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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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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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…]

Clarifications

Following the mirrorlesss article, it is sad but necessary to clarify the position I’ve always held:
  1. The images always come first
  2. Images are subjective, and like/dislike is personal. There are no absolutes or right and wrong.
  3. This site is and always has been about images, photography and education
  4. Photography is a technical pursuit that is not fully separable from the equipment, so we must also consider the equipment – but to a much lesser extent. Note that fewer than 5% of the posts here are about hardware
  5. The hardware is always subservient to and nothing more than an enabler for the image
  6. Cameras are tools, not a religion, so there’s no reason to act like it
  7. Lenses matter far more than people give them credit for
  8. A tool is a tool and a skilled photographer can make a decent image with anything – similarly, a tool is limited by the skill of the operator
  9. BUT a skilled operator can do more with better tools
  10. Education and practice make for a better operator. And it gives far better returns than new tools.
  11. The sharper the tools, the more likely you are to cut yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.
  12. The output must be considered: if you cannot understand why, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for it. Instead seek to understand why before criticising something
  13. You’re not going to replace anything else unless it does something better than what you have now – why compromise with cameras?
  14. We can agree to disagree, and readership is 100% voluntary.
  15. Lastly, the internet is virtual. But there are still real people behind it, some of whom give their time for free for your education and entertainment, so be polite. Before you post a comment, consider if you’d say the same thing to somebody’s face.
Thank you. That is all. MT

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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The emperor’s new clothes

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Illusion and infinite possibility – from The Idea of Man project

Newer isn’t always better.
More isn’t always better.
Limitations can be creatively liberating.
Equipment isn’t the solution to 99% of problems.
The sense of entitlement and lack of objectivity is deafening.

Does any of this sound familiar?

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OpEd: The camera as a luxury item – or, a tale of two cameras

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Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time: how is it possible that these cameras (and others) are so similar in some ways, yet wildly different in terms of commercial success? And moreover, what can we deign from our crystal balls about the state of the camera industry? Read on for a little analysis from a photographer and a businessperson’s point of view.

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