Friday, February 5, 2016

Front & Back

A few things about this picture, for those who are curious about the invisible scaffolding that goes into the production of images like this one (as opposed to those who prefer to simply look at the result and move on):

Firstly, I know I've defended my cluttered backgrounds in the past, but yeah, they're starting to drive me crazy. I should put in the work to clean them up before taking pictures, but that's one of those idealistic sorts of things that doesn't always happen in practice. In my case, photography is often a spontaneous activity, and every moment spent preparing a backdrop is a moment that could potentially interrupt my streak of inspiration.

Plus, I live with a roommate, and as much as I'm sure she'd yell at me for taking photographic evidence of her [dis]organization skills (like anybody is going to be studying the backgrounds in my pictures, am I right? :p), I really don't like touching and moving other people's things around (no matter how many times they tell me it's okay). So, there's that.

Now, you could say, "just find a different corner of the apartment to take your pictures in!" And, on the surface, that would look like good advice. But there are only so many corners in this tiny apartment, and my choice depends largely on certain limiting factors that are more or less outside of my control. Some corners of the apartment just photograph better than others - and I'm not talking about the backdrop. I mean the lighting - a combination of the overhead lights and the natural light which comes in pretty much on only one side of the whole apartment. (I know, I need to learn how to use an off-camera flash - it's next on my list of photo upgrades). And then I have to think about where to put the camera in these cramped spaces, and what might get in the way of the foreground (like the corner of a bed, or a table, or a door frame). There are a finite number of spots in this apartment with flattering lighting and enough room to set up a camera.

Enough about the challenges of ghetto photography. The other thing I wanted to say about this photograph is that its creative genesis was pretty straightforward (which makes sense: the subject is pretty simple). Surely you're already familiar with my past experiments with coupling front and back shots of my figure together (here is just one of my most recent examples). I mean, it's a pretty obvious technique - but I'm not one to shy away from the classics. Well, I was actually thinking about it recently, and my last couple of attempts were diptychs. It occurred to me that a clone shot with two figures seemingly standing next to each other at the same time (instead of two figures in the same place but at different times) would result in a smoother image, while also emphasizing the social nature of the portrait. And that's how this image was born.

I must note that, while I think it works pretty well as it is, at least as far as creating the illusion of two figures interacting goes, they feel a little unnaturally close together. Which is the same problem I had when I tried to create a similar image a few years back with a clothed figure and a nude one. I mean, it's not like two people can't stand that close together - especially if they're close friends (or better). But without contact or overlapping - which is tricky to do in Photoshop - and without synchronization between the two figures' body language (which is difficult to fake when the two figures are not standing there at the same time actually interacting with each other - this is one of those challenges that clone photographers have to struggle with), the closeness actually (to me, at least) sets off my 'personal space alarm' and makes the image look slightly less real.

As I said, I still think it looks great, but that's something I would play around with if I were to try this shot again (and I probably will try another variation of it sooner or later). In this case, the closeness was a symptom of me working with a new lens - a prime, with a fixed focal length. I had the camera pushed back against the far wall, and I just couldn't back up any more to get more space in the frame. I could have (and possibly should have) switched out for another lens, but really, I'm trying to get some experience using this lens since it's new, and I want to get a good feel for it, and see how the quality of the images I take while using it ultimately turn out.

Oh, one last thing: 5x7 is such an awkward aspect ratio for photography. I don't know why, but I seem to have a hard time either finding frames or getting prints in that ratio. So I try to avoid using it as much as possible, opting for either of the more popular 4x5, which is a little wider, or 4x6, which is a tad longer (compare). But I'll be honest, sometimes I'll find myself working on an image where 5x7 frames it just perfectly, and no other ratio will do.

Thanks for taking a peek behind the curtain with me!

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