Don’t settle

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Portrait of a building – time does not have to be an instant; perhaps the best side of a subject has to be a composite

I have previously written about various personal approaches to photography – manifestoes or beliefs or aspirations or aims if you will. I’ve written about why we photograph and the relationship between images, the artist and the audience. But I don’t think I’ve ever really written about the endgame.

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Back to basics: subject isolation

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The man: color, texture, contrast, motion. We’re not really missing shallow DOF, are we?

Regular readers will know that I’ve distilled down four common traits of a strong image: quality of light, clarity of subject, balance of composition and ‘the idea’. The first is very simple: does the light present the subject in a flattering way or as you would desire? Is it directional (i.e. are there shadows) so that it’s possible to determine spatial layout of the scene? The last two require some practice, and the final one is really an never-ending quest for every photographer because there is no limit to the complexity of message that can be conveyed. Today, we will look at the easiest yet most commonly overlooked one of the four: subject isolation.

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Dealing with visual overload

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During a recent Masterclass with some of my students, we were faced with an situation quite typical of a working pro: several hours of nothing much going on, half an hour of madness, and a bit of a post-mortem afterwards. The main feeling I got from the group was best described as a sort of mild panic: after being lulled into a state of half-hearted inactivity by uninspiring light and a fairly pedestrian subject, we were suddenly handed great light, rapidly changing conditions and the same pedestrian subjects come alive. This is by no means a unique situation, and sometimes the situation is a one-off and professionally critical. So what’s the best way to maximise photographic returns?

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Being a photographer today

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Whoops, that was yesterday. But I don’t think any reader will mind the eye candy.

There is a point to the ‘wrong’ image: it ain’t like it used to be, and if that’s a cliche and somewhat ill-fitting statement given I haven’t been in this game that long, perhaps it’s also a sign of just how fast the market is changing. As I come to the end of my fourth year full time as a photographer and start planning for the fifth, I’ve got to ask myself what’s changed in the last few years and where that fits with my plans (or rather how I’ve got to adapt not to be left behind). What’s a bit frightening is that niches seem to be coming and going both extremely fast and in a way that is almost impossible to predict what works and what doesn’t; luck, as always, plays a massive role in the proceedings.

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The portfolio

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MT’s architecture master portfolio

Following on from the previous articles on curation and how to approach a project, I thought I’d conclude with a slightly different look at the same thing: the portfolio. We hear that word bandied about quite a lot amongst photographers and clients too: ‘Send me your portfolio’, or ‘That image is good enough to go in the portfolio’, or ‘Here’s my client portfolio’. What does it actually mean? How can we use it to our advantage?

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Project thinking

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From Paradise Lost – the former forefront of military hardware in old age and thinking about better days

It is quite common to hear a photographer or artist talking about work on ‘x project’ or ‘y project’ – in practical terms, it means that images are being made to fulfil a certain objective or idea. For the longest time I’d stayed away from doing this because I felt frustrated at the limitations it would impose at the least expected of times. I also didn’t feel that I had the time to commit to pursuit of a single idea. But at some point in 2013, that all changed for me for various reasons. Outside commercial work, I now find myself working in a few major themes.

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Curation, judging and objectivity

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Let’s start with three critical thoughts for any photographer: 1. You cannot show what you have not shot. 2. What gets seen is only what you choose to show. 3. What you choose reflects you as much as what you shoot. The more I think about it, the more I think what differentiates a really great photographer from a mediocre one – at least the perception of greatness – are their curation choices. I’ve written about curation in the past but not said that much about the criteria I use to determine in or out – that’s the purpose of today’s post.

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Synthesis: technology as an enabler for art

_8A12416 copy1957, from the Havana series. VR on the 70-200/4VR required for slow shutter to motion blur car handheld; D800E to maintain extended tonal range and relatively small aperture for DOF

Much like genius and madness, the line between chasing the horizon for the sake of enabling art and chasing the horizon out of pure gearlust is a thin and often tenuous one. We don’t want to photograph with cameras that frustrate, impede or not inspire us. We certainly won’t feel like just that ‘one last shot’ or that ‘what if?’ experiment. But it is also true that composition is completely independent of hardware, too. Where do we draw the line? [Read more…]

Ambiguity

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Jazz time.

I believe good photographs can be divided into two camps: the literal and the ambiguous. (There’s a third kind, which you cannot really classify into either because they are lacking something fundamental like a clear subject – these land up as being ambiguous by default, but not intentionally.) From an interpretative/ artistic standpoint, a photograph is perhaps the most literal of all art forms; assuming minimal postprocessing, the translation between reality and finished interpretation is predictable and consistent across all subjects and capture conditions. The resultant image has to obey the laws of physics, after all – and these are generally quite consistent. But then how can we use ambiguity to our advantage to make a stronger image?

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Close, but no cigar: how to design mirrorless right

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Too large/expensive; too slow and unresponsive, power hungry; no finder or IS

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Limited sensor resolution; overambitious image quality and fragile feel; too many steps to get shooting

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Fixed lens; great UI with terrible ergonomics; classical controls don’t work for digital, sensor limits

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Ergonomic and workflow challenges; IQ limitations from sensor size; needed two years to fix FW

And this is barely half of the mirrorless cameras I’ve used and reviewed on this site in the last couple of years. I still have not found a complete replacement for the DSLR, and I suspect there are many other photographers in the same situation. It isn’t for want of trying or stubbornness; it’s because the product simply does not exist. We’re not asking for the unicorn here, either: there are ergonomic/UI/UX/engineering solutions that have already been implemented and received well in other cameras – just not in the same one. And to clarify (since judging by email and comments, many are missing the point): this post is not to complain mirrorless isn’t a DSLR. It’s recognising that mirrorless is the future for so many reasons – but we are still suffering from stupid design that has already been solved. All of these problems beg the question: just how difficult is it to get it right?

Important: Read this first.

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