POST 022




APRIL 22 2022

So let’s dive right into the topic for today, why there is pressure taking pictures of people and how it has become a deterrent for me. I struggled with this topic last week and if you made it through that blog then you’ll know I have to deliver on my promise by trying to write about it more clearly today. So, I’ll try to structure this and stay focused on the topic at hand, no sidetracks this time. What I’ll talk about today is my style of photography and how that plays into portraiture, how my style has led to a ‘too critical’ eye that challenges me when I try to shoot the carefree portraits that I used to shoot, and how I’ve begun to feel pressure when photographing other people.

This definitely won’t be enough to cover my recent loss of interest in portraiture or the reason that I’ve lost my enjoyment in taking them but it will be a good start and I’ll at least do a better job describing this ‘pressure of taking portraits’.

Tarun on a Bike - Nikon FE2 with Nikkor 35mm f2.8 on Kodak Ultramax 400


Let’s talk about my style. Like anything creative it is every changing and developing every day, but, to help understand my current relationship with portraiture I will try to define my style. For reference I am writing this blog in the present so as of April 21 my style will be defined as this but it is very subject to change in the future.

I would define myself as a landscape photographer that seeks melancholy, loneliness/emptiness, and solitude in their environments. I don’t limit myself to shoot within these parameters, but I have discovered that my favorite photographs fall within those criteria.

Sterling Taking a Photo - Bessa R3M with Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 on Kodak Portra 400

That is the story that I am trying to tell in my photographs and to do so compositionally I look for layering and isolation. My goal is to separate elements in my photographs so that it is obvious for the viewer to feel those emotions towards a specific subject or lack of one. The above two photos are some recent portraits that I enjoy, the subject is separated from their environment, the compositions have layers and depth, but it is easy to focus on the subject and to feel their separation and presence within their environment.

My sample of recent portraits is limited though, because, as these blog posts on portraiture suggest I have lost interest in that area of photography. And the ‘why’ for this is what I am trying to uncover for myself as well as to share with you.

Teddy in the Spring - Nikon F4 with Nikkor 50mm f1.2 on Kodak Pro Image 100


In March I took a trip to New Orleans to visit my sister but I also took my Nikon FM2 with me because I was planning on taking a lot of photos. To my surprise I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought I would, in fact most of the time when I went out to shoot I would only take one or two photos, or a few times I wouldn’t take any and return to my Airbnb empty handed... relatively speaking. Something happened to me on that trip, or maybe this ‘thing’ was there all along but it finally became significant enough for me to realize it on that trip. I had become too critical. What I mean by this is that now I would probably never take that picture of my sister. I would look through the viewfinder, see the dead branch in the top left and move on. Or I would fixate on the picture and annoy my sister by making her move inches to the left and right until I found the perfect shot or enough doubt creeped into my mind that I would decide to move on.

Teddy in the Cemetery - Nikon F2 with Nikkor 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Ultramax 400

This is another example of a photo that I probably wouldn’t take today. I’m happy with the picture now but looking at it I know that I wouldn’t have been satisfied with Teddy in front of the tree like that and the dead tree popping out of the horizon line. I discovered that I had become too critical in New Orleans because I started to stare through the viewfinder and analyze every element in the frame to make sure there wasn’t an ugly sign, dead plant, or distraction in the frame. If I was staring through the viewfinder like that for this portrait in the cemetery, then I probably wouldn’t take it. Arguably it is probably a good thing to be selective about photos before taking them, but if I was plagued by this level of analysis when shooting the above photos then I wouldn’t take them, and that’s not a good thing.

Tim in the Mountains - Nikon FG with Nikkor 50mm f1.8 on Kodak Ultramax 400


Now, let’s finally talk about the pressure of taking portraits. This pressure is something that has developed overtime, it is something that didn’t exist when I first started shooting but it has become something that makes me nit-pick every aspect of a portrait and even dread taking them sometimes. This pressure is relatively new to me, and I want to… need to even… figure out what’s causing it so that I can start to ignore it or deal with it.

Tim in Memory Grove - Nikon F2 with Nikkor 85mm f2 on Kodak Portra 400

If I could choose a place or time that I started to feel this pressure it was after a photoshoot with my friends Tim, Nikita, Sophie, and Jazz. This was a “real” photoshoot by my standards because I used an entire roll just taking photos of them, we shot in the same location all day, and these results were expected to be good. When we were shooting it was super fun, I wasn’t stressed at all, and it was actually a really good time… I didn’t feel any pressure to make good images. However, when I got the film back and scanned it the pressure and expectations of that day dawned on me, and I wished that we could re-do that entire photoshoot. It turns out I didn’t make any good images that day, I completely let down my friends because I did not feel any pressure because I was too occupied having fun and shooting carefree images like I had in the past.

This might seem contradictory if I break it down… I started shooting film and the portraits that I took were carefree but I enjoyed them, I started to develop a style and I became critical of my photos and compositions so I started taking less portraits which I am not happy about, but when I was carefree and took photos that were expected to be good they were awful. That’s a lot of rambling but where does it leave me? To be honest I’m not sure but I think it means that I have to find a compromise in how I shoot photos.

Tim and Sophie – Fuji Discovery Mini on Kodak Gold 200

Take these three photos of Tim for example, the first was when I was just shooting for fun, the picture could have turned out terrible, but the point was that I was having a fun time with Tim and I had my camera with me. I took the photo without considering the harsh light on his face or the dead branches around him, but it turned out great and I love it. The second photo was during a photoshoot, and it is boring, unflattering and unexciting, I wav having a fun time shooting but the purpose of taking that photo was make a great photo but I created one that I am not pleased with. The third photo was at a birthday party, I took my camera to document the party, but I asked Tim if I could take his portrait. There wasn’t a ton of pressure to create an outstanding image, but I wanted it to be good and I was critical enough to pose him in front of a pleasing background with enough other elements for context and I was very happy with the final image.

Sophie in the spring – Nikon F3 with Nikkor 35mm f2.8 on Kodak Portra 400

So what does this mean for me? It means that I can’t go back to the carefree ways of how I used to shoot and that I need to find a middle ground that I am happy with but yields good results. Over the years of shooting, I have become critical of what is in the frame, this makes setting up and committing to portraits difficult but to edit out distractions is a good habit that I don’t want to ignore. I have felt the pressure to deliver and now whenever I take a portrait it exists in the back of my mind, and I can’t ignore it else I’ll end up with a handful of photos that I don’t like. I’m at a point where I’m starting to care more about the results than the process which is different from when I first started. I think this is having a larger effect on portrait photography and it was significant enough to stop shooting portraits for a while. However, change and growth is expected as I photograph more so I’ll just need to keep shooting and find out what works best for me and I will happily share my results and progress on this blog.

As always thank you for reading! This post in particular might have been more helpful for me to organize my thoughts but if you found it helpful in any way then I am glad! See you next week :)