The Ottoman

When you hit it right, winter in the Northwest is like a candy bar: dark, rainy, and misty on the outside and bright, focused, and yummy on the inside. Which makes it a great time to sit around and poke and edit and sequence and refine.

"Next I'm going to write a little piece showing the original capture and the finished abstract for an image out of Just Energy," I announced to my photo editor (and photoshop teacher) while we sat together in her office poking around in my image catalog.  

"Why are you going to do that?" she said, gazing first into her monitor. And then onto my laptop monitor, which was at that moment beginning to fill with a collection of images you might see some of here soon.

"Why?"  I felt slightly befuddled.  What did she mean why? I am highly experienced in explaining stuff.  Before I started to spend most of my time making images and figuring out how to make more images, and make more of the images I had already made, I spent most of my time explaining complicated, often magical sorts stuff in a simpler and more fun way.  So it wasn't going to be so hard to make that bridge here.

Nonetheless, I hadn't actually done so yet. I just couldn't get myself to open up my catalog and sequence a pair of appropriate images.

"Because someone wants to connect into the work that way," I said simply. "And then the question can be answered on paper.  And if that's the way they connect, then why not?"

"Nah." She wrinkled her nose.

"Nah?  Nah what?"

"Nah, don't do that. It's magic. The process is magic."

"Well. Yeah." There was this little tiny sinking pit in my stomach.  But at the same time, I maybe felt relief.  "You don't explain magic. But I could show the foundation of the technique."

Now she shook her whole head. "That's science. This is art. There are always the students in my classes who get excited about a shot and then ask what lens you used." She paused and looked at me. "But It isn't really about the lens."

"No," I said sighing. "It never is." Recently, I have been getting that question, too. And really, what lens I used is never the answer.  It might be a piece of the puzzle. But the reason the perspective looks like that, whatever that is, is never because of the lens only.  There are other things going on. And at least seventy five percent of them have nothing to do with anything technical. And half the time I never know what those things are, (or were), until I look at the captures. I only know it was time to try the next thing based on where my experience of the last thing left me, and I did it.

Which is all by way of saying that I was sighing  because I knew exactly what she meant by, "it's magic" and I wasn't going to enjoy saying no.

Last year I watched a cool online class on natural portrait lighting. Not that I do portraits particularly. But I do know natural light. The instructor had put together this beautiful shot with a model sitting on a low ottoman under a big picture window  and used the studio set up and her shoot to demonstrate her technique. Part of the gist was, you could make any window or exposure work, you just played around with the variables: like where you put yourself and the model, and how you directed the light with flats. But when it was time for questions, she reported a great deal of them turned out to have been about, all things, that ottoman: exactly how long it was, exactly how wide it was, even how many inches it was above the floor.  

Smiling, the instructor looked straight at the camera and remarked that she had no idea. Not how long the ottoman was.  Not how high it was.  And not how many inches off the floor it was.  She wasn't even particular about which ottoman it was.  

Which," I added, having related all this to my friend while we sat in her office, "I appreciated. Because it obviously wasn't about the ottoman at all. It was about almost anything but the ottoman."

My editor nodded. "Let it just be magic."

Just then, the dog at her feet sighed in her sleep. And once again we turned our backs on the night and our eyes toward the shiny raw images on the screen.