This feature is from the Spring 2017 issue of AGLOW Mini Magazine.
Jacob Loafman is a wedding photographer that hails from Saint Louis, Missouri. He’s a self-professed weirdo, dog lover, and is “all about traveling, tacos, and photographs”. Us too, Jacob, us too. Named as one of the 2016 Rangefinder 30 Rising Stars, Jacob is here to share how he captures is unique imagery. But first we’ve got a short Q&A session with Jacob:
Hi Jacob, tell us a bit about yourself!
It's always difficult to describe yourself, but if I had to, I would say that I'm… Uhhhh… Weird. Weird is honestly the best word for it. If I had the choice, I would just hang out with dogs all day on a giant couch. That's not to say that dogs are better than humans, no no. I just think I do better when I'm around animals; they’re like my escape from reality. However, I'm slowly beginning to believe that it would also be nice to have the company of another human in my life. Not right now, though. I'm the type that doesn't really have a dream to chase. I've never had any dreams that I've been passionate about. I just… Exist and do things, and I'm okay with that.
If you could have any superpowers, what would they be?
OooOOOoooOoOoOo (sorry, a bit excessive, I know)... Wow! I would have to say invisibility, because with invisibility you could do other awesome things. Plus, I could just be nude walking around public places, which would be kind of cool. I would giggle a lot, I'm sure.
What’s in your recently watched feed on Netflix?
Two shows: Shameless and The Office.
Thanks for sharing a little bit of yourself with us, Jacob! Now, onto the main event...
When it comes to any photo session, my goal is to create interesting photographs. I break this interest down into two main categories when composing. The ﬁrst category is the act of layering elements of interest. The second category is the absence of elements of interest, otherwise known as minimalism. I do not scout out locations or plan an idea days before the session, it always occurs during the session. I survey each scene and break it down in my mind’s eye and then to my real eyes. It’s visualization at it’s core. That’s not to say that some of my ideas have been created by making a mistake, but that mistake was created by visualizing a different idea and failing at executing that different idea.
Let’s start with the deﬁnition of ‘elements of interest.’ When I discuss elements of interest, I am referring to anything in the scene that is interesting to my eye. This could be lanterns, a plant, a sculpture, a shadow, a shape of light, a pattern, lines, symmetry, a red ball, a beer bottle label, pretty much anything that I can use to add an element of interest to the photograph. My brain breaks down each scene almost like a crime scene where I immediately label the elements of interest in that scene. For example, I am outside shooting portraits of the bride and groom and notice a red ball sitting in the grass. My brain breaks down the scene like this: the couple, red ball, green grass, low perspective. There are three elements of interest to me in this scene, so how can I use them to create an interesting photograph? I will ﬁrst try setting the camera on the grass, place the couple in the top right of the frame, and place the red ball in the middle left of the frame. This creates interest to my eye. The couple on top, the red ball in the middle left, and the green grass on the bottom. Three layers of physical interest with the fourth layer being the low perspective. This is how my brain works. It’s as simple as trying something different in a broken down process.
When it comes to layering the elements, I will try numerous ways to make it interesting. I use a prism in front of my lens to bring in other elements of interest that do not ﬁt into the frame. So, there may be a building behind me that has interesting windows, but I don’t like the color of the wall, so I place the couple in front of the building in front of me, because I like the color more. However, I really want to use those nice windows. I place the couple in front of the nicer colored building, then ﬂip the prism around in front of my lens until I notice the reﬂection of the cool windows from the building behind me come into the frame. I twist and turn the prism until the elements line up in a way that peaks my interest the most.
I will also use multiple exposures to create elements of interest. For example, the couple in the middle of the frame surrounded by the paper lanterns, that was a quadruple exposure done in camera. The bridesmaids were getting ready earlier that day in that room and I immediately noticed the lanterns above with the bridesmaids underneath. It was interesting to me. The linear shapes of the people below, the spherical shapes of the lanterns above. So, I took a couple of photos and then realized that I could use those lanterns to create an otherworldly type of photograph.
About six hours later, I asked the couple to come up to that room for a quick idea I wanted to try. The ﬁrst exposure is of just the couple in the middle using off camera ﬂash, as I really wanted the shadows to be deep. The second exposure was taken upside down to create a bottom layer of interest. The third exposure was taken normally of the lanterns above, just a little off centered. The fourth exposure was taken of the lanterns slightly out of focus. So, I achieved multiples layers of interest in this photograph. The couple, the lanterns, the overall shape created by the layering of the lanterns, and the depth perception using a slightly out of focus shot of the lanterns.
Having multiple layers of interest in a photograph gives the viewer many things to look at, which peaks their interest. The absence of elements of interest, or minimalism, can be just as interesting. There are usually very few, if not just two, physical elements of interest in this category, the couple and the negative space. There are, of course, elements of interest within the physical elements of interest, such as the color of the dress or the suit, or the color of the wall which acts as the negative space, and even the emotion of the interaction between the couple. It’s a different kind of layering. It remains simple, but there are not a lot of physical points of interest that stand out as much as they would in the ﬁrst category to the viewer.
One of my new favorite techniques to do is to really overexpose an image purposefully to help create the negative space. I did this in Oregon last year. The couple was running on the beach, and it was nothing but harsh light ﬂooding the scene. We were shooting in the shadows, but then turned around and I had forgotten to change my settings to adjust for the harsh backlit scene we were now shooting in. While the couple was running, I took a few shots, looked at the back of the camera, noticed the crazy overexposure, and immediately just labeled those photos as wasted. They were lost. Until I got back to my computer a few weeks later and started going through the photos. I selected one of the running photos in Lightroom and started having a play with it. I had overexposed by about three stops, but the shadows of the subject were still just enough there where I could maybe create something interesting. So, I bumped up the highlights and exposure a bit more, and dropped the shadows and blacks to bring out simple half-silhouettes of the subjects running in this humongous area of white negative space.
So, we have three elements of interest in this photograph: the couple, the white negative space, and also the act of running. Movement is also a big player in this category. Forget the background! Just get close and ask the subject to run or twist or jump or turn, these are all interesting! Now, I have repeated this process multiple times to create some nice, clean minimalistic photographs, and all due to a mistake I made in camera. The lesson here is that interest can come in many forms, so do not immediately discard photos. Give them a chance.
I want you to know that your brain can be wired this way, as well. I really, truly believe that. You just have to try. It’s ALL about the trying. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So, I challenge you to try different things over and over and GET different results. While it may be insane while you are trying these ideas, you very well could be pleasantly surprised by the results. This is where ideas are born. They can be born from mistakes, in fact a lot of them are. In order to make those mistakes, you must ﬁrst not be afraid to make them. This is achieved by getting out there and seeing things differently and then shooting them differently. Break down each scene. Find the elements of interest. Use various tools to help you create elements of interest. Use the negative space as a tool. Use movement as interest. Rewire your brain to break it all down into interest and you will create interesting photographs.
I am a wedding and portrait photographer from Saint Louis, MO. My main goal when creating photographs is to make them interesting to the viewer. The challenge of that is what keeps me going and what helps my work stand out.