Paul, Woodbury, Connecticut © Steven Willard
I first met Paul in 1971 while he was still in the Navy and I was still in the Army. We’ve been fiends ever since. We talk on the phone on an irregular basis, the conversation picking up where we left off whether it’s been a few days or several months; it’s that kind off friendship.
On a recent trip to Maine, Paul stopped and spent the night at our house, and we had the chance to do some catching up on what’s been happening in our lives. We sat outside at a local burger joint and enjoyed the fine day and the time together.
I usually have a camera handy and when I pulled it out to take Paul’s portrait he didn’t hesitate to strike a pose. He is an old friend and this wasn’t the first time I’ve made his portrait. Now this is important; don’t hesitate to make photographs of friends and loved ones. Just because you have other images of them one more won’t hurt. It might turn out to be the one photograph that best captures your sense of them.
I think this photograph is successful for several reasons. First, we are old friends and are relaxed in each other’s company. Second, I’m familiar with my camera. Making portraits isn’t the best time to learn to use your camera, even if they are your friends. Third, I had a plan. The wall in the background was barn red and would have been very distracting in color, but I knew I was going to convert the image to black and white even before I picked up the camera. I knew the red wall would read as dark gray and not be a problem. Fourth, it was a partly cloudy day and we were siting on a deck under leafy branches. When the sun wasn’t obscured by the clouds the light on Paul’s face was mottled and unattractive, but by waiting for a cloud to hide the sun I was presented with nice, even, diffused light. There were no unsightly blotches on his face, he didn’t have to squint, and there was no harsh shadow under the bill of his cap.
The result is a relaxed image of a friend in a familiar pose that required very little “fixing” in Photoshop, and I’m happy with it. It’s a reminder of a pleasant couple of hours spent with a dear friend.
It seems simple, but many people don’t understand that good photographer aren’t born, but have to work to be better. It really comes down to only three things in my opinion. First, improve your eye by looking at lots of photographs, but be critical; you’ll learn what is good. Second, learn from your mistakes and try not to make them again. The latter is the hard part. Third, take lots of photographs. In the digital age when you don’t have to pay for film and processing there is no excuse not to. One of the reasons professionals get more great shots is that they take more photos, lots more, and that’s something we can do. Have your camera with you; you can’t take photographs without it, and most importantly, use it. I’ve never regretted taking a picture, but I have sure regretted not taking them.
Canon G10, processed in Photoshop CS4.