Two evenings to get into this weeks blog, member Andro Andrejevic took us on journey through his development as a photographer over the last couple of years and a welcome return for the Wriggly Road Show, for a fascinating hands on meeting.
As well as the club, Andro also belongs to the Dream Team photographers collective, and cited both as playing a roll in his continuing development. The value of having a team and fellow photographers to bounce ideas off (as well as light) has a value and effect of it’s own.
Certainly it was good to see that on the evening of the Wriggly Roadshow club members were interacting not only with the animals (and not just as subjects of a photograph) but with each other. Again, and talking to some of the other members who told me as much, the interaction of ideas and experience proved a strong point of the evening.
But there is one question that arises when we are all taking pictures of the same subject, how do we make ours stand out? This is a question that has broader implications. Somebody decided, on a pretty arbitrary basis I suspect, that the world has 2.6 billion photographers in it based on the number of smart phone users. Now that is a loose definition of “Photographer” extended to anyone with a camera. I would argue for a narrower one.
A photographer is someone with a device, we will call it a camera, with a notion of what they want the image they are creating to look like. Deliberation rather than intent is the difference. Otherwise we are just a person with a camera. A skill set beyond pointing and shooting is required to be a photographer – and that is what we want to be.
There are still a lot of photographers, though. Put several of us together in front of a common subject and the differences are likely to be quite small. There isn’t a point where a certificate is issued declaring us a compentant photographer. There isn’t a set number of likes on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr that qualifies us thus.
And it is not about the kit we use. Another difference comes from coverting another lens, body, light modifier, whatever and making the most of what we have. Yes there are advantages to that but poor composition doesn’t look any better through Canon L glass than it does through a pinhole punched in tin foil and placed on a camera body cap (with a hole drilled in it).
But given similar skill levels, how do we make a difference?
Assuming we all know to take the photo from the subject’s eye level, avoid distracting backgrounds, get close to the subject so as to fill the frame with it, place the subject off centre and so on aren’t we going to get very similar if not identical images? Yes we are.
Therefore, we need to look for other ways to get that moment. Monochrome? Square crop? Composite? These are, for the most part, post production methods but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make part of the decision making process prior to pressing the shutter. Intent, vision, is a big part of making an image.
As individuals with a photogrpahic bent we are drawn to different things in a scene. We frame it, make part of it the focus of the scene, something that, at some level is unique to us, the time, the place and the subject. This uniqueness, this vision is something, that, as creators, we use as the soul, the spirit, that drew is to the scene in the first place.
To use this as a development tool we need to grow our creativity and creativity grows when we are forced to come up with solutions in the face of very limited resources. Such as shooting – people, animals, buildings, nature, shapes, colours, shadows, you name it – as part of a group.
The group is essentially working the same scene. In attempting to make it different, unique, ours, we have to work the angles, make that scarce, fleeting opportunity ours. If we are looking for one thing it’s the quality of light. Photography is all about the light.
Photography is also about doing and doing is the basis of improving, technically and artistically. More important is doing with a purpose. Get out and take some more pictures – it’s what we bought the camera for after all.
And as we are in a photographic club looking at other peoples work isn’t exactly difficult, but we live in a very visual world and to keep critically looking at the many images that are pushed at us daily requires a small but significant shift from being passive viewers to active, critical ones – I like this because …. that works because …. I would change ….
Revisiting our own work and trying a different crop, a vignette, monochrome, harder contrast, soft blur or any other variation is a variation of this, but gives us a better understanding of how we ourselves work and how we might change.
And last if not exactly least we need to take a few chances, even of they mostly turn out to be “Mistakes” because doing the above means that these mistakes are actually learning opportunities, if we let them be and continuous learning is the best way to develop as a photographer.
New season and a full programme to look forward to. We started with an evening of member’s summer photographs and I can honestly say I was delighted that this year that was from half the people in the room. There was a broad variety and a decent standard of photography, meaning that we all had the opportunity to take something new away, from location, angle, technique but above all, lighting. After all light is everything when we are talking about photography.
Looking at other people’s images is a great way to develop our own when we look beyond the initial reaction to what we like, and what we would change about angle, subject, editing – and then go out and try it. it’s called looking critically and it is something that we can all learn to do, but if we don’t apply it it’s just called looking at pictures. Pleasant enough but not what a photographer does. It is what delineates a photographer from a bloke-with-a-camera (or a woman-with-a-camera though the kit-bores I have met have been male universally).
We have a full programme again this year – our thanks to the hard working Programme Team, there is a lot, lot more that goes into it than meets the eye. Next week we are taking a look at food photography (part 1 of 2), and the evening will be split between a tutorial session and a practical after break, or for those who want to get stuck in then the option to start with the practical is there. For those of you who want to get a start then head over to this B&H video on YouTube which covers a lot.
Now that isn’t to say that you are going to walk away an expert, but it does give you a way into something that is easy to practice basic techniques to which you can apply any number of hacks, mods and tricks to get that image you have in your mind’s eye. Like everything else it is down to practice, practice, practice with that critical eye we mentioned above. An important qualification here. Critical does not mean trashing, your own or anyone else’s work. To work it must be open and honest, it is about the image not the photographer and certainly not about the critic’s ego nor the kit the photographer used to take the image.
Psychologists have evolved a thing called the 10 second rule. Negatives are easier for us to process (assuming the best preparing for the worst is as good a description of a balance, but maybe that is just me). Use the sandwich approach. Good-Improve-Good. Each good point we keep in our mind for 10 seconds because our brains seem wired to give more weight to negativity (Rick Hansen memorably uses the analogy “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”). The 10 second rule balances out this negativity to some degree. The improve section goes along the lines: “The next time I make this photograph I will …”. We can then look for similarities between images and go out and try our remedies and/or new things. That is where a notebook comes in handy.
Taking and making notes is a good development tactic. This can be about the process, the set up, the lighting, the equipment, techniques, general observations and or reminders or even random thoughts generated as a consequence of taking or thinking about a photograph. Artists sketch books are a centuries old idea and they work, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. Photographers are no exception to this. Monographs and sketch books are always a good source of inspiration.
As ever there is the idea of the photographic project. Food is one of course and that is where we will start in the club. Each week of the club calendar is a little project in its own right if we care to make it so. The club, through its Flickr and Facebook accounts is a place where we can get some of the feedback that helps with our development, just post and ask for feedback. Constructive feedback, such as we talked about above, is the fuel for development in any field, photography is no exception.
So, in preparation, we can start reviewing what we have done in our own collections of close up photography, including table top sessions at the club and start thinking about composition in a situation where we control all the elements including the light.
And as we said at the top of this piece, it’s all about light.
2017-2018 Season Round One of the Open Competition (DPI) was an evening of considerable variety. The prints will be judged next session. Congratulations to Wendy Goodchild for her winning entry and thanks to our judges, multiple award winning husband and wife team Peter Brisley and Sue O’Connell, who are back next session to judge the prints. We have had to split the judging for this round because of the volume of DPI’s in particular, but the number of print entries, gratifyingly, is also up. Our thanks to our judges for being so accommodating.
What was striking was the variety of subjects and styles on display. This we can take as a good thing because we get to see other people’s interpretations of subjects we have almost certainly chanced our arms at in the past. There is also an advantage, not immediately obvious, in watching our and fellow club members progress over the course of a season. Thinking about what we do is an important part of developing our art. There is a difference between someone who has taken 10,000 photographs and learned from their mistakes and someone who has taken one set of mistakes and repeated them 10,000 times (with several, increasingly expensive, kit upgrades in the interim, no doubt). There is a difference between a photographer and a-bloke-with-a -camera after all. Well, most of the time, if not for everyone and increasingly for next-to-no-money whatsoever.
Yet we cannot get anywhere meaningful without the effort. There really aren’t “bad” cameras anymore. Ditto lenses. This rather points to the photographer as the weak link in the chain. At some point we want to be more than just the button pusher. Creativity requires effort and lots and lots and lots of practice. Not a blinding revelation and not the first time it has been mentioned on this blog, but certainly it is a truth of learning. Anything we learn pretty much follows that pattern. We know this so why not use it?
Critique, like we get in competition rounds, but not exclusively restricted to that, is a good source of fuel for our development. Structured in its delivery and used as a starting point, or rather a restarting point, if we were to take that image and again and apply the observations we have been given, would the image be more effective at relaying its story?
Like or dislike of an image is natural and almost instant. When sorting through a large number of images for editing or weeding a good rule of thumb is if it doesn’t hold your attention for two seconds (or more) bin it. Critiquing requires we go beyond the immediate reaction. Even the most experienced of judges can suffer a failure to understand. A good judge will be honest about this – and we are also our own judges so I am not just talking about club photo competitions – and give us a reason or set of reasons why not. But it will be structured and it will provide information we can consider the next time we have the camera out. The key is the word because. This is, absolutely, the key.
For sure critique needs a framework to be meaningful and for sure it is subjective, but there is no one method, and every time we look at it we take a slightly different path to reflect this. This might give the impression that it is not very effective. Yet no artist ever develops without nurturing one. The same way as having a purpose in taking the pictures we want rather than the pictures that present (that’s not to say we shouldn’t be open to the unexpected) is part of the same process.
Look at the opportunities the club presents. Practicals for sure, are pretty obvious. Ditto the competition rounds. Speakers are a chance to get ideas from, to look for alternatives and also to interact with the material presented, to say I like that because … or I don’t like that because … I would alter that … I will try that … how did they do … Whatever else, you cannot beat a bit of deliberate action.
And take lots of pictures.
And look at lots of pictures. There are plenty of sites on the web to give us ideas. Flickr, 500px and other general sites to more specific and curated ones, like the Magnum Agency and the stock photo sites like iStock or Shutterstock, or social media groups like those to be found on Facebook or sites like Instagram. Look, but look critically.