I take the teaching portion of my job seriously. Very seriously, as any of my previous students will tell you. What isn’t always so obvious is the amount of thought and preparation that happens before a workshop or video. There are a lot more factors to consider than are immediately apparent – and I suspect many attempting to teach workshops don’t quite realize this until it’s too late. Unfortunately, most of the time price is not at all reflective of quality.
Some of you will be disappointed to learn that this post does not involve any megapixel numbers. At the end of 2012 – precisely one year ago, in fact, I published a similar post for 2013. It got a surprising amount of attention, so I’d like to both turn it into an annual tradition, as well as examine whether I was able to keep any of the promises – now that the year is over…
Today’s post is going to be something of a counterpoint to yesterday. Every time we frame up an image, we ostensibly try to capture something different, unique – in essence, to take a photograph that has never been taken before. But more importantly, the resultant outcome must actually look like it has never been taken before, by appearing quite distinctly different from anything else. That’s the part which is not so easy.
Each of the images in this set represents the outcome of a new experiment for me: subject, idea, execution, processing, equipment or something else. They are almost certainly unique, but I cannot say that they have not been attempted before, by somebody else. Take, for example, the fact that they were all shot on film: film is not new, even to me. But developing my own film and looking at the tonality achievable undoubtedly influences the way I process my digital files. Just as composing in squares does affects the way I see the world, too; and so on.
What a mouthful of a title. It should really also have the subtitle “what pays isn’t always what’s popular or what I want to shoot” – but that would have exceeded the string length for post titles, run off onto three lines on the title, and completely ruined the front page design aesthetic of the site.
But I think there’s really no simple or concise way to express it. What sells/ what clients pay for is not always what is popular with the viewing public; in fact, it’s usually completely uncorrelated since the commercial side of things seldom elicits an emotional response in the way personal photographs do. And on top of that, what photographers actually enjoy photographing is seldom what pays – sometimes also because the nature of the subject matter means that it has no commercial value in the first place. So, as a commercial photographer, what do we do?
My earlier article on why we photograph led me to spend a little more time thinking specifically about what it is about the photographic process that is enjoyable. It seems that it’s engaging on many levels – firstly, there’s the anticipation of buying new equipment, and continually pursuing gear – I suppose you could call that the ‘collectors’ itch’. As much as I see cameras as tools, I admit there’s a certain satisfaction in finding, acquiring and owning/ using something rare; the F2 Titan, for example. Like every other accessory or object we choose to use – it signals something about the tastes of the owner. (There’s also the ego-stroking fact that it promotes jealousy amongst other photographers, but I’m going to ignore that and say it really is all about the image.
A little while back, I made an offhand comment about a certain camera being my choice for ‘serious’ work which spurred a lengthy subsequent discussion offline with a reader; it got me thinking: what exactly constitutes ‘seriousness’? But beyond that, how does a photographer’s choice of camera, or format, or medium, influence the final image? More importantly, is there any way we can use that to make stronger images – because ultimately, that’s what photography is all about. We’ll explore that in some detail in today’s article.
In my earlier photographic period, I’d often made the mistake of thinking abstract photography was just a catch-all bucket for images that didn’t fit anywhere else; I even had a folder for that kind of thing called ‘Random’. From time to time, during my many photographic excursions, I’d find my eye deviated from the ‘objective’ – not that I had one. Admittedly, at that point, I’d mix shooting with an objective – say wildlife, or street, or architecture – with sessions where I’d just go for a walk with camera in hand and shoot anything that appealed. It was during one of those sessions that I started to be drawn towards arrangements of objects that were visually appealing for reasons I couldn’t understand or put into objective terms; there wasn’t a real subject per se; sometimes, I just found the whole scene/ frame appealing. ‘Click!’ went the shutter, and one more image got consigned to the ‘Random’ folder.
I was certainly noticed here. Apparently in the middle of a high-stakes gambling game, seconds later I was shouted at by about forty people and chased away. Invisibility would have certainly made for an interesting documentary series.
Here’s an interesting concept: photographic invisibility. By this, I mean the ability to take a photograph of anything, anywhere, or anybody, without being noticed. Nothing would be off limits, nowhere would be inaccessible, and everything you see would be just a shutter-click away. Assume for a moment, technical limitations don’t really apply – we don’t have to worry about image quality or low light or too much or too little depth of field, or buffers or file handling or curating the enormous mountain of images that would be the product of such an exercise. Of course, this is impossible – or nearly impossible unless the subject is heavily distracted, or you’re a photojournalist or street photography ninja – but stay with me for a while.
One question you tend to see publicly discussed ad nauseam on forums is the one that goes something along the lines of “If you could only bring one camera/lens to a desert island, what would that be, and why?” I’m sure it’s something even we more serious photographers give some consideration to from time to time; if only because one day we might find ourselves facing such an eventuality. In the greater interests of this site’s readership, I put myself in precisely that situation a couple of weeks ago.
Reality often isn’t as glamorous as the dream.
In the first part of this essay, we explored the dissonance between the photographer we are, the photographer we think we want to be, and the photographer we actually want to be; today, we’ll wrap up by looking at how you can get there.