Hey, make me look good!

I hate to hear a subject tell me to make them look good. Not that I don’t understand their wish to be shown in an appealing way but frankly that’s not my job. My job is to make something interesting out of what I have to work with. Especially when shooting something for a news publication the image has to stop the viewer from breezing past the article my images is illustrating toward the article they are intending to read. I call it “visual brakes”. They are flipping to page 38 when they see my shot on page 23 and something about it grabs their attention and makes them stop and look. Then they may read the article if only to better understand the photo. If I can do that then I’ve done my job well.

Ya see, it’s easy to make a straight image that has some general informational content but nothing visually compelling. The kind of “here is a guy in a suit” or “The smoke was thick on that fateful day” image. We understand that the article is dealing with a profile of some dude or some kind of unfortunate event … blah blah blah. Can I get to that piece about how to loose ten pounds by eating cake now? I don’t want to make images like that if at all possible because they don’t often have visual braking capacity. Not unless they are very dynamic with color or light or composition.

I think that to be interesting is the prime quality that the photo needs and there are a lot of ways to do it but straight news images don’t bring the goods. Maybe it’s because they don’t ask anything of us. They are simple statements that don’t make us think or emote. That guy in the suit with some dramatic light and strong composition could do the trick but it he’s just standing there with soft and “pretty” light maybe not so much. Smoke billowing from the home on one side of the frame and a closely framed face of a person with tears in their eyes on the other? Yeah you will probably stop and look at that for a second.  You might even read the story.

But you need to find a way to make the image interesting, compelling or in some way make you want to understand it. So when someone asks me to make them look good I tell them that the photo of them isn’t about them; it’s bigger than them because it’s about the story.

This is a shot from something that I did last night for an article about jazz clubs open jam nights where musicians can drop in and jam with the band. This kid Benny is just graduating from high school and played a pretty good horn for a dude who wants to become a physicist. But a guy just standing there holing a trumpet with dreadful light and a messy background would certainly say “musician” but would that make you stop and look at it if you didn’t intend to read the article to begin with?

Frankly to me this shot is all about repeating semi-circles. The bell of the horn, his fingers, the curve of the mouth piece, his eyebrows, hairline …


Technicals: Nikon D700 @ ISO1600, Tungsten WB, 1/125th sec. Nikon AF-D 85mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4. I stood on a chair right in front of the stage to get on eye level with him.

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