The paradox of all creative professions

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Imagine you’re hired to do something on the basis of the work you’ve previously done: the client likes your previous work, and wants you to do the same for their brief – within limitations, of course. You have of course taken care to show only the kind of work you want to do, so that there’s no possibility for misunderstandings. But yet the inevitable happens: as the job progresses, the scope changes, and suddenly you’re being asked to do something that’s either a duplicate of what’s been done before – by somebody else – or worse, a mishmash of incoherent ideas that were clearly a case of design by committee and completely unsuitable for the original subject or brief. Sound familiar? Sadly, this is far too often the state of play in most creative industries, not just photography.

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Repost: The idea of a ‘5’, or that extra element

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Stairway to heaven. In the larger version it’s clear the solitary figure is elderly; we’ve got the manmade foreground/environment to emerge from, and the metaphorical representation of utopia in blue sky/perfect clouds…

After the last few posts on ideas, projects and distillation, I thought it’d be a good idea to revisit this earlier article around how to take things further: finding that extra something to elevate an image into something really memorable. Of course there are no rules, because if there were, an image be easily repeatable and at odds with the very nature of an outstanding image being exceptional. But perhaps we can learn to recognise and use this…

Most of the regular readers here will be familiar with the concept of ‘the four things’ – this is to say that there are a few elements that are independent of content that every image must have in order for it to leave some sort of impression on its audience. The framework is both a useful checklist and teaching tool to get a photographer to a certain level of proficiency; however, it can be restrictive in the sense that it is still somewhat formulaic. And that’s half the challenge here: if you can fulfil a list of objectives to make an outstanding image, then what is the function of the photographer? Surely these things could be programmed into an algorithm and left to its own devices to make the next hundred great photographs of the century? Wrong. There’s still one last element which will never foreseeably be automated or predicted or planned.

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Turning an idea into an image

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Alienation and transience in Prague, I

Today’s article has proven to be another one of those significant challenges to write, once again for reasons of limitations of language to describe visual elements. On top of that, there are three conceptual leaps that have to be made: abstract idea, to descriptive language/ elements to characterise and quantify the specific unique traits of that idea so we conceptually understand it, then the final translation to a visual idea that can be understood by a wider audience than just the creator. There are really two questions at hand here: firstly, what is the idea, and secondly, what’s needed to convey it – and what do we need to avoid overdoing that results in dilution or confusion?

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Curating to a theme

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Images chosen from past exhibitions/ collections/ projects: note how they stand alone, but not together…this doesn’t necessarily make them bad…or I suppose that depends on your point of view.

I’ve recently been asked by a couple of people about curation – specifically, the process I use when putting together a portfolio, photoessay, exhibition or something similar. Turns out that whilst I’ve talked about the importance of curation in the past, and evaluating images individually and against each other in Photoshop Workflow II, I’ve never actually addressed about the process as a whole. It’s actually a pretty interesting topic that isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

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Balance beyond photography

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I’ve always thought there were more senses beyond the obvious physical ones – perhaps they’re synergistic, perhaps otherwise. I suppose to call it pure aesthetics would be not really accurate, either – but the upshot is of course a result that is either pleasing or not. In the course of many discussions with a wide cross section of people on the topic, it seems that the ‘sense of balance’ is either there, or it isn’t. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those with a heightened sense of balance can consistently create strong images – arguably, in some ways it’s the opposite – but there’s definitely at least recognition of what works and what doesn’t. Two immediate thoughts follow: why? And more importantly, how can we use this to make a better image?

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Convergence, equivalence and the future of sensors

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Image credit: Cnet

I’m sure you’ve all seen this Sony sensor size comparison chart at various fairs, on various sites, or in the simulated display (in which no sensors were harmed in the making of) at their various retail outlets. The implication, of course, is that bigger is better; look how much bigger a sensor you can get from us! This is of course true: all other things being equal, the more light you can collect, the more information is recorded, and the better the image you’ll be able to output for a given field of view. However, I’m going to make a few predictions today about the way future digital sensor development is going to go – and with it, the development of the camera itself. Revisit this page in about five years; in the meantime, go back to making images after reading…

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Short term pain, long term gain

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Exotic beasts. Yes, the 100MP cameras have been shipping for some time now; yes, that one is mine – the door gifts at HQ are amazing! – and yes, I’ll be posting a report once I’ve had a chance to live with and use it for a while.

I’m writing this on the way home from a very intense tour of Europe – a visit to see my brother, review and refine design for the second generation of bags (yes, there will be a smaller one!) visit some clients, meet some alumni and check in on the status of a couple of other projects. Since I was broadly in the right area – and because it’s a bit of a trek otherwise – I had to make a pilgrimage to Hasselblad HQ.

It turns out I arrived at precisely the peak of activity. Yes, there’s been another announcement; yes, there are necessary changes, and yes, it appears that the DJI deal was true – the silence being deafening. Many things were taking place during my visit that were restricted to high level management. In any case, I was much more interested in the historical prototype lens cabinet.

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On the curation of a book

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Though a book of photographs is something that I’ve been asked for time and again – I’ve honestly felt that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to do, both because ultimately the audience is quite limited, and because the economics are a bit of a disaster if you care the slightest about quality. Speaking to many possible publishers, printers, and photographers who’ve done it (including those considered to be highly successful in this game, such as Nick Brandt) – it’s clear to me that any sort of photographic-only book is only worth doing if somebody with deep pockets is funding it for you. For example, Brandt doesn’t break even on any of his books – because his required standards for printing are so high; the problem is once you’ve seen what’s possible, it’s very difficult to compromise. Yet…I’ve not only decided to do one, but my editor and I are well into the process of putting it together already. Why? Let me attempt to rationalise – and share some of the frustrations…

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Cropping, sufficiency, resolution: take three (or, thoughts after shooting with the H6D-100c)

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A little reframing – not as chaotic as I’d have expected…

I’ve said a lot about cropping in the past, when I think it’s justified, and even a little bit about the proto-wimmelbild interpretation of recursion in composition. Bottom line: good/acceptable cropping is when the composition and restriction of edges is done deliberately and premeditatively before capture; you know you’re going to need to leave some stuff on the cutting floor because perhaps your finder edges aren’t precise or 100%, because you want a non-native aspect ratio, or because you didn’t bring a longer lens but composed for a tighter scene in the middle of the frame. Bad cropping is when you’re hunting for a composition after capture – it’s not deliberate at the time of initial composition and is basically trying your luck. The key differentiator here is one of intent.

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Forum thinking, part II

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Clarity at dusk

Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everybody who contributed in the comments to the previous discussion – your ideas and support have been most helpful in clarifying my own thoughts. Fundamentally, the challenge is really one of time: how can I balance off increasing family demands against the site (which in many ways is really another child) and perhaps at the same time, make changes that both buy me time and give you something more? It isn’t a question of monetisation because all of those options require more administrative time and don’t buy time elsewhere. Having had some further time to think, here’s what I think we’ll do going forward:

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