Back to school has arrived and with it, the calls for senior portraits.
I love these. When someone opens up, gives you their trust, shows you something authentic…then you can have a lot of fun and make some photos that matter, photos that linger in the memory.
I recently did a senior portrait session that I have no doubt will be one I remember for the rest of my life. I laughed and laughed and had so much fun. And I took a photo that makes me smile every time I think of it.
Here it is: Zach and Ross running away wearing nothing but their boots and cowboy hats.
One of the reasons I love this photo is the story I see in it. For me, it’s the dog that makes this photo. They look so guilty. Like they’ve been up to no good and the farmer has set his dog after them. In reality, that is Zach’s dog, and would never hurt them.
If you have studied photography at all you have doubtless come across the expression the “decisive moment.” It is a phrase coined by famed photographer HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson who died in 2004). The decisive moment is the goal of every photographer. The one single image that captures the complete story. It needs no cutline, no caption, no quotes. It is whole unto itself and even if you know nothing about the situation, you see the image and simply understand.
My photography mentor (and one of my best friends to this day), Tim Webb, was the first person to introduce me to the decisive moment. Tim’s view was informed, not just through photographs from HCB and others, but through art and even comics.
There are two examples that spring to mind from Tim’s office. On one wall of his office he had a poster of the painting of a newsroom by Norman Rockwell. There is so much going on in the picture. I always liked the smile on the face of the girl doing the typing. This says community newspaper. Or rather, it is the idealized version of it. And to this day, when I think of a newsroom, this image comes to mind (in spite of the many technological advances). The things is, even if you have never been in a newsroom, you can still catch the gist of what is going on here. It stands alone and needs no words to define it. Tim also liked The Far Side comics and I remember a coffee mug that had a favored spot on his desk. It never failed to make me smile. This is perfect. No words, no thought boxes, no special effects. The only word is Missile and even that doesn’t really need to be there. These images capture a complete story. That is how I feel about this photo of Zach and Ross. It’s complete. It doesn’t need a title or caption.
When I look back at this session it still amazes me how much difference there is between photographing one teenager and two. One person can get very stiff, very rapidly. They are the sole subject, the only “target” and the pressure that results can make a person uneasy. As soon as you add a second person, the whole environment changes.
This is even more true than I would have expected with teen guys. It turns out that what you can talk one of them into is highly limited, what you can talk two of them into is completely unpredictable. These guys have been friends since they were small and Zach’s mom had a memory of a photo of the boys when they were babies, boots and hats and not a whole lot else. She really wanted to “update” that image. I remember thinking, never gonna happen.
These are teen boys. They are not going to go streaking across an open field with a professional female photographer no matter how much you offer to bribe them. Turns out, I was wrong. For $75 a piece the boys agreed and the image was made. I was almost laughing too hard to make the photo. I am so glad this one turned out. I am happy with the photos from the day and have heard that they are too. But for me, I will always come back to this one story telling image and smile. I’ve been a professional photographer now for 14 years. I have done a lot of work that I am proud of, but among the stacks and stacks and endless stacks of images I’ve made only a few really stay with me. Those precious few, the ones that linger, they are part of what makes being photographer worthwhile. I still smile when I think of image, and hope you will as well.