“I believe in a responsibility to bear witness,
to leave visual record, for generations to come.
These pictures are my account.
These faces are my memories.
Some are personal.
Many bestow trust.
Each tells a story,
if you take time to read.”

-Steve Shelton

Just Real Pictures

What does this mean? Simplistically, the art in the photograph takes place between the mind and the camera’s shutter release. This is to say, the mind and finger are inextricably engaged. Capturing the image requires seeing, hearing, anticipating, and, quite often, waiting. It’s a game of timing while balancing coordination and serendipity with experience when working live, in real time, in the field.

A natural look and approach is the goal. This is the “real” in Just Real Pictures. Considering the amount of art direction, artificial light, and client needs determines image “realness.”

Admittedly, given the range of today’s computer capabilities that encourage creating, in effect, collages or composites, these terms may be a limiting decree. Therefore, for the sake of this page, I am speaking specifically to those still images created as the shutter is released beyond the closed walls of the tethered studio and in the wilds of corporate cityscapes, within stone huts, synagogues, mosques, rain forests or rodeos. My subjects are people on location, usually in their native environs, and my style employs minimal interference. Deployed is intuition and personal vision. If necessary, artificial strobes are used subtly and sparingly while making the most of all the natural light I am afforded at any given time. It is commonly called Reportage.

To say this approach is liberating is an understatement—narrow as it may be. During an assignment I can fly to Portland or San Francisco in a day, shoot perhaps 12 environments, and be back in Seattle that evening. Quite often images are edited and viewed before disembarking the plane.

The Photograph

A photograph that stands on its own has always been the goal. Like most of us in our work we strive to stand on our own, to make a mark and leave an imprint for those happening along our trail.

And, like pictures, we sometimes fall short. Sometimes the image lacks luster and fails in the end to communicate a common path or shared—or unshared—view.

To be clear, successful images to me must first have content. If part of a larger narrative they must work together to convey a feeling, a mood or a message, whether it’s coldness, brightness, sadness, or happiness, through the use of light, juxtaposition, framing, and various other design elements and composition. The goal of the photographer may or may not be to elicit a response at some level, to move the memory or the mind into action—or inaction. But the subject matter is hopefully interesting and approached thoughtfully, and the resulting photograph works to illuminate, capture, enhance, or reveal this interest. Of course, what is of interest to me may be tedious to others. Art is subjective. My job quite often is to make the mundane jump to life, the ordinary—extraordinary! The approach is both open-minded and deliberate underwritten by experience and always research.

A Note on Hiring: Experience Pays

Standing out in a glutted field is the consummate challenge for today’s photographer. Never has there been so much available talent. What can you do but celebrate and embrace all the creativity and wonderful minds at work in the field.

Hopefully this challenge makes the veterans just that much better. They have not just experience, but a range of experiences—including mistakes—to bring to the table. When I hire journeymen in their specialized fields, I don’t mind paying for experience and the peace of mind of knowing the work is fully guaranteed and done right the first time. In my work I stand by this challenge. Quite often in photography one has only moments.

In this century time has become our obsession. Regardless of whether you’re spending time behind the computer or the camera—it’s time. The question has become where does the photographer want to spend the time? Or, if you’re buying photography services, where do you want to spend your budget.  Either way—time costs.

Paying for experience then is saving time. I went into photography 20 years ago as a photojournalist first. I came to the computer second. As technology evolved my Mac became an extension of my camera. Today it’s difficult to imagine functioning without a laptop as it is my darkroom, my Lightroom, my print room, and my library. It’s more than what the traditional darkroom could ever be. But a price has been paid for the sake of immediacy.

Capturing the image has almost taken a back seat to “Post.” That is, Post Production—what possibilities exist beyond the captured image. How can software refine, define, or further blur the lines between what the photographer saw and what the computer designers envision, which can also be great?

Now digital imagery is a commodity available in the click of a mouse. From cell phones to (my) iphones to video cameras, digital images are omnipresent. And, like the words on this page, the image can be altered to make up for all that was not a part of the photographer’s original intent.

My point is too many photographs today fall into the hands of expert technicians who, in brief, on an hourly basis, make up on the computer for what fell short in the camera. It has become the acceptable way. EVERY WEEK I hear the phrase, “There’s always photoshop!” This is like saying, “There’s always a gift card” when you can’t take time to buy a gift.

All to say the digital world is truly amazing, and I embrace most changes, but it can’t make up for the trained eye honed by years of tenacity and life experience.