Permutations 2: When Bad Pictures Happen to Great Groups

Around the time I wrote about permutations, I told my wife there was NO WAY I would photograph her sixteen member singing group. We did the session last Sunday.

The gap on the left side of the group makes the composition feel strangely out of balance: it's 13 against 3! Also, had I better understanding of the light, I would have underexposed the ambient and pumped up the flashes to separate the people from their environment.

With a group this size, I gave up worrying about the permutations issues: I simply planned to shoot a lot of frames and hope for the best. After all, even in the rare circumstance when everyone’s eyes were open and everyone looked great, it was simply unthinkable that any single image would satisfy all sixteen subjects.

This faux panorama also suffers from an unexplained imbalance. I think the composition would work if the separation were acknowledged in the image. For example, if the 12 people on the right were all looking at the four people on the left, the picture would convey a sense of story and mystery.

Among other lessons from this experience: I am still merely a technician who aspires to become a photographer. I did not bring ideas and vision to the endeavor, yet I was the only person looking through the viewfinder. Members of the group designed the composition from within the subject area, because I wasn’t doing MY job.  Fearing for the subjects’ comfort and impatience, I rushed to keep shooting when I should have slowed down, studied test shots, and changed more than the flash settings. Back at the computer, after it was too late to do much about it, I saw troublesome composition issues, lighting problems, distracting posing or costume details, etc. Yes, I managed the contrast ratios for some pleasing overall exposures, and the focus is sharp (although there’s too much depth of field). The people and their colorful costumes are inherently interesting, but the photos are not. I didn’t bring any unique, compelling style to the party. That’s the next frontier.

Another distracting gap, but this one was easier to fix, as shown below.

Insufficient presence of mind continues to dog my attempts to become a reliable photographer. The stakes of such lapses increase with the size of the group. Not only are there more details to track; organizational logistics make a re-shoot all but impossible.

Truth be told, this is about as big a group as I can handle. And even here, I settled for an unacceptable background. I pride myself on being more than a snapshooter, but I am not yet a photographer. As I used to tell Forest Gump, "Good! Something to aim for!"


Filed under Composition, Lighting, Professional vs. Amateur

4 responses to “Permutations 2: When Bad Pictures Happen to Great Groups

  1. myrna

    you have to be kidding … i love the setting as it takes me back in time … sylvan time … and the woods absolutely suit the singer group

    also have no problem with the so called “gap” … there is a nice “S” shaped flow going … perhaps the crop is a bit tight on the first image as the setting is so wonderful … agreed that perhaps the groups need to be looking at each other or somehow relate but i see nothing wrong with the composition

    my opinion is that you have over analyzed … see what the madrigals think!

    • This is what I get for blogging late at night after a long day. Perhaps I did not express myself very well. It’s not so much that the composition is bad, but that none of the images strike me as anything more than posed shots of a group. I think I’m at the point where I want to move past technical ability and develop a style that stops people in their tracks. More and more, I’m feeling like I can meet technical challenges, but I want to do more than solve problems. I want every shot to be a “WOW!” Not there yet.

  2. gailn

    I actually thought that the composition of the first picture was great; and to my eye it was the best of the bunch.

  3. jaye

    …the gap is nice for adding in the member who didn’t make the photo shoot; you rock, Dean!

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