Boot Camp Assignment Number Three: Look Smart

At the beginning of this series, I told you that we would start out easy and quickly get to the more challenging stuff. So get ready to turn it up a notch.

In the first two assignments, you were given a fairly tight set of subject matter restrictions and lighting styles. The idea was to keep the field of play pretty small and allow you to get comfortable shooting people within a reasonable set of parameters.

In the headshot, the idea was to shoot a simple head-and-shoulders shot, paying attention to detail and lighting in such a way as to transcend the mugshot genre.

With the background shot, you had to shoot a lit vertical photo using a found environment.

On the third assignment, there are no physical restrictions. Any reasonable shape is fair game. Ditto the lighting style - but make it work for you.

If you think this will make things easier, you're likely in for a surprise.

The earlier assignments were the type an assigning editor could trust to almost any competent photographer. The third is an assignment that would cause them to choose a shooter from their "A-List."

In this photo, you'll again be shooting a person. Because of the theoretical article associated with the photo, the person should be an adult. Other than that, there is no preference as to age, gender, etc.

The person you are shooting is plain and ordinary in every respect, save one: He or she just happens to be a genius.

And that is the point your photo needs to convey.

This is very much an exercise in lighting. But it is also one in which you will need to use your interpersonal skills to capture a spark in someone that makes you realize something very special is going on between their ears. (So it would help if the person you choose to shoot for this assignment is not dumb as a stack of bricks.)

Intelligence. Accessibility. Sex appeal. Credibility.

Capturing a "feel" in a photo is a challenging thing, but the A-List shooters do it every day. Heck, if you can capture the last two reliably, you will be a very rich advertising photographer.

Photograph an unknown AIDS researcher for Time Magazine. Shoot some nerdy looking web geek for Wired. Shoot a homely Nobel Prize winner for The Economist. Capture the very normal-looking mutual fund manager (who just happened to nail an 81% return this year) for Forbes.

You get the idea.

Anyone can make a striking photo of George Clooney or Jennifer Anniston. You are helped not only by their looks and recognizability, but by their practice in helping photogs make great photos of themselves.

But what about some plain-looking Joe Schmoe who just happened to hit the Big Time? This is where having the ablility to create your choice in light is critical. Penelope Cruz is a walking, classic portrait in any light. Joe Schmoe is gonna need some help from you.

In sticking with our androgenous past, our Joe Schmoe du jour will be Tracy Watts.

Tracy is utterly ordinary in every respect, except Tracy just happens to have discovered how make solar panels that cost 95% less than the current designs, and return more electric power per square meter.

Our magazine found out about it because Tracy is a neighbor of one of their editorial assistants, who learned about it in casual conversation.

Tracy was weeks from announcing the story (and the associated multi-billion-dollar contract) to the world. But we know early, and we have negotiated an in-depth exclusive with Tracy in exchange for not breaking the story early.

Sitting on a story - for whatever reason - for a predetermined amount of time is called an "embargo," and it happens all of the time. In our case, Tracy gets to control the timing. And we come out with a killer, well-researched, well-written -- and well-shot -- story within minutes of the official announcement to the world.

Does this timing/sequence ring a bell? These things happen more often than you think, and for a variety of reasons. (Frequently, there is a slimy slick publicist involved.)

So you are going to shoot Tracy at home (or wherever) and show him/her for the ubergenius they are. This invention will completely change the future of energy consumption, the balance of power in the world, futunes of countless lives, etc. No pressure, though.

Where to start?

Here are some ideas:

1. KISS. (Keep It Simple Stupid.) Less is more. I'll say that again. Less is more. You have enough to worry about without junking up the frame with content that does not add to the photo.

2. Light. The eyes are the window to the soul. Or in this case, the brain. Use light and composition to draw the viewer into Tracy's mind. A tight snoot might come in handy here, for instance. But don't get too gonzo on us. Bear in mind that this picture might be in science textbooks (or whatever passes for books) in 50 years.

3. Shoot and edit for some expression that reveals a spark. Or you may wish to lean toward revealing the determination that kept her going through the long process of getting to her discovery. How you coax that expression out of Tracy one of your challenges.

4. Associated objects can add to the power of the photo, but use them sparingly. (See #1.) Like what? The sun, for one. Mathmatics. Pre-existing solar technology. Maybe even plants. (It is conceivable, for instance, that Tracy could have used the efficiency of plants as the basis for the discovery.)

That'll get you started.

The cover has already been assigned to an illustrator. Hey, it's not that we didn't trust you. It's just that we've never seen Tracy. And she just might not be Cover Material, for all we know. We do have to sell magazines, you know. So we'll sell the idea of an exciting new tomorrow with a sexy energy illustration and save introducing Tracy to the world for the inside art.

This will certainly be an inside lead photo. Vertical or horizontal is up to you. (Just don't go 1x10 stripey on us.) Either way, it'll run very big. Imagine it that way when you are composing and cropping.

This is a very different assignment than the first two. And I fully expect some of you to freak a little at the prospect, bail and pull the rip cord on this one. We'll see what happens.

Here's your info on the assignment:

Shoot Tracy Watts, whose solar panel design will revolutionize the future of energy.

Photo will run large on the inside.

Deadline is August 4th, 11:59 local time.

Questions? Ideas? Rants? Talk about it here. (Note that in the real world, this assignment would be done in total secrecy.)


Looksmart (make it one word)
[your country]
[pro or amateur]


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