Managing the creative commercial populist disconnect

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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?

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Why photography satisfies

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Photography is like food: the variety is endless, and it can satisfy on many levels. But how many of us can make world-class, award-winning food in seconds with minimal equipment?

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.

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How camera choices influence your image

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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.

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Abstract thoughts on abstract photography

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Built on shaky foundations

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.

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Photographic invisibility: a thought experiment

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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.

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The proverbial desert island camera

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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.

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Photographic aspirations, part two: reality, and getting there

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Light at the end of the tunnel: but it’s a long climb, and are you going up, or down?

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.

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Travel photography

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New York City

After writing the article on why we photograph and fresh off the back of several overseas trips, I wanted to share a few thoughts on travel photography. It seems that like street photography, the ‘travel’ genre is almost a generic catch-all bucket for images that don’t fit anything else; it’s a bit of portrait, a bit of landscape, a bit of street, a bit of still life, a bit of architecture, and, well, just ill-defined.

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The photographer as philosopher, part two

Continued from part one.

Even though these articles might have differing substance to the images, it’s the images that people are drawn to because they contain information that comes in a much more easily digestible form than words; you can look at an image for a few seconds to understand what’s going on, but you can’t do the same with a two-thousand word article. Our brains are just hardwired that way; predators in the jungle didn’t write essays about why they were dangerous; they just looked scary. This dissonance itself is quite dangerous: an increasingly frequent trend I’ve noticed recently is that the pictures don’t always match the words; whether this is laziness on the part of the editor or lack of choice remains unclear; but there’s definitely a growing disparity betweens what the words say, and what the images say – or at least the impression they give. Logically, one would think that the overall message should be consistent: if you’re going for a particular angle, then the images should support the story; if no suitable images can be found, then the angle and story should be altered slightly so that at least the complete article is self-consistent.

I bet many of you saw the opening image in part one and wondered how on earth it related to the title; it’s an example of the dissonance. I’m even more certain that in a few months, one of three things will happen:
1. You’ll remember the article because of the example dissonance between images and words;
2. You’ll remember the pretty bokeh and forget the article;
3. You’ll remember neither.

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The photographer as philosopher, part one

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Some weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader from New Zealand; he threw out an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

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