#584 Opening Yourself Up To Creativity



Hi everyone-

A little over a year ago I was asked to write a series of articles for a photography website. In the end the series never got off the ground so I have a few articles in the can that I have decided to post here on my blog.

They are pretty basic and mostly just my thoughts on a particular subject.

Today's post starts off the series with an article on where I came from in portrait photography and how I opened myself up (with a lot of help) to creating interesting portraits of people.

I hope you enjoy and would love to see your feedback.

Have a great day!

Opening Up to Creativity…
Brian Bastinelli

Hi everyone. I’d like to take a few moments of your time to talk about portrait photography and some of the things I like to do while shooting this style of images.

In the past I have shot portraits of family and friends when I absolutely had to, but shied away from people I didn’t know altogether.

The thought of approaching a stranger on the street was horrifying and would cause a spontaneous onset of nausea and I would immediately reject the whole situation.

Well thanks to Craig Tanner and Bryan Allen and a host of new friends I have met at workshops, I have been broken of my affliction.

Now I can not wait for the next opportunity to shoot strangers on the street, set up a portrait shoot with a client or even shoot a wedding!

Please don’t get me wrong the feelings of terror and nausea persist. However, I’ve been able to transition those feelings to be more about my performance and if I will pull off a good shoot rather than just approaching someone in the first place.

Hopefully, that will be under control someday even though I think it’s somewhat of a good feeling before a shoot. It kind of keeps the ego in check.

Once you get over those initial feelings, you have to focus your energy on creating a great image. everyone has different opinions on what a great image is so you have to work through your own vision and style and create what you think is a great image.

It’s great to get positive feedback from others on your work but only you have to be happy with what you are creating. Unless of course you are shooting for a client, it’s generally a good thing if they’re happy as well.

In photography there are many rules. Some are technical in nature and some are more aesthetic. People will tell you that you should shoot something this way or don’t ever do that etc, etc. This has never made sense to me. Sure there are some basic guidelines you must have a firm grasp on to create and imaged that’s exposed correctly for the situation etc. But is most photography not a creative endeavor?

So why limit yourself to creating images within a box. Step out and see the unbelievable possibilities around you.

Portrait photography is a perfect forum to take this leap into creativity. Portraits, in my mind, should capture the person’s spirit.

Anyone can create an image of a person. Anyone can be trained to set up lights, sit you on a box and say look over her and say cheese. Snap, snap you’re done, NEXT! I’m sure you’ve had this portrait setting before, so you know.

I’m also confident that your favorite photograph of you is probably a candid shot of you just being you. If it’s more of a set up image then I’d be willing to bet it was created by someone who either subscribes to what I’m talking about or who really knows you.

So how can we create an image that does this? And how do we do it quickly say if we are out on the street?

Well you have to first open yourself up to others. Drop societies preconceptions and stereo types. Allow yourself to let this person into your world and let them share themselves with you.

Take a few moments to get to know them. Sometimes putting a camera in their face right off the bat will shut them down. So engage them first. Let them become comfortable with you, let them see you as a real person not just some crazy person with a camera.

I learned these lessons the hard way. As I said before shooting strangers was a major no-no for me. So as I started to break down the walls holding me back rejection was the last thing I needed. Or was it?

I though that rejection was bad. I’d approach, ask if I could shoot, they’d say no, I’d go home. But without experiencing that emotional loss I could never have adapted what I was doing.

Now, it takes time to get over that, but you learn how to deal with it and in the end you end up learning more about yourself than you can imagine.

So what are some ways that you can engage a person to open them up? First off do not patronize them. This drives me crazy. I have seen photographers just be so gushy that it just turns your stomach. We’re already dealing with nausea here, we don’t need more!

But be nice, find something that interests you about them and bring it up. Say hey I was checking out your cool hat or that’s a great car you got there. Start a conversation.

Most people think that you want something from them, money or your selling something or even that you want them to purchase the image. Paparazzi has given themselves a bad name over the last few years and people are sensitive to people approaching them with cameras, even though they probably aren’t famous and your not paparazzi.

It’s your job to make them feel comfortable with the situation. Once you do that then most people will open up and sometimes even surprise you.

Recently, I was having a bad day at a workshop. I just wasn’t feeling the assignment we had just completed and it didn’t go well. It was to the point that I was asking myself what was I even doing there. Not because of the assignment, but because of how I was dealing with it.

The very next assignment changed everything, and for that matter my life. Had the story I’m about to tell not happened I don’t know if I would have ever broke through the gate holding me back from shooting people and portraits.

I approached an older couple sitting on a bench. I walked right up and asked if I could take a photograph of them. Immediately they declined and pretty forcefully. But after blowing the last assignment I had to make something happen here.

I said ok no problem and just began talking to them. This was something that, although reluctant at first, they were willing to do. So we talked and started to learn about each other.

They asked what I was doing and I asked where they were from, small talk. But as we spoke the conversation became more in depth. We talked about love and marriage, helping those who are in need and many of the problems society faces today.

At least 25 minutes later I was still talking with them. The walls were down and we were truly enjoying each other’s company. I had learned that both were widows and that they had know each other for 50 years. This was their honeymoon as they had recently gotten married.

The time I spent with them was fantastic, I had not taken a single image but had learned so much from them.

As we wrapped up the conversation I asked one more time if I might take their picture, this time they agreed acting as if it would be an insult for me not to ask and them not to agree.

During our conversation about their recent wedding the woman had kissed her new husband. After taking two or three images I asked if she would do it again, she replied, ‘Honey, on any day of your life!’ Bam, there was the shot.

Since that day the experiences that I have had with street and portrait photography have continued to change my life. The creativity and the energy that comes from these shoots is the new fuel that keeps me going as a photographer.

And it’s all because I allowed myself (with a little help from the M.E. gang) to open up and experience what you can get from this type of photography and from people you know or those you’re about to meet.

Once the walls are down and the gates opened you can begin to concentrate on creating beautiful images of people that showcase their spirit and lives.

In the next part of this series I’ll talk about the rules for portraits that I don’t like and little things that you can do to make your images stand out. Thanks for reading and have a great day!


Barry Armer said...

Nice inspirational piece Brian!

You should post the photo of the couple to go with the story! I remember it well because I was at the same workshop but if you add hit here everyone can see the "turning point" photo!

Well done!

Brian Bastinelli said...

HA! Barry you are too fast for me....

I posted the article from my laptop and then went to the desktop to get the image.

By that time you already read it!!

The pic is up!

Have a great day!

Doug Haass said...

Brian, your story really hits home with several of us who follow your blog. We have a fellow club member who went to a Craig Tanner workshop about 1-1/2 to 2 years ago.

During that workshop one of the exercises Craig had them do was to ask 100 people (some number I'm not sure of) on the street if they could take their photo. He did not want them coming back until they had spent the day doing this. Up to that point he never would have had the nerve to ask a stranger on the street to take their photo.

When he returned from the trip he was a changed photographer. He immersed himself in learning about flash photography using Strobist methods. He began approaching people in the street asking if he could shoot them. He started getting others in the club interested in what he was doing and teaching them how to do it. The member is Larry Patrick. I think you know him.

Anyway, I'm not trying to hijack your thread. I'm saying what you are doing will light a fire in someone to try this approach. If you take this all the way to the end through your blog, I really think it will make a difference to someone.

I applaud you for taking the time to teach others what you have learned.

Bryan Allen said...

Great story Brian. Thanks for sharing this. Definitely brings back the memories. I have so enjoyed and still enjoy watching your growth. Keep doing what you're doing. The sky's the limit for you and those your journey will inspire.