Thinking beyond the handshake – San Miguel

Still sorting through old images and having fun.  This is a favorite from my 2006 trip to San Miguel Mexico.  Unfortunately, it pains me to say, the bench and Bougainvillea are no longer there.  I learned this when I was there late in 2011.  So sad, as this was such a wonderful scene.  

Each time I review San Miguel images, I can’t help but think of my friend and mentor Nancy Rotenberg.  It was Nancy that taught me about the handshake shot and how to move beyond it.  Essentially when we approach a scene, our first image is much like a handshake.  When we meet someone, we don’t know much about them. We shake hands and say, hi how are you or good to meet you.   It is only after we’ve spent some time and asked questions that we begin to learn about them.  Then we typically see them in a very different light.  Photography is much the same.  When we first arrive at a scene we don’t really know much about it.  We know we’re attracted to something but need to figure out what. We then take a handshake shot and just as with people, some move on and thats it.  It would be better at this point to ask some questions. Questions like, what is it about this scene that I like?  What kind of light do I have?  Would it be better in different light?   In the case of this specific image, I might ask, do I need the entire church?  Do I need the entire bench?   I think you get the idea.  Essentially you are getting to know your subject by spending time with it and being thoughtful.  I promise, as you do this, your images will improve and you will typically find more than one right answer.  I add the vertical version below as proof!  

This entry was posted in Color, Essence, Inspiration, Nancy Rotenberg, San Miguel.


  1. Bob Towery January 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    This is a wonderful post, technique and tribute, all wrapped up together. As you know I certainly have to work on my “handshake issues” (in my case, it is more like a high-5 wouldn’t you say, a handshake would take way too long?). I’ll try to remember “Nancy!” from now on when I’m tempted to quickly move along. Thanks JB.

    • john8276 January 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      Yup, high 5 is an apt description for you Bob. 🙂 But then again, your type of shooting is a bit different… well actually… not really. You still need to find a background that you like and then wait for the scene to happen in that space right? See, its all the same!

  2. Donnie Fulks January 2, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    A very thoughtful and most useful post, JB. I was reminded of my film days when a roll of film by its finite number of frames lead to more thought before pressing the shutter button. It is too easy in today’s digital age to “let it rip” and blow by the thoughtfulness part of capture. Thanks for the reminder!

    • john8276 January 2, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

      Yes it is Donnie. Way too easy. Digital is really great but I do miss film for LOTS of reasons. Yours most of all..

  3. Beth Fishkind January 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Thank you for this post. It’s introduced me to the late Nancy Rotenberg’s beautiful photographs, as well as the idea of the “handshake shot.”

    • john8276 January 3, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      You’re welcome Beth. Thanks for visiting my blog. Nancy was not only a tremendous photographer, she was one of the finest people I’ve ever met. She is sorely missed. If you don’t have her book “Photography and the Creative Life” Get it!

  4. Mike Houge January 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks for all your wonderful posts. I really like the handshake idea, it’s something we all have to remember when in the field.

    • john8276 January 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Thanks for your support

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