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As I mature I find myself loving the one lens philosophy more and more. It simply makes me work harder and I notice it makes my work stronger. I started that way with my second camera, after the inevitable box camera, with an Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f1.8 lens. It was what I was given.
I just made do with what I had.
Lens envy didn’t take long to surface, nor did my desire for dad’s black version of the same camera. I laugh, as I still have a very strong preference for all-black cameras.
Choice is a dangerous thing, as Fred Hulls used to say when we taught leadership and teamwork. Derek Lucas had cottoned into it earlier. He would put a can of red herrings in with all the equipment, when he presented more of it than required into a problem-solving exercise. Facinating to watch, people always wanted to use every item including the can of red herrings.
The thing is, if we have it, we want to use it and that little thought becomes the distraction.
There’s a quote there somewhere. If all you have is a hammer then all you can see is nails. Something like that.
Well, if all you have is one lens, all you can see are photographs with that lens. If all you have is one film, all you can see are images and possibilities with that film. If I hunt for square sepia photographs with a standard lens, that is all I see. When you create, search and play with just one combination I can assure you, you will see more possibilities than when you have a world of choice.
Well, this is how it works for me. It’s how it works for some others too.
I wouldn’t have created a composition like this without embracing all the limitations around me. I was on a bridge, so I could only move left or right, up or down and, working with one lens.
As I said yesterday, there is still too much in that camera bag. Something will have to go.
Minimurra Creek, near Kiama at Jamberoo. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
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Mea Culpa poses in the most gorgeous soft light, to give me one of my favourite nude photographs. An elderly couple bought it, telling me how hard it is to find tasteful and classical nudes for their walls.
We were running a shoot for photographers in a very small garage. The owners, being artists, had painted the whole place white. White ceilings, floors and walls, of course, and had even furnished it with white furniture. Low ceilings.
So here, one softbox sent light out bouncing aound everywhere and showed me something I hadn’t seen before. How well bounced light can fill and envelope a beautiful body.
Always paint your studio white. To stop the bouncing, you use black flags.
Looking at this photograph for years has lead me back to one of my teaching points, that details intrigue the viewer. Try to imagine the photograph without that gorgeous finger and lovely nail, or without the tangle of hair. It would quickly fall apart.
It's often these details that I don’t consciously notice at the time of creation that make the artwork stand the test of time. Hopefully, my subconscious did notice them.
Mea Culpa, photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018
If you assumed I wander around looking for great subjects, I suggest you look a bit harder at my work.
I am usually wandering around chasing beautiful light and hunting out clean backgrounds. This doesn’t diminish from the importance of finding wonderful subjects to focus. It is just that you need both. Well actually your background can either make or break your subject.
Have you ever seen a great subject photographed that is let down by the background? I personally have so many of these shots. I still take them, perhaps to remind myself to go back or in the vain hope I might pull something wonderful off. It’s rare. Usually, I just skip past them for years.
A mediocre subject can shine with a great and well balanced background. Particularly, when the light is just magical to match. It’s facinating that these things often all come good together.
So it’s not enough to just get the clean background, but it is a fantastic starting point. Well worth the search in my opinion.
Master portrait photographers start with the background. So why don't you?
The Baker’s Oven, The Great Ocean Road, Victoria. Australia. Part of the monumental monoliths series. Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
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