A Photographic Experiment… 2 Photographers | 1 Model

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BTS Shot by Paul Girvan

Although I don’t teach nearly as much as I used to, one of the most frequent questions I hear – and I hear it a *lot* – is “what settings did you use for that photo?”

I have to admit, I hear it so much that it’s actually a little annoying.

But it’s not because I don’t want to give up my special sauce or help a photographer improve their skill. 

A couple of years ago, I went to Horseshoe Island Park at the Northwest Arm in Halifax for the Winter Solstice. If you don’t know, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the sun rises almost exactly in the middle of the entrance to the Northwest Arm and if the sky is right, you can get a spectacular sunrise with the South End of Halifax on one side and the Dingle Tower on the other. I’ve done this over the years a few times as I used to lead groups with the Halifax Photographic Society and with the Photo Guild of NS. This particular year, it was particularly cold. Something like -25 or 30 degrees plus a wind chill. I had a camera setup on a tripod and since it wasn’t a particularly spectacular sunrise, I was bouncing a little and drinking a hot coffee to try to keep warm. A friend and I were approached by a crew from a local camera club and the first words out of the lead photographer’s mouth was “What are you using this morning?”

I thought my response was funny – and it was intended to be – but apparently this group thought I was being a jackass when I answered “Hot coffee!” Which was the honest to goodness truth. I never even took a photo that morning. LOL!

Sometimes I just enjoy hanging out with other photographers and talking about the craft we love. 

But, I still hear the same question asked time after time. What annoys me isn’t the frequency of the question or even the innocence of the question. It’s simply that it’s asking the *wrong* question.

I’ve said many times over the years, including when I was co-hosting a photography TV show on Eastlink TV a few years ago that the camera and settings, although *technically* form the photo, what *really* makes the photo is what’s behind the camera. 

So, last night, while a good friend of mine, Paul Girvan, who is probably the most accomplished fitness photographer on the east coast today, and I were shooting with a favorite model I haven’t photographed in a long time, he and I talked about this concept. As we discussed it, I ended up challenging him to a bit of a duel.

Paul and I shoot together a lot and we try to inspire and challenge each other to be better photographers each time we shoot. 

So the challenge this time was let’s shoot with our model, the incredible Catherine Richardson, in a custom bikini made just for her and our shoot by Sueno Swimwear, and we would each shoot with exactly the same camera settings, lens and lighting, right down to the pose and we had to be within arms length for the shot. 

I wanted to prove that settings are secondary to craft and vision. We shot these images within seconds of each other. We both used a 24-70/2.8 lens at 50mm with the same circular polarizer, same strobe power and position, same ISO (100) and the same shutter speed (1/200s) and withing arms length of each other. The only difference, which for the purpose of this experiment was that I used a full frame Nikon D850 and Paul used his full frame Canon – sorry I can’t remember the model of his camera, but they are comparable, I promise!

Mike's Side By Side

Catherine never moved from her position and the base pose was only modified to eliminate a shadow from her arm in Paul’s shot. 

Otherwise, *all* the camera settings were IDENTICAL! What do you think? DO camera settings really matter at the end of the day? Do you think by using the same settings as any other photographer that you’ll be able to duplicate their image? 

I hope this experiment helps prove that a photographer’s craft and vision are what actually creates the image. Even if you are standing (or crouching) side by side. Yes, settings are important, but only in as much as getting a proper exposure. If you shoot in any of the Auto modes, including Shutter or Aperture priority, the camera will mostly do that for you anyway.

I know this little post isn’t going to stop me from hearing that question, but I hope it makes you think a little more creatively and not be so held up on the *technical* details. Peace out! 🙂

A Photographic Experiment… 2 Photographers | 1 Model
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