Someone once said that disequilibrium is a sign of learning.
Defined as an unbalance, disequilibrium hits a photographer when there are new skills demanded by a shoot. Often, itâ€™s scary to face something that you have never photographed before, and you scroll through your head looking for something familiar, but those familiar things you find only serve to produce shots youâ€™ve done before.
How do you make images that are new?
The answer might rest in deliberately putting yourself in a new situation, shooting something you have never before tried.
As an autodidact, a self taught person, I have found that the best times to learn something new is when a shoot stretches me. I purposefully, when time permits, try to set up a shoot that has a skill set different from what I normally shoot. Making images with new challenges brings new scaffolding that you have to scale, pushing you to the limits of your old knowledge and giving you opportunities to gain new knowledge.
I learned how to light portraits. Iâ€™m most comfortable lighting people. When I hang out in coffee shops, I even automatically start looking for good light for peopleâ€™s faces, and Iâ€™m constantly on the lookout for good portrait lighting in natural settings.
But sticking to one kind of photography, especially when it becomes second nature, is setting yourself up for being stagnant and not growing. If you want to improve by learning new skills, youâ€™ve got to take a risk and stretch yourself.
So I tried to light and photograph small things. Granted, there is something â€˜oldâ€™ in the challenge: I already know the basics of how to light something for a photograph. But there is a fundamental difference in the way you think when youâ€™re lighting a person versus lighting a small object. The ratio of subject size to light source is different. When youâ€™re lighting stuff, the small things, the light source is much bigger than the subjects. So youâ€™re going to have to learn new ways of controlling the light to make some good images.
When I made these images, I learned some fundamental things about how to use light shapers. I used white A4 paper to diffuse the light from the flash units. I relearned how distance affects the intensity of the light on the objects. And one of the most interesting things I learned is how the angle of the light can create unwanted hotspots in the objects.
The images donâ€™t really excite me. I mean, there must be a lot of people out there who can light jewelry and watches better than I can. But that isnâ€™t really the point. The point of the whole exercise was the process of learning. By taking a risk and shooting something I had never shot before, I learned a lot about lighting.
David duChemin talked about taking risks, and apart from how it applies to how we approach life, I think it also applies simply to how we get better at something. Without taking an extra step toward what we donâ€™t know, we may never know. And being able to know might be a risk worth taking.
What about you? What risk will you take with your camera this week?
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