Taken from wikipedia:
“A gray card is a middle gray reference, typically used together with a reflective light meter, as a way to produce consistent image exposure and/or color in film and photography.”
We all want the correct exposure, we all want the correct f-stop and shutter speed, we all want the correct white balance, but my question to you is…. Why?…. Why do you want to be like everyone else?
By writing this article, my hope is that it inspires you to start experimenting and break those rules. If we all strive for what the technical world calls “correct”, then how will you ever develop your own unique style and start to differentiate yourself from other photographers.
Before I go on, I just want to state that I do think it’s important to understand your camera and all the technical aspects of photography, but if you think too much like a human instruction manual, then you will never leave that frame of mind and never experience all avenues that photography has to offer.
There are a million photographers out there, all shooting the way their teacher taught them in school. He/she is probably an amazing photographer and developed a style and talent that led them to a teaching position and now they are passing on their expertise to others. Amazing! I have a special place in my heart for good teachers who care about giving back to the students. So the time comes for an ad agency to hire a photographer for an upcoming campaign and its open to everyone in that class including the teacher. Of course the teacher will get hired because they are the most experienced and have the best track record of good work, as well as all the students work looks identical to the teacher, so why not hire the professional??………… or wait…. what about that student that decided to leave his gray card at home… decided that.. “hmmmm… lets try something different”… This is where I’m trying to go with this article. Learn and understand the technical elements and then modify and experiment with them. I believe that 95% of the time, the photographer who did something other than the norm, will get hired. Companies invest lots of money into advertising and they want it to stand out and this is why they will hire you. They are paying you for your creativity, not because you know how to calculate the perfect exposure……. and who says what the perfect exposure is anyways.
Lets take an example that I did. Look at that goofy looking picture above. Yes, that’s a self portrait I did of myself for my birthday. [insert too much time on your hands joke here]. Look at the exposure. That backdrop is white…. does it look white in the photo? No. It’s gray. Points off for me for not adjusting the white balance. See how there is a red color cast on the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game? Sure, its being reflected off the red balloon. Again, points off for me. Technical experts can go on and on about the things wrong with this photo…. but you know what??? Who Cares!!!!! For most of you that know me, you’ll know that the term ‘who cares’ is huge in my vocabulary. If you start caring about what other people think, then the whole art side of photography is gone. When people start to bash and hate on your work, you know you’re doing something right. They care enough to take time out of their day to state a negative opinion. To me, that’s insanely flattering. If you’re hired by a company to do a job, then thats the only opinion you should care about. With most photography jobs, there’s usually only one or two people that have to like the photo. In this case, it was me. With that being said…. amongst everything wrong with this photo, it was probably one of my most talked about images at the time. It served its purpose. People didn’t care about exposures, and either did I. Who knows how this photo would have turned out if I spent all my time making sure it was technically correct.
There’s a time and place for everything. A time and place when you should care about exposures and getting things technically sound but don’t let it trap you in a style of shooting. Who knows, maybe you’re a F-stop away from taking a photo that will take you to the next level but you were always too scared to try it because that’s not how you were taught. Be that mad scientist and learn something new. Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!
I challenge you to take out your camera this weekend, and do something different. Shoot a totally different way. Pump up your ISO, shoot at a slower shutter speed, don’t use flash, use flash, play around with depth of fields. You might come back, look at your photos, and think: “What was Jay talking about? 85% of my photos came out horrible”. I won’t lie, that’s most likely what will happen but instead of saying that, why not say “wow, I tried something completely different and 15% of my photos came out amazing”. Think positively and look at it as a successful failure. Sure 85% came out bad, but those 15% taught you something entirely new about photography and its up to you how you want to use that 15%. Now you are on a path to experimenting and developing your own unique style.
If you do attempt this challenge, let me know how it went. There’s no need to show photos if you don’t want. This is more for learning experimental techniques than creating portfolio pieces.
My advice for the day: Don’t be afraid to try new things.