Two Pictures: Norm Shafer

(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. And feel free to send me an 8x10 print for the effort.)

Norm Shafer is a freelance photographer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I first met him in the early 90’s when I was working at National Geographic and he was at the Fredericksburg, Virginia paper. So it was good to catch up through this post.

The two pictures he sends are from an ongoing project about new wave farmers in Virginia. (It’s ironic that new wave farmers are largely returning to old ways of connecting with and fostering the land, with a new twist. This is a subject I’ve become interested in here in Oregon so there’s another connection, at least for me.)

Both photos © Norm Shafer

Norm says: “Here's my dilemma. Both photographs are taken as the subject is walking the birds over to the killing cones, where they are stunned and then have their throats cut.’

“I like Davis Creek B (laughing photo) for the connection it allows the reader to make to Elizabeth as a person and for the joy on her face. It's clearly a photograph of a person who loves what they do.’ 

“But I think that Davis Creek A shows  the reverence that she feels for the birds better. She spoke to me about how she feels strongly about raising them in the most humane way possible and to kill them as painlessly as possible. She believes they are making a sacrifice for us. I love the way she is holding the bird close to her to calm it as she takes it to it's demise.’

“The more reverent one has a problem for me in that the comb of the bird is not as pronounced and isn't as quick a read as the laughing one. Plus I really love the joy on her face.’

“I'm so confused. Most likely the photo will be used fairly large, either on the cover or large inside, so the quick read may not be as big an issue.”

This is a great example of pictures that convey a quality rather than simply showing what is going on. And thinking of these pictures in terms of the quality they represent instead of the verb layer, or their caption, is the better way to determine which one runs.

It’s also clear that Norm is connected to the subject. He has spent time learning about what matters to her and so can make informed decisions about how to make pictures that convey a set of qualities to make photographs that go beyond presenting a grocery list of things she does or processes that she goes through.

Given what Norm says about the connection to what she is doing, and the fact that the chicken is about to die, I’d say the first photo is the one to run, as long as there is at least one other photo that conveys her passion. If not, it would be possible to run the smiling photo and not deal with the killing layer in the caption.

These decisions are based on the belief that the pictures are equal in quality of execution.

Once you have narrowed photos to an equally strong group in terms of the making of the pictures, it becomes more a process of deciding which quality the photographs represent in choosing between them.

As an aside, these two photos could work for a cover, the second one in particular. Although as covers they’re a bit tight. When editing for magazines I encourage photographers to think about the cover format when they’re in situations that lend to that type of presentation. The same is true in settings that lend themselves to opening spreads.

So in the case of a cover, allowing for type placement generally means shooting a little looser than you would. And when you’re making a picture that deserves to be a full spread wide, be very aware of what you put in the middle of the frame.

The more you can tailor your image making to the needs of the publication or whatever venue you’re making pictures for, the better.

Melanie Burford on Lens Blog

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