There comes a point in the growth of every photographer where they reach a ‘hump’ which appears to be insurmountable in any obvious way: you just don’t think you can get any better, no matter what you do. This may be at a very low level, or a very high one; depending on your natural visual aptitude. But it happens to everybody – it’s happened to me several times in the past. Today I’d like to talk about things you can do to move past it and up your game. After all, everybody wants to make better images, right?
Attempting to make the transition – perhaps augmentation is a more accurate description – from commercial photographer to fine art photographer as a profession in the last six months has not been easy. I suspect there are quite a few reasons for this: firstly, [defining a product] has become a significantly larger challenge since you are not creating to-spec for a client, but creating something you imagine from scratch. That something has to be visually distinctive enough to stand out, aesthetically pleasing enough to elicit desire, and exclusive enough to appeal to the typical art buyer.
And here the conflict begins.
I struggled to find an appropriate image to go with this article. I think this works, though: firstly, it was shot with an iPhone, on an occasion I could not foresee doing any photography. But having an open mind and an active eye meant that I saw it; experience/ practice meant that I could make do with the bare minimum, and enjoying cigars meant that I was in the right place at the right time to begin with. All will be explained towards the end of the article…
Don’t worry. Despite the slightly off-topic title, it’s very much a post about photography. This isn’t a moment of existential angst, but rather a clarification of purpose. It isn’t quite the same as article on Why We Photograph from some time ago; it’s far more personal than that. On reflection, I think it’s very important to understand the motivations behind certain things so that a) we might do them better and b) we avoid doing things we don’t enjoy. Especially when there’s a choice.
It’s no secret that Hasselblad has been in much financial trouble lately. And it’s also no secret that the company appears to have lost its direction following a large number of private equity CEOs, who frankly, appear not to understand the photography market at all. So it was with some surprise that I opened my email getting off the plane home from London to find that not only had they made an interesting product, but one that hinted at a return to common sense and a somewhat brighter future, too.
We almost always discuss composition and framing in terms of putting things in to the frame: on further contemplation, I don’t think that’s correct or accurate at all. The act of composition is in fact the complete opposite. And embracing that can lead to some surprising shifts and improvements in one’s compositions.
Irrespective of format and camera, there’s definitely a difference in the way we shoot film vs digital: a lot of comments from an earlier article examining the economics of shooting both media to a similar output standard suggested that this is the same for a lot of other photographers, too. We may not feel qualitatively that there’s much of a difference, but the higher keeper rate suggests the complete opposite. I think I have figured out why this is the case – at least for me – and beyond that, what we can take away from the process to improve our images – independent of the medium.
A few weeks ago, I made my little directorial debut in the form of a TV commercial for Nissan. Unusually for this industry, there was no agency involved; I developed the board with the client and we dealt directly. I suppose that’s also how I landed up being director. The dust has settled, the post-shoot euphoric rush has somewhat calmed down, and I’m now able to put some coherent thoughts together on the whole experience and what it means for my career in the long term.
In many ways, the two industries are frighteningly similar: technologically complex, requiring huge capital investment for relatively small margins, enormous marketing machines, some semblance of ‘celebrity’ endorsement, and ever shrinking improvements just waiting for whatever technology is just over the bend (hybrids, Foveon sensors, etc.). Perception over substance rules, too. And there’s a lot of crossover between the enthusiasts of both – I have a huge number of students who are also petrolheads. But there are enough differences that one could learn from the other, I think…
Name any one of the most famous and prolific photographers, and chances are you can probably remember only a small handful of their images. Even more surprisingly, if you spend a bit of time digging into their published collections, you’ll find that there are dozens more that you probably like better than their famous ones; photography is, after all, personal and subjective. But think about this for a moment: assuming that what you see is only what they choose to show you (being the effect of conscious exclusion at work again) – it makes you wonder exactly what didn’t make the cut.
I’ve gotten a number of emails recently asking for me to define the meaning of ‘shooting envelope’ – it’s a term which I use quite a lot in my articles and reviews, and it appears I’ve been rather remiss in explaining exactly what I mean by it. We’ll remedy that today, and explain why it matters.