For the story to make sense, no matter if I take a historical photo or something timeless, like wine. But for the story to work, everything around it has to make sense. Environment, accessories, mood and mainly subject. The WWII soldier will not work for you in the middle of a functionalist settlement, as will the business man at the castle.
Over the last few months, I realised how much work was behind the production itself, rather than real photography. One-day photo shoots can be preceded by tens of hours of study and information search. Certainly not all photographers, but I spend most of my time studying.
For the story to make sense, no matter if I take a historical photo or something timeless, like wine. But for the story to work, everything around it must make sense. Environment, accessories, mood and mainly subject. The WWII soldier will not work for you in the middle of a functionalist settlement, as will the business man at the castle.
For each story, therefore, I think about the details so that it leads the viewer to the best and easiest understanding. Even small details can ruin the feeling of the photo.
And how to start? I often think about a project that initially seems complicated. Let's take an example of a project from Scotland. I wanted to capture history while showing an iconic Scottish culture. Where do I start? First I define it, tell myself what I want to take pictures of and how it should work. I decompose the problems of the assignment into small factors, which I deal with separately. There were problem in many things. I never naively see it as problems, I take it as tasks. I want it historic, I have to borrow or buy clothes. I want it authentic, I have to get the tools and go to the place where my whole story in the original comes from. I want it even more authentic, I need to make arrangements with local distillers to let us take pictures inside.
The moment I divide it into these little tasks, I can devote myself to them. First I have to get clothes. And what is it supposed to be? You can learn this from historical photographs. All I need is internet. But I don't rent clothes on the internet. This is served by Fundus at Barrandov Studios in Prague.
Do I want it authentic? I need to find out what tools were used at the end of the 19th century. Now it starts to get complicated, but this information might be in the books, so I'll borrow or buy a few. The complications are not over and I find out that tools are no longer in the books and nobody rent them to me. All I have to do is to build them.
Scotland is far away, Isle of Islay even further. And whiskey distilleries are furthest. Distances can be overcome differently, by car, by plane. But how do I agree with distillers to take pictures there? Nobody knows who I am, nobody replies to e-mails. So I'll try it through ambassadors here and abroad. You can meet them. It does not quite meet with success and so I have nothing but to improvise on the spot. And only just the process of addressing distilleries is days or weeks of work. I have to find a trustworthy contact, study their brand, make a concept to introduce myself to them and wait.
So we have the internet, books and people from where I get information. For each project I have a very detailed overview of what I already have and what I have left to do. It always consists of these parts - story, production, post-production and publishing. These still have many subcategories. We are interested in production now. Everything important is in production - an organisation where I deal with all transportation, accommodation, equipment, contacts, insurance. Next - inspiration, in which I will gather everything I have studied, costumes, tools, environment, shots, colors, moods and even locations.
Locations is a category itself. I never want me to come to a photo shoot and have no idea where I will take pictures. I don't want to spend hours of studying, spending a lot of money on travel, costumes, and putting hopes and expectations into people to ruin it by choosing wrong place to shoot. I put extra effort into scouting locations. Because I draw story boards before I shoot, I know what I want to find. It can be done the other way around when I go first on the location, where I take a pictures and then think up photos, but the story-board first method works better for me. I look for locations mostly on maps and photos. With the satellite you can easily guess how it might look like. I’m gonna tell you one example. I want a wide photo of the landscape where the hills are in the background and the road slopes down. There are no trees and it's accessible by car to get there. This is an assignment that can be found quite well on the map. Ideally, I want to see the place before taking the picture.
This article is about studying and preparing, so we'll keep the other parts for future. But at the moment I have everything I need to take an authentic photo. I have a place I found on the map and photos, ideally I was there. We have people who are properly dressed and hold real tools that I study in books and historical sources. And I have the weather that sets my mood.
This way I can use tens of hours of study for something that makes sense and draws the viewer into the story. I have a story which makes sense. Now just take a picture.
Once a month you will explore original stories, look behind the scenes and probably learn something new.
© 2023 Marek Dvorak / Photography