Overcoming Shutter Stutter

Tomorrow my photography class is taking a field trip to practice getting shots of architecture.  I’m excited about the opportunity to shoot lines, angles, and interesting elements.

Yet I still have not even started taking portraits, which was last week’s assignment.  My consternation is I want to be artistic as I compose portraits. I’d like to use candlelight, Rembrandt lighting (where part of the face is in shadow), framing the face, shooting from below, shooting from above, profiles, focusing in on just the eyes, focusing in on just the hands, etc.  My ideas spill over but my gumption slides down into nothing.

Why?  I have what my witty mother termed “Shutter Stutter.”  I have all these ideas but feel almost paralyzed to begin.  I don’t really feel this way about photographing landscapes or buildings.  But there is a personal element in portrait photography that I am finding to be a hindrance: whereas flowers can’t talk back, people can and often do.  Even though I will be shooting her portraits for a class, my daughter will see what I produce and will either like what I’ve created, or she won’t.  That uncertainty is scary to a people-pleaser like me.  I want my camera to capture the beauty in ALL of God’s creation. I suppose it’s a woman’s prerogative in our culture to be hyper-critical of her own features.  If I shoot her and come up with some photos that she actually likes, then I will consider that a success.

My shutter stutter is complicated by the fact that I don’t have a willing subject!  My daughter rolls her eyes every time I ask her to pose for me. Doing homework would be more fun that posing for mom. Maybe I should bribe her with a batch of brownies or something? Of course, I can shoot my husband’s portrait as well…if I can get him to sit still, that is.

Finally, I am freaked out about the self portrait aspect of my homework assignment.  Remember what I wrote above about a woman’s prerogative?  Well, I find beauty in almost every single face I see.  Except my own.  I’ve had somewhat of a struggle coming to terms with my silvering hair and fine lines and wrinkles.  Oil of Olay used to be a beauty product that old people use…and now I’m one of those “old people” thinking about using it! Aside from cosmetic issues, I’m brainstorming props and settings I can use that would illustrate who I think I am.  A writing pen because I am a writer at heart?  An apple because I am a sinner?  A white scarf because I have been redeemed?  Maybe an apple AND a white scarf?  Or a purple scarf because I am a daughter of the King?

I can certainly rule out using a rolling pin since “Cook” is most assuredly NOT who I am, but that is as far as I have come in composing my self portrait.  Don’t use a rolling pin or a kitchen.

I’m coming to see that photography as art is more about thinking and composing than it is about aperture and shutter speed. Instinctively I’ve done that in my photography as I take the shots, but now that I am more aware I find that my ideas are overwhelming my gumption.  I am so passionate about capturing stunning images that I’m afraid to fail….

…and at this point in my blog writing, I proceeded to get up off the couch, figure out how to swap lenses on my camera, figure out how to use the self timer feature, and get creative.  Here are a few I came up with.

I like this one because it is blurry.  It’s hard to see the wrinkles behind the blur!


And here’s one, tack sharp (as my instructor would say) on the near side of my face and slightly blurry on the outer edges:

I call this one, “Behind the Veil.”


I’m not certain I’m happy with any of these for my self portrait, but I do have a week to experiment before coming up with one that I will present to my class.  What I am learning along the way is that it is difficult to manage the focal point(s) in a self portrait.  Had I been behind the viewfinder I could have manually focused on certain areas, like my eyes. This afternoon I will corral my daughter into a shooting session.  Maybe we’ll put on some Party Rock Anthem and blowing fans and have a real model runway shoot!

And then we’ll have brownies afterwards.  Because overcoming shutter stutter is hard work!

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