Monday, August 04, 2014

Great Photographers are like Great Fishermen

Alaska [photo by Don Rutledge]
Fishermen know the habits of fish and know they are creatures of habit. They work hard to be in the best spot to drop their lines to catch fish when they are biting.

There is a lot of waiting for the fishermen. I have sat for hours waiting for nibbles then all of a sudden you can catch fish as quickly as you can put the line back in the water.

This takes a lot of time for the fishermen. The photographer spends time waiting for people, however too many people live by the saying, “Be picky with who you invest your time in, wasted time is worse than wasted money.”

Dominican Republic [photo by Don Rutledge]
I think way too many and especially myself for the first few years of my career didn't spend enough time with a subject when I had the time.

If I could boil down to one of the biggest differences between Don Rutledge and other photographers I would say his photos were better because he had more patience and worked situations longer than most anyone. He would be waiting for so long that many of the writers and people who traveled with Don would say he would just disappear into the woodwork of the room.

Oklahoma [photo by Don Rutledge]

Looking at Contact Sheets

I wish I could share with you the contact sheets of Don’s work, especially his coverage of Bailey King. I just don’t have easy access to them.

You would see situations with little variance back to back and over time, then there would be about two or three really nice images, then maybe a frame or two more then Don would move onto a new situation.

The difference between Don’s contact sheets and everyone else is how consistently Don would stay with subjects and then have an outstanding shot. You could almost just look at the last 3 to 5 images in a series and consistently pick a winner.

Today I watch many photographers relying on their LCD on the back of the camera. They look and if they think they got the photo they move on.

Brazil [photo by Don Rutledge]
Don would ask me when he saw some photos and I moved on to a new situation what I saw and why did I start taking those photos. What is it you saw that you were trying to capture? Then he would ask why didn’t you stay longer with the situation.

Over and over I watched Don review photographer’s contact sheets and the constant theme I heard over and over you need to stay longer on the subject and let it happen. If you felt like you saw something you will most likely see it again.

Creatures of Habit

People are like all animals we are creatures of habit. Dave Black knows this all to well with professional athletes that they work so hard and being a creature of habit that they will go through the same routine over and over. So he would study tapes of athletes so he could anticipate their actions.

Don Rutledge [photo by Ken Touchton]
Don wanted to do a better job of capturing moments so he studied other photographers to see what tips he could pick up. It was common for Don to call up a newspaper and ask if he could ride along with some of the photographers while they were working.

While Don picked up some tips he was also surprised at how many times photographers rushed through assignments. One time they were covering a factory when the president asked if they would like a tour to see how they make their product. Don wanted to go on the tour, but the photographer he was shadowing didn’t want to stay. They left the place so the photographer could go and sit at a restaurant and drink a cup of coffee.

When Don told me this story he went on to tell me this happens more often than he could remember.

The other day Mark Sandlin and I were catching up on memories of Don when this tidbit about Don came up. Mark pretty much talked about the same memories, but they were his of Don.

Maybe the one key thing that Don did better than everyone else was spend time with his subjects long enough to really get to know them and long enough to then capture those moments that encapsulated the person. He was so good at capturing a person’s character in a photograph.

The other thing that happens when you wait like a fisherman for a great photo—your compositions are stronger. You compose and wait for the characters to be the creatures of habit. You are able to anticipate just like the fishermen.

Maybe this is why so many fishermen enjoy certain fishing spots—they too become like a composition.

France [photo by Don Rutledge]
“What you invest your time in defines who you are,” said noted author & speaker Todd Duncan.

Don Rutledge spent his life investing into subjects with his camera telling their stories. His photos changed people's lives. Many readers of the stories he produced would feel a call to help those in the stories and people like them. The photos also blessed the subjects of the stories by changing their lives forever.

Don's investment in people changed their lives for the better.

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