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.
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.
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.
One of the questions I’m asked also (unsurprisingly) happens to be one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people: how to achieve visual consistency across multiple systems/ cameras/ media, and across multiple subjects. Though the latter is really getting into the question of what constitutes style and how can one consistently apply it, there are still things you can do to ensure that you are in control of the final presentation: not your camera. I certainly cannot tell a client ‘sorry, it looks different because I used two different cameras.’
I have a bit of a problem. In fact, it’s becoming an increasingly large one. Put simply, I’m running out of words to describe the things I’m seeing and the visual concepts I’m trying to explain; and I don’t know if the vernacular even exists. I suspect it doesn’t, but then again, I’m sure there are English speakers with greater vocabulary than me for whom it does. A large portion of you probably think this is stating the obvious; it is. But we reach a point beyond which it becomes impossible to progress further without some sort of common baseline accurately and consistently describe what it is we’re intending to convey; or more specifically, to ensure that what I’m saying and imagining are the same things as what you’re hearing and seeing in your own mind.
In the previous part of this essay, we discussed how diversification of media and bringing control to the masses changed the face of photography; today we’re going to continue with some thoughts on the current standard-bearer for that camp, and some concluding thoughts on what it means for everybody else.