The Principles of photography versus the Techniques of Photography

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/400

Have you ever noticed that when you use a technique that some famous photographer perfected and maybe even taught you that you don’t get the same results?

Maybe you have started to realize that you are implementing all these techniques correctly in your photos and you continue to not win any of the competitions you are entering.

There is a great moment in the movie Remember the Titans about how “… attitude reflects leadership.” Here listen to the clip:

Where is your heart?

It wasn’t so much what I did that made a difference–it was how I thought. I started to ask myself why certain techniques worked and others didn’t. I soon noticed that when a strategy was wildly successful, it had more to do with the fact that I honored a principle than the strategy itself. When a strategy was less successful, that too could be directly related to a principle I violated.

Principle is much deeper understanding of something than a strategy. By understanding the why and not so much the what or how you understand how to implement it better because you are able to be much more flexible. Your ability to be flexible is because you are more relaxed. You “GET IT” and because you do you are able to listen more and look more for ways to implement. This is when real creativity can take place.

The principle of the technique frees you up, whereas the technique alone will freeze you up.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 800, ƒ/1.4, 1/160

I remember this photo shoot I was doing to help a young actress with her headshots. I could see right in front of me what I wanted to capture, but it just wasn’t working. I was shooting with soft boxes using strobes and the depth of field was too big.

I wanted to shoot at ƒ/1.4. The technique of always using my strobes in the studio setting was a technique. I was letting that technique get in the way of the principle of soft lighting.

These lights are just too much and then I relaxed and realized the modeling lights might be just enough to make it work. So I turned off the radio remote and opened the 85mm lens to ƒ/1.4 and then cranked the ISO up to 800 and then started shooting.

That is only a small part of why I love this photo. You see there is another part of the creative process. I had been noticing her looks and mood they were creating. I talked to her about how certain looks of hers were reminding me of some famous actresses in Hollywood.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/200

I thought here that she looked like Evil Queen/Regina Mills (Played by Lana Parrilla) on Once Upon a Time. She loved that actress and was pleased I saw her in that way.

Nikon D4, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/80

I told her how she reminded me of Anna May Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt) of Downton Abbey in this photo.  Well her mom was there and said I was mentioning all her favorites. We were connecting.

You see the principle of lighting and WHY was driving the creative process and not just put the light here and look here.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 50, ƒ/2.8, 1/60

For the photos of the beautiful blonde I was just trying to capture her personality. She is such a ham and just loves to have fun. Not too serious at all. After a while I was connecting with her like the humble kid next door.

Then as we changed locations I started to see how certain locations would bring out different parts of her personality. They would compliment her and create a mood. The last photo here is what I think of when I think of the famous Dove Girl ads.

You see we have been talking about the principles of portraits and not so much technique.

If you just love photography because of playing with all the gear, then just be ready to accept mediocrity. However if what motivates you is inspiring imagery then learn to get in touch with your heart and what moves you and then you too will create great images.