Le flaneur

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From Wikipedia: “Flâneur (pronounced [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym is boulevardier.” A holdover from the class divides of 19th and early 20th century in Europe when the gentry could spend their time engaged in leisurely walking, observing and enjoying the cities, the concept might sound a bit indolent today but is actually still quite apt: these were the original street photographers, most of whom went without cameras. Fast forward half a century and we had the tourists; who perhaps could be thought of as serial visitors herded in predefined courses from important sight to sight. In parallel, photography went from an academic and scientific curiosity to being a mass-medium for personal recording, and then public exhibition. And then a means to show off: this brings us to the present day.

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Thoughts on portraiture

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I have never been a portrait shooter – and as much as I find satisfaction (the reasons why we will discuss in due course) in a well-executed portrait, I don’t think it will ever be the mainstay of my photographic repertoire. The reason is both simple and complex: a portrait is not a photograph of the physical person – it’s a visual representation of your relationship with that person. A sort of mirror, if you will; even though all subjects reflect light and thus the environment to some degree, there are more and less reflective ones. Highly polished objects can land up being entirely representations of their surroundings only, with the merest interference of interpretation; one of the tenets I live by in watch/jewellery photography has always been ‘light for the reflection’. That’s not really relevant to portraiture, or is it?

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The habits of successful photographers, part II

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There are very few behind the scenes photos of me working – you’ll find out why below.

Continued from Part one. Today’s post concludes with an examination of the commercial part: whilst there is a good portion that’s simple common business sense (or not common, judging from the overall failure rate of small businesses) – there are elements and applications that are specific to photographers only, which I’ve tried to distil here.

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The habits of successful photographers, part I

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Sormcloud, or an image for me and me alone. I like it, regardless of what anybody else thinks: the ability to create this to my liking, present it and not give a damn is quite high on the elements I’d consider photographically ‘successful’.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is ‘how do/did I/you make a career from photography?’ People are inevitably displeased when I tell them there is no formulaic answer or one size fits all – for the simple reason that each set of circumstances is different, and the industry keeps changing at an ever more rapid pace. The question itself probably needs to be broken down into two portions anyway: being a successful photographer is not the same as being a commercially successful photographer, though there can and usually is some significant overlap. If the definition of success – at least from an artistic point of view – is to make images that oneself is happy with, then it’s somewhat easier to define a roadmap here – and we will do so below. If it’s seeking popular affirmation, then I’m the wrong person to ask else I’d be shooting cats/ bikinis/ coffee etc. with a million filters. As for the commercial part – I’ve served enough repeat clients and communicated with enough pros at the top of their game to be able to identify things we all do in common; whilst it’s not a guaranteed recipe, it’s probably a good starting point. Hopefully some of you might find it useful. MT

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Why SOOC still isn’t really workable

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Of all the 1500+ posts I’ve made here, I can’t recall ever exploring why SOOC (straight out of camera) images are – let’s not say ‘bad’ – but inherently compromised, at least given the current state of technology. No matter how ‘natural’ a company claims its out of camera rendition to be, something will always be missing for the simple fact that no current camera can read your mind.* Every situation/ scene/ composition is different; every photographic intent is different and every single set of ambient parameters (light, subject position, etc) varies from image to image – maybe not very much, but enough that it doesn’t take a whole lot of change to make a very different image than the one you intended. Two things here: intention, and uniqueness. And uniqueness is at the core of why we find ourselves compelled to make a photograph at all: something stood out enough to make us sit up, take notice and either want to remind ourselves of it again later, or share it with the world.

*I am leaving myself room for some seriously heavyweight machine learning algorithms in case this article is read in posterity. And more on the machine learning later.

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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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Discussion points: photographic rules

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Much has been written about photographic guidelines or rules that are supposed to guarantee you – or at least lead to a high chance of success – an interesting or balanced image. I’m not about to reinforce those, but neither am I about to dismiss them completely. Instead: let me offer you an alternative take on The Pantheon of Photographic Dogma like ‘the rule of thirds’ and ‘best light at dawn and dusk’ and ‘blur only your backgrounds’ etc. Important: it is not to be confused by the limitations imposed by the physiology of the way we see: we cannot help notice bright colours because this is the way our brains and eyes are wired. We cannot help but notice abrupt highlight clipping (but not black shadows) – because we cannot change the way the cells in our retinas are laid out. Apply some scepticism to internet pundits who can’t differentiate between man-imposed rules and those which are physiologically limited. With that, let’s move on to the discussion background.

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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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