Repost: Titling and Storytelling

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I’ve always believed a strong image should be able to stand on its own without a title – after all, sometimes images and titles get separated (quite often, actually) – and if it isn’t self-explanatory to some degree without it, then the image itself isn’t clear. However, a good title certainly enhances impact of an image; it can explain, direct, add another layer of meaning, put into context, force the thoughts of the audience in a certain direction, create contrast or tension between perceptual reality and actual reality (visual content vs asserted content or vice versa) or merely serve as an easy method of reference to an image. I’ve frequently been asked how I pick a title for my images; today’s essay explores that in a bit more detail. There really isn’t a lot of science in it, though a large vocabulary probably helps, as does a ready store of cultural references. Firstly, I don’t think choosing – or perhaps more appropriately, creating a title can be entirely spontaneous and retrospective. In fact, it really all boils down to the fourth important thing.

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Shifts in subject matter over time

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2017

A recent discussion with some photographer friends centred around changes in our output over time – with almost all of us present (7/8) remarking that what we shot now was very different from what we shot when we started out – or even halfway through our careers. The eighth man was a relative beginner, with 3-4 years of experience compared to the 10 (or 15, or even 20+) years in the rest of the group’s case. The funny thing was that most of us never even noticed it happening; it sort of just did. In a lot of cases, we don’t really feel that different about working with our current subjects as compared to earlier ones, either. I left thinking that a lot of what is commonly perpetuated in the art and commercial worlds (“So-and-so must be great because they has 30 years of experience shooting the same thing”) may well be both untrue and a deliberate delusion.

Here’s where the alternative working title for this post comes in: You won’t be shooting the same thing forever.

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A small change in workflow…

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…can yield surprisingly major results. Think of this post as something of a continuation of the previous On Assignment; the reasons why will become apparent shortly. Over the last year or so – I think coinciding with switching to Hasselblad – my shooting/curating workflow has become quite different, and I think the shift in my output has as much to do with the change in process as hardware. In some ways, the change is due to hardware limitations – but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I’ve always done in the past is some level of during-shoot curation; both for technical qualities (exposure, sharpness etc.) and aesthetic/ creative ones. During personal or teaching outings, I’d be much more disciplined and ruthless in throwing away what I’d consider marginal images; for client work, somewhat more relaxed – keeping doubles and variations just in case (which has proven fortuitous in the past).

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The art and science of observation

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Pigs sometimes fly – if you look at the right moment.

Curiously, the question I’m most frequently asked (right after ‘what camera should I buy?’ and that ilk) is ‘how do I make my photos better?’* This is a dangerously loaded question: for many reasons: it assumes firstly that there’s something wrong with your images (in whose opinion?); that I am the arbiter of judgement (I am not, and cannot be, because like all audiences – I am biased); that my personal taste and opinion is in line with yours (inevitably, we all differ) and that you didn’t already manage to get the best possible image to your own taste given the circumstances under which the image was made. My point is that ‘better’ is always subjective: nobody can pass absolute judgement on an image. We can merely give suggestions as to why we may prefer one variation or adjustment over another. But I do believe there’s one thing we can all do more of – and never enough of.

Think of today’s post as a coda to the compromise of the decisive moment article from a few months back.

*Of course, the question is often asked as a thinly veiled way to seek justification for a hardware purchase, but we’ll discount such instances. In very, very few situations is hardware truly the limiting factor, and if you’re good enough to maximise your current setup, you’ll already know it without having to ask.

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Off topic: on coffee

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Anybody who spends any length of time in the creative industry will soon realise that it’s really coffee, not money, that fuels everything from ad campaigns to shoots to postproduction. Models don’t shun it like energy drinks because you can have it without sugar, and in small (espresso) volumes, and it’s still just as potent. It’s also legal and relatively easy to obtain when travelling, and you can bring your own without being questioned about what those pills or powders are. I’ve long been reliant on the drink (finance and consulting run on it, too) but only in the last couple of years developed more than a passing interest in it. Like the drink, think of today’s post as a little refresher/ break from the photographic content…

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Off topic: On customer service

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Pro photographers have to be two things: able to deliver (i.e. technically and creatively competent) and fully aware that the whole business hinges critically on being a relationship game: if anything, this is more important than the execution. We are not just service providers, but in a way also providing confidence and reassurance on a product that is both intangible and highly subjective. Uncertainty can be self-reinforcing and the beginning of a negative spiral. Yet the longer I’m in this business, the more shocked I am by what I’m seeing – especially at the ‘developing’ end; both from a country/locality point of view and an immature service provider’s point of view.

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Diminishing returns and cutoff points

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The look of money evaporating in frustration

Written as a counterpoint to the earlier justification for being a lens hoarder, I have a feeling this is going to be one of my most unpopular posts ever. It will be widely circulated by I will be metaphorically burned at the stake for it, because it will not make me popular with camera companies, fanboys, enthusiasts or anybody who has a single bone in their body that appreciates a good piece of hardware – I know I do, and it pains even me to write it. But the common sense logician in me demands a stage, so here we go.

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Optical finder or EVF?

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Continuing on from the ‘right tool’ discussion, I thought I’d address one of the recurring topics amongst photographers: optical finder, or EVF? Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and oddly they seem to be converging towards the middle of late. That’s to say: optical finders on the whole are getting worse, and electronic finders are getting better. Where does this game end? Is there an ideal solution for you? Let’s take a look…

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Discussion points: An ideal format?

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Flexible? yes. Practical? Not exactly…

Today’s post will be the first in the experimental ‘discussions’ theme proposed a little while back.

We all know there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ format or system – there are myriad considerations for selection, based on creative properties and technical ones – for example, depth of field, dynamic range, ‘graphic-ness’, color depth, shooting envelop, ability to deploy under certain conditions that might be weight restricted, system completeness for specialised lenses, camera movements etc. And this is before we even get into any thoughts around cost (for hobbyists) or return on investment (for pros). In most cases, we’re left either stuck with a single system that fills all needs but perhaps not perfectly, or multiple systems and formats and the inconvenience of both overlap and lack of it. For example – I love to create graphic images with a lot of compression and infinite depth of field, but this requires a narrow angle of view and thus longer equivalent focal length. I could do it with my H6D-100c, but the sensor on that is so large that I can clearly see a difference in focal plane at f8 and just 150mm-e, with a subject 100m away. Clearly, this is not workable – so I also have an E-M1.2 and Canon 100D with their respective telephotos for that kind of work. The graphic intent of the output means that limited dynamic range and crushed blacks aren’t so much a problem as desired most of the time.

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Why the right hardware is liberating

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It might actually be better to start off with the corollary: why the wrong gear is frustrating, or at best, obstructive. First principle: what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for somebody else, and vice versa. This may seem obvious, but the number of people who are chasing and lusting after hardware that simply doesn’t make sense for them is quite mind boggling – the internet seems to be full of them. Of course, it’s highly likely that those who have found camera nirvana are simply out there making pictures and have stopped thinking about the whole gear train – it seems much more productive to me to spend time making pictures instead of scouring fora for obscure solutions and rumour sites hoping for magic bullets. It boils down to this: most people make different images. Considering this objectively, it means that for different objectives, different tools are required. Yet what I can’t understand is the obsession with finding a one-size-fits-all; the manufacturers want to do this because it makes economic sense, but the whole point of having choice is so we as consumers do not have to.

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