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.
The presentation this week was by club members who are also members of the “Dream Team” which was started by former Reflex member Tony Cooney, who gave an excellent talk to the club on his time serving in Iraq at the beginning of this season. The Dream Team is a collective of models, M.U.A’s (Make Up Artists) and photographers, some of whom are also Reflex members, who meet once a month to shoot in a variety of venues on a given theme.
This links well into next weeks reflection on how the club has affected two members photography, because one of the ways that we improve is to get ideas and feedback from other photographers. Now it is a fact of life that some people are thin skinned and others immune to the criticism of others and it is also a fact that we are more likely to listen to positive criticism, of which there are two sorts. There is that which is founded in reason, and when reasons are given then we can learn and there is that which is founded on prejudice, the one and only way.
The first of these is worth listening to the latter is, largely, just somebody telling you at length that they did not take this photograph. That which is founded on experience and an open mind may be just as subjective as that which is founded in ego but is by far the more useful of the pair. If there is some form of standardisation to the process then there is a basis for a shared understanding. Mix this with practice (and make it fun) and we get somewhere on the road to results.
The Dream Team’s wide ranging interests and themes and the interconnectedness of the various art forms involved make for something much bigger in the end. Any fool can press a shutter button, daub their body in some paint and gurn at a camera, but that whole Gestalt thing is vastly different when specialists come together to produce a result outside their individual discipline. The inter-connectedness of those disciplines and the imaginations of the people involved make for something much larger.
There is a scientific basis to this, according to research at Stanford University that looked into the difference between finding our passion and developing one. It concluded that being told to find our passion maybe well intended but ultimately it is misplaced advice.
In the short term to find our passion we must go looking for it, for sure. In so doing we create deliberate actions and with such purpose comes results. In the short term, the very act of looking opens up our minds to new opportunities. Open up our minds to new opportunities and we open up ourselves to creative possibilities. Open up ourselves to creative possibilities and we may find our passion. It is what comes next that is critical for development of that passion.
It is the relaxing bit that comes with having found our true passion in life that does the damage. The comfort food of “True Passion” turns sour – maybe it’s our true yoghurt – when it comes to the hard bits. First off, in relative ignorance, we can kid ourselves that we are quite good at this thing, and that we have got it cracked. This is the brain looking for time off and we will get stuck there if we don’t become critical of our own work – creatively critical that is.
Learning by looking at the greats is as old as art itself. Photography is no exception. You can look at your Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Weegee, David Hockney, Martin Parr, Richard Avendon, Robert Capa, Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston make the list as long as you like, with the internet it can be done. Look at what they have published and have some sort of framework to go by BUT, we are not going to be them. Their time and pathway are different to ours, as well as their artistic sensibilities, no matter how much we admire them. What do we learn from what they see?
The point about that is that it is a great way to learn technique. It’s a great way to set ourselves challenges and that is where finding and developing take separate paths. If we go the development route we are much more likely to stick with it and to use the challenges and frustrations as spurs rather than drift way from something we found.
Collaborative working, under the right sort of atmosphere, is a great way of developing. Knowing the direction we are going in, or want to go in, forces us into certain choices. Again these are better if they are deliberate choices. The biggest factor in this is having somewhere there is a free flow of ideas and an informal collective can be a very good framework for that, especially when ideas are coming in from different disciplines.
Get this bit right and the way that the team works becomes more flexible and responsive to the overall goal – everybody is ending up with some great shots to add to their portfolio. Because there was time and effort put in then the capacity to use these skills, set ups, lighting, composition tools and so on again, under different challenges, adds to not just the photographers, skill sets.
When taking photographs of people, which the Dream Team essentially is, it can seem that it is the photographer who is doing the final work. OK the MUA’s/hairdressers/ got the subject’s look ready, which determines a successful outcome by altering and enhancing where light, shade and attention will fall, and the models give the look, clothes, posture and attitude, but it’s the tog who is determining the final composition. Sort of. Really it is the photographer who has the greatest opportunity to foul everything up and the easiest way to do that is not to take efforts with the other people in the process.
Essentially the photographer has to give credence to the fact that successful photographs of people are not taken they are given. It is a collaborative process.
Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.
But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.
One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.
Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.
So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.
On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.
There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.
We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).
So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.
Former club member Danny Thomas made a welcome return with a practical follow on to his presentation from April 2014 on wedding photography this time with his assistant Neil. A great deal of thanks is extended to our models Kelly Wolf-Rogers and Paul Walker. Danny is an experienced wedding photographer and his insights on the processes of one of the biggest days a couple can possibly have had broader implications for the practice of portraiture and event photography. Weddings are all about the couple and not about models or sitters and because it is about crowds, venues, individuals and their interactions; because it something that happens under intense time pressures; because you can make a list of 50 easily to 125 without difficulty “Must have” shots; because the more time you spend in post production the more you dilute your earnings. You have to be prepared and it pays to be a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista.
The chief determinant though, is your ability to communicate and that is what we are going to discuss this week.
That doesn’t mean that there is no room for skilled post production, there is, but you don’t want to be spending it on cloning out errant tree branches growing out of people’s heads and as Danny pointed out, car parks and security fences do not make for good backgrounds. Not an issue if it’s not in the shot in the first place. There is also a potential issue with that “Must have” shots list I can spot, and that comes down to the how and the why you chose that photographer to do your wedding, or from the live view side of the camera, why your client has chosen you. You may be hired on price, reputation, recommendation, random internet search, other personal/mystical/religious grounds or you may be hired for the look you give your photographs – your style. Be careful to find out, especially if you think it is the last one.
You may persuade/kid yourself that it is your style the client is buying (they are going to get it anyway but you really want that to help rather than hinder), but you cannot rule out any of the former and you need to find out how much of all these things feed into your clients choice. The client may even make suitably impressed noises about your style, but this is a complex buying decision. Your room to interpret needs to be set out and agreed beforehand, not as a limiter of your artistic interpretation but as a matter of managing your clients expectations. You need to have the conversation. That conversation is part of what the customer is paying for and conversations in general are what we are going to talk about this week. View it, if you will, as pre-production.
The whole talking thing is big. There are conversations you need to have before and after the event. If you don’t have the right conversations with prospective clients before the event you will not be part of the event, or to summarise in two words: “No sale”. Without going into the psychology of selling (and weddings can be stupendously expensive things these days, and there is a whole other conversation to be had about that in another place at another time) you and the client have to reach a win-win situation where both sides conception of value meet in a bargain. You need to set out the context of the event in the client’s mind. You need to have a clear idea of that context in your mind. You are being hired for your technical prowess, that is a given for the client, but it doesn’t make you right. “The customer“, in the words of Mr Selfridge himself, “Is always right”.
OK some customers are rude, some arrogant beyond belief, some controlling to the point that they are impossible to work with. Photographers are not immune from these behaviours either. You need to have the sales conversation(s) beforehand if you are going to make this work, if you are going to take the client. Some clients are bad for business and mental health. Photographers too. You decide. The client decides. Remember that it is a bargain that is being struck, both sides need to feel the win. Each customer will have different experiences of photographers they bring to the bargain and will have different levels of knowledge about photography. Some will have no particular idea what they require others will come with a list borne of hundreds of hours of internet research. The key, as Stephen R. Covey put it, “First seek to understand, then to be understood”.
Locations duly scouted and noted in good time and those notes reviewed on the day, the ceremony itself takes centre stage. Well centre in the sense that it is, in the modern way of things, the middle of three acts. The preparation, the ceremony, the reception. All have certain expectations and all have their own challenges. Today’s wedding photographer faces long, pressured days on location. The conversations now are more immediate but the need for them to be focused and constant is of the utmost importance. Directions have to be given, but they have to be both accurate and concise and appropriate in tone and manner. A Drill Sergeant communicates accurately and distinctly. This is great when the only option is to fix bayonets and charge. If the occasion has deteriorated that far leave. Otherwise working with people is by far the most productive method.
This is truly where the art of delivering customer satisfaction lies. Communicating with people who are not used to having their photograph taken at an event that is not about the photography until everything is done and dusted is precisely what this is about. You have to find those small windows in the timeline to take charge but not to give offence. This takes practice. Some people are better at this than others, agreed, but this is just a start. Going back to Covey again you need, as he set out, to “Sharpen the saw”. That means you need to keep practicing, the photography and the talking to people – when was the last time you took the camera out just to practice a certain technique? Let them know what is going on – don’t give them rambling explanations of your artistic vision. “Can you …I need you to … That will look great if you ….” and so on. And feedback. And encouragement. Encouraging feedback is twice as good.
The presentation phase can be the most nerve-wracking of all, after all there is no going back. It is still a communication process. If you want feedback, if you want customer recommendations and referrals, if you want to develop your business and your photographic practice then you have to engage with the client in order to leave the door open to future business. Just giving them a link to a Dropbox folder does not cut the mustard. You are selling a service. You may create a product, but you are selling a service. The thing about a service is it stops when you stop delivering it. The legacy is highly individualised, no two photographs are ever exactly the same because they are two different moments in history. Services are perishable and non standard. That’s why communication is such a big part of the deal.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 4 – Judgement Day.
Five images by five club photographers on a connected theme. That’s the general outline for the Kingswood Salver. As a brief it’s pretty wide and that makes it a challenging in more ways than one. Last Thursday marked the start of the 2015 Reflex Kingswood Salver campaign with an evening organised by Roger and Eddie around the theme of collectables. Sunday there was a club shoot at the Blaise Castle estate involving Red Riding Hood, a Huntress (Kelly Wolf Rogers), a Clown, a Knight (Paul Walker), a modern girl (Snehal “Tia” Panchbhai), a Pre-Raphelite (Rachel Pratt) , a Goth (Megan Gearing), two dozen club photographers, one drone, several dogs, random small children and assorted owners of the above wandering in and out of shot as happens in any public space. A busy week and a very enjoyable one, thank you to Myk, Steve D, Eddie and Roger for their sterling efforts in organising these two events.
A busy club night saw musical instruments, dolls, insects, back-lit fruit (you had to be there, and thanks Kevin), buttons, figurines (mainly of the Dr Who variety) and “Stuff” brought along by club members and photographed. Two things struck me, not unrelated. We had a limited time on the evening, but the primary focus of the event was to get people started and thinking along the lines of the competition rules, so both space and time were at a premium (though I have to say the hall we hire is a very good space for our purposes) and my first thought was that we would not have been able to do as much had we been shooting film. We would have needed more lights – you only get one go at the ISO and that is largely pre determined – we would have had far more white balance problems, we would be up to our ears in filters (80A 80B and 80C filters to cool the light and 81A 81B 81C to warm it up for the uninitiated, where A is the lightest and B the darkest filter in the range and for the nostalgic, scientifically minded or otherwise curious link here for the joys and wonders of JIS B 7125). For all the discussions on the merits of film v digital, digital is far, far simpler (mostly a-good-thing sometimes a not-so-good-thing), more flexible and one hell of a lot cheaper. In this case it enabled more people to take more photographs in a given space and time. The club Facebook and Fun Shoots pages had more than a few contributions because of it. A good start was made.
There was a mixture of table top and backdrop photography going on. The lighting question was partially resolved by the club lights, Gerry’s increasing collection of luminous paraphernalia the odd flash gun, reflector and of, course, the built in flash. You don’t need a huge variety of lighting equipment. Those advantages of using digital I spoke of above mean that you can use a variety of light sources. DIY lighting is a viable option for the amateur (and the odd professional I suspect) and LED lighting in particular is getting cheaper and more adaptable. For table top in particular, where you can make your own light tent/box for next to nothing either as a one off or something a little more permanent (beards and cardigans are optional). The other thing you need is a little information on light modifiers and you can easily practice this at home. Using a full backdrop? Then you can make your own softbox for probably even less. This was a well chosen warm up.
Sunday was forecast rain from lunch time, turning to heavy rain till mid afternoon. Yes we got rain, but not until the end of the shoot and there was plenty for everybody. A range of models, good and varied light for the most part and an all round positive attitude from everybody made it both fun and instructive. As usual there were plenty of people on hand to help out with technical queries and the models all gave it their best which made for variety. It is also a good opportunity to try out something new. I found that I could have a use for the 10fps motor drive and experimented with a combination of RAW and the fully programmed setting on the dial. Never used P before (only had the camera for 20 months or so – it has that many settings!), not in too much of hurry to use it again, but it gave me an idea of how it works in a variety of situations and can see when it might be useful. Still haven’t used the 3D setting – maybe next time. These outings are both social and educational. The Blaise Castle Estate (which got an early celebrity endorsement from Jane Austen) has more locations than we used for the day and is a fine public space. The history of it is well worth reading. We used the woodland in the morning and the “Castle” (built as a residence rather than a folly apparently) as a backdrop in the afternoon and the caves on our way out. The terrace of the main house, and the Dairy House were among the locations we didn’t use. It is a fine resource that was very nearly lost.
Next meeting ….
Speaker – Justin Quinnell – “Aristotle’s Hole” ….. Be there or be square. Though to be fair there is no evidence that the hole was square …… Cue Bernard Cribbins, better yet see link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website See link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website or check out Justin’s website.
And the link is: RCC_notice_5 March 2015
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
ROUND 3 Reflex Open Competition Deadline is 5th March. See the above link or the rules on the website for the size and submission requirements.
Apologies for the late post this week, some technical issues with my laptop.