Saturday, November 28, 2009

Staging Life

Whenever I run across it, I pick up an issue of Artful Blogging, a relatively new (and, as far as I can tell, irregular) Somerset Studios publication. It’s a fun magazine, with excerpts of beautiful blogs and good blogging inspiration – something for which I have dire need (as you might have noticed from the sparse entries lately).

So, I dive into the magazine and the first article is all about photo staging. The point of the article, I guess, is to help folks create photos to convey the imagery they want to feature on their blogs. Wait, I thought, people “create” those vignettes? You mean those aren’t photographic glimpses of what their real lives look like?

This reminds me of the sheepish shock I felt years ago while taking a black and white photography course (in the “before digital” days of darkrooms and film winding and all.) We were all novices, trying to get artistic composition and good black and white tones and the right exposure, all at the same time. One woman in the class printed out a lovely picture of a sweet household scene – a weathered cane chair, a small pair of rainboots leaning drunkenly to one side, a casual bouquet of daffodils wrapped in paper and resting on the chair. Silly, naive me – I looked at the shot and thought “Wow, she took that great picture AND she has that great scene in her house.” In my mind, I imagined the wonderful, cozy, picture-book life she must have with daffodils just lying about with such casual whimsy. I could just smell the cookies baking and sense the gingham curtains that surely must have decorated the charming life that went along with that picture.

And then, of course, the woman started talking about how she arranged the shot and posed everything Just So to get the right lighting and shadows, and how she moved the chair from another room, and found the rainboots at a local thrift store for use as a photo prop. Boy, were my illusions shattered. It never occurred to me that you (I mean, I) could do that! Isn’t that, um, cheating?

Here it is years later, and I’ve taken a lot of photographs. But I’ve never mastered the art of staging a photo to get a picture that looks real and spontaneous ... truthfully, it still feels vaguely like cheating so I never really try. And as I’ve pondered this idea over the years, I realize that it undoes what it is I like about photography – the frozen moment of reality, the wonderful discovery of some real moment in time, the discovery of beauty or happiness in some small detail. It’s using the camera to find something artful that appeals to me – as opposed to creating something artful and using the camera to document the creation.

This means, of course, that when I see those great shots of people sitting on victorian sofas in the middle of wheat fields, yes, I do like thinking that somewhere, there’s a couch in the middle of a field because it just IS there. I don’t want to think about it being hauled out there, just to be a prop. I want life to have sofas in fields, I guess. It gives me hope about the magical, unanticipated gifts just waiting out there for us.

The picture above, by the way, is a scene from real life -- not exactly a sofa in a field, but close enough for me.


  1. Steph is a master at the staging!! I think it is part of the whole creative process and not at all cheating.

  2. No, I know -- I wish I could stage things the way Stephanie does! Maybe it's the same problem I have with raw edges in my quilts -- when I see someone else do it, I love it -- when I do it, it looks funny to me. :-)

  3. You are really funny, I am working on learning how to stage shots of my finished quilts. So far I am not doing too well but I keep trying. I figure that if the pros can do it, I should be able to, too. Someday......

  4. Enjoyed your post ... and it made me think of my DH asking me about my grin after watching one of those "erectile disfunction" ads ... and just how many people have these tubs sitting out in the middle of nowhere, do you suppose, hon?! ... and no neighbors?!

  5. Hi Diane!
    Artful Blogging is one of my favorite Somerset magazines. It has been out for several years and is published quarterly. I buy mine from Somerset directly because I live and because the subscriptions are pricey.
    Another wonderful publication of theirs is called 'Art Journaling" and at this point that one is more irregular!

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  7. Some of the UNstaged photos I see on blogs do crack me up--dirty dishes in the background, bottle of Pepto Bismal on the coffee table. But then we know those beautifully staged slice-of-precious-life photos probably have the same Pepto bottle just outside the frame somewhere nearby!

    My word verification is "granti". Cool.

  8. I feel like that too - that staging dramatically is sometimes cheating - but I do try to keep the clutter in the background to a minimum, and that I would like to learn how to beautifully present my finished quilts.