Categories and Concepts in Photo

Today, I’m going to talk photography, as it is core to who I am and key to what I do. When people ask me what my podcast is about, I say it’s about photography, digital media, culture in the digital era, art and literature. It’s a form of questions, an inquiry. There’s a certain mysterious element to it as well, because it’s kind of unable to be forced. I feel like if I tried to come up with a strict theme for a talk I don’t think it would go that well, not that it IS going that well, but it would go less well. So instead, it’s: marketing, social media, multimedia, art and business and culture.

Maybe it would be good to develop a more formal framework? If I’m going to do 30 minutes a day should I break that down into segments? What would that look like? What kind of segments should I create?

Today, though, I’m going to be a little more focused because I want to talk photography. There are so many ways to talk about photography because it’s such a huge field. There are all of the categories of photography to consider and it helps to think about what each kind of photograph calls for. The basic thing that combines all segments of photography is that you have to get great photos.

Whatever the purpose, whatever the format, you have to go out with your assignment and figure out how to bring back the best images. Whether you love it or hate it, people’s response is going to play into the mix, too and there are always trolls. That’s why being a photographer is kind of like waging psychological war because you’re going to deal with so many people trying to get into the field as well. But it helps to think about the categories. The more you know the better chance you stand.

There’s photography you do for the public (journalism, art, marketing) but when you do marketing photography you’re doing stuff for the public on behalf of a client and this is a great way to make money if you can pull it off. When you get the chance to work with a business and they give you some idea of what they want, then you get to create a voice that matches the brand’s goals. It’s a lot of fun to help businesses to convert people into fans.

How do you make someone a fan? You have to be compelling to them in one way or another. They have to want to see what you’re going to do next.

Back to the categories. Each of the categories has different considerations, and lots of overlap. Like with landscape photography where you’re depicting a stretch of space and architectural photography where you’re showing a landscape with a home. It’s like a cross between landscape photography and portraiture, but it’s a portrait of a building.

When it comes to people, there’s a lot of categories, but there are also types. There’s candid photography and posed photography and those modes of representation can exist within each of the categories. For example, if you photograph an event where someone is talking and you get a great photo of them at the podium, that is a candid journalistic photo. However, if the speaker is not in a place to get a great shot and you approach them after the talk and ask them to get a photo then it is still a journalistic shot, but it’s of a posed variety.

Thinking about what category it is will help to make decisions about the equipment and technique to use in order to get the shot you want. We start with the constraints. What can’t be done? Many of those are obvious and eliminate the techniques that are inappropriate to the situation, but it’s a helpful orientation. The limitations of a situation or a category of photography help to determine what can be done and how.

So, I want to come up with a concept for a shoot right now. That way I can walk you through how I make my decisions.

We are in winter and we have all of these cool trees without leaves and you can see their structure. I came across a huge maple tree that cast a massive shadow across the street and I want to return there with a model to play with the pockets of light and shadow for a portrait. When doing a portrait there are still different kinds of images. On the one hand, there are photos of people where the identity of the subject is the most important element. Your goal is to portray something interesting about this notable person. On the other hand, you have portraiture where it’s really a concept for a play on color or lights and shadows and what you really need is a person to stand in as a role, to be an actor who embodies that space.

In marketing, you’re going to do both kinds. If you’re able to photograph people who are important to the brand then you want to show something interesting or powerful about who they are, like photographing Dan Herer standing with John Salley for The Original Jack Herer. You’re going to approach that more as a documentary photographer. You want to capture the moment.

I’m going to think about a concept for a shoot featuring the vape pen by Original Jack Herer that just won the Emerald Cup award for best distillate. There are so many factors that go into creating a shoot: the style of the brand, what shots they have recently posted, what story they are trying to tell, what is happening culturally or seasonally, etc. So, I’m going to go with the wintry element of the leafless trees and the patterns of shadows and pockets of light and bring a model into that space with the vape pen to make the most of that contrast of winter light. I think I’ll invite Sammy and Emily to see if they can model. I have this shot in my mind, but once we get there it’s going to involve a process of trial and error playing with the light and the composition until it jives.

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