As I’ve started the process of outsourcing post production to Fotofafa, I have been forced to stop and think about my style for hours on end in a way that I haven’t had to in a while. When they asked me to describe it, I found myself at a loss. Not because I don’t understand it – obviously I do – but I feel so intimately connected to my style that saying to someone, “deep blacks, bold colors, but an over all pastel look” falls flat. I collected a set of images that embody the look I aim for, but I don’t know if other people see what I see. And then I began to wonder if people not in the photography industry at all can tell the difference between my work, my look and any other photographer. I don’t know the answer to that.
When my mother was three years old, she sat down in front of a piano and began playing it. Perfectly. She can’t read music at all, but she can literally play any instrument you put before her. It’s second nature, it’s not something she has to even think about. My grandmother is a painter. She never studied it, it was just something she could always do. She picked up a paintbrush and… just like that, she created a beautiful world on canvas. Her work is incredible. From the first time I picked up a camera in middle school, it felt like I’d always had a camera in my hand. As if I had been missing an appendage before that – but then I picked up a camera and it was like… oh look, here is that extra limb I was missing; now I’m whole. My work wasn’t always good, in fact a lot of it was pretty terrible, but I think I was born a photographer the way my mother was born a musician and my grandmother a painter.
Photography was never something I decided to do or thought I would give a try. It was something I had to do. And whether I was able to successfully create a business from it or not didn’t matter… whatever happened or will happen in my life, I will always take photographs. There’s nothing else I feel that way about, or have ever felt that way about.
All of this is a very long winded way of saying… I am much better at taking photographs than I am at editing them – I fully admit this. Post production is an important part of the whole photography process – hence the reason I refuse to release any unedited images to clients – but it’s not something that is second nature to me the way actually taking a photograph is. And I struggle with it daily. I have always known – in my head – what I want my images to look like. But that’s not always easy to replicate in Photoshop or Lightroom. A huge amount of getting my look right is just shooting it correctly – and I believe I have that part down. (After all, all the post production in the world can’t save a crappy photograph.) But then you take a photo into the digital darkroom, and it gets tricky. How do I take what’s in my head and translate it just so? All these years in, and I still struggle with it.
When I try to describe my style to someone, it sounds a little crazy. I’m not actually influenced by other photographs/photographers, so much as I am painters. And I want my portrait work to feel like a rich oil painting. Some days I’m better at executing that than others. And trying to make someone understand what you mean by “rich oil painting” is not an easy task I have discovered.
So I wonder… does that richness, that depth of color, come across to anyone but me, really? Would my clients be just as satisfied if I just color corrected, boosted the contrast, sharpened, and called it a day? Or is it that unknown quantity – that extra oomph – that people are attracted to? Is my shooting style the most important part? Would my work feel less whole to anyone but me without that extra post production step? Not that I am going to stop doing whatever it is that I do post production wise, but the sheer number of hours I’ve spent obsessing and tweaking and perfecting it… was it worth it? I don’t know, ultimately I’ll probably never know.