Those who have been following Shutter Photo for a long while are already aware of my appreciation for self portraits as a learning tool. Among many other reasons, one of the main reasons for my mantra is simply access to talent. You are going to be your own best model. But there’s nothing like dealing with a model. And that was the first thought that went through my head when I first saw Caleb Long‘s photo, Decisions, Decisions. There’s only one problem: My gut was wrong. Caleb was not working with a model. The model is Caleb. Of course, my misunderstanding serves me well regardless…as I can once again preach about how shooting self portraits is a great learning tool.
Like many photo admirers of art, I cannot depend on my first impression alone. I will browse a series of photos and bookmark those that I initially find interesting. When I return to my small collection, I’ll look deeper. Many will inevitably get cut. The balance either make the cut, or get saved for another day. But the few special photographs will grow on me. Decisions, Decisions was one such special photograph. Each time I returned, there was one or more elements that I grew to admire more. As I read comments left on the photo, I grew to appreciate more and more things. As one commenter pointed out, the color of Caleb’s shirt nicely mimics the color of whatever is in the jar – repetition, a cousin of the pattern building block. I’m kicking myself for not noticing that myself. But it’s a sound observation, and certainly one of the many of the many great details as to why this photo deserves to be spotlighted.
Caleb is a modest photographer, a wonderful asset for one with such a limited amount of experience behind the lens. But that short time was spent wisely, as his work clearly demonstrates. As you browse Caleb’s photostream, you will be introduced to a world of inspirational works. Yet among the discussions attached to each photo, you will find time and time again examples of his humble admissions of luck. In the case of Decisions, Decisions, Caleb admitted to lacking experience with artificial lighting. He fell back on the old 45° tilt/bounce method, and it worked. I have no doubt that Caleb learned something substantial from this photograph.
But lets get back to the basics for a moment. The shot is well composed. Caleb’s face is framed by the jar on the right side, the carton on the left and the glass shelf below. The reflection, an element that offers vertical balance, is included in its entirety. Additionally, one of my pet peeves was appropriately addressed: Eye contact. The eye contact rule of thumb is a simple but significant rule: The subject should either make eye contact with the camera (the viewer), or whatever is drawing their attention should be readily apparent. It is clear to the viewer, in this case, that the eyes are focused on the jar. This is further emphasized by the hand reaching for the jar. The hand placement makes the shot for me. This is a well acted moment, mimicking the exact emotion one might feel when exploring the refrigerator. But what keeps the viewer’s focus on the eyes and face? Depth of field. The depth of field used here nicely holds the shot together. The jar is just barely out of focus, a nice visual cue that tells us that the jar is merely context, not part of the subject.
Yet there is room for some improvement. To be fair, it is much easier for me to pick on a shot than it is to plan for such a shot. The photo as it is presented is a great photo. But there are a few items that I’d like to point out for the benefit of our readers. First is the background. The picture frame on the wall can be distracting. A simple solution would be to get the flash closer to the subject, if possible. The framing is tight, so it would be quite possible. However, it’s possible that relocating the flash would lose the reflection, an element I consider to be essential to the shot. An alternative would be to pull the flash into manual mode and crank up the power. This would mean a much faster shutter speed, possibly enough to black-out the background. But again, I need to point out that Caleb admitted to being inexperienced with artificial lighting. With that in mind, this shot is quite well done from a lighting perspective.
So Caleb is certainly a person to watch. If you are a member of Flickr, I highly recommend that you add him as a contact so that you can easily track his Photo 365 project. He’s got a lot of great ideas, and it seems like the quality of his work is growing exponentially every week. That alone is inspiring. So be sure to visit Caleb’s photostream. And also be sure to visit his personal website: Caleb Long Photography.