More On Situational Dynamics


Questions I receive via email about the Black/White project almost always surprise me. Some don't but most do. Typically I'm surprised because I wouldn't have thought to ask them. Then again frame of reference is completely different from my own. Maybe I'll compile a list and run them down here one by one.



A particular question I get with regular frequency is something along the lines of "where do you find your models" along with related topics. The short answer is I bump into them one way or another. I've pull a few off the street so to speak, other's I've met at social gatherings. A few have been referred to me by other people I've worked with. Some find me. The one thing in common is 90% of the people I work with don't spend a ton of time in front of a camera and if they do the stuff we make is far off of "what they normally do".

I've not really thought about it before but that number of times that general question comes up did bring up a thought process that's a consistent choice. I choose to make photographs with people that don't make anything like this.


The fact is I go out of my way to collaborate with people that are nowhere near doing anything like this. That got me thinking about why I go out of my way and why I don't just work with people that do this stuff constantly, or specifically. On the surface it's simple. I could have told you before ever really digging into the why; Because it makes completely different pictures. I kind of touched on that when I posted a few thoughts on situational dynamics a while back.

Putting a bit more thought into it and a lot of the things that's connected to brings up two succinct goals.

  • The first is that I want reactions. Hopefully a wide range of them with some intersection of patterns across the board. This is the case for the main Black/White project as well as the Fragments side project. It's essential for the main Black/White project though.

  • The second thing that I really couldn't have articulated until putting in a bit of thought is that I want to drive the process rather than have someone else drive it. Although there certainly are exceptions, putting someone in photographic circumstances that they are used to, or have a ton of experience with typically yields them driving the situation towards their practiced, honed craft.

A Few Points To Ponder

No matter what your own photographic endeavor at any given time happens to be there's a few things to consider when making choices remotely similar to what I just described as a choice. What I described as bad for me in this particular project might be good for whatever you're doing. You may want to have your subject drive, especially if you've never done anything remotely similar to what you are attempting or maybe you don't work with people a lot.


No matter who is in front of your camera for what reason. No matter if they are driving the situation or you are, it's always some degree of collaboration with the one holding the camera exerting an immense amount of power and control. More than you might think.

Take the picture of Erika at the top of the post, not the hero image with the title the first embedded one. The angles and lighting I chose quite obviously make a huge difference* in the images. Six inches to the left or repositioning of the knee a hair and we obviously have a completely different focal point to put it bluntly. One might assume Erika's an exhibitionist of some sort. Wrong, far from it. So how does that kind of thing work, especially with someone you're photographing for the first time as I was in this case?

The short answer is communication, respect for the person in front of the camera, and showing or demonstrating how you're portraying them. Most people have no idea how cameras see things or how light works. Show them, communicate why you are doing this thing or that thing. Obviously a completely different feel than the picture below by design. A lot of that has to do with what I chose to show Erika and when on the back of the camera as well as a lot of other communication factors such as how much I chose to share.


Remember everything counts, what came before and leading up to any shot you make, everything is going to flavor the dynamic. That image at the top, compare that to the one below. Without a lot of communication of intent, approach, lighting, etc as well as showing how that works and how she is portrayed there's no way I could have made the image below with the feel it has.

The prop and messing with that crop a few minutes before obviously helped as well. Remember how much power you have when holding the camera. The person in front of the camera may not understand that in all the gory technicalities but they certainly feel it. Clothing, no clothing, quirky, fetish-y, normal, whatever it all works the same just magnified in certain situations.

While were on the topic of everything counts, Take a look at that second picture of Melanie. A completely different feel than a similar picture above of Erika. But wait, how can this be, Melanie has clothes on? — Well sort of. Ever hear the cliche "Less Is More".

Sometimes more is actually less, no I'm not applying some elementary school communicative law of less or anything. Quite literally those particular garments chosen have a good chance of making M. feel a bit more exposed and vulnerable than none. A tiny bit of black plastic on the bottom and a bit of gaffers tape on the top. A fairly constant reminder of how little there is in the way. That and the whole notion of a tiny little piece of shiny vinyl is so, so far from anything M. would wear at any point ever.


I'm pretty sure I would have a similar feel even if I put the same stuff on under a dress without the restraints. Yes everything flavors how working with people actually goes. The big difference in photographing people that are used to being photographed in any particular set of circumstances is degree of influence.

I'm at a thousand words in, way too many but just to re-re-explain how much power one has when holding the camera take a look at the picture above. Notice the positioning of the boots. You can choose to explain that before or after you do it. Take a guess as to how much that influences the dynamic. You can also choose to position it differently if that's your kinda thing.


Last point, I swear. Take a look how different the picture above feels. Why do you think that is. From an outside point of view it's a more open pose than the previous one. Not how it felt to Melanie obviously and that has everything to do with you and that power I keep talking about that is all yours when you're holding the camera. Just my opinion but I personally feel that the gesture, body language and expression of each fit far better than the reverse. That's all up to you.

End Notes

All photographs made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF. Processed with VSCO FILM05 BW400CN applied on import.