Create or document?

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From the series ‘Gravitation is relative’

I’ve come to believe that all photography falls into one of two categories: created, or documented. It’s also rather difficult to switch between the two, and people tend to find either one or the other more intuitive. I suspect this may well have something to do with left brain-right brain dominance, too. This underlying split is important because it dictates the kind of photographer you are, and the kind of work that best suits one’s intuitive vision. It isn’t a continuum, because the one thing that splits the two sides of the divide is binary: was something in the scene added or removed at the control of the photographer, presumably for the express intent of translating and communicating the vision of the photographer to the audience?

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The rise and decline of popular photography

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I don’t normally write counterpoint articles, because honestly, you’re not going to change people’s minds most of the time; nor do I write ones in agreement because most of what can be said has been by the original author. However, Paul Perton’s post on DearSusan about the world hitting ‘peak photo’ – in much the same sense as ‘peak oil’ – struck a chord for a few reasons. First and foremost – I think it’s true, but not necessarily for the reasons stated in the original article. Secondly, I have to correct some inaccurate assertions made about myself. I’m also selecting my post title very carefully here, too: decline, not fall, because we’re in a period where interest in pictures, picture-making, picture-showing and the photographic ecosystem for the vast majority of people* seems to have dropped off; it’s not a case of decreased growth; everybody I speak to at all points of the value chain says the market** is actively contracting, has been for some time, and will continue to do so in future. What I’m interested in understanding is why, and what this means for the rest of us who instead doubled down and got more serious.

*Audience, creators, consumers. **Pros, manufacturers, retailers, studios etc.

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Creative integrity – or, the Struggling Artist Myth explained

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For the past six years, I’ve shot for pay full time, and occasionally for the better part of the preceding ten years before that. During the last six, the proportion of images of any sort shot with my own creative vision as primary motivation vs those shot with somebody else’s – i.e. for a client or as part of a commercial assignment – has swung from 100-0 to perhaps 5-95. This is expected, and both good and bad. It’s what actually had me stumped in my early pro days: every time I met a successful or established photographer, they almost never had a camera with them – or if they saw something spontaneous, they’d use their phone to shoot it. I wondered why, especially given their access to ‘better’. I think I know the answer to this, and to be honest: I’m not sure I or anybody else is going to like it. Read on if you dare.

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Working with multiple systems and formats in the field

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Q, H5D

A typical assignment for me may involve a) quite a variety of objectives, and b) quite a variety of hardware. Whilst the obvious solution would be to go with one complete system and suitable backups, this isn’t always possible for any number of reasons – from weight to lack of coverage in that system to cost or practical versatility. I had a recent email discussion with a reader and fellow pro over how to manage this in the most efficient way possible – both from a cost and logistic standpoint, but also a creative one. Often, suitable equipment for a broad range of optimal coverage* may require a significant shift in shooting mindset between different bits of hardware; for obvious reasons this becomes quite a bit more challenging when you’re working under pressure. I thought it might be an interesting topic to examine further…

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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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