Monday, November 1, 2010

The Devil Is in The Details

I was going to try and write this and post this yesterday in honor of Halloween.  Now I suppose it's in honor of All Saint's Day and having the word "devil" in the title seems sacrilege.  However, in this case, or really in any case, the devil isn't nice!  He lurks and hides in places we can't immediately see and tries to sabotage our best efforts.  This is the struggle of all saints... trying to find the devil in the details.

For my last day job, I had to write a lot of reports.  And the devil was certainly in the details of getting all the numbers and demographic data correct.  Let's just say there were a couple of rewrites and I learned how to manage the information better each time around. 

The same thing applies to photography.  Yes, you knew the photography thing was coming.  Isn't that the point of this blog?  You've got to pay attention to the details.  When you don't disaster strikes.  When you do, nobody notices.  There are a million examples.  What's that spot on her face?  Oh, a crumb?  How did I not notice that?  Is that a milk moustache?  What's that in the background of my "nature story"?  A One Way sign?  Oops.  Wait.  What happened to the groom's hand?  Not in the frame.  Shoot.  Is that a bra strap?

Often when everything is right, no one notices.  They just think: good picture. Sometimes when it's all right, it's magic.  I've seen a photo go from nice to Wow! with a simple shift in the direction of the eyeball.  Not a thing was different other than suddenly making direct eye contact with the camera.  This is especially true with children.  I worked with one little girl who would totally smile and turn her head towards the camera and be watching something else entirely.  Shot after shot of "look at me"  "look at the camera"  "Can you see my eyeball?"  I wasn't nearly as interesting as everything else in her world.

So much of photography comes down to being in the moment.  REALLY in the moment.  If you slip out of the moment, you don't catch the fact that the bride just blinked, or that the little girl looked away, or that there is a sign in the background or whatever.  And the shot isn't as good as it could be if you had been really present and really looked at every detail.  (Or worse, the shot is ruined.)  Check the edges of the frame.  Look at the subject(s).  Look behind the subject(s).  Does it all work?  Is everything there?  Is anything missing?  Is anything there that shouldn't be?  Take a breathe and focus.  And go for the magic.

Just a quick note on this.  This is the second image.  Why?  The first one looked like he was trying to roast a marshmallow on the end of his magic wand....


  1. Every saying has a flip-side saying? For every "devil is in the details" there's a "that's just down in the noise".

    Another one: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" vs. "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
    ...just being a devil's advocate ;-)

  2. That's just down with the noise? I have to say I've never heard that one!

    The most important thing about a photograph is the memories it brings... so you truly are right. What one person could deem a terrible photograph could be the treasure of someone else's soul. :)