Photography: You can’t hide what’s inside

Inside: I’m not the first; Posing; Photo obsessions and fractal memories — what’s yours?; A gedunken experiment re: light


Has every woman been photo-propositioned already?

I know women. I see women that I would like to photograph. Kids are naturally photogenic when you can get candid shots of them. There are some guys who would make good models. I’ll often see a stranger on the street or in a store and as an aspiring photographer I wish to the photography gods that I had the stones and the demeanor to walk up to them and ask them to be an informal candid model.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll ask someone. Strangest thing. It seems like every woman on the planet dated a guy at some point who was a photographer to some degree.

I understand why they balk when I eventually muster up the courage to ask them to “model” for me. Or why some get suspicious or ask, “What are you going to do with the photos?” Or “What is this for?”

Uh … because I like taking photos of people?? I need practice? You got purdy eyes.

I want to take pictures of people. Not models, though. Not models modeling, I mean. Not stereotypical tall and skinny and pouty on demand. Not someone with practiced and professional poses. Not professionally glamorous. Not fashion models. No dead eyed human mannequin fashion beauty. No bikini models.

I’m not badmouthing models. I am badmouthing the industry, though, and its limited, offensive notions of what qualifies as beautiful. Anyway, models and actors/actresses do learn a skill. They learn how to pose. They learn how to project motion and emotion. They know how to make interesting, engaging angles and natural, open expressions. Or closed expressions. It’s amazing. It’s a great skill.

I was surprised to see that there are books one can buy that are full of poses. I suppose — ha. Sup-pose. I suppose that could be helpful but … well, more about that later.

I want to see the character, personality and beauty of real people. “Real” people. Not that models aren’t real people. The diversity of beauty and photogenic-ness. Photogenicity. The “good side” of people who hate having their photo taken.

Of course, I want to take pictures of people who want to have their pictures taken. I realized that I don’t want to take pictures of people who don’t want people to see those pictures. I mean, I do understand being picky. I don’t like photos of myself. It’s rare that I do. Like most people I’m best if it’s a candid shot of me doing something.

I know a number of people — all women now that I think about it — who have a lot of pictures of themselves posted but every picture is blurred or edited or posed to hide a self-perceived flaw.

And let’s be honest here. If you have a “flaw” that you don’t want captured in a photo? Everybody you know sees it every day and doesn’t think you’re a hideous troll.

Men, too, but the men I know who don’t like photos of themselves are resigned to the fact that they look like that. They’re like, “Oh well. No, I don’t care. Post it if you want.”

Real talk. I hate pictures that show my gut. It’s a diminishing gut, sure, but that makes it even more frustrating sometimes. I am not beyond sucking it in, I’ll admit. But I’m rarely in front of a camera so I’m not good at getting myself situated in time. (I just use it as motivation to stop slacking on my food/training discipline.)

Shine. Burn bright.

I’m still learning my way around pretty much everything, photography related and life related. This is true. But I bet you I can find your “good side” and it’s probably different than what you think is your good side.


I watched part of a great tutorial about poses. How, as a portrait photographer, you can instruct the subject to convey a particular flavor of energy. I’d link to it if I could remember where I saw it.

In my opinion, the best shots are candid. It’s capturing someone’s personality. The way they move or stand or fidget. Being natural. And it’s hard to be natural on command because that’s … unnatural. This is for you if you don’t feel natural in front of a camera. If you have to think about it, then here’s a way to think about it. Of course, an experienced photographer can help to direct you and hopefully in a way that doesn’t make you feel self conscious or creeped.

So these poses are about creating energy. Angle of the shoulders. Angle of the head. The eyebrows and mouth.

Check out photos of some of your favorite actors, actresses and musicians. Ignore the face for a second. Check out what they do with their shoulders. How they face the camera or not. Chin up, chin down. Toward the camera or away from it. It’s amazing.

Rolling Stone Magazine covers

Now look at how their heads are tilted or turned. Then the eyes. Notice that their mouths (often not smiling) are usually open slightly. Or when they’re smiling how natural it is. Like a moment has been captured.

In full body shots notice how the hips are pretty much always at an angle. Notice how, when the goal is to convey sex, how pronounced or exaggerated the angles become.

Go ahead. Try it. Take your cell phone into the bathroom in front of the mirror. Try playing with different combinations. Front shoulder up, head down, eyes at the camera. Shoulders square straight on, head up and a little to the left, one eyebrow raised.

When I did the self portrait practice, I posed with a guitar to have a prop. Security blanket. And because I generally don’t like pictures of myself I just sucked it up and thought about it in terms of angles.

Self Portrait 2


I didn’t realize how much photography is going on out there. It’s a great thing. In a way I feel for the pros. But on the other hand, like every other discipline, people have a lot to say and it’s a beautiful thing that they can express themselves.

Guys with cameras. Moms with cameras.

The best photographers or the people who get the most interesting shots have some way of distinguishing themselves. Their selves?? They’ll get up before sunrise and wait in the cold or the rain. They may be willing to travel. They may be willing and able to spend money on equipment. Money on software for organization and post processing.

Post processing software is worth the investment, by the way. That combined with RAW photos — it’s amazing what you can do and still maintain quality.

Probably most importantly, they’re willing to spend a lot of time researching, asking questions, practicing and learning how to get better. How to get enough control of the camera to find their voice. To go beyond point-and-shoot to compose-and-create.


I have a thing about paths. Pathways leading off into the distance. Roads, trails, boardwalks, bridges.

I know someone who has an artistic attraction to portals and doorways.

For someone else, it’s all about eyes. I’m big on eyes but I haven’t quite nailed down the lighting and controlling the situation to get those magical shots. Then again, eyes are portals, kind of.

For some it’s flowers. Trees, branches, roots. There’s something very fractal about that one. Tree branches, blood vessels, streams flowing into oceans.

Birds? Oceans? Mountains? Babies?

I also have a fascination with maps and knives/swords. Not photography related but I have no idea why. Oh. And water, especially streams and creeks.



I was laying on a rock at a lower elevation than that crest, and I’m pretty sure Gunpowder River was trying to carry me away. I could hear it changing while I was down there. I can’t swim and I’m afraid of drowning so it was a bit of a rush. But sometimes the water wants to play.

I was thinking that maybe doors and portals — is that about being born? Some people have experienced a tunnel of white light in near death experiences. More pathways and portals?

I read that there’s a density of fractal patterns that people find ideal and that happens to be the same as acacia trees in Africa. It also happens to be Golden Mean compatible. You know. The iconic tree of the plains. The author theorized that the pattern is ingrained deep in our brain structure. A genetic ancestral memory.

Hm. What’s your photographic familiar? If you practiced your photography for decades and had no limitations, what would your portfolio say? What would be most common? What would be in the photo that people see and say, “This. This is the one photo that defines your style and vision. This is what you’ve been trying to say for all of these years.”


Last but not least, here’s something I wrote one evening when I was quietly obsessing about light. It’s hokey but it helped me at the time. And here’s an unrelated photo that might help set the mood.


Imagine you’re in a room. It’s pitch dark. You’re told that are a few things in the room and you’re given a bucket and the end of a hose.

You’re told that in that bucket and at the source of a hose is a special liquid and whatever that magic liquid touches will become visible.


You pick up the bucket and fling the liquid straight in front of you. It splashes and falls and you see the floor, a sliver of ceiling, and notice that you’ve splashed some kind of platform with colorful markings. That light lets you see a little further around you. You fling again but to your left and you see a wooden painted horse.

You pick up the hose, squeeze the trigger and a strong flow of liquid bursts out and you see another painted horse and another. The festive merry-go-round becomes visible. Unevenly, though, and just a little bit of it. Just enough to make out what it is.

You look at the hose and notice that you can adjust the nozzle. You switch from “spray” to “mist”. You squeeze the trigger on the hose again and a fine mist shimmers in the air, spreads and lands on the merry-go-round, floating up to the top and slowly wafting to its far reaches and around the curves.

The lights on the merry-go-round come to life one by one, a calliope begins playing and it begins spinning.

You change the nozzle to “spatter” and spray all around you and into the air. Excited children become visible around with their parents running in glee toward the merry-go-round, each picking out the wooden animal they want to ride: a horse, a dog, a dragon, an eagle, a Palamino pony, a shark.

In this gedunken experiment, that’s what photography is about. That magical liquid is light. Light as a fluid, a medium.

Okay. The liquid quickly dries and evaporates blacking out the room again.

Now that you know what you’re dealing with — you know you have a merry-go-round in front of you — suppose your goal is to clearly see the faces of a mom, her smiling child and the cotton candy she’s holding with the background blurred as the ride spins around.

How much liquid light would you use? Would you splash, mist, spray, stream, send regular pulses? Would you spray it directly or straight up and let it rain down? Mist and splash?

The liquid disappears and the room fades to black and silence again.

Suppose you want to see the entire merry-go-round in its full glory. You back up. What would you need? Four hoses? One firetruck hose?

Oh wait. You notice a kiosk behind you with an on/off switch on it. You tap “on” and from the ceiling far above a shower of light falls and dazzles. Some spots are soaking wet with light and some are nearly dry still.

One of the ridable statues is an eagle that captures your eye. Its back is wet with light but the underside of its wing is dry. You grab a bucket and splash the underside of its wing as it goes by and see the fine detail and artistry put into each feather that was hidden in the dryness of shadow.

That’s advanced hoodoo for some of us. Fill flash. Wireless off-camera flash. Multiple flashes, reflectors, diffusers, natural light, light painting.

The possibilities.


2 Responses to “Photography: You can’t hide what’s inside”

  1. KhadijahOnline

    What a poetic explanation of photography. I love taking photos, too, especially candid. It is a bit frustrating when others don’t see the beauty in what you’ve captured in them, but I realize that that is what that phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” means. You posted some brilliant photos. You have a very insightful approach to your art which balances the technical and abstract effortlessly. I hope you keep this blog going.

  2. garyarthuryoung

    Thanks for reading. This blog doesn’t usually get out much.

    I’m trying to bridge the gap. I’ll get there.

    If you go on just about any photography forum you’ll see a bunch of (primarily) guys talking equipment and technical details, often comparing images pixel by pixel. Often being condescending to one another.

    I guess it’s like music. You can move people and even become a superstar without knowing music theory. Knowing it and studying it is invaluable but getting in there and making good music or photos is what it’s really all about. And they feed each other the more you learn and grow.

    Now I’m just rambling to myself.


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