Five Lessons Learned from Hosting the Behind The Shot Podcast
First things first, thanks to Scott and Brad for having me as a guest here, a blog I have read so many times over the years. My name is Steve Brazill. I’m a Southern California based music photographer, and the host of a podcast called Behind the Shot (BtS). Hosting the podcast has taught me more about being a photographer than any of the research I have done, not necessarily the technical aspects, but the heart of photography. Let me explain…
I have always been fascinated by the path people take in the pursuit of learning photography. When we first start taking photos we seem to just be happy if we capture something… anything. Then, as we develop our technical skills, learn about composition and exposure, and refine our photographic eye, we actually start to critique our own shots in the hopes of improving further.
The problem is that the better we get, the more issues we find in our own images. Sometimes I look back at my early work and cringe, but at the time I loved those shots. Now that I have been doing it awhile, there are days I come from back from a shoot feeling like I don’t like anything I shot, like I have lost my touch. Why?
Because I have a broader knowledge base to critique from, and a better eye to judge from. While that can be frustrating sometimes, it’s what makes photography amazing! You will never fully learn photography. Yeah, you may get better at the technical aspects, but there is always something you can refine.
When I started learning photography, I found information everywhere I could. I used KelbyOne, browsed YouTube, bought some great DVDs, and became a huge podcast fan. I was already listening to a few tech based podcasts, and once I turned my attention to photography I found Scott’s shows, like The Grid, as well as podcasts by people like Rick Sammon, Scott Bourne, and Frederick Van Johnson.
I learned so much from those shows, but I also found a hole in my studies – the images. I would listen to these great interviews, with some of the best photographers and educators in the business, but never saw their work. That’s like watching a cooking show and wondering if the food really tastes as good as the people on the show say it does (if the chef is Bobby Flay, yes, it does).
Don’t misunderstand me. There is a place for the type of interview where you learn about some talented person, but I found myself wondering if I was listening to talented photographers or just friends of the host. The reason a photographer is interesting to us should be because of their work.
That got me thinking…. every time I see an image, I have questions about how it was made. And that’s when it hit me. What if we flipped the interview around. What if we interviewed a photograph to get a better understanding of the photographer’s mind. Why did they make the choices they made, did they pre-visualize, how did they create and edit the shot, and what issues did they overcome? So often I see a shot where I feel I could learn a lot if only I could ask the photographer a few key questions. And so I started Behind the Shot. Now I get to ask the questions I want, and get to learn more about the art of photography.
Has it worked? Oh yeah. I thought I would share some of the things I have found as common threads throughout the shows. Most are just simple things, things we may all know about but forget under the pressure of a shoot.
Don’t Just Take A Photo, Make A Photo
This is one concept that shows up over and over when I talk to great photographers. I have heard Rick Sammon say something like this so many times over the years, and in the episode below he uses that approach perfectly to capture his image “Sunrise at the Blue Swallow.”
Travel photographer Peter Levshin used this idea to great effect when photographing a young monk in Burma. I’ve never done this trip, but I have always heard how dark some of the temples are. Peter, rather than do what most people would and just take the shot, asked if they could bring in more candles. So simple, and the final shot turned out fantastic.
Know Your Gear
The second episode of BtS I recorded was with London based music photographer Christie Goodwin. Christie is one of the best there is, and the shot we discussed was an iconic image of singer Katy Perry called “Fireworks.” This image is amazing, but once you hear how little time she had to capture it, and the fact she had no idea what the fireworks would do to the exposure, the shot seems almost impossible. Knowing her gear made a difference because she was able to adapt quickly enough to capture the shot.
I mean really, this almost goes without saying, but sometimes it’s the little things. Wedding Photographer Troy Miller was shooting a wedding on a rainy day in Southern California. It happens, but he was ready. He knew he needed to get some images of the bride and groom outside, so he used an app that gives up to the minute rain status. When the app told him there was about to be a break in the rain he got the couple ready, and then just as predicted the rain stopped. The result was a beautiful photo, with amazing colors and sky, he calls “Stormy Kiss”.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Creative
Sometimes we forget that photography is a visual art. We could capture the most technically perfect and well composed image, and it might speak to no one. A great image has impact, a story, and feeling. When doing a shoot with rocker Tommy Lee, of Motley Crüe fame, photographer Dustin Jack did everything right. He made sure he got the safe shots he needed first, but then he asked Tommy to put on some glasses. Seems simple, right?
Those glasses unlocked Tommy’s personality, and the results were great on their own. But the experimenting didn’t stop there. Dustin had an idea to combine three of the shots to tell a totally different story, resulting in his image “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Peace.” Sometimes, it just takes being willing to experiment.
This one sounds so easy. You most likely already know photographer Alan Hess through KelbyOne, this blog, or through Photoshop World. The first time I shot a music festival with Alan Hess was a huge learning experience for me. I walked up to him to introduce myself, but honestly was a bit star struck. Alan is one of the best music photographers out there – he literally wrote the definitive book on it. He was so amazingly nice to someone that was a fan of his work.
The rest of the day, while photographing the bands, I watched Alan and tried to learn whatever I could. The one thing I noticed more than anything was how calm and composed he was. Everyone else – myself included – was scrambling to get tons of photos during the limit of the first three songs. Not Alan. His shooting was relaxed and calculated.
When I had him on the podcast we dissected one of his Pro Bull Riding shots, and the same thing came through. The fact that he was able to stay relaxed, calm, and composed during 8 second rides was a key to his success. He was able to adjust his technique, position and gear on the fly to make the images he wanted through careful thought. Yes, there is that idea of making, not just taking, an image again. Amazing how often that comes up.
I know I said five lessons, but here is a bonus…
“Be Aware, Be Astonished, Share Your Astonishment”
OK, so this is one I almost didn’t include because the episode won’t air until about 3 weeks after this post goes up – it should go live on 9/21/17. Why include a tip from an unreleased show? Because it stopped me in my tracks when my guest said it. Trey Ratcliff is such an amazing talent, but you knew that already. When I got him on the show, thanks to Rick Sammon, Trey was so generous with his thoughts on photography and technique.
Throughout the interview he would share bits of knowledge that left me speechless. He talks about his editing, and even touches a little bit on color theory, but this phrase was the one that got me. It immediately meant something to me. I’ve been in radio for almost 40 years, and there was an old story I’d heard related to doing Voice Overs. The way it’s told, a legendary Voice Over artist was asked how he finds inspiration when he has to do a commercial for some common and mundane product.
His answer was that he imagines he is hearing about the product for the first time. In that sense even shoes are amazing. These three things Trey mentions are the same concept, but for photography. A Voice Over lesson I have shared hundreds of times, and yet never thought to apply it to photography. “Be aware, be astonished, and share your astonishment.” Wow. So watch for the episode, or subscribe over at the This Week in Photo site.
The Art of Photography is alive and well, and we can learn and become better photographers with every image we see.
Again, thanks to Scott and Brad. Such an honor to share this space.