Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rediscovering the lost art of play

A week ago I had the extreme pleasure of going to After Dark Education in Charlotte.  Expensive trip, sure, but as I've spent the last week just trying to sort out all the things that I saw, it should prove to be money well spent.  After Dark is a collection of about 35 different photographers that come together to teach everything from studio basics to advanced business topics.  Over three days, you get to pick what you want to learn and who you want to see to get the most out of the experience.  It's all about getting up close with the mentors to talk, ask, and play.  This isn't your typical corporate conference, unless you work in an industry that keeps going strong until 3am every day.  There were a few big points that I picked up on while I was there.

"I'm right, they're wrong."  There's the saying that there's more than one way to skin a cat.  My three days in Charlotte burned that into my mind.  From 1:30 to 3:15 I'd hear one teacher say to do something one way.  From 3:30 to 4:45 I'd hear another person say to do it a completely different way.  For the students looking for a black and white "this is how you do it," their heads were probably spinning.  There are a ton of variations you can throw into the way you photograph things.  If anything that should be encouraging.  All it means is that you need to experiment and do what works for you.  The whole point is that you need to know exactly why doing things certain ways will get certain results.  

Why these people are "professionals."  Everybody has a camera now.  There are 250 million pictures uploaded to Facebook every day.  It's easy to think that since we have the tool, we're right up there with the big guys.  I'll tell you as somebody who has read countless books and taken huge numbers of pictures, that the difference between "I have a shiny new camera" and "I'm a professional" is bigger than you'd imagine.  I saw more than one teacher at After Dark look at a subject and estimate the proper aperture/iso/shutter settings within 1/3rd of a stop.  There's a big difference between creating an image in your head and using tools to bring it to life and using tools to just hack away at something.

"Go play"  I've used this phrase before and I love that it was used at After Dark.  Think about "play" as a child might.  It's that sense of uninhibited creativity that we're after.  Do things that you've never done, go places you've never gone, imagine, create.  Grab lights, a model, a piece of rental equipment, and go to the roof, or to the parking lot, or to a peddle boat.  The corporate world spent four years squeezing the sense of "play" out of me, so it was amazing to rediscover that feeling.  The great thing about "play" as an adult is that now I can infuse things like discipline and technical knowledge into the game to push things further and learn more from the experience.

The world is full of exciting possibilities.

Go play!

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