Jeff Smallwood Photography
Week 1 Self Portraits - Behind the Scenes and Lessons Learned
Jan 7, 2013



I mentioned in my last post that I was embarking on 52 project in 2013 and my goal was to do more things that aren't in my comfort zone. An excuse to try something unusual, different, or possibly dangerous just feels right and I hope it is the spice in my 52 that'll  keep it going throughout the year.

Another goal of a 52 of course is to learn something, not only about what you shoot and process each week but also to learn something about yourself as well. And a day after my first post I realized I learned things on both sides of that coin.

Lesson 1 - Don't rush it if you don't have to.

I was excited to get the first week's idea captured and I immediately pulled the card and dumped the shots to the computer. 155 shots in all. The progress bar in Lightroom downloading and generating my previews was painfully slow because I wanted to get started right away!

I was disciplined enough to follow part of my usual routine:

  1. Import to Lightroom, tag and label
  2. Quick scan to flag keepers and rejects
  3. Review the keepers in more detail looking for the best of them
  4. Take the top shots and do some basic processing (because they're RAW files)
  5. Possibly process a few all the way
  6. Review and decide which ones to post first
Step 4 is where things broke down. Instead of reviewing and starting to process the best, I immediately focused in on one shot and worked it, and worked it, and worked it. Then I was excited and said "I've got to  post this right away". Here's what I posted:
My final week 1 post, rushed too quickly
Should have kept to my original plan because I think I would have changed my mind and posted the shot at the top or this one instead. But oh well, it's done and over. Lesson learned.
Another shot I might have chosen for week 1 rather than the one I did.

Lesson 2 - If you're doing to process a shot heavily, sleep on it.

Sometimes we process a shot a lot because we have to. Maybe it was accidentally too dark, too light, too grainy, too....whatever. 
Other times we may process a lot because it is an artistic choice. If you took bracketed shots maybe you aren't sure which merge technique to use...manually blend with layers or HDR? And if HDR, which methods? Maybe you want a really moody shot, or grainy shot, or you want to make a black and white really powerful with strong filters.
Whatever the reason, my lesson learned was that when you're finished, you aren't really finished. You'll come back to it again and tweak it. I was going for a heavily grungy look, and it was a conscious artistic decision, not an accident. However, after I posted the week 1 shot I ended up tweaking it hours later and I liked a slightly softer and brighter version just a touch more. Not sure if you'll agree, but this is what I ended up with on my 2nd edit:
The slightly brighter, softer version I ended up liking more.
I put this lesson to work on the next shot however, because I was again going for a heavily grunge and beat-up look...almost like a boxer after a fight. Here's what I came up with, but afterward I decided it isn't me and I wouldn't have used it anyway. It's just...too much.
Overly processed. I got lost somewhere along the way.

Lesson 3 - Don't stop when the first goal is reached, see what else you've got.

I ended up processing a number of the shots from that first day. I narrowed the 155 photos down to 6. Almost 4% return on investment...I'm happy with that to be honest, given I was doing something new and uncomfortable (studio self portrait).
Even though I can't use these shots for the other 51 weeks I've got ahead, I still kept them. They felt good enough that I may do something with them in the future. Who knows what.  Maybe I'll know for sure once I sleep on it :)











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