My photography workflow, Part 4.

Inspiration, Teaching point

[See also: My Photography Workflow, Parts 1, 2, and 3].

Infusion of Self.

We leave an imprint of ourselves in our images – this is what I mean by Infusion of Self

Infusion of Self is not equivalent to an imposition of self.  Imposition of self occurs when we point a camera at somebody and alter his/her behaviour (posture, expression, etc…).  The resulting photo will be different from the one that would have emerged had we not imposed our presence — and camera! — on our subject (I like to think of imposition of self as the human equivalent of the Observer Effect in physics!).

But that’s not what I’m referring to when I speak of Infusion of Self.

Infusion of Self is deeper, and it can occur even when our subjects are unaware of our presence and even when we’re photographing inert objects.

Remember, we as photographers are storytellers (please see the previous section, Inspiration).  When we create an image, we are sharing our unique vision of the world, to the world.   This is achieved via a myriad of decisions that we make while photographing.

For example, let’s assume that before us sits an old man on a park bench.  The scene likely contains many elements — the old man and the park bench of course, but perhaps also a garbage bin nearby, a playground in the distance, people walking by from time-to-time, fluctuating sunlight as the clouds roll by above, etc…

Now let’s assume we decide to photograph our old man.  We’ve just made a decision that somebody else may not have made.  But this is just the first of many possible decisions:

Do we click the shutter when the old man is frowning or smiling?  Do we stand tall or crouch down low to the ground before photographing him?  Do we compose the scene so that the garbage bin is included, the playground, or both?  Do we wait for a passerby to enter the frame?  Do we use a wide-angle or telephoto lens?  Fill flash?  Film or digital media?  (And on and on…)

The above are choices we make irrespective of whether we engage our subject, and they all affect how his “story” is told (and ultimately perceived).  That is why if we send 10 different photographers on an assignment to each take exactly one image of him, we will almost certainly end up with 10 very different images.

The potential permutations of the variables (those above and those not even mentioned) are literally astronomical in number.

But here’s the interesting part:  because our images are imbued with our unique choices, we may be identified through our images.

Despite all the possibilities, we may still discern a “look” or style in accomplished photographers whom we admire, because they have achieved a proficiency in their work that allows them to communicate their “vision” in a consistent way.   In other words, despite countless potential decisions, they consistently make choices in which we find their perspective, in which we find their imprint.  This imprint is applied all along the photo-creation chain — from the outset, with the choice of subject matter, through all the moments leading up to the click of the shutter, to the subsequent post-processing.  The result — the image — is as unique as a fingerprint.

Achieving an image “fingerprint” through Infusion of Self is what we should all aspire to, because it can only be achieved consistently when we have gained a high degree of efficiency and proficiency, and it is only possible when we, in a very real sense, are “true” to our vision.

I keep this in mind, when I photograph.

—Peter | Prosophos.

19 thoughts on “My photography workflow, Part 4.

  1. Very well written Peter.

    You posted this as I sit at my work lunch break thinking about “when will these second hand M9’s start coming down in price?”. So your timing is also impeccable!

    A famous photographer once said….

    “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

  2. Isn’t this a tad overreaching? When did photography become such a exhaustive mental exercise? This way of thinking seems to be an antithesis of merely capturing “the decisive moment.”

    When I take a photo of something, 99% of the time, it’s simply because “the subject and lighting is interesting.” I never go through this checklist you speak of.

      1. Yes I get what you said there…which is why i disagree: it shouldn’t cumbersome; it should be second-nature…after all, photography is more “art” than “science.” There is no way you can condense this in a few bullet points.

        …and maybe I’m jumping the gun here (since your article is multi-part) but what you haven’t mentioned is the rapport between the photographer and the subject (obviously applies mostly to people photography) which is i think is more important than any of what you have mentioned (so far)…by that I mean the subject should be comfortable enough with the photographer…if that’s missing it doesn’t matter how “inspired” or “methodical” the photographer is…it’s all out the window…

        …and this is why (IMO) a lot of your images are successful: they are your family…your kids will not be that comfortable/engaging to another photographer no matter how skillful/talented he/she is…don’t get me wrong: your images are successful also because you have the skill/talent…I’m merely saying talent/skill is just part of the equation.

        1. Yes, I agree, establishing rapport and comfort in portraiture is important, and it’s a two-way street.

          As a matter of fact, that point was going to be included in either the “Inspiration” section or this section of “Infusion of Self”, but I decided to hold off until I had sorted out the overarching (perhaps you may call it overeaching ;)) framework. I’ve mentioned a few times now that this is a work-in-progress… I’m trying, but I’ve decided to hold off on too many examples for now until I have all my thoughts sorted out.

          By the way, you have some very nice images in your Flickr gallery.

          1. LOL…I was beginning to worry we’re not going to meet on a common ground…i feel somewhat better that at least we agree on some points…I was beginning to feel antagonistic. 😉

  3. In observing really good photographs (as opposed to my own) it seems to me that the photographer has offered something of him/her self in the image. This often results in decisions that might be called stylistic and which may be present in greater or lesser degrees in other images by that same photographer. But I don’t believe these are conscious as much as they are the result of whatever (trained by practice) intuitive process he or she has undertaken that allows them to give to the image as well as take from it.

    As evidence I would offer a comparison between you and another of my blogger favorites, Wouter Brandsma. Your life-as-dream gentleness and caring shows not only in the family images, but with complete strangers like city workmen or parade watchers or mostly strangers like piano tuners while Wouter’s darker, sometimes angst tinged outlook (or vision if you will) is clearly evident in his small sensor sketches. Each view or vision or outlook results in images of very different styles (made with very different tools) but they work and are affective because they come from the heart or the soul of the photographer. In short they are each (partly, but vitally) the result of a strong infusion of self.

    The eye looks: the brain sees; but it is the soul that takes notes.

  4. Very interesting and thought provoking Peter. Thank you for sharing!
    I’ve been a fan of your work since I saw it on Steve Huff’s site about a year ago. I don’t even pretend to aspire to your level. You’re certainly gifted, and I can certainly notice your imprint.

    I’m an NEX shooter who upgraded from a point and shoot about 2 years ago. For the past year I’ve prefered to shoot with manual lenses in manual mode. I shoot mostly the events I attend among my wide circle of friends. The NEX is pretty much permanently attached to my arm, and I shoot A LOT. There’s now well over 1000 facebook profile photos attributed to me floating out there. People definitely recognize my imprint, even when the watermark has been cropped off. However, when my imprint becomes too distinctive and recognizable, I’ll often try to change things up and approach photos from a new different perspective. Seeing if I can still capture compelling images in a slightly foreign way, so that I push out my boundaries and expand.

    This is much of my work so far:

    I’m still relatively new to photography, I’ve never received any instruction or training, just kind of found my way. I’m eagerly awaiting the rest of your work flow series. Thank you so much for sharing and taking the time to contribute so much. I know that running a blog can be hugely valuable, but it can also be thankless. I appreciate it, and I’m looking forward to more!


    1. OK Judd, I took your comments at face value and then I clicked on your link… you are obviously quite talented – and apparently *very* humble.

      And, you obviously do have a “wide circle of friends” too ;).

      The whole issue of “imprinting” one’s self into an image (or “Infusion of Self” as I’ve called it above) is intellectually fascinating to me, so I’m glad I’ve had a few comments here recognizing the phenomenon.

      And, as for your last few comments about the “thankless” job of running a blog – I appreciate the support! However, in fairness, I actually volunteered for this…

      1. Thanks for responding Peter, I appreciate the kind words! Recognizing a photographer’s distinctive mark is certainly fascinating. Thanks again for the insights. And feel free to hit me up on Facebook. When you next make it out to LA, I can show you some inspiring subjects to shoot 😉

    2. Judd just had a look at your FB albums. This is a clear case of Peters point in his writings (IMO). You have a signature look and approach to your photos from composition, subject matter to PP. I got a real feel for your personality (and also reading post on SH). Your lifestyle is “slightly” different mine!

      You got a hard time from some people (apart from politics) about your photos. Not focused properly (you were using manual focus), not composed properly, etc…..

      Well I say good on you. Looks like you have stayed true to yourself and that is important in a lot of things in life…including photography. Your photos are that way for a reason. They are you. Over time you’ll fine tune, experiment, etc but I think it’s all good.

      Are they photos I find interesting…..yes. Are they photos I’m drawn to go back to….no. But that’s not important….it’s not about me or anyone else. On the flip side others won’t be drawn to go back to Peters work…..

      1. Sorry Judd…might have come across the wrong way re saying your images are not good. Not at all….I do like them and they are in focus, etc…was more reference to those specific SH photos you got a hard tome over.

  5. Finally got the time to read all your posts on this topic! They are very, very inspirational and especially the part 4 touched me the most. Your example of the old man sitting on a park bench is absolutely briliant. It felt like I was part of it. And the decisions you have to make before hitting the shutter button is recognizable! However, for me, this is the part which I need to improve. Sometimes I don’t allow myself enough ‘prepartion’ time. Instead of watching the scenery carefully for all aspects and ask myself which elements needs to be included in the story and which are distracting, I hit the button too fast and move on to the next moment. Therefore I will keep this post in my mind the next time shooting!

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Peter, I love your work and don’t want to appear troublesome, but what about asking the old man on the park bench if he would like/consent to be photographed. I often take the easy way out and photograph mostly birds, landscapes etc, because I don’t have the nerve to walk up to a stranger and put a camera in his/her face. A friend of mine who is a professional once told me that’s the difference between an amateur and a professional – the latter wouldn’t hesitate to do exactly that whereas an amateur would often be too sensitive to invade another’s space – hesitating to document human suffering or ignominy for example. So it seems to me the photographer’s infusion of self is only one side of the story. Just a thought.

  7. Hi Peter, I got a lot from this series. Selfishly, I hope you find the time to complete the series.

    I particularly like the tenderness in your photographs. They are an inspiration to me, as is your writing.

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