(This is another post that comes from my invitation to all of you to send me two of your pictures to get my thoughts on them. Send two photos at 544 pixels/72 dpi to me at: tekamah at me dot com Explain something about yourself, the photos and what you'd like for me to address about them.)
Benjamin Brayfield is four months into his first newspaper job after graduating from the University of Oregon. He’s working for The World in Coos Bay, which is on Oregon’s southwest coast, a stunningly beautiful but economically depressed area.
Before talking about his pictures, I wanted to mention that one of the challenges when working in smaller settings is overcoming the isolation, continuing to grow in a place that generally doesn’t offer much feedback or direction. Come to think of it, size of the environment doesn’t matter that much. Big or small, working with others or alone, the setting can be bereft of feedback.
The choice is to languish and just do the job or seek engagement elsewhere that will continue to keep your mind and your eye fresh. I’ve seen so many people blame their environment for their own lack of growth. That’s crap. There are so many ways to continue growing that it’s ridiculous to think you’re stuck where you are.
You can hire me, for instance. But also, there are tons of places to go for professional stimulation. Here are a few: Lightstalkers, Sportshooter, Photoshelter, A Photo A Day and thousands of photographers’ blogs to wade through.
You can also seek out people you respect. Benjamin got lucky and bumped into LA Times photographer Rick Loomis on a plane and has stayed in touch. I met Rick almost 20 years ago when he was a student at Western Kentucky and I was teaching at The Mountain Workshop.
Do something, anything, to get out of the rut.
Back to Benjamin. Here are his pictures from a 30-minute daily assignment photographing students as they clear and rebuild hiking trails:
He says of the situation: "I'd say these pictures exhibit composition vs. moment. But how does the photographer transcend the aesthetic of the work that the subject is doing and find something a little more telling? What is your expectation of photographers when they come back from the field? I'm curious how one decides when "I got the picture" and then moves on. I feel like 'it's good enough' isn't the right attitude."
Striving to make pictures that are more than descriptive is admirable. This situation is tough in that there isn’t a whole lot of potential. You have the youthfulness of the people doing the work with the burden of the effort as things to work with. Add in a sense of nature, of being in the forest and that’s about it. Or so it seems.
The first photo exceeds the expectation from such an assignment, though it’s not perfect. What’s working is the moment of the jump, the depth of the frame with the cascading faces through the frame, the shovel angled on the right and the poof of smoke completing the frame. And it’s great that the eye goes way deep in the frame. The only real negative is the two people standing in the background because they intersect the girl jumping. If one of them is the reporter, that’d be frustrating.
The second photo is marginally successful. The boy’s head cut off is awkward, there’s not much more to it than the oval in the middle and little depth. It’s purely descriptive.
There are other things that you could explore in this situation that are less about fixing a trail and more about being a teenager. That two of the girls wore pretty similar shirts says something about this year’s fashion. That they’re all wearing the same type of gloves offered potential. Maybe two of them are a couple and you could how their relationship plays in this setting.
You can speak to things beyond the trail building and make less literal/descriptive photos by learning more and looking within the settings and thinking in wider contexts.
Just a guess, but I’d say that you should pay a bit more attention to framing. Adjust the tiniest elements in the frame to let them fall in place and both of these photos would be better.
How do you know when you've made the best picture possible? Good question. When there's sweat on your mind, when you feel like you've exhausted what's possible and tried again, twice and gotten closer and closer and moved farther away and asked every question, quenched every curiosity, then you're done.