To be a specialist, you have to be a good generalist

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Here’s today’s provocation of the day: there is really no such thing as a specialist. I’m going to explain why, using photography as the background context. The general expectation is a specialist in one particular topic or subject or tightly defined discipline should be familiar with and understand how to handle the vast majority of variations encountered around that topic or subject. They would probably have to keep up to date with new developments or changes and do enough experimentation to answer any self-doubt or uncertainty: an expert sports photographer, for instance, would know how to deal with indoor arena lighting, outdoor high noon and night games – and still produce an image that would pass muster for their clients. An aerial photographer would know how to deal with haze – either to minimise in post, or to use as a feature of the image. Yet I keep encountering this odd resistance…even amongst supposedly educated and image-savvy people. Why?

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To photography competition entrants

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“…we who are about to die, salute you!”

Whoops, wrong scene, wrong side of the dock.

I’ve been on the judging panel for a few competitions this year – and on discussion with fellow judges, found we were encountering the same things across not only different competitions, but different geographies. Today’s post is intended to be a little behind the scenes guidance on what makes an image stand out to a jury, and hopefully win you a prize. It is of course impossible to turn this into a formula: the very nature of competition means that the benchmarks shift every year, and so does the whole idea of ‘different’. There’s so little QC these days it’s almost easier to judge competitions by people who don’t mess up than those who excel; that said, there are fortunately still a few who manage to surprise us. Read on for the breakdown.

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Finding inspiration, redux

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Following on from the earlier thoughts on making ‘good enough’ images getting ever harder with increased productivity – the flip side of the coin becomes a question of how we find sufficient inspiration to get over that activation energy threshold*. How do we firstly get inspired enough to get out the camera and attempt to produce something at all, and furthermore – produce something that will satisfy us. In reality, what needs to happen is we must find sufficient motivation to make us want to answer the question of ‘how will the finished image look?’ There are several ways of doing this, I think. And hopefully – if you’ve been on hiatus or feeling photographically jaded, this might help get the camera out again.

*I promise one day I’ll write that long-delayed article on physics and photography.

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Why GAS might actually turn out to be good for you

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One is bad enough. Two is…well, probably a signal that some form of clinical treatment is required. Full disclosure: the second one was supplied as a spare for the Thaipusam video; we didn’t use it.

At the risk of severely contradicting myself, I’m going to offer an alternative point of view to several of my posts from earlier this year (namely, this one on diminishing returns; this one on finding the right camera and moving on; this one on ideal formats for a given creative output). Many of you have pointed out in the comments and subsequent emails etc. that things are not really quite so clear cut; I’ve given this some thought and spent some time rationalising my own equipment journey – especially since from an external standpoint, it might appear that I’m probably the worst offender of all. The conclusion, is of course one of very fine balance – like most things in photography; and like most things creative, a little tension is required to produce not-safe and not-boring results. Here are my thoughts on why…

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Drone diaries: differentiated aerial perspectives

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More months, more flying. I’ve come to believe that real appeal of aerial photography lies solely in one thing: the ability to see familiar places or objects or classes of objects from a drastically and otherwise physically inaccessible perspective. An image shot from a slightly elevated level with gimbal only slightly down is not that different to standing on a hill or building; an image shot from some altitude and entirely top down is at the other end of the scale. Most of the really interesting drone images I’ve seen or personally captured seem to fall into the latter category. We are coming dangerously close to the automated and the formulaic, here. Or are we?

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Opinion: Sensible perspectives on film and digital in current times

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Today’s post has been a long time brewing. The recent resurgence in the popularity of film is undeniable, to the point that there are both new brands and revivals of old ones happening on a fairly regular basis. It seems to be not so interesting for the big guys – look at the continual Fuji price increases as prime exhibit – but this has meant that there business is more open to the enthusiasts and those creating film specifically for the demands of those markets (such as JCH Street Pan). Anybody who gets off their comfortable chair to put money and action where their mouths are deserves a round of applause, in my book. Given all of this – it’s only natural that there have also been a lot of people rising to the defence of the medium, in the comments here, and sometimes much more aggressively over email. In the interests of saving much angst, it’s probably about time I make my personal position on film clear, and more importantly, the rationale behind it.

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Seeing and familiarity

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Everything must be evaluated before we have expectations of it

A few months ago, I explained why I believe there is no such thing as an absolute decisive moment; and examined how my own point of reference has shifted over time – both of these posts lead to some discussions in the comments over the whole question of why we seem to shoot better when taken out of our usual environments. I think that answer is fairly simple, and has to do with the same underlying principles of subject isolation: if something looks different, it will stand out, and if we can observe/see it, we can notice, compose for and photograph it. But the first part of that flow – the ‘standing out’ – can only happen if we either train ourselves to continually and consciously evaluate every portion of a scene, or we are thrust into a place where there is no familiar frame of reference so our minds cannot subconsciously pattern recognise and dismiss. The real question for a photographer is: how can we control this to some extent?

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Discussion points: Critical features

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For most of the history of photography, we only had shot-to-shot* control over four things with our cameras: focal plane, exposure via shutter and aperture, and the moment of capture via the shutter release. There were of course myriad ways of implementing this – but eventually, either camera makers did what was easiest from an engineering standpoint, or buyers voted with their wallets – and the modern control paradigm was born. We have ergonomic grips, control dials for shutter and aperture (either on the top deck within fingertip reach, or on the lens barrel) and some means of controlling focus. Fundamentally, all images can be made with control over these parameters. Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that we cannot live without tilting LCDs, live view, sensor shift and optical stabilisers, auto white balance, panorama stitching, eye tracking AF…the list goes on. I firmly believe that it’s possible to get far too distracted trying to master the technology and remembering which menu item and button was set to do what – and as a result, make an image that’s compositionally and creatively compromised instead of technologically enabled.

*One could also switch emulsion sensitivity, color/monochrome and focal length – I consider these secondary controls because not every camera permitted this between subsequent images.

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Shutter Therapy

Shutter Therapy is a phrase I created several years ago and one I use frequently throughout my articles. I don’t remember defining it, and, inexplicably, the phrase is now widely used by many friends and photographers, in Malaysia and around the world. With a little time on my hands post-Olympus Malaysia, I found myself introspecting on what Shutter Therapy was, what it signified when I started using the phrase, its origins and why I set time aside for some Shutter Therapy every weekend? This post is a result of that introspection and my attempt to answer these questions.

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Crystal ball gazing: Predicting the photographic ecosystem in 10 years, part II

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That impending sense of something looming just out of view…

Today’s article continues from Part I in the previous post: where will photography land up in the next ten years?

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