Some of you have heard me talk about my yearly review process. Each year as the weather turns cold and the temptation to be outside shooting is tempered, I review images made in the past year. There are two purposes for the review: one is to see what I have accomplished that I can be proud of, and the other is to find weaknesses in my performance or techniques that need attention. The “good” images might be added to the portfolio or used for promotion, but the really important images are the weak ones.
While it is always easier to think about what you would have done after the shoot is over, the point of the review is to make yourself more aware of areas of your process that can be improved. That might be closer attention to composition at the time of capture rather than in post production, or refining your lighting or the consistency of your exposures. In recent years, and I suspect this year as well, my attention has consistently gone toward refining my lighting. I light well, but too often play it safe rather than pushing the envelope. I have often said to others that making sure you have something usable should be your first concern. But it is too easy to stop there and not make a few changes that could take your work to a new level, and improve the value of your stock as a photographer.
Some of these changes are simple enough to implement, perhaps as easy as dialing back the fill light at the end of a session and shooting a few extra frames to see what effect that has on the final image. This can be done with a minimum investment in time, and often without your client ever knowing it happened. It is easy enough if you are working in the studio on products and not dealing with people, but still possible in the studio or on location if you plan ahead. If you work with an assistant, you can have them power down a light for you and you can fire off a few shots before you give the client the big grin and handshake.
Another possibility is a change in your style by adding a light to your traditional setup. By planning ahead you can implement this with no interference to the subject at all, and as you shoot, you can always turn that extra light off to revert to your safe zone, or not turn it on until the end for those extra few shots. As the results prove to be fruitful, you can decide whether or not to incorporate the extra light into your normal shooting. A bit more challenging may be removing a light that you considered important in the past to see what your images look like without it. Over the past several years I have reduced the number of lights on my business portraits without a compromise in the final quality, just a slight change in the style of my work. Who knows, I might be tempted to add one of them back in this year?
How much do you rely on ambient light? If it is the only light in your images, have you considered what adding a supplemental light might do for you? What do you need to know to be able to do this, control it, and get results that are not only different but a lot more interesting? How much do you know and understand about adding a light, what its character needs to be, and how it will affect your exposure? How much effort are you willing to put into making images that are not like what you already do? These are not things you do on a whim, these are things you test and modify until you can do them with confidence and control. These are things you must know and do to make yourself a better photographer this year than you were last year.