Cameras Are Magical Devices

People that get interested in photography come at it from countless different angles. I would venture to guess that one common factor they all have in common is that somehow, someway all of them either have a conscious or subconscious realization of just how magical a device the camera can be. There's hundreds, or thousands, or maybe infinite ways it can transform perception in it's simple ability to capture moments, freezing or blurring them. The mere ability to frame the world in front of you is magical. That brings me to the subject of magic answers, silver bullets, and other similar "answers" of how to make great pictures whatever that means.

There are many purveyors of magic answers, most are selling things with the promise similar to get rich quick schemes. I want to focus on one aspect of magic answer that has nothing to do with post-processing tools, photo manipulation techniques, gear, lenses, or anything else one can buy that will transform photos. It's actually extremely simple but some photographers for whatever reason just don't seem to really "get".


Consider the following points…

  • For the most part (thank god) photographs translate a three dimensional reality into a two dimensional abstraction. Extremely important.
  • Framing and point of view serve to both show and simultaneously hide things from the viewer.
  • Cameras contrary to popular belief really do show you thru the viewfinder exactly what you get. They don't have the same deficiencies as a more casual human observer does in terms of distorting what's actually in front of the camera.

I'm sure there's a bunch of people that will argue with what I just articulated in what amounts to a dramatic over simplification. Sure some cameras don't show you an exposure preview in real-time or some sort of preview of how lighting color will show up. Cameras with EVF's do but honestly that occupies serious photographers consternation for all of about a month and don't really help that much. Hell all digital cameras will show you that after one shot. That falls into The Who cares category of things with a few exceptions when conditions change wildly shot to shot. Here's the point, critically observing the three points above is at the heart of a major reason why cameras are magic devices.

After Midnight One Friday


I absolutely love making pictures with Melanie. Hell, I enjoy hanging out with her as well. A few Saturday's past we were going to make some pictures. No big plan, she showed up around 3 or 4pm I think. I was well into a bottle of whiskey at that point. Fast forward all of a sudden it was after midnight and no pictures had been made. Oops. Just for the heck of it I wanted to test a new lens acquisition in the real world so we made a few pictures with that where my goal was really not about making great pictures.

After a few frames of that I wanted to do something a bit more story oriented. Hence the pictures so far. Hey, give me a break the only story I could come up with given my condition at that point was the obvious low-hanging fruit of something along the lines of "After a long and hard night out on the town…". Kinda works I think.

So, what does all that have to do with the three points above? I'll walk you thru it really quick. The frame below is an extremely careless first frame exposure check given I was using strobes.

It's a horrible picture in every way but does serve to illustrate something I really didn't choose to highlight on purpose. Melanie is fantastic on camera, she's also not a skinny stick-figure super tall 100lb fashion model. The fact is her size and shape fluctuate drastically depending on what time of year it is, etc, etc, etc. She's also relatively short. Here's another less horrible picture where I was focused on manually focusing my brand spanking new Zeiss Milvus 50/1.4 in the dark while plastered far more than I was on anything else. Again take it as an illustration to consider vs. The previous pictures.

One more to hammer this home? Sure why not, in fact this should serve to illustrate hide/show, POV, how that two dimensional thing works, etc fairly well also even within the pictures that don't portray M. in any sort of optimal way.

Are you starting to get it? Even those of you that already understand this set of interrelated magical camera properties? It's always a good thing to re-re-re-remind yourself how much this counts no matter what you point your camera at. Let's move on to the story part again as the top couple of photos in the bathroom illustrate.


What's going on here? How are these so so so different. Photoshop liquify or something? Of course not but I'll break it down.

Look at where I am choosing to intersect Melanie with the front edge of the tub. Note the placement of the leather jacket. Legs bent and in the foreground. Hips/thighs farther away from the camera than knees and the bottom part of M.'s legs. Are these some sort of fixed set of rules? No they may work out completely opposite for someone else, they are all things you can see but your brain gets in the way from actually observing what things really look like. What happens with a slight change in those things?


I like this picture but unfortunately I moved my position about six inches higher and Melanie's gesture pulled that lower part of the jacket up over her hip at the same time but I liked the expression so click it was. Not horrible in terms of portrayal but not optimal for sure. We'll fix that. real quick for the next shot.


Just for some insight for those that don't work with people a lot here's how that got "fixed". I didn't say anything remotely negative, nor did I tell Melanie exactly where to put her arm/hand. I actual said something like "make like your getting out of the tub". That's just my style as I find it tends to generate the gesture/expression/etc I'm looking for while simultaneously repositioning people rather than putting focus (of the subject) on some positioning of limbs etc.

One more for the road. One of the first frames of M. sitting up in the tub.


What adjustments did we make after this to get to the pictures earlier? We zipped up the jacket for one. That makes things far easier. I did end up zipping it down a bit from where M. had it and honestly probably said something along the lines of "your boobs are getting all smushed up" which I did based on context and conversation and rapport which caused M. to laugh out loud literally. The jacket was the easy and obvious one. Probably more important was the adjustment on my point of view in combination with repositioning M.'s legs which I accomplished with something along the lines of "Sit with your legs hanging over like you just fell in there or something". Again note in the similar pictures towards the beginning of the post where the tub intersects with Melanie.

End Notes

Made with my Canon 5DsR and 24-105 f/4 L. Lighting via a Profoto B2 and OCF beauty dish without the sock but with the plate. Processed in Capture One 10 with a relatively low contrast black and white treatment similar to a very generic printing of Ilford XP2 Super or Kodak BW400CN or similar slathered over the entire batch of them. More on Capture One 10 later (if I remember).

For any that care, yes I did make some pictures that were related to the Black/White project as well. Just haven't had time to look thru them yet.