Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the amanda project

the amanda project

I've been talking a lot over the last year about the value of projects. A recent vacation to a few national parks seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on something with a consistent theme. For this trip, I picked my wife, Amanda, as the subject. The goal was to take a set of good pictures (around 20) of her that we were both happy with, in the various locations we found ourselves.
I decided to limit it technically too - I just took two lenses with me. I had a 50mm prime and an 85mm prime. The 50mm is one I haven't used much at all and the 85mm has been my go-to portrait lens for the last year. In fact, it's been my go-to lens for almost everything for the last year. I wanted to use the 50mm but put the 85mm in the bag as a fall back position. I tried to shake things up a bit by shooting almost everything with the 50mm. It turns out that about 90% of the shots I took were with the 50mm. Quite a turn around for me.
Now a 50mm and 85mm lens aren't exactly classic lens choices for a trip around national parks like Death Valley and Yosemite. Typically, you'd be thinking about some super wide lenses in the teens range and also a longer telephoto to abstract elements of the landscape. I decided to totally skip those options. I've been to Death Valley before and shot a lot of very wide scenics. I've never been to Yosemite but I've certainly seen a lot of classic landscapes from there. I wasn't going to compete with those images. I didn't even want to bother recreating various Ansel Adams views of the park, in worse light, or David Muench cloned images. Maybe I've finally gotten to the point where I have the courage to look for my own vision rather than copying others. Or I've switched to copying portrait photographers - I guess I'll find out over time. A few people suggested I was mad in taking this approach. That I'd spend the entire week regretting the decision or kicking myself, missing shots of a lifetime with the wrong lenses in my hand. Instead I took shots of my life and my times - I shot what matters to me. More valuable to me than pretty scenics of well-worn subjects. There's a joke that says half dome requires an extra stop of exposure now, than it did when Ansel Adams first took his shots of it, because so many photographers have sucked the light out of it. I contributed a bit, but with a slightly different motivation.
So the Amanda project was born, from an idea from Steve Barth with his excellent series featuring his wife. One week, 800 shots, lots of locations, dramatic changes in lighting, collaborations on clothing choices, hair. Hiking for miles, 4am starts, rain, bear sightings, climbing, driving : all in all a great time for both of us and I think a pretty good collection of images with a consistent theme.
I did cheat a touch on the only 50mm/85mm lens selection aspect - I took along a small, wide-angle, panoramic format point and shoot that I used a couple of times in this collection - but other than that, nearly all 50mm. I think there is one 85mm shot and that's the night image from Las Vegas. By the end of the week I was trying to find fresh ideas, use lighting, new focal lengths. I never actually felt I was missing out on shooting the grand landscapes by not having a wide angle lens. Yosemite is beautiful. Death Valley is amazing. We drank it all up, together, looked at the views, enjoyed the sunrises, sunsets and times in between. I did take a few landscapes and I'll start posting them up later, but I had a much more interesting project to work on, than scenery.
The project focus also pushed me beyond some of the standard portrait shots I'd have taken. I started looking for new angles, compared to how I've been shooting with the 85mm. Normally all I do is fairly tight head/shoulders portraits. The 50mm forced me to step back a bit. Shooting the same subject for an extended period forced me to look for new angles, new body positions, new ways to move. It got me thinking about posing a full person, even when they aren't posing as such, rather than just eliciting an expression. So again I found that pushing a subject area via an assigned project has helped me break new ground. I also pushed my lighting skills a bit, using room lights, rearranging furniture, etc. to light the night time Las Vegas shot. Something I probably wouldn't have done without this assignment in the back of my mind.
Hope you enjoy the results. We had a great time shooting them all. Click on the collage above to go to the set of images. Comments are very welcome.
In the comments, Kate asked: Of the shots in the project montage, were most with the 50mm? Of the 25 shown, 18 were taken with the 50mm lens. 2 were taken with the point and shoot DMC-LX1 and five were shot with the 85mm lens (old habits I guess).


milo said...

freakin awesome work, gordon

Scoop said...

Great shots. Picking the right lens can be a challenge. I love my Nikon 18-135mm at the moment. My wife and I are in our 50's but retired so we have time to shoot . This is my new site
, would love your honest comments.

Kate said...

great concept Gordon.

Of the shots in the project montage, were most with the 50mm?
your prior post on numbers has me curious.

Anonymous said...

nice pic ! And I was really enjoying your site.

Kent Wiley said...

Some fine work, Gordon. The restriction to 2 lenses is a great way to work, I think. I'm now carrying four, but they're all primes. I think the narrowing of possibilities makes it easier to decide where to point the camera.

Paul said...

What can I say, Gordon. Excellent work. I love to challenge myself like that; however, I leave my self a bit more wiggle room ... just in case. :-)