Ordinary Shooting For Extraordinary Results

Last weekend it was my pleasure to shoot a family gathering of close friends of mine. I had volunteered to shoot the event as I wanted to present the images to them as my gift.

I had packed two camera bags. In the first were my Nikon lenses and a whole whack of accessories including a light meter, Expo (white balance) disk, light modifiers and a bunch of other stuff. In the other smaller camera bag I packed my Olympus Pens and seven lens plus an old Nikon SB-28 flash that works on manual with the cameras.

When I got to the party which was held out in the countryside with about 50 guests or more I was pretty disappointed in myself for forgetting to bring the actual Nikon cameras which I hadn’t bagged and left sitting on a desk at home. I could have gone home and picked them up and probably wouldn’t have missed much but I thought “It is what it is” so let’s get shooting with the Pens.

Now you wouldn’t think a summer party was anything special and a lot of my images are just of friends sharing time together. As a photographer you can read that to mean people sitting in lawn chairs drinking beer and wine. After a few shots, there’s not much else to shoot. The swimming pool helped and I got some great shots of kids jumping in. Dinner was hit and I got the flash to fire on manual and the cameras to work with it and the inside shots are pretty good. So are the family setup shots which I purposely allowed to be more casual than formal.

I like documentary form when it comes to shooting. I like, where possible, to crop in the camera and to hit my exposures correctly as I’m shooting. Having said that I love presets and filters and external editors which make my Lightroom 4 works beautiful IMHO.

But nothing works like chance and chance comes along when you shoot a lot.

And so as I’m going through 850 images and getting them down to 350 images and then down to 150 images there was one image that jumped out at me.

It was of three young people (I’m not going to publish here as I was shooting a private event and there is no expectation that these images would go online.). The three are sitting on a swinging chair that seats three across.

The older girl who is about 17, tall and really really pretty is wearing white shorts and lovely multi-coloured top tied below her shoulders. She is looking quite grown up and she’s a happy young woman.

In the photo she is looking down at her smart phone. Her look is one of expectation. She is almost biting the side of her lip as a thought passes in her mind. It’s an interesting expression.

The boy on the right is maybe 12  and he’s just wearing a bathing suit, his hair tossed across this forehead and he is smiling easily just past the camera position. He is a very beautiful boy and at that magical age between childhood and becoming a young man.

But it’s the little girl in the black rose dappled sun dress who is maybe 11 and looks, to my eye, a lot like Drew Barrymore did at that age that makes the image.

She is standing between the other two with her back partially to the camera looking over her left shoulder. Her mouth is pulled tight into almost pout. Her eyes are big and she stares unselfconsciously into the camera. Her eyebrows are raised just a touch. And what is that look? It’s one that will break hearts in a few short years. It’s startling and a bit indescribable.

A sun hat sits on the seat next to them. They are in the shade and behind them the  background is bright and out of focus. Chains hold the swinging chair and there is a metal bird feeder behind them.

It is one of the best images I’ve ever shot.

So am I alone in this practice of casual documentary photography?

No not at all. Photography is not about the equipment. It is about the image. It is about telling stories. We still photographers do this one image at a time.

Here’s a video about a very very accomplished documentary photographer Anthony Suau who is featured in a Lieca sponsored video called Facing Change: Documenting America.

Once you’ve finished watching the 3 minute video check out Suau’s photos of a street party that he shot this June in Brooklyn, New York.

You could do the same shots with just about any point and shoot.

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