Never Say Never

What’s the one thing that will guarantee that 2/3 of your shots will not be what you want? In a word, bracketing. I never bracket a shoot when I’m in the studio. Never. Think about it. If I bracketed when I shot kids, two our of every three frames I shoot will be off in exposure. With kids, that’s deadly, because you usually get one chance and only one chance. Little kids and babies do not yet have that “do over” gene. They will show you something that is brilliant; most of the rime while you’re changing film, and then it’s gone forever, never to be seen again. If you try and have them re-create that moment, that gesture, that look, you end up with a terrible, fakey photograph that even the kid’s mother wouldn’t like. And they like everything about their kid.

What some photographers do to avoid bracketing and to see what the film is looking like before any lab corrections is to do “clip” tests or snips on their film. That means sending the film to the lab with instructions to clip a piece of film, say two or three frames worth of a 120 roll or six to eight frames of a 35mm roll, and process just that small piece of film. When you see what that frame looks like, you then run the rest that roll and run similarly shot rolls at the same processing speed at the lab. That means if your chrome film is running a little dark, you can “push” the processing at the lab to brighten it up. It will in many cases also add a little bit of contrast. Enough so that some photographers always shoot their film a little underexposed so they can push the film, just to get that little extra contrast and “oomph.” I don’t like doing clip tests as you always lose one frame of film that the lab has to blindly cut into. And you always see just enough of that cut frame to realize that would ha ve been your best shot.

So what do I do when I shoot to get the film the way I want it? I use what we call “test” backs on my Mamiya RZ and a “test” camera body for my Canon 35mm. I’ll shoot one or two frames on every situation. Every time we change a light, change a model, change a lens, change a prop, I shoot a test frame. Medium-format cameras like the Mamiya have interchangeable film magazines that can be put on or taken off the camera in mid-roll. So one magazine is dedicated to my “test” roll. With 35mm, I dedicate one camera body to hold my “test” roll. One roll of film may have five or six different shots or situations on it. That roll goes out to the lab ASAP, or sooner. I have a two-hour turnaround at my E-6 lab. When I get that roll back, I send out half the film I’m holding. When I get that back, I send out the last half of the film. Why? Simple. I don’t trust the lab-any lab. This policy of never having all the film at the lab at once has saved my bacon three times in my career. Having saved the client’s shoot, or at l east half of it this way, has meant I still have a career.

The last key to this is keeping very good film notes. I’m a fanatic about that. The film notes tell me what test frame goes with which rolls of film. It tells me the film I used for that job, the batch or emulsion number, my exposures, the crew, and who is writing the notes. It also tells me how many rolls I shot for this job.

I have an example of my film notes in my “Commercial and Studio Photography” book and explain it a little more in depth.

The bottom line is “Don’t bracket!” Don’t lose good shots when you don’t have to lose them needlessly. Shoot smarter.

Now here’s the part that will drive you crazy. Even after saying the above, the next rule never to ignore is “Always bracket to get the ‘correct’ exposure.” When I shoot personal stuff on my 35mm, I bracket like crazy. I asked JayMaisel once how wide a range he uses when he brackets and he answered “From one end of the lens to the other,” meaning from the widest aperture to the smallest. Now knowing Jay and knowing the caught moments he captures of people, that isn’t always what he does. He’s too much a master of the medium. But I understood his point. You never know what a good exposure will be. It could be two stops underexposed or three stops overexposed. Experience helps when I’m our in the field and I wouldn’t have a test camera and I’m not going to clip test my film. But I also know that what the camera is telling me is skewed to produce what the camera thinks is a correct exposure. Experience tells my brain to override the meter and over- or underexpose to get the effect I want.

So the point of this column? For every rule in photography, there is an equal and opposite rule. And each one is absolutely correct. Never bracket. Always bracket.


Miro Ito’s unique images take you into a fantasy world. Much like a fairy tale, they weave a little magic. “I try to find visions,” she explains. “If you see something in a different way, you can achieve a vision; to capture something beyond reality.” Yet this photographer doesn’t categorize her work in any way–“I can’t label myself; a good photographer should be able to do everything.” Yet according to Ito, there is a common thread: “What I always try to capture has been the unfaltering form of beauty.”

Ito divides her time between her native Japan and new home of New York City to service clientele in both countries. Although she’s been an established photographer in Japan and Europe for over 13 years, she says, “I’ve been gradually getting settled down in New York during the past few months.” She is working to continue her impressive track record here in the U.S.

In Japan, her major clients have been music-industry giants, such as BMG, Polygram, and the like–mainly portraits of well-known Japanese rock artists–in addition to Kanebo (the second-largest cosmetic company in Japan), and several prominent publishing companies. This high-end clientele appreciates Ito’s signature style.

“They like my artistic solutions,” she points out. Her photo-industry clients include Agfa and Tamron-Bronica.

Ito’s early aspirations to be a painter are very apparent in her work today. After graduating from the renowned Keio University in Tokyo, she recalls, “I wanted to be an artist but my father was against it, so I decided to be an art critic instead.” Early on, she was an assistant editor of an architectural magazine in Japan.

But it was during her university days in Tokyo that Ito discovered the fine art photography of Jerry Uelsmann, whose surrealistic style was a great inspiration to her. “Up until that time, I thought photography was only about documenting life. Then I realized I could become a painter of light.” She bought her first camera, a Canon Al, and began shooting portraits of other women at the university.

She later moved to Germany where she got married, and continued her education at Ruhr University. Early on, her style began to evolve. “I like to photograph women because we share common feelings,” she says. Ito’s first exhibition–entitled “Female Sequences”–was held at the Fine Arts Center at Ruhr University, Germany, in 1986. “The college had facilities where students could learn practical art–I learned how to use strobe lights there.”

With little in the way of job opportunities for women in Japan in those days–but with her new photographic leanings-Ito opted for an education in communication design and photography at Essen University in Germany “to pursue my dream of being an artist.” Her portfolio allowed her to waive basic photo classes and enter as an advanced student. But Ito soon found that she was working at Essen’s photographic studio more than she was attending classes. “I had no time to study, so I quit school.” With her marriage and formal education now behind her, Ito set up a photo “atelier” in Duesseldorf and worked as a free-lance photographic artist.

During the late ’80s, she held several solo exhibitions in Japan and Germany, including “Japanese Body language” (Munich, 1987); “Woman to Woman” (Tokyo, 1988); and “Esoteric Incantation” (Hamburg, 1989). In 1989, she was invited to participate as a photo-artist in Hamburg’s “The Summer of Photography.” Throughout the ’90s, she continued to participate in group and solo photo exhibits, in addition to having work published in numerous books and magazines.

In 1992, Ito returned to Japan “to integrate my artistic experience with commercial photography.” She expanded the scope of her photography from fine art to advertising. Her work appeared in many photography books and visual media, such as Nymphs–Masterpieces of 8 Japanese Top Star Photographers, Sensual Images–100 of the World’s Top Photographers Interpret Sensual Beauty, and CD-ROMs like Encyclopedia of Photography, Vol. 1.

In 1997, Ito became a member of the Photographic Society of Japan, and in 2000, a member of the Art Director’s Club of New York. She is also a member of Professional Women Photographers, and will speak for this organization in the fall of 2001. Ito has also recently been deemed an “extraordinary photographer utilizing new media forms” by Japanese television and journals.

In Germany, one of her primary clients was Bronica. She is an avid GS-1 shooter and uses Zenzanon PG lenses, both 65mm and 100mm. Ito has conducted workshops and has had photo exhibits on behalf of Bronica at the international photographic trade show, Photokina, in 1988 and 1990.

Her film preferences vary, depending on the project and the desired effect. “If I want very colorful results, I use Fujichrome Velvia (ISO 50).” For portraits, she often uses Agfa RSX 100 or 200. For magazine photojournalism, she uses Kodak EPN 200, and in her catalogue work, she uses Fujichrome RMS Multi-Speed. For black-and-white, her choice is Agfa APX 100.

Ito says that although she relies primarily on her own vision to interpret an image, “digital imaging is sometimes an extension to reach the final solution.” Some of her digital imagery was on display at “Elegant Encounter of Photography and Digital Technology,” a 1998 exhibit in Japan.

Ito prefers to take a lot of time for advertising projects–sometimes a week, by her admission–to prepare sets and props. Sometimes she works with a prop artist when doing a shoot for a big client. “I have to produce my vision,” she explains. She may spend days gathering flowers for models to wear, and she often buys clothes or jewelry for future photo sessions while traveling. “I have an awful lot of stuff in my studio,” Ito laughs. Her attention to detail is apparent in her beautifully executed imagery.

“I think it is important to strive for real quality in photography,” Ito says. “Otherwise photography has little chance to survive.” In addition to her artistic vision, Ito is driven by an almost spiritual or missionary zeal. “I want to pass on quality photography to the next generation,” she says. Not surprisingly, Ito devotes a good deal of her time to training promising artists in the finer points of photography.

So what does the future hold for Miro Ito? She says she wants to continue to convey her own vision, and to “hopefully have a positive influence on others in the process.