Most of the regular readers here will be familiar with the concept of ‘the four things’ – this is to say that there are a few elements that are independent of content that every image must have in order for it to leave some sort of impression on its audience. The framework is both a useful checklist and teaching tool to get a photographer to a certain level of proficiency; however, it can be restrictive in the sense that it is still somewhat formulaic. And that’s half the challenge here: if you can fulfil a list of objectives to make an outstanding image, then what is the function of the photographer? Surely these things could be programmed into an algorithm and left to its own devices to make the next hundred great photographs of the century? Wrong. There’s still one last element which will never foreseeably be automated or predicted or planned.
These questions may be technically difficult, contextually difficult, commercially difficult, diplomatically difficult or all four – but at some point, we’ve all had to face them. Some of us more than others. And the real challenge is that the answer always depends on who’s asking. Read on if you dare.
In a previous post, I tackled the general concept of an abstract photograph. I think it can be refined down something of the following: an image which is balanced equally across the entire frame such at that no one area attracts your attention more than any other area; the eye wanders, takes in the details, and never really lingers. By this definition, there is no subject since no one area or element of the photograph stands out more than any other; however, you could probably also argue that the entire frame is really the subject. Semantics is a funny thing, though, and this isn’t quite the definition of the term: we must think in terms of essences and summaries instead. An ‘abstract’ of a paper or article is really the core idea distilled down to the simplest possible terms; the objective elevator pitch rather than the marketing tagline. Today’s article tackles the visual equivalent of that: how do we take an idea and translate that into something visual?
Many photographs do not work. Subsequently, we find out they do not work because there is a difference between what you saw and what your audience sees in the image. Sometimes this comes down to lack of skill in translating an idea, but often it’s more subtle than that: the camera doesn’t see what we see, and we need to be both highly aware of that and how to compensate for it. Yesterday’s photoessay is a good example: it’s no big deal to make a monochrome image, but our eyes only perceive a lack of color under very exceptional circumstances. Yet it’s these differences that make some images stand out, and others not really ‘work’.
Rule number one: there are no rules. A ‘mistake’ may not necessarily be a mistake if it helps convey the message or story or feeling intended by the photographer. I can easily think of multiple examples that go against every scenario described below. That said, for the most part, I’ve found these ‘mistakes’ to hold true. And if you want to achieve something very specific, then you either won’t be reading this article in the first place, or you’ll know when to bend the rules. The general viewing public probably has some preformed opinions of what is right/good, but these are born out of as much ignorance as conditioning by companies trying to sell more software or lenses or something else. There are rational reasons why these opinions may not necessarily be right in the context of fulfilling creative intention.
Part two: get creative (continued from part one)
The camera companies and retailers are going to hate me for writing this, because it’s not going to sell any more equipment. If you were hoping for a quick solution that involves a credit card, I’m sorry too – there is no substitute to better photographs other than hard work. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or creatively liberating – after all, isn’t that one of the key reasons we shoot at all?
And now, for something a little different. We all fall into creative ruts occasionally, and we can all benefit from a little reboot from time to time. Think of it as the closest we’re going to get to a creative diet plan of sorts. It doesn’t involve more fibre, or workouts, or stairs, or eating things that might look healthy but taste terrible. I promise not to make you develop your own film, though you certainly can if you want. Read on if you want to tighten your photo-chops.
Right after ‘what should I buy’ comes this series of questions: why don’t you use Lightroom? And what does Photoshop give me that Lightroom lacks? Moreover, is your workflow applicable to Lightroom? I received a slew of emails recently following the release of LR CC/6 and realised I’ve never really answered any of these questions. Today we’re going to fix that.
I’ve never really talked much about what is probably the most important process in photography other than conceptualisation and capture/execution of the image itself. Even though it isn’t directly part of the photographic process, curation has probably the greatest impact out of all of the possible things you can do to control the way your work is perceived. Coincidentally, we’ve been running for a little over three years now, and this is also post number 1,000 – excluding the reposts. At an average length of 1,500 words per post (and many well into 4,000-5,000 range, plus the mammoth Camerapedia), that means there’s around ~2,200,000 words of primary content on the site, not including the comments. Not bad considering an average paperback is in the 100,000 word range. I suppose it’s therefore also somewhat fitting (and perhaps a touch ironic) that I celebrate being prolific by discussing the opposite. It seems it’s simpler to do it than talk about it, but equally important to do so in order to understand why…
In part one we looked at why images of people fascinate us, and the nature of portraiture. However, this only covers half of the possibilities for ‘images of people': instances where the subject is a conscious and cooperative part of the process. What about the other possibility: where the subject is not aware the photographer, or only aware of them in the most fleeting of moments before any conscious self-image or rapport can be built?
The images in this article are all candid: unposed, unplanned, and with subject unaware. Even if it appears they may be looking at the camera in certain situations, it is a result of conscious timing, observation of something behind me, and/or a particular moment rather than catching a long stare. None of them showed any acknowledgement of my presence before or after the shot was taken, which was actually quite surprising in some situations. They saw me, but my presence didn’t register.