The Least Bad Choice



I’ve been photographing for a lot of years, a lot of different subjects, in a lot of different environments. I’ve walked away at least two solid philosophies for facing many problems, and professional photography is all about facing problems.

1. “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

I showed up to photograph Chicago Tap Theatre’s story show, as I have so many times for a decade, to photograph their performances. (All these images are from when they’re running the show. They’re not posed, they’re not stopped so I can get the shot.) I have a plan of which lenses to use from which locations. Routines for dealing with this and that lighting challenge. An idea of shots I’m looking for, or at least elements I’d like in the shot, depending on what the story is.

The lighting designer had thrown in all the usual challenges, all going on at the same time, plus he added lasers and fog. It looked fabulous. Right up till the shutter speed got above a 40th of a second, because after that I started only getting part of the laser’s pattern. The LED lights, the main lights at numerous points, I was losing parts of at anything faster than a 100th of second. And I’m shooting tap dancers, with fast moving feet, that need to be at about a 500th of second to stop the feet most of the time, or at least 250th of a second to get them kinda sharp a fair amount of the time.

Which brings me to another prominent working philosophy…


2. Photography isn’t about making the right choice, it’s about making the least bad choice.

Photographers aiming to find the right decision are never going to find it. At least when you photograph what I photograph. Photography is all about trade-offs. Higher shutter speeds, which forces higher ISO which gives you more noise. Lower ISOs leading to lower shutter speeds and motion blur. Open the aperture and get a shallower depth of field but also more out of focus images. No matter you’re choice, you lose, in someway, every time.

That’s fine.

It’s triage. Which problem leads to the death of an image, and which just hurts it, or adds more work on the editing end (I’m a believer in “Get it right in the camera,” as much as possible.) It’s a balancing act, a little bad here, a little bad there, but no so much bad anywhere that you lose the image.

All of this leads to a third, pleasant, point. Sometimes the harder you have to work for something, the better the final product is.

Shows this weekend and next, Friday & Saturday 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm at Stage 773 in Chicago. Tickets here.


Leave a Reply