Performing Thru Pressure

A mental strategy for photographers

How often do you find yourself shooting in the heat of the moment thinking you captured an awesome shot but then later found out you missed some critical elements that could have taken the image from good to great? All too often it’s easy to be overtaken by anxiety, rushing or distraction and forget to include particular visual elements. After having this phenomenon personally happen to us several times we decided we needed a mental strategy that would help us increase the probability of capturing great photographs. And we needed a simple tool that we could easily access in complex situations. Something that would be at the forefront of our minds. In the madness of a fleeting moment, we now ask ourselves, “Are we pleased with the shot?” So we developed an acronym called PLEESDD that helps us quickly assess the power of an image.

There is no order of importance but the first letter P reminds us to look at the “pose”. We are not talking about contrived forced fake poses or anything overly manipulated, we are talking about how natural do the subjects look. Are the angles and lines of their bodies engaging? Is there subtle space between the bodies that allow them to be seen? Can you make out their faces? Is there a believable connection or tension going on that makes us feel something?

The second letter L reminds us to look at the “lighting”. Is the lighting coming from a direction that looks natural in the situation? Is the light coming from a 45-degree angle? Is it coming from a 90 degree or a 120-degree angle? Or is it best backlit? How close or far is the light from the subject? How does this affect the intensity of the desired look?

The third letter is E which stands for “expression”. Strong expressions reveal a visual display of emotion happening which immediately stands out in an image. We are always looking for peoples reactions. Facial expressions, hand gestures (don’t chop off the fingers), and body posture.

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The fourth letter E stands for “exposure“. Sometimes overexposing an image can be effective, yet with many photos, anything overexposed in a shot gets washed out and looks amateur. We like to slightly underexpose our subjects in order to protect the highlights. We also know that while the human eye sees in mid-tones we feel in highlights. So exposing for small slices of light powerfully illuminates the lighting and mood of a moment. This creates an element of mystery, drama and draws us into an ambiance.

The fifth letter is S which reminds us to check the “sharpness” of the image. Did you zoom in on the photo to make sure it is sharp? We gravitate toward real moments which means subjects are often moving quickly and it’s all too easy to have something slightly out of focus or not sharp. With subjects moving quickly we default to 1/320th of a second or use flash to freeze our subjects.

The sixth letter D stands for “definition“. Does your eye go right to the subject in the scene? Are the subjects clean, do they pop out of the image, is there a quick zen zip to the subject for a quick read? Is there a negative space between the subjects and the background? Or is there too much chaos that creates confusion?

The final letter is another D which stands for “depth” which keeps our eyes engaged. We love to layer our subjects over one another so it adds a 2nd or 3rd dimension to the story. We also love weaving meaningful objects in the foreground that are easily understood and add that extra proportion. Shooting through things can add a feeling of intimacy as if the viewer is peering in on a private scene. Or overlay a reflection into a negative space within the composition to add an artistic and abstract quality to the image. The depth between characters and objects in a setting can tell a story all in one image.

So the next time you find yourself in the whirlwind of performing under pressure, look through the viewfinder or on the back of your camera and ask yourself, “Are you …

P – pose
L – lighting
E – expression
E – exposure
S – sharpness
D – definition
D – depth

Outstanding images happen when all 7 of these elements come together in one image. Even if you remind yourself of a couple of these points it can make all the difference. Breathe deep thru the intensities. It will give you razor-sharp calm focus to see the unseen. And always remember, when Fate whispers into the warrior’s ear and says, “You’ll never survive the storm!” The warrior says, “I am the storm!”

JOS and TREE are workshop trainers, conference speakers, contest judges, and among the top award-winning wedding photographers in the world. With over 15 years of experience documenting weddings, they are facilitating a powerful moment in time for photographers to evolve their craft. If you want to learn more, reach out to them or join them in their upcoming workshop.

EVOLVE! photography workshop
Oct 26-30th, 2019