Tension is good

This seems worth saying: As a picture editor I strive to get at the essence of each photographer’s way of seeing when helping them before and after they’ve made pictures.

You can see differently from anyone else; you can make pictures uniquely. Finding you, your voice, in your pictures is the challenge. Part of the engagement with me is helping you hone your voice before you make pictures. Part comes from recognizing which pictures that you’ve made work and talking fully about why they work or don’t work.

That seems obvious but not so many picture editors work that way. A more typical approach is for a picture editor to select pictures that they would have made, or to chose only images that fall within his or her visual acumen. So the less informed a picture editor’s eye, the less able he or she is to connect with photographs that fall outside that acumen.

If you’ve always worked for the same types of publications and with the same type of work and with similar people, you’re more likely to respond to a given range of photographs and won't even see pictures outside of that range when going through a body of work.

Watch any contest judging and you can gauge each judge's acumen. Judging is similar to editing someone else's work. Both require a specific skill that is different from editing your own work, a skill that has to be developed. 

Having worked in a great range of settings with a huge number of people on immensely diverse bodies of work that topped out at more than 1 million images on a single topic, I have just about run the gamut. There’s always more to do. If not, I’d quit.

I’ve found that everyone has a starting point when they compose pictures and that there is a progression from simple to complex. Most people start their compositions in the middle of a scene and move outward. The critical thing is almost always in the middle of the frame. They tend to make oval pictures. This is how our eyes see – a center-based, oval world – which is dramatically different from how the camera sees. So people who make these types of pictures haven’t progressed far.

How do you know if you fit this? Draw an oval through your pictures. If critical elements aren’t outside of that oval, you’re it.

Other photographers tend to start of the bottom, left or right in building their frames. (Virtually no one starts at the top of the frame.) A few photographers split the frame top to bottom – I worked with someone this week who tended to do this. These approaches are more a reflection of the personalities of the people making the pictures. They’ve moved beyond how their eyes see but haven’t reached full potential yet.

A very small percentage of people approach the creation of a photograph completely, more like a good painter uses the canvas fully. They see a scene as the camera sees, they convey a quality of a setting using every spacial aspect available. They are not limited by how the human eyes see.

How do you hone and expand your visual acumen and move beyond how your eyes see? A certain level of potential must be innate. But by exposing yourself to more varied environments and people and types/volumes of work and jobs and expectations and challenges and critiques and editors and successes and failures, your eye grows along with the rest of you.

Tension creates growth. If you are comfortable, you are probably not growing.

I’m happy to introduce tension into your life.

Craft the unused parts of your photographs

Watching, and learning from, POYi