This weekend I spent a glorious day teaching a dog photogarphy seminar up at Mutt Lynch Winery in beautiful Healdsburg. I know running a winery isn't all fun and games, but every time I go up there it's just blue skies and sunshine and an endless bottle of delicious wine.
The photography seminar was on the basics of dog portraiture, but as always- underneath it all it was about the basics of the photographic craft. Students always want to rush these days. They want to pick up their camera before they are truly ready and just start 'snapping' away. There is this need to be on auto-drive, on auto-exposure, on multi-shot and it amazes me how fast everyone wants things to happen. So my classes are always about Slowing. Things. Down.
This weekend I taught my students a few key skills: 1) being present and calm with your subject, 2) creating the image in your mind before you create in the camera, and 3) proper exposure technique. With the all-powerful digital cameras that are out there these days (DSLRs, point and shoots, and even camera-phones), students are amazed when I tell them to just stop and look.
I like to demonstrate this by taking the biggest dog in the crowd and using them as my demo. In front of about 30 people and even more dogs, I'm able to take a stranger's Rottweiler, place them in a beautiful scenario with smooth bright light, and calm them down so much that they just fall asleep at my feet. I speak in a quiet, soothing voice in front of my dog subject, pet them gently and praise them, and prepare them for a portrait. This is such an important skill, and always blows everyone's mind. How do you do that!? How did you get that huge excited dog to just lie down?! Why are you moving so slowly!?
To be honest, I have no other option than to work slowly. I use medium format film and a heavy camera from 1970 that doesn't focus or expose automatically. I have to fumble with taking apart my camera each time I need to load in 12 more exposures, manual crank-advance my film, have to take out my incident light meter for every shot to read the ambient light, and then have to focus incredibly accuratley through my waste-level view finder before I even create ONE IMAGE. 'Rushing' does not exist in my world, and because of that I am able to create 100% intentional, beautiful photographs. Because of that there are no short-cuts, my camera does not do any of the work for me, and I am the only one who has figured out what I need to do for each image. It is a very powerful feeling, and an integral part of my process. Which is why I love teaching so much. Because for a world that is obsessed with auto-exposure-multi-shot digital ridiculousness, I'm showing people to finally open their eyes and make the work with their two hands.