Crossing the line

One of my greatest inspirations in developing my photographic self was the work of Frans Lanting. He was just about the first wildlife photographer to find a way to not have to use long lenses to photograph animals. He wanted to photograph them in ways that were more personal as you would with people or subjects that you can physically get close to. Besides using lots of patience to enable the use of wide angle, or at least normal focal length lenses, he also tried to break down the need for critical sharpness. He pioneered the use of selective sharpness and abstracting blur to show motion and the energy of the animals.

This was pretty important to a guy who had spent more than a few years with his camera locked down on a tripod and was trying to get away from all that I did and find what I wanted to be. What really got to me with his work was how dynamic and present it was. He let things be clear when they needed to be and let them be amorphous when it tells the story better. The visual, and thus, emotional boldness of it all really hit home to me.

If you know my work you know that I often let things go blurry and abstract. That’s all from Frans influence. He explained in a seminar I attended that he was teaching that for each subject there is an amount of motion induced abstraction that is either too much or not enough and you have to find the sweet spot for it. This was the film era so when he was in Borneo he couldn’t get the instant feedback that we now do so he had to experiment a lot to get to know what works.

But then sometimes you don’t have the time or ability to fiddle about and see what shutter speed will give you the look that suits the situation, you need to get it right the first time. This is where all your practice comes in handy. You have to know for: 1) what speed the subject is moving, 2) what focal length you are using, 3) how close the subject is and 4) what speed you can effectively hold steady in a panning motion will all come together to make that one time shot useful and not just an “almost”.

Too sharp and it looks like a mistake. Too blurry and it looks like a mistake.

So the other night I was on assignment for a story about the popularity in tribute bands. You know the ones “They look like ‘em, they sound like ‘em”. The Beatles, Van Halen, The Grateful Dead … there are hundreds of bands out there on tour packing the place giving people the experience of the real thing at a fraction of the cost of the real McCoy and usually in more intimate settings. Anyhoo I was shooting a U2 tribute band and they started out their set with the singer walking out into the crowd with an Irish flag waving behind him. I was in the pit shooting and as he walked past me I slowed down my shutter and pulled this shot off:


To me it’s very painterly and it feels right.

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