This Week’s LIDLIPS

56. Hollywood is waiting to teach you how to light.

57. Sometimes it is more important to look like you know what you’re doing than to actually know what you’re doing.

58. Sincerity, humility and gentle persistence can open closed doors.

59. The future is moving.

60. Analysis Paralysis and the Right Pursuit

Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School 56–60

56. Hollywood is waiting to teach you how to light.
If you really want to learn how to light, go to the movies and think about the light you see. As still shooters, we think in terms of lighting one spot for a fraction of a second. On the set of a motion picture, they have to light a broad area such that the actors can move through it without casting unwanted shadows or walking out of the light. Put another way, grips and gaffers do their jobs with intention – there is a look the director wants and their task is to deliver that vision through lighting. Virtually every lighting tool we still shooters think of as new or unique has been used in Hollywood for decades. Gels, scrims, shiny boards, flags, gobos – they all came to us from the movies. Even the newest lighting tools – like LED panels and banks of CFLs – were adopted by the movie guys first. Hollywood understands that film (or tape) records light and shadow differently than we see it. They don’t fight physics. Rather they’ve invented tools and techniques that change one reality into another. Learn what they do and how they do it. Your vision as a photographer will expand accordingly.

57. Sometimes it is more important to look like you know what you’re doing than to actually know what you’re doing.
Maintaining the confidence of your client is key – even when your shoot is crashing. Once I was on a wedding shoot with the bride and three attendants staring right into my lens when my camera mysteriously locked up. Rather than change the mood and say I had a problem, I went through the motions of taking a few more frames – even though nothing was happening. As the group moved to the next spot, I went to my gear bag and changed camera bodies. Stopping to figure out the problem (a bad CF card) would have appeared as if I didn’t know what was going on (which I didn’t at the time). Problems happen during shoots. How you respond is a measure of your professionalism. Maintaining an air of confidence and control in front of your clients is key. Have an SOS phrase in the back of your head. Something like “I see an new opportunity here. Let’s break for a few minutes so that we can set up for it.”

58. Sincerity, humility and gentle persistence can open closed doors.
Across the decades of my professional life, I have had a number of mentors. Not surprisingly, none walked up to me and said “I want to give you my time and my expertise and I don’t want to charge you anything for it.” I’ve long wanted to believe the old saying “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Sure, he may appear. But getting his attention is a completely different matter. My experience is that the three keys to opening up a relationship with a mentor are sincerity, humility and gentle persistence. If you are not sincere in your desire to be the best photographer you can be (if you still think it’s the gear that makes the photograph), then there’s no point in having a mentor. Being humble means you respect yourself and your mentor. It means being honest about what you don’t know and haven’t done. It means understanding the definition of “sycophant” and not going there. Even when your head and your heart are in the right place, you’ll still need to convert your hero into your mentor. Typically, this happens slowly over time. It comes through persistence – gentle persistence. Remember that you are not and never will be critical to the success of your mentor’s career. That he has taken you on is more a testament to the gifts he received from his mentors than it is of you. Still, if you are worthy, do not hesitate to knock and to come back and knock again. Eventually your persistence will open the right door.

59. The future is moving.
While I’m not ready to say that the death of still photography is at hand, it is apparent that the future of photography is in motion. Observe how the rapid growth of the Internet as an advertising channel has caused widespread devastation in the newspaper and magazine industries. As access to broadband continues to spread and as mobile tools like Apple’s iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle continue to evolve, there’s an ever-increasing opportunity to use motion over still photography. No too many years ago, the moving photographs on the walls, desks and newspapers of Harry Potter’s world seemed quaint. Now, I see them as an insightful glimpse into our future. If you are young, photographs that move and speak and sing are your future. If you are an old-school shooter, like me, now is not the time to put your head in the sand about how the world has once again changed it’s expectations of what photographers do.

60. Analysis Paralysis and the Right Pursuit.
An earnest dad came up to me a while back and asked my thoughts on which DSLR was best suited for photographing his children playing soccer. He had boiled his options down to one that shoots 3.6 frames-per-second and another that could shoot 6.2 FPS. Oh, and there was the possibility that one was coming out “soon” that would shoot close to 10 FPS. He’d been looking into cameras for the entirety of his kids’ soccer season. I offered two suggestions. The first was to get over his Analysis Paralysis. The second was to buy the best camera he could afford at the moment – regardless of specs like frames-per-second. I came away from the conversation wondering how many great shots he’d missed because the pursuit of the camera had overtaken the pursuit of the photo.

Previous Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School

The entire LIDLIPS Series


11 Responses to Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School 56–60

  1. Mark says:

    Syl, normally one or two of your “Lessons” speak to me on some level. Really good baseball players are often called “Five-Tool Players”…this is a Five-Tool Post for me. Everyone of these has crossed my mind at one time or another. 56 = Even though I don’t use lighting much (yet), I often watch movies and note how they are lit. Do you have any favorites in this regard? 57 = A landscaping boss in high school taugh me this a long time ago. Sound like you know what you’re doing sometimes and go from there. 58 & 59 – so, so true. 60 = Yep, what do we miss because we can’t decide. Make the decision and go.

    Great reading. Thanks!

  2. LisaNewton says:

    I’m all for #57. I’m just starting in photography, so looking like I know what I’m doing is very important. I’m still shy about asking people to take their photo, but I’m getting better. In fact, tomorrow, I have special permission from a local museum to take photos of an inside exhibit. I’m really looking forward to it.

    As my knowledge increases, I hope to know what I’m doing more often than not……………….:)

  3. Ray K says:

    #56 really hits home I watch TV and Movies with the sound off so all I see are images and lighting. Also web logs and tutorials for video have been a real help for ideas and DIY gear. Another great series of lessons.

  4. […] and Read More: pixsylated.comSHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School 56 – 60 – Syl Arena”, url: […]

  5. Krista says:

    Great post! I am always amazed at how many ideas I pick up from watching movies and music videos. Sometimes I have to watch a movie 2 or 3 times because the first and second time I have no clue what was said…I was too busy paying attention to the lighting and setup. My boyfriend will say, “How did you watch that entire movie and miss {insert major part of movie here} ” Haha!!! -Krista

  6. Michael says:

    #56 and #59 really hit home. I started in Photography as a kid with my first k1000 when i was in 6th grade and moved in to video production in the late 80s after high school. I now teach video production, editing and lighting at a local community college and this year with the explosion of the new slrs that do video I’ve been trying to convince my kids that learning true photography is essential
    to their careers. I try to get them to look at the strobist blog to learn more about light …. its funny you’re saying the opposite look to film … I guess it just means to LOOK and study …. also I’ve been constantly thinking about the harry potter images from the movies. I kept telling my self this is the news paper of the future. but as an editor I keep asking when does the picture stop and start. where do you edit. will it be the one shot or a sequence …. will we go the full TV news route and have fully edited sequenced series of moving images or will there be a single moving frame where the photographer picks the moment … I also got into a discussion on the pentax forums regarding if a cinematographer is a photographer or a totally different beast …. I really thnk we are all one in the same some people just have had blinders on for so long or refuse to see we are all the same

  7. All great points. Well written and articulated.
    I am most familiar with #58 as it has served me very well in my budding career and would add that it is something to use with mentors and clients as well. I have made a fairly quick foray (relatively speaking) in editorial photography simply because I wanted it badly enough that I asked for it. You don’t have to be annoying or arrogant about it, but ask and ask again but be ready to back it up. When I submit article ideas, I usually provide the article within 24h of getting the OK. Guess who they come back to when they need urgent input…yup you guessed it 😀

  8. […] move us, they drive us, they challenge us, they excite us, they depress us, they inspire us. And, as Syl demonstrates in lesson #56, they teach us how to light, too. My buddy up in the Pacific Northwest, Ray, goes as far to say how […]

  9. marco says:

    I love your LIDLIPS 🙂

    About the movies, they didn’t start in Hollywood; the first “cinematograph” was born in 1895 in France by the Lumiere brothers. 🙂

  10. hlinton says:

    As for #56 – The DVD “Visions of Light” is a real worthwhile watch. I just went to an Imaging Expo last week and found myself spending 50% or more of my time checking out the latest in Cine lighting equipment.

    BTW – It seems that #59 and #56 go hand-in-hand.

  11. Thanks Syl, I really enjoy and learn from this lessons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *