On Trade-Off

It’s still dark outside. The little French-inspired cafe’ I come to is empty, croissants all neatly organized in the baskets, coffee pots ready to help the sleepers wake up, and some music playing in the background. After the owner and I exchange our usual pleasantries I cover the background music with some BB King. The Thrill is Gone, comes on. Ironic, ’cause the the thrill is not gone’. I love waking up early on Saturdays, while the world sleeps, and coming here to discover through photography.

I thought about the following idea early-on when I was first getting started. I was applying photography, the art, the form, the technical aspects, to other aspects of life. I was trying to find correlations between totally different fields to maybe learn quicker, maybe to be more thorough, maybe to experiment, or maybe I was just being curious.

Could photography be correlated to grocery shopping? To driving? To playing ice hockey? Or anything else that we do day in and day out for a large part of the day? What about work?

It came to me one day. And I actually presented it at work and I go back to it from time to time. Being in a management role I feel that I need to inspire people to bring change. I like mentoring. I enjoy taking the time and sharing what I know. And I love coming up with analogies.

The other day, for example, I used music rhythm as a way to say that it is the rhythm that keeps a song together, much like scheduling repeating tasks helps with organization. An on going momentum to keep moving.

So then photography comes back into play.

We’ve all heard of the exposure triangle.

Exposure Triangle

Photography, as we know, is “writing with light”. It is exposing the film, or the sensor, to enough light to print a photograph on it. For this to happen, there are three factors that can be controlled. The ApertureShutter Speed and ISO.

And the choice you make on one, or two of the controls, will undoubtedly affect the third one. Let’s take a deeper look at the Trade-Off.

The Aperture, on the left hand size in the image above, determines the size of the hole within the lens, and therefore how much light gets in the lens and then to the film/sensor. The smaller the number, the greater the out-of-focus blur is (called Bokeh).

Here’s an example of a photograph I made using a small aperture. Ashtray and chair are in sufficient focus, but everything else is not. The trade-off? If I had wanted the background in focus I would have increased the ISO, and therefore the grain within the image.

The Shutter Speed determines the amount of time that the film/sensor is exposed to light, and as a consequence, also the scene that it captures. If you want to capture a fast moving car, you’ll need 1/250th of a second to freeze it, and possibly even higher.

Here is an example of a photo I made at a Drag race event.

Funny Car dragsters take off

Trade-off? If I wanted the background in greater focus, from f8 I would have needed to go to even f22, but that means I would have had to either decrease my shutter speed, increase the ISO, or both. But then that would have meant a complete blur instead of a car in the background, and increased grain.

The last element, or lever, that you can adjust, is the ISO setting. Today’s technology allows us to move from ISO 100 (less sensitive) to ISO 6400, and even higher, in a few clicks. Film photography isn’t so gracious.

But the same concepts still applies to both. The higher you go, the greater the amount of grain on the image. So yes, you can now take pictures in almost complete darkness, but the trade-off is that you’ll have a lot of grain, or digital noise as it’s called now.

Here is a photo I made at a barn. You can see that the image has much more digital noise compared to the one above.

Trade-off? Have a blurry fence using a larger aperture, or simply not make the photo at all.

So now that we got the basics out of the way let’s get back to the how I’ve applied photography to management.

I refer to vision many times, both in photography and at work. Vision is important because it directs the creative process. It leads us in the direction we want to pursue. The path we choose to follow. And we don’t always have the answers right then and there. And to add a further pinch of excitement, we also have to make decisions. But each decision has a trade-off.

You can’t have a low-light, fast moving subject, with an in focus background without compromising something. Or you can and just have an underexposed photo. Point is, you have a vision and you deliver it by knowing how things work in relation to each other. Understanding the trade-off is part of understanding if the vision is being achieved.

In business, for example, there is similar concept that I’ve seen circulate over and over. The relationship between, good quality, fast delivery, and cheap price. You can’t have all three.

When I started out, in both photography and business management, I wasn’t aware of this. I would shoot in manual mode to learn quicker, to experiment, to make mistakes. Much like while at university, I didn’t know how all the classes would one day, years later, come together.

What I did know was that I admired, and continue to, certain photos. I knew that some photos spoke to me in more profound ways than others. And similarly, I knew what businesses spoke to me. Both, coincidentally, relate to humans.

I love photos of people in their environments. I love observing people’s emotions and capturing them. I am drawn to social interactions. And I am drawn to businesses and companies that have a social impact and care for employees above all else.

I could have been interested in beautiful waterfalls and high stock prices. But that’s not the vision I have.

As a consequence I use the levers at my disposal knowing full well that there are trade-offs.  I take the decisions knowing that something will obviously have to give.

And I believe that even knowing what has to give, what the trade-off is, is part of the vision. It’s hard to consciously know you are letting something go, but making that switch from casually understanding why it happened, to actually doing it with a purpose is where the difference is between taking a picture and making a photograph.

It’s knowing what the trade-off is.

We all know you can’t have a cake and eat it to. But it isn’t knowing which one you want that will get you the vision. It’s also knowing what you are giving up to get that full picture.

Or should I say ‘full photograph’ instead?


Until Next Time,

Capturing the Mafia