For me, photography is first and foremost about capturing moments. That may seem pretty generic, but in today’s Instagram obsessed world, genuine, candid moments are hard to come by.
I scroll through my feed and I see amazing shots by famous photographers, but the subjects are all models looking icily at the camera or staring pensively into the distance. Sorry but who climbs to the top of a mountain in booty heels and a floppy hat with their hair down? I see wedding photography in the middle of a desert with a sun flare silhouetting a happy couple. But wait- all the brides are blonde and stick thin…that can’t be right…right?
I see people I know try to emulate model-like portraiture and more often than not it comes across as trying too hard. A friend commented to me the other day that the freshman in high school were different than we had been. They were all “hipsters”, she said, and they wore tons of makeup. It seemed like they were more concerned with appearances and curated Instagram accounts than anything else.
We know it looks good when we pose, when we set up a shot, and wait for the right conditions, that’s why we do it. It’s hard to line all those factors up, it takes skill and an eye for design. And the finished product is often beautiful to look at, I won’t deny that. But there’s something to be said for candidness, for the capturing of real moments, that is lost to, or confused with elaborately staged photos. I would argue that it takes an equal amount of skill to capture authentic moments in a way that artfully tell a story, if not more so, because all the elements are not under your control.
Yet both styles are grouped under the increasingly misnomered title “lifestyle photography”.
I want my photos to be like a tunnel that you can crawl inside and go back to the moment you took it. The sights, sounds, colors, feelings, nostalgia, words, it would all come back. I have a few such shots in my Lightroom- they are my absolute favorites. In one of them my friend is laughing as I haphazardly tried to get a shot from the passenger seat. We were cruising down 101, rolling by a wheat field under a blue sky somewhere outside of Tillamook in her dad’s convertible. She didn’t know how to arrange her face into a suitable expression at first, as most people do. But as I kept snapping photos and looking like an idiot to the car behind us, she burst into laughter, and that’s when I got the real shot. When I look at that photo I’m able to recall the joy we both felt in that moment, basking in the open air and warm sun, driving to see our friends at a summer camp we both worked at the year before, listening to Walk the Moon. If I had tried to control all the elements in that photo, there is no doubt I would not have been able to capture what I did.
I’m not knocking posed photos as a whole, I understand that to some extent staging is necessary, and I do it too sometimes. But I’m concerned that this generation’s heavy use of staged and posed photos indicates an obsession with appearances rather than living in and for the moment.
If I’m taking a staged photo, I’m going all out. We’re talking star trails, make your friend wear this not that, wait for the right lighting kind of staged. And I’ll make no claim that this kind of picture-perfect imagery is just “my lifestyle”. Like no there’s only so much aesthetic to go around in the dorm life you’re not fooling anyone.
A good rule of thumb I use to keep myself in check is asking: would I do this if I couldn’t take any photos? Which is a terrible thought if you like photography, but it usually forces some honesty out of me.