Last meeting of the season and we had a wide-ranging presentation from Bob (Fowler) Ruth (Roberts) and Bob (Bishop) from Backwell Camera Club on the whys and wherefores and, above all, opportunities that this hobby of ours presents. Good stuff.
As outlined in last weeks blog, we go on our annual Mainly-Thursday-Road-Trips for the next seven weeks and we hope as many members as possible can join us. Although they are largely unconnected they do give an excellent basis for members to mandate their own little project.
A photo project is about straitjacketing our good intentions into a purpose and constraining them with a timetable. Essentially, as has been written here before, making an appointment with ourselves. This is one where we can, for instance, make a narrative of one or two photographs from each of these evenings to present on next seasons week 1. The Doctor is in, as they say.
There are as many ways to approach the idea of a project as there are things we can use as our subject. As per usual, I am going to bang on about opportunities falling to the prepared, thinking through just what is involved helps us to set out some priorities. So, taking a lead from our presenters, shoot only black and white on the club summer photo-outings, as an example.
So, first off, with a few last-minute adjustments we have a who, a where and a when. The decision to go black and white gives us a glimpse of how. What is currently a little vague and we need to sort that out before we can start to dig down with the why, which is where the real development starts.
Now the why question can have several answers pretty much anytime that we ask it. In this case, we have to hit on the one that feels best to us. So in this case, shooting black and white on the club outings, we need to sort out what it is we expect as photographers from doing so.
It has oft been said that where we begin determines where we end up. The most common one to us as photographers is a desire to get better at shooting a subject, or a style, or something along those lines. Off we go to the internet and Bob’s your Uncle!
Well, something like that anyway. We are better informed, more often than not, but still unsatisfied. The reason often has its roots in not really having a definite destination in the first instance. Let’s look a little closer at our black and white example.
First off why black and white? One of the most common reasons I have come across are variations of the “It helps/makes me see things differently”. When you remove colour from the equation emphasis shifts to the other, compositional, elements. Lines, shape, texture, contrast and tone take on more of the burden of the feel of the photograph, as well as the look.
Looking at things differently, deliberately, critically, every once in a while, develops our photographic eye and with it we see new and more opportunities because we see our surroundings as photographers rather than navigators.
And this becomes easier because, by shooting in black and white, we eliminate the distraction of colour. And colour is a very powerful part of our world psychologically. Shooting for black and white is just as demanding as colour. A bad photograph is a bad photograph, monochrome will not redeem it, but it does force us to look at things differently.
This absence of colour means, to successfully produce an image, we have to concentrate on finding other elements, those listed above, that combine to make what we have in our viewfinder compelling on a larger screen or in a print.
And in this combination, we are attempting to create an emotion on our viewers. Black and white can look very broody. Deep contrast, rich blacks, appeals to the eye and to the emotions. And, because of the history of photography, black and white has a timeless feel about it that gives it more weight.
Somewhere in these observations, and it does not matter which one and there are certainly others, is the key to why we want to take those type of photographs. It is the one that appeals. So it could be I want to shoot a black and white project. Why? Because I want to explore [Insert Reason Here].
A project, at its basic level, needs to have a who, a what, a why, a when, a where and a how. Miss out one of those and you are going to end up a pile of images which you will spend countless hours fiddling around with in post-production, which is ok if that is your thing, but it is not a productive project in and of itself.
And to really nail it there is a Japanese Proverb, much loved by the engineers at Toyota. If you want to know the answer ask, five times, why? The idea is that somewhere the fifth time of asking you have the primary reason, or in terms of our project, our destination. Surprisingly effective in all walks of life.
So why gives us the reason, how gives us the technique, what gives us the subject, who gives us the sources we can refer to and the people who can help us (this is a Camera Club after all!), when gives us the finish or review date and the times we go a-shootin’ and where a geography we can maximise our opportunities in. Spend 10 minutes sorting these things out and your project will be a lot more effective in terms of your personal development.
See you in Bath on Thursday!