I wish I could credit this piece of advice appropriately. I didn’t come up with it. It came from a guy who shoots sunsets. Really good sunset shots. Like, he’s the best sunset photographer maybe anywhere — that was the impression I got. The way he described it, you don’t shoot the sunset. In fact, you shoot anything but the sunset. And he didn’t even describe it like that, but that’s how I remembered it. He also had the more salient piece of advice, to shoot after the sun goes down. That’s when things really light up.
The best general advice always seems to be this kind of specific advice. I tend to think that all photography benefits from this approach. Or at least the kind of photography that I like to look at with my eyes. If it’s too spot on, it tends to feel clinical to me. Even when the subject is something emotional, it seems almost crass to me to shoot it straight on. Underserves the emotion, even. Maybe because it takes no interpretation on my part. A clinical look at something emotional is still a clinical look. And because, as Ansel Adams said,
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer,”
I can get kind of a cold feeling when that first person has the objectivity of a doctor. Or even a documentarian. Don’t get me started on doctormentarians.
I wish I had taken pictures of everyone else at the La Brea Tarpits. It was like they were standing on an X. I’m not saying shooting a reflection is the most creative thing in the world, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to shoot fake prehistoric animals straight on. My subject is not my subject. Yes, mammoths — but what else? When does the sun go down here?
I find this to be true nearly everywhere I go anymore. There’s a great mural in downtown Los Angeles. I hang out by that thing all the time. And I actually point my camera at it quite a bit — it’s a large, three or four story face staring right at you. It’s hard not to be affected by it. But those shots never pass muster.
I hung out with my buddy Paul for about an hour and we just thought about how to shoot it without shooting it.
That was tough because you can’t frame a moving bus. Every vehicle’s reflection is different. So you had to luck out a bit, but we kept at it. A good exercise anyway. Maybe this is why I moved away from portraiture. I want to shoot more experimentally. I want to uncover something. The subject is just where you start. What happens from there — that’s the art.
It all happens just past sunset.
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