StyleMonday, July 18, 2016
In my long career (1976 until recently perhaps 2008 when magazines collapsed) as a magazine photographer I dealt with very good art (called also design) directors with the best magazines in Canada, the US and Europe. One of the best ones was (is as he is alive and well) Rick Staehling. I worked with him in a city magazine, a business magazine and finally a travel magazine. Staehling went to a very good design school, Art Center in Los Angeles, so he had an excellent background. He also looked at many magazines and had a fondness for Esquire.
I remember that sometime in the late 70s I showed up at his Vancouver office with my brand new Mamiya RB-67 Pro-S. I told him that this was the ideal magazine camera as it had interchangeable film backs (I could shoot colour and b+w) and that the generous 6x7 cm format had an extra feature. I could rotate the film back from vertical to horizontal which meant I would be more likely to watch my back and shoot for any conceivable situation be it a cover, a two page spread or a full bleed page vertical.
Staehling said nothing but called me a few weeks later, “Alex, you know that new-fangled camera you showed me? I think I have a job for it.” I have no memory of what that job was but that Mamiya was one of the secrets of whatever success I subsequently had even when I told other photographers who seemed to like their more expensive Hasselblads that took that un-magazine like square format.
During the years I developed several lighting styles to fit situations. I became very good with the small (not quite 2x3 ft. soft box. Part of my technique was and is to use it very close to my portrait subject. I became bored with this style and opted for Hollywood style hard lights, focusing spotlights, Fresnel spotlight and grid spots.
Staehling became tired with this experimentation of mine and told me to stick to the soft boxes.
This is where we got into a massive argument and I have to admit that many years later he was absolutely right.
For me the Holy Grail of photography is the distinctive personal style. One should be able to look at a photograph and guess who took it or at the very least discern the influencing photographer. I told Staehling that the soft box was a difficult light to use if one wanted a distinctive personal style. He adamantly disagreed and since he was the man calling me for the jobs I succumbed to his instructions.
Now in 2016 just about any lighting style has disappeared. Photographers take the camera ads seriously and that with a Nikon GX-Mark III-F (equipped with overdrive) anything is possible once you hold the camera in your hands. It can do everything.
Because of this there is a proliferation of street photography, wildlife photography, sunsets, fireworks, etc. But I see little well or interestingly lit portraits.
In a basic camera course the average person must understand that the problem with photography is that it has to show the reality we see in only two dimensions. When you use a flat or central light on a person the overall look does not suggest the curves of a person’s face and thus that depth that is the third dimension.
I am showing here a portrait I took of Bronwen Marsden with my Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD and that aforementioned soft box equipped with one flash.
The decisive moment
The decisive moment