Monday, March 3, 2014

The Magic is in the Moment

The Magic is in the Moment


This week’s topic came about as a result of some back and forth communication I was having with a model who was coming to Atlanta to work with me on some new images. Once the day and time was established, the conversation turned to wardrobe. What to wear, what to bring, what was the theme of the shoot going to be, what accessories did she need to bring …. And so it went.

I wasn’t much help, I am sorry to have to admit. I told her I usually get the idea for the shot once I see the wardrobe, accessories, make-up and hair.

Now, this is not to say I do not have some basic idea(s) to start with – after all I’m the one responsible for what goes through the lens and gets captured. So, yes, I have some basic plans in my head, I am just not married to them – at this point of the session.

As photographers we capture tiny moments in time. Moments that come and go in the blink of an eye, the click of a shutter or the flash of a strobe. The image is but a tiny moment in time captured for eternity… never to be repeated.

It happens instantaneously – and I think a good photographer works that way as well: instantaneously and in the moment.

I have seen a great many images and have taken my fair share of them over the course of my career to date. On an average feature film, I often shoot over 15,000 images for the production company to select a handful from to promote the film. On an average TV production day, I will often submit over 500 images from my 10 hour day on set. So with as many projects as I have been on, the number of times I clicked a shutter are astronomical to say the least. I do wear out a shutter now and then.

But let’s get back to this magical moment in time we are capturing. Does it apply to model and talent shoots you might ask? Absolutely. You’re every move behind the lens and the talent’s every move in front of the lens is not unlike a dance to silent yet artistic music. Each and every move is different and will yield a different feeling and flavor to the shot. Some good, some not so good, and some capturing that “lightning in a bottle”. 

The point I am hoping to make is a simple one – yet scares many of my fellow photographers when they hear me talk about “planning” a session:

Do Not Over Plan!

Okay, I said it and I can hear photographers out there just yelling at their monitors or laptops. I even heard one say I was a “total fool”. Now, now, is someone ever a total anything? So let me back this statement up with my view (read: opinion):

You can over think an idea, a concept or future creation until it becomes stale and lifeless. You end up thinking the creativeness right out of it. After all it started as a flash in your head and got you thinking, right? So that was where the magic really began. Keep an open mind to the creative energies around you and let the energy of creativity move you where you need to go. Some will understand this concept of a creative energy around creative people – others might not. But to those who do, the rest of this post is for you.

What is this creative energy that drives creative people? Some have different names for it – call it what you want. The name given is not important, but the awareness of it is and the influence it can have on your work is very important.

I was introduced to a book that drove home this point by a model who I was working with in the studio many years back. She harped on me all during the session to read this book, and would call periodically to see if I had read her suggestion. Finally I gave in, got the book and read it – and my process in the creative world changed – for the better. At the core of the book is the contention that there is indeed a creative force that drives creative people to create. And, it is that force that puts all the pieces together at exactly the right time, at exactly the right location, and with exactly the right people to capture that fleeting moment in time for all the world to see and experience. It does not happen by accident, I can attest to that.

So if you trust this creative force to do the really hard part (putting all the elements together), why not trust this force to guide you through the capturing it part? The best thing you can do for yourself is to let go of the “must have total control” mindset. It’s a killer to the true process. When you think you know more than it does, your ego is going to knock you down to size.

Ever since I decided to just “go with the flow”, I have had easier shoots, more creative sessions, more fun and many more “I can’t believe we captured what we just did” moments.

I have seen many images that must have been very complicated to orchestrate and capture. Beautiful lighting, lush scenery, fabulous costumes, great faces/bodies in front of the lens …. But you know what I also noticed? They often didn’t have a lot of life to them. They looked staged, overly produced. They had no “now-ness” to them. They were beautiful images, I will give them that – but they were lifeless – the magic of the moment had long faded from that scene. It was simply a recording of a repetitive act or action.

I learned this many years ago while shooting on a feature film. One actor refused to rehearse for the camera time and time again. Most thought he was just being difficult – but later while I was talking with him he revealed his reason: he didn’t want to lose the magic of a fresh performance. The more he did it the better it was for camera, but the worse it was for the performance. He was trying to repeat a feeling over and over again until it was no longer a feeling he was expressing. It would lose its freshness through repetition.

This holds true, for me at least, with capturing magical moments in front of my camera. If I work it too hard and too long it will die in front of my eyes.  Yes, I got the image – but I failed to get the moment.

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