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.
Today’s article is the conclusion of the previous article on photography, psychology and why it’s all a mind game; we’ll explore how our subconscious and conscious mind views images, and how the photographer can exploit that to gain control over the way an image is interpreted. Understanding how your audience views an image is critical to determining how that image should be optimally constructed to deliver the right message, and in a way that’s memorable and impactful.
Today’s article is one I’ve wanted to write for a very, very long time. Such a long time, in fact, that it’s taken me several months to condense my thoughts into some semblance of order. I’m going to start with a question: how many times have you seen an image that provokes an unexpectedly strong emotional response in you – either good or bad – and you haven’t been able to figure out why? How many times have you looked at the work of a photographer and thought – not only is there something remarkably consistent about his or her style that makes the creator instantly identifiable, but also makes me as the viewer feel a certain way? Wonder no longer. As ever, these articles are written to first and foremost, make us think a bit more about why we shoot the way we do, and in doing so, hopefully become much better photographers. We all have the tendency to get caught up in the technical side, the equipment, and lose sight of the end objective: the images.
I’m guessing you’re probably sick of seeing NYC, so this will be the last one for the time being: somewhere between street photography and the observations of a flaneur, but above all, a view at how I see a new environment. Shot with the Fuji X20 and Nikon Coolpix A; two very capable and enjoyable cameras I reviewed some time back while in the US. Enjoy! MT
Sometimes, the film photography gods deign to make life easy for you: you happen to be in the right place at the right time, with the right light, interesting subjects, lots of opportunities, carrying the right camera and lens combination, just enough film to get you through a day with a roll left over as insurance, and even airport security guards who’ll hand check your film so they don’t have to make multiple passes through x-ray machines. The last European trip and workshop tour was one of those occasions for me. I went with my usual small digitals (OM-D, Ricoh GR) for teaching, and the Hasselblad 501C with one magazine, a few boxes of Acros 100, and the 80/2.8*. And I came back with a huge number of keepers. It’s interesting to note that despite its size, shutter noise and conspicuity, the Hasselblad never attracted negative attention – usually curiosity or nostalgia. In that sense, it’s actually an excellent street photography tool in the modern age. No more words are required, I think – other than for me to say ‘enjoy!’ MT
*Some of the rolls were pushed to ISO 200 due to lack of light; with Acros this also has the benefit of deepening your shadow tones. There doesn’t seem to be any grain penalty that I can discern, though – anything up to ISO 800 is fine, but the shadows just keep getting denser and denser. Digitized with a D800E, 60/2.8 macro and my custom rig.
One of the things I enjoyed most about New York was the architecture; the pace of development and abundant funds in the city meant that a walk through any of the districts was almost like stepping through the pages of a history of modern architecture. In particular, I was quite captivated by the more modern buildings and their interaction with the environment around them; most sought to give the impression of transparency and lightness by heavy use of mirrored glass, but in the end landed up standing out as somewhat soulless monoliths. Yet at the same time, they also blend in with their own kind. Even though each building is pretty much the same functionally, constrained only by dimensions and the need to maximize usable floor plate for a given land area, if you look carefully, you can still see the stamp of individuality of the designers. MT
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.
The hunchback of Kuala Lumpur has a Hasselblad.
Continued from part one.
My return to London immediately after that trip saw me a) dispose of the D70 and purchase a supposedly more robust D2H – in reality, I just liked the way it felt in my hands – and also begin to seriously explore Photoshop and Wacom tablets; by the time my D2H arrived in the mail, I’d decided I’d only shoot raw and focus on extracting as much detail as possible out of those relatively small files. That camera was not a forgiving one: get everything right, and it rewarded you with images beyond what you’d expect for the pixel count; get it wrong and you can pretty much junk the file. It taught me shot discipline and the importance of getting as much right in-camera as possible; these traits have continued to serve me well today. Unfortunately, the camera met a watery end after shooting in a tropical downpour in Kuala Lumpur two years later in 2006; I opened the battery compartment indoors and failed to consider condensation. A zapping sound and puff of smoke later, and I’d pretty much toasted the internals. By that point though, I’d shot enough frames – heading towards a quarter million on its second shutter – and jobs with that camera that it’d a) paid for itself several times over, and b) made me learn more about photography than anything else since.