Yesterday on our live talk show, The Grid, we talked about ways to become a better photographer in 2014. One of the things we talked about was how it’s okay to try to model your work after some of the pros out there. It’s okay to try to shoot weddings like Cliff Mautner, or light portraits like Joe McNally. Learn what the pros do that interests you, try to shoot like them and develop the confidence that you need, and your style will naturally develop from it because, well, you’re simply not Cliff or Joe. That alone, will make sure that your photos and your style are different from theirs.
Same thing goes if you’re into shooting outdoors and landscapes. It’s okay to go to Death Valley and shoot the typical photo that everyone shoots at the Racetrack with the mysterious moving stones. Learn why that viewpoint at that time of day is good, and take the photo. Build your confidence by visiting some of the “gimmee” spots where ever you travel. Nobody said photography, and making a great photo, means going to a place no one else has and taking a photo that nobody else has. Sometimes it’s just fine to go to a place that everyone has gone before, and put your own spin on the location. Maybe your tripod is up higher or lower than the others. Maybe you go at sunset rather than sunrise or you do a long exposure when no one else is. Even though you may be modeling your photo after another photographer or photo you’ve seen, I think just the fact that you’re taking the photo (and processing it), makes it different.
The 50/50 Rule
This brings me to the Photographer’s 50/50 rule. I’m not sure where this rule came from. I learned it many years ago and I wish I could credit some one for it, but I have no idea where/how I learned it. Basically, the premise is to show up at a photo shoot and spend 50% of the time you have shooting the “gimmee” stuff. Build confidence, warm up, get the creative juices flowing. Then, spend the other 50% of the time you have there shooting something different than the norm.
This does a few things. For starters it helps make sure that walk away with a good keeper from the shoot (provided everything went well). It helps your confidence and it’s always nice to know you have a good photo to show off to other people when you get back. But it also forces you get out of your comfort zone (which you’re more likely to do if you’ve gotten the chance to start in your comfort zone with the first 50%). It also keeps you from shooting the same exact thing the entire time. Some people never move their tripod and continue to shoot the same scene. With portraits, some people never have the model change locations or wardrobe. Hopefully, when you leave the photo shoot, you’ll leave with no just one shot, but maybe several keepers. Sometimes you’ll find the first place you went (the “gimmee”) is the best shot. But sometimes (and this happens a lot, the more you do it), you’ll find the best photos come from when you ventured out during the second 50% of time. And sometimes (these times are really good), you’ll find you love the shots from both the first 50% of time on the shoot, and the second 50% of time.
This one hits home to me as an outdoor photographer. When I arrive at a location for sunrise I scout the area and figure out where I want to shoot when the sun comes up. You have about 5-10 minutes of good light when this is all happening (sometimes less). I make sure I arrive in enough time to figure out where I want to shoot first. What’s the gimmee hero shot at this location? Once you find it, go there first. Using my Mesa Arch example above, the location you want to be is right toward the middle of the arch with a wide angle lens. But once the sun comes up, move! Go somewhere else. A different angle. Move higher or lower. Or even put on a different lens. I do this a lot. I have my wide angle on, but as soon as I get the shot, I either move or put my 70-200mm lens on and zoom in on the details. So if I have 10 minutes of nice light as the sun first comes up, I’m going to spend 5 minutes shooting the shot I came there for, but I’m going to spend the next 5 minutes shooting something totally different.
Here’s another example. You’re on a portrait shoot. You decide up front that you know a two-light setup really well. Let’s say you have 1 hour with this person. Well, for the first 30 minutes, work the setup and lighting with the way you’re comfortable. Get the shot you’re familiar with. Work out the kinks and get warmed up. But for the next 30 minutes, force yourself to do something different. Add a third light or take a light away so it’s just one. Change wardrobe. Change scenery. Have them jump, move or whatever. Put one of your lights on the tree above them. Who knows? But do something different.
There ya’ have it. The Photography 50/50 rule. It’s not actually even the name of the rule. Heck, it’s not actually even a rule. It’s just something I learned a while back and figured I’d pass on. If you can put it into practice as you’re out there emulating your favorite photo/photographer, I think you’ll find that it’s a great way learn from other’s work before you, but also build your own style and tastes at the same time.
Have a good one!