This Week’s LIDLIPS

86. Embrace stress as the opposite of apathy.

87. The frames of history are meant to be broken.

88. A camera is not a license to be a jerk.

89. Kodachrome is dead. Long live Kodachrome.

90. If you don’t make a lot of photographs that you didn’t intend, then you’re not working hard enough or, maybe, you’re working too hard.

Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School 41–45

86. Embrace stress as the opposite of apathy.
A violinist once pointed out that tension is absolutely necessary for him to make beautiful music. If his bow is too tight, it will snap. If his bow is too loose, the strings will wail rather than sing. The key, he said, is to have the right amount of tension. Likewise, as a photographer, I’m always tense at the beginning of a shoot. Rather than get more stressed because I’m stressed, I’ve come to embrace the tension as a signal that I really care about what I’m doing. Consider your stress to be an indication that you are focused on the outcome of your efforts. If you start an important shoot and don’t feel some stress, then you really have something to worry about.

87. The frames of history are meant to be broken.
It’s curious that the 2×3 format of the modern DSLR sensor harkens back to a commercial effort over a century ago to make silent movies cheaper to produce. Given that DSLRs were largely derived from 35mm film cameras, it important to note that the 35mm format was originally intended in 1892 by its inventors (which included Thomas Edison and George Eastman) to be an affordable format for movie cameras – which ran the film vertically. (35mm is the actual width of the film.) Twenty-five years later, on the brink of World War I, the then industry-standard cine format was incorporated into experimental still cameras that ran the film horizontally – in a frame measuring 24mm x 36mm (giving us the 2×3 aspect ratio). Another common photo format, the 8×10, traces its roots back to an early era when large prints were made as contact prints from equally large negatives. In America the standard for letter paper is 8.5×11. Almost everywhere else in the world A4 is the standard for letters at 8.3×11.7. TVs have recently morphed from 4:3 to 16:9. So many numbers. In the jungle of all these formats, one can either chuckle or cry about the cacophony of aspect ratios that confront the photographer. I choose to reject the frames of history whenever I feel like it. My view is that decisions made by entrepreneurs and engineers should in no way limit or steer my vision. Even when peering through the 2×3 ratio of my Canon DSLR, I feel completely free to see the world in any ratio of height and width that I choose.

88. A camera is not a license to be a jerk.
Why is it that some photographers loose their sense of responsibility and compassion when they pick up a camera? How do bits of metal, plastic and glass empower some shooters to discard their humanity and turn into overlords? After all, it’s just a piece of machinery that they are holding. The opportunity to photograph others should stimulate a sense of service rather than an obsession to dominate. Now, don’t get me wrong. When I’m making images, I feel a strong obligation to shepherd my subjects while they are in front of my lens. I won’t hesitate to guide them and control the process. I’ll pick wardrobe, guide makeup and select props. I tell them my vision. I ask them to move this way or that. I direct where their eyes look. The difference is that I take charge for the benefit of the photos that will be produced and not out of a need to be authoritative. As the photographer, it’s my responsibility to make the best images I can and to not waste the time of my subjects. Being a director is different from being a dictator. What I don’t understand is why some guys (and they always seem to be guys) feel that holding a camera is a badge of authority and a license to be a jerk.

89. Kodachrome is dead. Long live Kodachrome.
Kodak recently announced that it was discontinuing the production of Kodachrome – the finely-grained slide film used by generations of National Geographic photographers (and legions of us who aspired to be Nat Geo photographers). Kodak’s announcement surprised me – not because I thought Kodachrome would be around forever – but because I thought it had died years ago. In my digital world, Kodachrome and all the other Chromes became anachronisms when I shelved my film gear in favor of an electronic workflow. Upon hearing the recent news, I felt no guilt or loss over Kodachrome’s demise. After all, I can get the look of Kodachrome in any number of Photoshop presets. It used to be that you’d buy a particular film for the way it handled color. Now, you just drive to that same end by moving a few sliders on the computer monitor. Surprisingly, many photographers truly lamented Kodachrome’s death as if part of their personas had passed on too. For me, it’s a sad day when photographers identify more with their gear and supplies than they do with the images they create. Ultimately we have to ask if the image or the process matters most.

90. If you don’t make a lot of photographs that you didn’t intend, then you’re not working hard enough or, maybe, you’re working too hard.
I’m not too proud to say that many of my best images are ones I didn’t intend to make. My hero shots are often images that I came upon as I ventured down a visual path during a shoot. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the studio, on location or just rambling around – I’m often surprised by the photos I find that weren’t there a moment before. When I’m in a good state of mind, I stumble over pictures again and again. One visual thought leads to another and another. Coming away with a lot of pix that I didn’t intend is a sign that I’m open to inspiration. Coming away with just a few pix is a sign that I’m either being lazy or much too wound up to allow myself to truly see.

Previous Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School

The entire LIDLIPS Series


14 Responses to Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School 86–90

  1. Bruce says:

    As hobbyist with no formal training, I find this series to be the most inspiring writing I’ve read on the craft of photography. I really hope you collect these lessons into a book one day… I’ll be first in line to buy it.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Bruce – Many thanks for your kind words. I plan to publish the first volume of LIDLIPS (1–100) in late September. PixSylated, of course, will be the first place to get the details on how to order.

  2. marcus says:

    #88 is spot on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the aquarium, the zoo, botanical gardens, amusement parks, etc. and seen people with cameras pushing people out of the way, stepping on kids, or otherwise behaving rudely. It’s as if the rules of polite society don’t apply when they’re trying to get their shot.

  3. Fantastic read Syl!
    I have to agree about #88 also. Many of these characters with a camera today tend to not only be rude but also try to take advantage of their subjects.

    I make sure I set my grounds when being interviewed by the client. I let them know that I am here to produce the image they’re in need for and nothing else. Sometimes you have to earn their trust because of past bad experiences. I’m happy that you pointed this issue out. Thanks for LIDLIPS Series, it not only helps us keep focused (no pun intended) but it also inspires us to keep moving forward and hustle to brand our styles out there!
    great job Syl 🙂
    ~Jay Rodriguez

  4. Mark says:

    Bruce, unfortunately, the line for Syl’s book forms behind me. 🙂

    OK,ok, I don’t want to break rule #88..we can share being first in line.

    On target once again, Syl. I always look forward to these!

  5. Otto Rascon says:

    Thanks Syl for taking the time and sharing these with us! I always look forward to reading your lessons. Rock on!!!

  6. […] finally, Syl Arena continues his fabulous series, Lessons I Didn’t Learn In Photo School. My favorite from this group is #86, Embrace stress as the opposite of […]

  7. […] Lessons I Didn’t Learn in Photo School 86-90 (Pixsylated) […]

  8. Rich C says:

    I love the point about the image or the process from item 89. Very well put. Most debates I read on photography focus around the process. Personally, I’m always interested in the final image. If it grabs me, tells me a story, or just leaves me with a little drool on the corner of my mouth (wishing I’d shot it) that’s all I need….

    And without #90 I wouldn’t be earning a living right now with my photography. Sure, I get the shots that “I” want. And they come across the way I intended them. But go figure, the scenes I love aren’t necessarily the scenes my clients love. So, when I do a shoot I always try different perspectives, scenes, etc. My most popular print was a “quickie” shot I took early one morning after getting the shot I wanted. The shot I wanted amazed me, but the accidental gem I took afterward wows almost every client that comes through my gallery’s doors. Every month that accidental gem seems to pay my rent…, I’m happy to get the unexpected, cause gosh darn it, people like the unintentional! 🙂

  9. David Cooper says:

    Number 89
    At least I finally have lots of space in my fridge, having cleared out those boxes of film that took a whole shelf. Students in art school love old outdated film. Donate any old stock or polaroid to a local photo/art school. They will love you.

  10. […] “Lessons I Didnt’t Lern in Photo School” von Syl Arena. Mittlerweile ist er bei Lessons 86-90 angekommen und ich habe überhaupt nicht das Gefühl, dass er die Serie zwanghaft am Leben […]

  11. […] PixSylated | Digital Photography, Canon Flash, Shooting Tethered … […]

  12. […] PixSylated | Digital Photography, Canon Flash, Shooting Tethered … […]

  13. JM says:

    I disagree with #89. YOU CANNOT replicate the “look” of film by pushing a few sliders. Now, I’m also digital having left the old Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and Velvia world years ago but I NEVER, EVER try to emulate the look of film. If I want the look of film, I’ll shoot film. Digital is so much cleaner, and richer IMHO.

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