Monday, May 14, 2012

Grasping at Adequacy

I find myself feeling inadequate and a bit hack-ish this morning.

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to work alongside and watch a truly gifted photographic artist, Lauren Larsen.  Seriously- there are photographers, and then there are artists.  The difference is vision and style and grace and poise. She's got all that, and a patient spirit.  And it was a huge honor to get to work with her.

That said, I hadn't actually planned on working with her.  I've been a fan of her work for a couple of years now ever since my buddy, Matt, turned me on to her website (they knew each other in college.)  I've been working toward doing more professional photography, and so I've also been looking at a lot more photography related websites and videos.  But I know that I learn best by doing, not by reading a manual or a tutorial.  So I've been trying to get as much shutter time in as possible lately (until my camera died on me- a story for another time...)  So a few weeks ago, I heeded the advice that a mentor gave me a long time ago: "the way to learn is to watch people who are at the top of their craft and whose work you admire and respect."  I contacted Lauren by e-mail - cold and out of nowhere - to ask her if she would allow me to be her assistant on a shoot sometime.

This is the bride whose wedding Lauren Larsen
allowed me to help her shoot and an example of
Lauren's amazing work.
To my surprise, she graciously agreed.  When I offered, I really meant that I wanted to carry her gear or get her coffee or whatever just so I could watch her work.  I wanted to see her process and how she did things - everyone has their own way of doing things.  Lauren sent me a list of dates of upcoming shoots.  Unfortunately, the only date that I had available was yesterday ... Sunday ... Mother's Day (DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUHN!)  I was hesitant to ask Kristi to cut in on her Mother's Day, but when I told her about the dates, she actually suggested that I pick that date.  More proof, folks, that I'm married to the best woman ever.  She knew what a great opportunity this would be for me and how excited I was.

So Saturday, the day before the shoot, I got an e-mail from Lauren.  I had sent her a list of questions, one of which was, "what should I bring with me?"  She told me to bring my gear and sent a shot list that included me shooting some detail shots and side shots.  I think I wet myself thrice.  I would be shooting a wedding with Lauren Larsen, not just watching?  Hooooly crap.

I should back up and say at this point that I've only assisted in shooting a wedding once before.  It was several years ago, and I didn't know squat about photography.  Not really, anyway.  I think I might've had the camera on a fully automatic mode the whole time.  I'm not proud of that.  At the end of the night, I handed over the camera and never saw the images, but it's probably for the best.  I probably don't want to see those images.  I shudder just thinking about how bad they probably were.  Ugh.
So I showed up on Sunday for the shoot and met Lauren and her assistant, Christine- her real assistant- the person who was doing what I thought I was going to be doing.  Awkward.  We spoke briefly about the upcoming day and then got to shooting at the bride's house.  I'm pretty sure I just followed Lauren and Christine around for the first 20 minutes or so before I even took the first photo.  While Lauren shot photos of the wedding dress in the bride's back yard, I realized I wasn't actually, you know, doing anything.  So the first shot I got was of the family dog.  Pretty appropriate, I'd say.

Things got better as I felt a little more comfortable.  Watching Lauren work was simply amazing- she just made everything look so... effortless.  I tried to shoot what Lauren directed me to and not to duplicate her shots.  But sometimes I found myself going after her to try to frame up a shot that she had just gotten, just so I could try to see through my camera what she had just captured.  I didn't shoot any of those- I just wanted to try to see with her eye while we were still in the moment.

Throughout the day, I found myself struggling just to get the shots I was seeing.  I love to capture glimpses of people's real personality- most people only show it in short bursts, anyway.  And for some reason, I was having a really tough time.  I always seemed to be just a split second late for a lot of great shots.  That's not to say that I didn't get some great shots (okay, what I think, for me, are some great shots...)  I just wasn't getting them as quickly and as consistently as I'd hoped.  But then, that's why photographers often shoot thousands of photos at a wedding or other event.  But that's another thing that impressed me about Lauren- she was very meticulous and measured and deliberate in what she chose to shoot.  I, on the other hand, was panicking and shooting anything that looked like it might be meaningful or relevant.  The candles on the windowsill?  Shot it. The Bridal Suite door sign?  Shot it.  Some iron work sculpture that was holding presents?  Shot it.  Lauren was like a photographic Seal Team Six to my Barney Fife.  Watching her work, I felt wholly inadequate.  But that's what I was there for- to watch her work.  If I could already do anything remotely close to what she does - as well as she does it - well, I'd be shooting all over the world, too.
More ridiculously - and frustratingly, impossibly beautiful portraiture by
Lauren Larsen.

Later in the evening she mentioned to me that it takes a lot of weddings under your belt before you really get a good feel for the pace and what to shoot.  That verbal pat on the head made me feel a little less a retarded monkey with a camera.  A little.

Lauren was very patient with me, and for that I'm thankful.  I think she could sense my nervousness.  I just hope that I was able to get some shots that reflect what a special day it was for the couple getting married.  I have no idea if she'll even let any of my images out of quarantine from her hard drive.  I'm not even sure if she'll let them on there in the first place for fear of infecting the beautiful images sharing surrounding bits and bytes.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity I received yesterday and that God has given me the drive to try to pursue these new creative ventures, even if the talent is still in the mail somewhere.  Hopefully, it'll get there someday and I will be able to tackle a wedding or a portrait shoot without doubting my ability and secretly fearing that everyone will think that I'm a hack.  Someday.  Maybe.  Hopefully.

I hope that I get to work with - or for - Lauren again at some point in the future.  I truly enjoyed my day and went home absolutely exhausted.  I went to sleep last night thankful just for the opportunity to work alongside such an amazing artist.  Thank you, Lauren, for allowing me to share in the day.  And thank you, especially, to Kristi for being so understanding about my quest to grow as an artist as to give up half of Mother's Day to allow me to try.

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