I am normally the most deliberate of photographers. As I've mentioned in previous columns my standard modus operandi is to contemplate a scene, think about the photograph I want to make, make that one photograph, and move on. As I've also mentioned, I don't think that's inherently the right way to make photographs (I don't think there is an inherently right way). It's just what works for me.
Except when something else works better. Last summer I started indulging in what my friend David Dyer-Bennet (DDB) has dubbed "stochastic photography." A refined and elegant term for a style that he says some folks sneeringly referred to as "spray and pray." The results of been extremely gratifying; I've made several portfolio-worthy photographs that I couldn't have had I pursued my usual deliberate manner.
This two-step technique may be summarized quite simply:
A) Make a whole lot of photographs, trusting to luck that you have captured some invisible "decisive moment."
B) Chimp and pixel-peep like mad.
1/200th sec, ƒ/4, ISO 800 and be there. My first attempt at stochastic photography proved successful beyond anything I imagined. I had an intuition there was an interesting photograph hidden in the subject matter or I wouldn't have even made the photographs, but I had no idea it would come out looking like this. It has inspired and encouraged me to do more of this. Above is the full frame, below is an enlargement of a portion so that you can see the intricate and complex structures that capture the eye and make this an engrossing print.
This kind of subject matter really is easier to work with in digital than film. For one thing, there is the Polaroid effect—being able to immediately see the unseen components of the subject (in this case, the rapid and complex patterns invisible to the naked eye) and see if the camera settings you've chosen are really adequate to the task. Frequently they're not. DDB and I have both reached the same conclusion; this is the kind of subject matter where trying to get away with a marginal aperture or shutter speed simply does not work. A little bit of blur is not acceptable; if it's not sharp, it doesn't work.
Equally helpful is the ability to just burn electrons with little penalty and make a dozen photographs in a short span of the same subject, give 'em a quick chimp to be sure they're not hopeless, and trust that luck has favored you when you go through them carefully.
1/1600th sec. This one's still in progress, not close to being a finished print. But the lacework water, again unexpected and invisible to the unaided eye, entrances me; when I get it printed the way I want I shall be a most happy camper.
So far my subject matter has been limited to rapidly moving water, but I imagine any complex, quickly-changing phenomenon could be of interest. Fire is an obvious candidate, but I haven't had a chance to try. Might work. Might not. Ah well, it will certainly be worth experimentation; if it turns out I don't like the results it's only wasted electrons, and there are plenty more where they came from.
Ctein's regular weekly column appears on TOP on Thursdays, usually in the morning.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.