The jury nominating Sami Rievinen as the best portrait photographer of 2014 in Finland said that professionals do not take photos, they create those. This can be seen from the best studio portaits. On the other hand there is another trend of photography evolving around the street photography idea of seizing the perfect moment and timing without manipulating or staging the photo. Both approaches are worth of mastering, but it is also worth understanding how to combine these, i.e. how to seize the sudden opportunity to stage a good photo?
A photographer thinks about light all the time, everywhere. A photographer evaluates the photographic value of everything he sees. He tries to anticipate perfect moments to capture something unique like in the best street photographs. A photographer also thinks all the time about the composition and the best spot to take the photo of the emerging situation. This is actually already a mindset towards creating a photo instead of just taking it. But you can go further and in addition to thinking about lighting and the best angle to take the photo you can also think about the opportunites to create a good staged photo while around your endeavours. Let me use the attached portrait as an example. That photo could have been taken in a studio, but equally it could have been just taken without manipulating it by just seizing the moment when situation appeared. Reality is that it is a combination of both.
While visiting St. Petersburgh I happened (Insert smiley face here.) to be in a place where there was a table full of vodka (not ours). One of my friends had a nice looking outfit with a jacket, a scarf, pilot shades, a watch… I immediately saw a photographic opportunity, so I though how to get the best out of the situation. Lights – check. Composition – check. And the street photographer inside me got a pretty normal snapshot of my friend pouring vodka on a glass. But then the studio photographer inside me had a vision. I knew that my friend had bought a big fur hat. I though that this is a nice opportunity to create something. So I asked him put the hat on, and I did some other adjustments to take portait type photo. I tried to get everything out directly from camera, but I had to cheat a little with the background by removing some disturbance during post processing. So the studio photographer inside me got a nice portait photo thanks to the sudden opportonity to combine the looks of my friend, the table full of vodka and the fur hat within authentic environment in Russia. It took just 5 minutes of effort to stage this photo when the opportunity rised.
Seizing the moment type of mistake in this photo is the plastic coffee mug in my friend’s hand. That was not planned, but it actually adds a nice flavor in this and so I named this photo as “man having a coffee break.” It could be also mug for vodka in the viewer’s imagination.
To conclude, it is good to learn how to take studio photos, it is good to have an alert mind for street photos, but it is also worth trying to see opportunities of creating something when you have a good photographic environment, good model, good props etc. suddenly in your reach. Make the photo better by adding something, removing something, moving the model in some weird spot, taking the photo from some other angle. If you have a vision, go create it. Seize the moments and create something new out of those. Good imagination is the best help for a photographer.