books full of works. And simply the web, which, provides access to basically every photo, famous photo that's ever been taken. There's no reason not to have a very good understanding of what has come before you in terms of taking pictures.

You wouldn't expect a musician to not know some musical history, especially within the genre that they play. It's strange that we, as photography students, don't demand that of ourselves either. In addition to being a good way of getting better as a photographer, it's just a lot of fun. Not just because of what you learn about photography but what you learn about the subject the photographers are taking. So I really encourage you to just start sitting down with some photo books and simply looking. You can start anywhere, you can go alphabetically, you can, you can ask friends who their favorite photographers are.

I've got a nice stack of books here that were just laying around the Lynda studio here. I've got some Eugene Smith. Some Keith Carter. Actually I got a lotta Keith Carter, which is a great way to spend your time. There are a lotta great photographers out there. It's nice to develop an aesthetic for it. Then I would suggest you take the next level. As an exercise, once you've identified some photographers you really like, consider. Taking their style apart, really learning what it is, and trying to shoot that way. Trying mimicking a particular photographer. Not because you're really gung-ho about creating derivative work, but very often by going through the motions they went through, you'll learn a lot about how they work, and that can influence your own shooting.

I'm looking at this Eugene Smith book here, and I've seen a lot of this work before. It's straight documentary work. And, while looking at I can sit here and take apart what he's done. Technically, I can say, oh, he's shooting with a wide aperture, which shallowed up the field. He's probably really struggling with that backlight here, and that's certainly valuable to do. What's much more intense is to look at it and go, how did he get himself in this situation? How did he get permission to do this? How did he get access to these people? How did he get so comfortable, that he could get this close to a doctor working with a patient? That was the amazing thing that Eugene Smith did.

The rapport that he developed with these people, his ability to, go into these situations and see that way and allow, get people to open up to him. So there's a lot more to learn from looking at these people than just their technical style, it's, you've gotta think through their technique. And a big part of that comes out when you're going to mimic someone. Now, you're probably seen the work of Richard Avedon, even if you didn't know that's what you were seeing. Very famous 20th century photographer. Who's best known for taking what appear to be candid portraits of people in front of white limbo backgrounds.

So, I'm going to do that right now. I got a couple of, of friends here. Chrissy and Doug, come on in. I'm going to set them up here. This is a regular place that we shoot here in the Lynda studios. It's this great, it's called a cyclorama. It's a white limbo set. This is the type of set that Avedon shot in. But he didn't do it in a studio. He carried one around with him. And you can do the same. You can get very, a very similar lighting situation that I've got here, just by finding a shady wall and putting up some white butcher paper or a white sheet. Just something that's going to give you a really good, easily knocked out background.

Okay, guys, our lighting is not quite where it was. If you could step back a little bit. So what he did, what Avedon did was try to find people as they really were in a particular situation. Sometimes that was going to an area of the country and picking up people that he thought it was interesting. Sometimes it was celebrity portraits, and just getting them being themselves. And he typically shot them in this limbo background, with and he, he contact printed so that he had very natural frames. Obviously we're shooting digitally, so we're not going to do that.

So the first thing I'm doing is just trying to figure out what I can get here. I'm just going to knock off a couple of practice shots. I'm trusting them to be patient. Just to see what kind of framing I've got. This look kind of Avedon to me. I'm not really doing any work with them yet, I'm just trying to figure out what is Avedon. And right away I see, wow you, you really. Sometimes to get in the frame that you want to get, the composition that you want, you gotta be really far away. Boy, it feels strange yelling at my subject telling them to do things. So is that how Avedon worked? Did he right away? Was he always this distant from his subject? Is that perhaps why very often his pictures.

I, I really like Avedon pictures, but I do find sometimes there is a coldness to the portraits. Maybe that's why. Maybe he wasn't close enough to talk to them. I don't know. I'm just making stuff up at this point. But this is what I mean, by going through the motions of taking an Avedon style photo, I'm kind of maybe more in his head. And, and seeing the problems that he encountered. So, guys you look great but. Let's get a little closer together. Interact with, with each other somehow even, yeah, just the hand on her shoulder. Something like that. Okay. Now, this is maybe starting to look a little high school prom picture.

>> Yeah there we go. Still, it's something. One thing, particularly with his, in the American West work, Avedon had very neutral expressions. So let's try that. Give me look you know, cynical and dour and, and hip. yeah, that's good. Now, I can sit here and try and play Richard Avedon all day long and at the end of the day I might know exactly how to shoot a Richard Avedon photo.

And I might have learned a lot about his process along the way. The result though would be, so what, I can shoot like Richard Avedon. This may be an interesting starting point. What can I do from here that's my own or that is following my own interest? I can tell you right now. I just feel too far away. That feels weird. So I'm going to go in here. And, except now I'm casting a shadow on you guys, so I can't go that close. Okay, that's fine, working within the lighting constraints, that's part of being a photographer. I really like the limbo background. I've got some shadows behind them, I know I can knock that out really easily in Photoshop. But, I think, for me, I'm maybe more interested in getting in tighter.

Not the full body thing, but more up here. So guys, if you could come back together somehow, alright. And now I'd rather see you interacting with each other I think. Or maybe one of you. Doug look at me, Christy look at Doug. Oh, that's nice. You have no idea what she's doing now. You have no idea how she's looking at you. So I can just go on like this.

I, I started with Avedon, I started with the limbo background idea, and now I'm moving into it and just trying things and taking things apart. This is where the mimicry can go. And, it's really important to take that next step, because sometimes if you mimic something too much, that's going to become your habit. And then you're stuck, then you're stuck being a Richard Avedon wannabe. You need to be able to make it your own. So start with the mimicry, but really try and take that next step into doing something else. At the very least, even if you don't come out with any images you like, you're going to know a lot more about how a particular photographer shot.

You will have gone through some good thought process that's going to be helpful in any type of shooting you do. And after your study of some photographers, you're going to have a better idea of the broader world that has come in photography before you.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for The Practicing Photographer
The Practicing Photographer

76 video lessons · 47093 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 3m 56s
    1. Exploring how to think about shooting a new environment
      3m 56s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 7h 23m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
      6m 52s
    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 55s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s
    74. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s

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