For Photographs, Like Life, There Are No Presets

I can’t make photographs like everyone else.  I really can’t!

I’m not taking the typical photograph everyone else is taking: soft background, pastel feel shallow depth, high-key background. You know the look. It’s the same look every wedding and portrait photographer is doing. And it’s why every photo looks the same.

Have you seen wedding galleries lately?  Same mason jars with soft focus on one tiny edge with the name tag inside, tilted frame, background blown out.  Same farm-to-table wedding with rustic barn wood and fresh wildflowers as the next one.

It’s like they are all created with the same exact art director.  High-key,  over-processed, almost like a commercial for a wedding.  A set up, created event.


It’s why all portraits look like that.  Same look.

The photographs are all interchangeable because their presets are the same. The photographers’ Lightroom (post-processing software) settings are copied and shared among them.  Their photographs all look like “they’re supposed to look” as fits the current trends, so people will want them.  They’ve adopted the look that sells.

And so, people do want them, and sell they do.  Kind of like the Disney princess wedding, that look that young girls are sold on, the one that says fancy and special.  Glamorized and stylized.  Overpriced and debt-creating.  Fake, but so what?

Unique, not at all.

I don’t want every wedding photograph to look like a catalog shoot.  I don’t want every image to be oozing style–yes you have a great lens, and great editing toning presets–what about content?  Where are the moments, the bits of serendipity, the unexpected shots, like the flower girl fighting with the ring bearer under the church pew?  I don’t see those photographs.

elena-ferrer-199566-unsplashBut the flower arrangements, shot with another jaunty dutch angle, perfectly created with just the tip of the petal in focus with the latest Canon or Nikon behemoth of a camera: “Guess how many megapixels I have?”  They’ve got that photo!

It’s not that I don’t care about sharpness.  I don’t care only about sharpness.  Or that you can print it the size of a billboard.  Where’s the story of the day?  Where are those photographs, the ones with  the emotional punch?

Because cameras are very good now at taking sharp photos.  But making photographs, photographing moments that are fleeting but must be caught, those take photographers.

The best compliment I ever received was from a client who said, “Yours don’t look like that. Yours look like… yours.”

It’s because I don’t use presets–my photographs can’t look like everyone else.  I create an original photograph based on what I see while in the session.  Each one is a unique shoot.  I have no preconceived ideas of what I’ll do, no matter how much I think about it ahead of time.

Daughter and Mom Portrait on Kodak Tri-X Film

Plus I shoot on film.  Real film.  Which has a look I call “soul”.  It’s a bit removed from reality.

It’s not as sharp as digital, perhaps, or it exhibits some grain, but it has that quality, that feeling of a dream–past tense.  Like a moment captured in time.  And it truly is–the light that was reflecting on that person is what created the negative, that’s what made the image, which will now last for generations.  Something that was there with them–the light–is now stored on the film.

I really have no idea what look I’ll create when I start a shoot–I leave it up to the session and see what works for me for a photograph.  I’m creating as I go, looking for interesting light and good places for setups.

Because for real photographs, just like real life, there are no presets.

Create your own style.  Forget trends.  Make your art.  Create photographs as you see them.

It matters–we all have our own vision, our own view. And it’s important to share our way of seeing.  It’s a view no one else can deliver.  No one else has what we have.

Then it will be a unique view, a special photograph.

I’ll take a slightly soft emotional moment to the razor-sharp technically perfect but vapid photograph every time.

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