Updated: Oct 30, 2018
Author Jenn Mishra
Bobbi Lane is a Fujifilm X-Photographer specializing in portrait and commercial photography. She is currently based in southeast Massachusetts. I talked with Bobbi about how she keeps herself fresh and interested in photography after 45 years in the industry, about her personal projects, and how we all can continue to grow in photography.
Bobbi got started in photography when she took a high school class. Her teacher was fine art photographer Ralph Mercer. Bobbi remembers, “He was right out of college and very motivating. It was the 70s and he was a bit of a hippie.” She would go on to work with Bill Sumner, a top commercial photographer in Boston. He taught her about seeing the light and about the photography business. “Bill is the most creative photographer I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t be the photographer I am today without Bill.”
Bobbi remembers her early career: “In the beginning I was only interested in product. I never wanted to shoot people. This changed gradually over time. I’d be contracted to photograph facilities then the client wanted me to photograph the people in facilities. So, I began to photograph people on location.”
Following her move to Los Angeles, she added teaching to her commercial work. She began leading photographic tours and still leads many each year to places like the Caribbean, Cuba, Costa Rica, Turkey, Myanmar, Iceland and the one I particularly want to go on – Venice during Carnival.
"The next trip to Venice will be my 8th. I always try to look for something new and different every year. I collaborate with my husband Lee and we play off each other. I know the places, I know the costumers and I can arrange to meet people and go places away from the crowds. Every year my work gets better and better. I try a new technique, a new lens. I try to get out of the normal way of doing things. Every day is a new discovery."
This idea of discovering something new every day, growing as a photographer everyday is part of what keeps Bobbi fresh. One of her current projects revolves around the local people in her area. After a long time working in Los Angeles, Bobbi moved back to her roots on the east coast. She has an ongoing project photographing her musical friends and she has started working on a project that highlights the people who bring in the cranberry harvest each year.
"Southeast Massachusetts is the cranberry capitol of the world. I really got involved in the harvest this year and made connections. I want to photograph the everyday people who are doing the work, everyone from the temporary workers pulling in the booms to the harvest managers. I’m not trying to make a grand portrait; I’m trying to capture the essence of regular people doing what people do. I want to capture the small stories behind the harvest."
These environmental portraits are a way for Bobbi to use her photographic skills and give back to the community.
During our interview, Bobbi also confessed a guilty pleasure – photographing flowers. “No one ever sees these photos, but I love photographing flowers. It means a lot to me personally. I probably have a thousand of these photos that no one has ever seen.” She talked about the Lady Slippers that bloom on her land each spring and how each year her approach changes completely from the year before.
One thing that is continually changing is the light. “Look for direction, quality, depth – the holy trinity of light – then look around and see what it’s falling on and what the emotion impact the light creates.” Photographic opportunities can be found within a half-mile from your home and the changing light can make even an average place seem magical.
As a prolific teacher, Bobbi had some motivating advice for amateur photographers.
"Get out of your own way. Take risks and fail. Try everything and fail miserably. You will learn what it was that didn’t work. Then you really own it and now you can grow."
Bobbi encourages photographers to do things they don’t normally do. For instance, photographing using a different technique or a different subject. She recalls working with a student who was already very advanced in his photographic skills. “I gave him an assignment that for 24 hours nothing could be sharp – the photos needed to be out of focus, include motion blur, that sort of thing. It forced him to see light and color rather than shape and form.” She’s a big fan of self-assigned challenges that get us out of our comfort zone.
I asked Bobbi what she thought was a successful photograph.
"We’re visual communicators so we need to be clear about what we’re trying to communicate. Does the photograph have some impact? Does it tell a story? Does it elicit some emotion? What are you trying to say through the photograph?
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes all you’re trying to show is just beauty or you’re trying to make a really flattering likeness of person. Sometimes the idea is just minimalism.
If there are too many things in a photo, I’m not sure what the photographer is trying to say. The best photographs don’t show everything. It’s about finding the essence.
If you are out walking and you want to take a photograph of something, ask yourself why. Bring the unconscious reason to consciousness. Examine what it is you’re attracted to. This gives us a better idea of how to approach the scene. Is it color, form? Bring that out.
Use photographic techniques to tell the story. Good lighting, composition, color, tonality - all elements come together to create interest."
One of Bobbi’s favorite I Ching quotes is: “Perseverance Furthers”.
"As long as you keep going, you’ll get somewhere. You might start off with a destination in mind, but you have to walk down that path. Point A to Point B – then look off to the right or the left and see Point C and D. Even when you think you’ve got the shot, keep going. How can I take this further and make it better?
Sometimes I ask my students how many photos they’ve taken and they say 7 or 10. No! Take 30, 40, 50.” It’s not a matter of getting the perfect photo, it’s discovering it. Photography is a process, not a destination."
Bobbi keeps her love of photography fresh by trying something different every day. She has been a professional photographer for a long time, but she’s always seeking to learn something new everyday. It’s an outlook that keeps her passionate about her photography.
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Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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