KISS and Tell

February 9, 2012 

My name is Kai and I'm a complicataholic.

Nowhere is this more evident than when I have some time to futz around with lighting setups. As photographers, we're taught early on to KISS (keep it simple, stupid), but it's an easy lesson to forget.

A couple weeks ago, I photographed the Americans' Messier brothers. While mulling a portrait idea, I thought some brotherly love in the penalty box would be fun. Jordan and Marcus went along with my idea of a water bottle fight.

I liked having one brother in the open door and the other behind glass, thinking it might be a cool effect, but that only made taming the reflections from my lights a chore during setup, and a deal-breaker once they started spraying each other:

Even though I had the angle figured out, I had to shift around to keep Marcus, on the right, from being blocked by the bar in the middle, which put me at a bad angle for the glass and my lights.

Unfortunately, I only got another run at it before they were done spraying each other for my sake, and my shooting outpaced the light I had to the right, which put Jordan's face in more shadow than I would have liked. I was able to bring it up a little in post, but that always feels like a failure when you've gone to the trouble of setting up lights:

I'm not sure how many readers even noticed they were in the penalty box, which makes this self-imposed struggle even more asinine. Sticking them on the bench or ice would have been a whole lot easier and probably would have yielded a better result too.

Next up was goalie Ty Rimmer. Taken second-to-last in the bantam draft because of his size, I wanted to use a visual pun to show how big his play has been this season, so I had him do a few goalie poses far in front of the goal, zooming in to compress the space and make him look like he covers the whole thing:

A much simpler idea of having him close to the net worked better, though, and seeing how much net is exposed does a better job of illustrating the skill required for his strong season:

I tried to keep on keeping things simple after my vacation, sticking with a basic one-light-with-umbrella setup to photograph Mia Rosa buried in 14,000 diapers as part of Jason Lee Elementary's diaper drive,

and sticking with natural light for electrician Cody Parsons on the roof near Kadlec's new solar panels and wind turbines:

I had some lights with me, and after shakily lugging them up the ladder, it was tempting to try and punch up the portrait, but the sun was coming in at a good angle, so why mess with that?

But as Seattle-based photographer Daniel Berman showed with his striking opening image in Cityvision, "you go set up all your lighting and then realize the best shot could happen if you turn them back off."

It's a lesson I'm relearning as I continually push myself to improve my artificial lighting skills.

Speaking of relearning simple lessons...

Another award-winning photojournalist got the boot after blatantly disregarding the most basic of ethical guidelines. The Sacramento Bee's Bryan Patrick combined two photos of egrets fighting over a frog to make the frog more visible in the better moment. As it always seems to be, earlier indiscretions are exposed later. And, as always, the edits are equal parts head-scratcher and head-shaker.

This Poynter article shows the minute increase in flame height of his (surely soon-to-be rescinded) Best of Photojournalism award-winner.

What's so frustrating about these blights on the profession is that, despite a public apology and explanation from the Bee, it further undermines the public's trust in news photographs. People on assignment are always asking me to Photoshop this and that, assuming everything is as manipulated as the glossy shots splashed across gossipy magazines.

I don't know if it was succumbing to professional pressures or hubris that led to this latest violation, but in a world full of hilariously bad manipulation, I'm not laughing about this one.

There's an interesting read at Lens about Misha Friedman's haunting images of illness and suffering, where he ponders, "My images have not really helped them. Maybe they’ll help people in the future. Maybe they’ll help with fund-raising here and there. But to these particular people, they did not help.

“So that part is harder, being kind of just a photographer.”

And to catch up on some cool links from when I was gone:

The Image, Deconstructed has an illuminating spotlight on Josh Trujillo's iconic Occupy photo of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey after being pepper sprayed in Seattle.

Photoshelter's Allen Murabayashi wrote a great reminder about what makes photography great. I particularly enjoyed the introduction to Natsumi Hayashi's imaginative work.

And thanks to my brother Ian for passing along this super-neato-extreme-close-up look at how extraordinary plain ol' sand can be.

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