Tag Archives: style

When vision is tantamount

It is pretty easy to get wrapped up in the hype of a new lens – oohhh the wide aperture, and ohhh imagine the depth of field. In fact, there are some persons who get so wrapped up in the capabilities of a lens that they purchase it for one purpose and once that purpose has been achieved, that lens rarely gets to see the light of day ever again. Essentially, the person becomes a lens collector – purchasing a lens for very specific purposes without exploring what are the other creative capabilities of a lens or what different thought processes need to be taken into consideration to properly use the lens on a more regular basis.

Enter my argument for having a vision. A lens not only grants a user certain new freedoms – shallower depth of field, longer focal distance, wider angles, sharper images etc. but it also places other restrictions. Understanding those strengths and weaknesses gives you a better understanding of that lenses’ capability and gives you an intrinsic ability to somewhat predict the capability of the lens. And, when you can predict the output, you are in a position to visualize the potential in a scene through both the restrictions and capabilities of a lens.

Knowing the capabilities puts you in the position to start experimenting with the scene to allow you to take the strongest image possible with the lens that you posses. That then becomes a recipe for creativity and thinking through an image – making a photograph rather than relying on the camera to just take it for you. More importantly you stop thinking that you need the next best, ultra, deluxe lens just to take that one photograph and you start thinking along the lines of someone who is not restricted by his/her equipment but only by their capacity for imagination and their willingness to invest in creating something different.

Taming the machine; Taming yourself.

I am not sure if this is the most appropriate title for this post but I am going to leave it as is for now as I think it summarizes what I believe is most important in the following text. I wanted to take the opportunity to revise some of the advice that has been circulated by camera companies and pro photographers as a means of improving oneself as a photographer. Although the intention is well meant, I believe that some of it is not entirely accurate; so let’s examine this.

Two of the most common suggestions for improving one’s photography are to take more pictures or to get better equipment; It all depends on who you ask really. If you asked most professional photographers the response would be to take more pictures. If you were to ask some of the persons who actually sell camera equipment, the response will most likely to get a different camera. One of the problems I have with the first argument is that it lacks a truly organized purpose. “Take more pictures“, if that were the simplest formula to improving one’s photography then there would be tons of persons going professional and putting out pictures with ever increasing levels of  creativity but that is not the case. I think that the argument is so vague that it fools someone into thinking that by just continually taking photos that you can improve immensely. I think what the statement lacks is the importance of having a feedback loop – a continual adjustment of the information gathered in the process of making the photograph – so that the end result matches what you had intentioned. I think the statement can be better explained this way. Determine first what you want to express through your image, then take as many images as possible, adjusting camera settings and perspective as needed, to better capture the intended expression. If at first you are not quite sure what it is you want to express, I recommend taking some test photographs to get an idea of the image through the frame and using that as a starting point.

On the other argument of “getting better equipment“, that is only partly true. It is true that getting better equipment does increase the mechanical quality of an image – sharpness, the amount of detail that can be captured, the dynamic range of the image and the amount of thinking required to determine optimal settings for taking a photo. However, better equipment is not a substitute for vision. A camera is a tool; it merely reproduces the scene in front of it without regard as to what you may feel about a scene and what in the scene draws your attention most. For example, you may be taking a photograph of a scene which is by its nature dark but the camera decides to put the entire scene to middle grey, boosting the ISO, to get as much as possible in detail. Sure, the image will probably be mechanically accurate in capturing more detail. But, if the intention is to show the scene as a dark foreboding place, you may just want to have dark areas and shadows in your scene not infinite detail. Like wise, the same can be said if there is too much light in a scene like a backlit scene. By default the camera will try to darken the scene to keep everything within the dynamic range of the sensor..  This may not be the intention of the photographer  and he/she may want to have certain parts of the scene be rendered as pure white and without detail. Generally, any camera can take good enough pictures. But, it depends on the photographer to recognize the limits of his/her equipment and what it is that he/she wants to capture. If you work within the boundaries of your camera’s limitations you should still be able to capture images which reflect what you want to express. However, if there is a need to work outside of the limitations, only then I would consider entertaining the idea of getting different equipment to extend your expressive abilities.

To summarize, I think the only way that we can improve ourselves as photographers is to tame the machine, your camera, and ultimately, taming ourselves, determine what we want the outcome of the shot to be.. As a closing note, I think that author and photographer David DuChemin said it best, “Equipment is good, Vision is better.”

Getting a feel for the moment

Have you ever wondered how the “Great Photographers” have been able to capture a scene or a moment in such a way that the image becomes memorable or even iconic? It is because the photographer came to connect with not just the subject matter but the surrounding environment and was able to organize the elements or move himself or herself into position to best capture, visually, the elements which most represent the moment. That is what I refer to as getting a feel for the moment.

It is an ability to get attuned to the subject matter so much so that you recognize, by gut-feeling, how best to portray it and produce the strongest possible image. Now, it is possible to create strong images through manipulation of colour, contrast, lightness and darkness. But, applying that as a formula to your images will leave them without the one thing that I believe matters most – emotion. The adjustments become mechanical at best and do not in any way magnify or better express the mood or emotion of the image. It is possible to create a strong image without excessive manipulation you just have to better express the mood.

To summarize, I believe that every image should be rendered in a manner which best suits the mood and manipulations should be applied as merely corrections to adjust the image so that it better expresses the mood.

Pleasing Everyone vs Pleasing Your Audience

I remember reading an extract from the book “Fast Track Photographer” where the photographer stated that most photographers compete in the photography market and fail to compete in the photography market. What he was simply saying is that some people are caught up in selling a photograph while others know what photograph the can produce and instead sell a brand which guarantees a particular quality of photograph. How does this relate to the title of this post? Let me explain.

Well, creating your own style of photographs as opposed to photographing just what appeals to the market creates an exclusive audience. It creates an audience who finds appeal in the sort of photographs you produce and that ensures a market for your photography and allows you to set a price on your photographs beyond those who compete in the photography market.

However, creating generically appealing photos which appeal to almost anyone creates an issue. You are no longer exclusive, your photographs can be duplicated by anyone on the street so there is nothing which ensures your position in the market unless you take some exceptional photographs. And, limits what and how much you can charge for your photographs.

So if you want to really compete in the market you have to figure out what really makes your photographs stand out in the crowd and capitalize on that otherwise you will not be selling to your market. You will be selling to a more general, less exclusive market.

March to the Beat of Your Own Drum

Last year, I spent about 3 months studying the styles and techniques of various other photographers  whose work I came across online. My objective was to enrich my knowledge of photography, and in so doing develop my own style. What I achieved was further from my goal than I would have desired.

In the three months of learning on how to improve things like tonality in my black and white photographs and developing a better understanding of my editing software, my photography prints improved – visually. Indeed they were more eye catching and stunning but slowly I noticed that my photography did not look anything like what I had started off with.  These improvements on my photography did more than improve they radically changed it to the point it was unrecognisable. Sure, they had this great magazine appeal but I didn’t feel the  deep, emotional, timeless connection to them any more.  My photographs were no longer my own.  Instead, they were those of the authors who had mastered those techniques I had picked up along the way. I had become a human photocopier. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it is bad to learn the styles of other photographers; I am saying it is bad when you don’t move past that and make elements of the style your own – i.e. change it so that the photograph expresses your vision.

After going through that funk for three months I saw an anime series where one of the characters was an artist. Whenever she did a piece she went almost into a trance. She was in her own zone – “Listening to the beat of her own drum.” Suddenly, I realized what I had forgotten. I had completely pushed a side the very essence of my style of photography. I had forgotten to listen to that little voice inside of me that drew me to a scene.

So here is a little tip for the New Year’s resolution. March to the beat of your own drum.