2011 Favorites, Part 1

I use this blog to keep track of what I’m learning about photography, but the next few posts address a critical knowledge deficit. You know the old populist saw: “I don’t know about art, but I know what I like!” I actually know quite a bit about art and technology, but I still don’t know what photographs I like.

So I developed a little exercise to see if I could learn more about what I like in a photograph and how I can use that knowledge to improve my work.  I reviewed the images from each month of 2011 as thumbnail images in a browser, and chose two favorites for each month: one from my assigned work and one from my personal images. The chief criterion was the same for each category: Does the image stand out from a sea of images? Do I like it as a photograph on its own merits, apart from its role as a publicity image or a personal documentary snapshot?

It was surprisingly easy to choose a single favorite from each set of images, but now I need to spend some time analyzing WHY, and how I can use this information to improve my eye.

In most months, the assigned images outnumber personal images about 100 to one, but very, very few of the assigned images stand as powerful photos on their own, and I found that kind of depressing. I expect to do far fewer dance and theater assignments in 2012, but I’m determined to bring more artistry to every photo I make.

January Assigned. I chose this from a large number of leaping dancer shots. Some people think too much floor is showing, but I like the graphic impact of three strong elements: the floor, the background, and the very vibrant dancer.

January Personal: My daughter helped me set up the studio before I photographed The New Chordettes. The image works for me because I like the lighting, the composition, and, as in the previous photo, the vibrancy of the subject.

February Assigned: This rehearsal shot of Little Orphan Annie and Sandy is lit with a single spotlight, and I like the way the shadows define the subjects.

February Personal: A real departure for me, as I'm rarely out shooting at magic hour and I rarely shoot landscapes. But even at thumbnail size, this image's simple composition and rich color command my attention.

March Assigned: For me, this works both as a photograph and as a document of Ojai Aid, a musical event held to raise money for Japan's earthquake and tsunami victims. To capture this moment of musicians learning a new song they will perform just a few minutes later, I stood on a wobbly chair, pre-focused the lens and held the camera high over my head for the classic "hail Mary" shot.

March Personal: Although taken during Ojai Aid, I took this because I liked the way the light was framing Marcus, who was working the door. Not something you'd use to promote your portrait business, but I like the light, and that is the theme that runs through all of the 2011 favorites.

Next time we’ll take a look at April, May, and June, when I took tens of thousands of pictures but didn’t find very many I liked.

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Filed under Composition, Dance and Theater, Lighting, Motivation, Portraiture

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