Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?

Well, before I get into this more deeply, I’m going to recite a short story I sometimes tell when I do my talks….. it goes like this…

When I first started in digital photography, I was using a Canon 350D, I thought it was great, and I even had two lens….  A 17-55 F4 I think it was, and a small 60mm macro.  Excitedly, I joined a local camera club too.  I’d done my research (I thought) and looked at what was around, and chose the one nearest to my home – only a 10 minute or so drive away.  

That first night – eager to learn new things – I turned up, camera in hand – to realise that no-one took cameras to a camera club !!  OK, lesson learned….. but they had a competition on that first night – I forget what the theme was, but suspect there was one……. Anyway – there was obviously a winner at the end, and whatever it was (I honestly can’t remember it now) – I was impressed by it – the photographer had done something I must have thought was miraculous in photoshop or some such thing.

Impressed, and probably a little nervous to approach a photographer of such skill, I tremulously asked how they had done it…. The answer….. well, somewhat disappointing really – he said “if I told you how I’d done it – then you would know”….. and then he walked away……

That off the cuff comment stayed with me over the years, and as I slowly improved, changed clubs, moved house and so forth, the remark still stayed with me…….  In fairness, over time I met any number of photographers who were more than generous with their time and explanations and help generally.  Folks who mentored me through my LRPS, and my ARPS, and other things too – not just photography, but the ability to make spreadsheets for my AFIAP…. In the end far too many to mention individually,  (But if you are reading this, you will know who you are)…

Why am I telling you this?

Well, at some point, I decided that if I ever reached those giddy heights where someone asked me how I did something – I’d tell them – I’d spell it out in words of not more than one syllable if necessary…..  and somehow, some way – here I am, doing talks for clubs on how to be more creative in their photographic art life.  There are no secrets in photography.

What I talk about ad nauseam is the need for the photographer to forget the camera – and learn to use it instinctively.  There’s a real reason to not be thinking about buttons and dials – there’s a need to create without the camera being a hinderance.

The ability to assess ISO, Fstop and shutter speed for instance, is critical – it is this sort of thing together with a sense of imagination and creativity that goes towards the finished product.

One of the subjects that comes up most, is my ARPS panel – made up of multiple images in each finished shot.  Up to 70 in one case, and as few as 20 in another.  

It’s here if you fancy a look…..

Even though I finished this panel nearly two years ago now, they seem to be as fresh (to me anyway) now, as they were when I made them.  

Most times when I talk about these, I go into some detail about how I made them, and I’m always flattered when people ask me for the formulae…..  and in essence, there really isn’t any right or wrong way to make these, it’s just practice and working with enormous files in photoshop.  Also, the need to accept that some subjects just don’t work, and others do – quite unexpectedly – sometimes.  Others just ‘flow’.

Where does inspiration come from though? – well in my case it started with a painting, by James McNeill Whistler  – it’s called ‘Sea and Rain’ and I really loved the softness of the whole image, and the fact that the figure on the beach is nearly translucent.  This combined with images created by a Canadian Photographer, and the Catalan Pep Ventosa set me off on a trail lasting over 18 months.   Practicing with different subjects, and refining how the entire process worked.


Most flattering though is when a photographer takes the bull by the horns – uses the techniques I have ‘taught’ them, and produces something special.

Such an image came in from Roy Goulden of Freeland Camera Club – we emailed back and forth for some time – with me suggesting different ways of dealing with this technique, and finally, he nailed it. He has very kindly allowed me to use his image in this blog post.

Burnham On Sea by Roy Goulden – Freeland Camera club

I take an intense delight in seeing people collect ideas, run with them, and make them their own – and, it’s even better if their results turn out to be better than my own…..

Why do photographers keep ‘secrets’?  I have no idea, other than it might give them a sense of superiority….

Ultimately – whatever it is that inspires you, whether another photographer, painter, or any creative, it has to motivate you to ‘do’ something.  Look around for ideas, look at other peoples work – ask how they did it if necessary, and then use that inspiration to make something uniquely your own.

The Covid Zoom Inspiration

Sometime during March, my camera club closed down because of Covid19 – there was no big announcement, just a quiet closure, and a sudden end to the programme of events that were scheduled.

One member acquired a Zoom account for the benefit of maybe half a dozen people, so we could keep in touch.  It soon expanded though to include the whole of the club, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

What this blog post is about, is the results of that closure, and what happened afterwards.

We had a couple of meetings to see how it would go, and, when it became apparent that most of the membership were keen, it fell to a group of three to work out the programme that would ensue.  All the competitions had stopped, and there had been no club committee meetings, so we plodded on.

What happened was one of the best programmes of speakers I have ever had the privilege to watch – ranging from people with little experience, to solid professionals with years of speaking experience, based around the world.

The common denominator was the software called Zoom, which seemed to float to the top at the start of the Covid lockdown.  

I certainly had never heard of it before, and I gather a lot more people were in exactly the same situation.  At the start, there seemed to be glitches, and some security issues, but the company seemed to get on top of that pretty quickly, and ironed out the problems.  Pretty soon I saw that many businesses were using it as a conferencing tool, including our own government.

There is always (for some) a fear of new technology, but under these trying circumstances, I have been pleased to see people I would have considered to be wary of this sort of meeting – happily joining in after a training session.  Even some who said they were sure they wouldn’t like it, have been converted.  

Of course – it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not a place you would feel comfortable, then that is fine. (But you’re missing such a lot!)

However – the results of the talks, coming as quickly as they have (and still do) has been inspirational.  

Not just the club, but the Royal Photographic Society too, has put on a series of events and talks that simply could not be missed…. So what is the result so far….

Well, a cornucopia of ideas from an eclectic mix of photographers and artists.  

We started with Art Nude, and nudes in the landscape, reflecting professionalism, and images you would be happy to show your aged mother.  Not a genre I was planning on trying any time soon, but the photographs and the expertise was unmistakable.

From here we moved to stories, told by different images, and a whole talk and photographs based  entirely on a work of fiction.  Some stunning work by a master of wildlife photography, who showed us how he was able to attract birds into his garden, and gave us a tour round with excellent photography.

Based on this talk, the club ran a competition based on ‘birds’ – a fun competition with a very loose theme – images ranged from model kingfishers, to easter chicks in a nest of creme eggs.

So what have I learned?

Well, images can be produced that are interpretations, and not records of events, the subject comes first, and the images second.  Planning is key, and if you are creating your own photographs from a work of fiction, then the image must be moved by the story itself.

The differences in attitude and experience of the speakers shows me that creativity is not necessarily something we can just learn.  It can require a complete change of mindset, and is something that needs constant practice.

There will be many failures, but these are essential, as are the risks.  

For example – Edward Weston produced a startling black and white image of a green pepper – called ‘Pepper Number 30’.  What I hadn’t really thought about, was that there must have been at least 29 earlier versions, and who knows how many afterwards.  The point is that Weston thought that number 30 was THE image, and the one he was probably most satisfied with.

Photographers must learn (I feel it should be compulsory) to cultivate a willingness to experiment, and think about the question ‘what if I did this?’..

I also learned that watching these excellent people present their work – that what we saw was a carefully cultivated, curated collection of images – and not just a thrown together selection of work.  They all saw that there was no ‘one way’ of doing things – there was no wrong way, there was just a multitude of different ways.  Some would just work better than others.

The images were not ‘scripted’ – they were born out of imagination, inspiration, and creativity.  Even the loveliest landscapes that I saw of Mongolia, were thought through pieces, with the photographer even showing us one or two of his rejects, and explaining the thought process.

Each specialist image maker held true to their passions and convictions, and to a large extent didn’t worry too much about how others reacted to them.  There is therefore a true correlation between creation and passion.

The other thing they do is make time for their art.  It’s not created in between sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon.  They have spent time and effort looking at other people’s work, and at art.  They have attended exhibitions, judged competitions, made work for sale, and importantly, made work for themselves.

So looking back at what I have seen so far – travel, people, factual, experimental, wildlife, landscape, nudes and totally different uses of camera and drones – my mind is racing with ideas.

I look at the programme to come, and see more projects, the Vikings, more wildlife, sports, astrophotography, underwater, street, work with textures, and composite photography.

Lots of things I’ve never tried, not thought about particularly either, but we all need to open our eyes and minds to different mindsets.

Lockdown has been an absolute pain in a lot of ways – there’s been a lot of agony and grief, but there has also been an abundance of creative imagery – some fantastically beautiful and poignant work, reflecting how photographers have responded to being left to their own devices.

Is there still going to be a place for the ‘traditional’ camera club after this?  I’d say yes, because you can’t beat the personal interactions that you get when you meet up.  Will they be different? I hope so – I hope that more photographers will be willing to experiment, and break the rules.

Is there going to be a place for Zoom, or equivalent? – again, I think yes.  How else can you have a presenter from the other side of the world, or even Europe?  Speakers from the deep south of the UK, or the north of Scotland.  

One thing I do hope, is that clubs continue to have these brilliant speakers – so that we can see the amazing work that might be totally different to our own……

I look forward to hearing your comments, and seeing you let yourselves go….

Photo Workshops and Photo Talks….

A photography workshop is something that everyone should attend at least once – and more than once is better if you can afford it.  It is, after all, a place where every attendee is interested in photography, and this is great for discussion, practice and experience.

The knowledge you can gather from a good workshop can be invaluable.

I’ve been fortunate to hear some wonderful speakers, who frankly deserved more exposure than they were getting, and conversely, I’ve sat through some awful presentations by accomplished photographers.

Based on my own experiences though, I’d suggest that people attend talks, and lectures – no matter how obscure the subject matter may be.  You never know what you’ll learn.

So, reasons to attend lectures and workshops:-

1. The Speaker – Don’t always base your attendance on who it is – look at their work, and use that as a start point.  Don’t forget that good photographers don’t always make good speakers (and vice versa).

2. To see the work of other attendees, if it is a workshop where you bring images yourself.  It’s always good to see other peoples work – and this is why I enjoy travelling to different places and clubs so much – I get to look at what everyone else is doing.

3. Pick up new techniques – ideas about how to use software – discover new software.  Talk about how cameras have developed….

4. See different styles and approaches that are different to yours.

We are creatures of habit, and sometimes we get so tied up in our own visions, that we fail to see what else is going on around us.  It’s good to see someone elses work that makes us feel inadequate, because, who knows, it may open the door to something new and creative for you.

5. Getting past the cliche shots.  How many images of the jetty at Derwent have you seen?  How many Taj Mahals at sunrise? How many red buses in a black and white shot of London.

I’m not saying these shots are bad, or even poor – they are just done to death.  Once you stop imitating it’s easier to find your own vision.  The critical feedback that can come your way in a workshop or seminar, the resulting introspection, and the worry that follows, are all important.

6. Learning about the past.  All photographers should at least be aware of who has preceeded them.  Comments such as “I’ve never heard of Cartier Bresson”, or worse…. “Ansel who”? are a travesty.

7. Stopping imitating – Once you have copied other people’s work, (that you have been inspired by) you should start creating your own.

8. That photo workshop has been really useful to you, so now you can go off and create something new and fresh.

After all, and don’t forget this, everyone else at that workshop took the same images you did.

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What do you need to see in a photo?

I printed some images off last week, of birds – with textured backgrounds – and when the prints came (my printer has died and I still have no idea what new one to get, but I digress) – I was somewhat dissatisfied with them.

There was some lack of detail in the shadow areas, that I was sure was there in the digital image – but then I got to wondering how much detail did I really need?

A friend of mine looked at the image in question – this one below.. and said he didn’t think there was enough detail in the feathers on the right hand side of the bird.

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He went on “it’s got a good feel to it, I like the colours and the setting with the background rocks, but it’s the bird”

I asked how much detail he wanted.. “you can see it’s a Jackdaw can’t you?”

“Yes” he said…

“Well how much more detail do you want then?”

How much detail do we ‘really’ want in a photo?  Sometimes I think we look for too much.  When I’ve judged National Competitions, we generally get no more than about 5 seconds to make a judgement.  Does the image have impact?  It’s not till the end, when we have all the top scorers, that there is a bit more time to look at detail, but even then, time is short.

I’m pretty sure we worry too much about our image making.  Are we crafting for ourselves, or for some judge.

I must confess to making images for myself, and if someone else happens to like them, then that’s a bonus.

A talk I went to earlier this year – was by a lady – whose photography is of the highest quality – and she was saying that she was editing her images to make them fit the requirements of a judge.  In her eyes she was changing them from something ‘she’ wanted – to something that fitted a rule.

I’m not saying this is wrong, but at least there was a recognition of changes that have to be made to suit an occasion.

I think it’s a shame that we do this, but I suppose it’s (as they say) ‘horses for courses’.

What I did appreciate was the fact that she was keeping the original images – -which she had crafted for herself, and appreciated that she would have to alter them if she wanted them to win a competition, or help her achieve an award.

I think that as photographers we love not just the image taking – but the process that happens afterwards, and we also have a certain love of art generally. I’m sure that this is important in the creation of our photographs.

I’m also certain also that a love of art – outside photography is a useful and beneficial thing, especially when we turn our photographic eyes out into the world.

 

I said I’d never mention Brexit in a post!

I’ve been in a bit of a mood lately.  I’ve also been in a bit of a creative hiatus.

The only reasons I could think of was that I was just going through a phase, and also that there’s so much bad news about lately.  We are plugged into 24 hour news bulletins – it’s there all the time – TV, Radio, Internet, magazines, newspapers etc.  I’m bombarded with news everywhere I look – it’s practically inescapable – and this issue of Brexit in the UK is driving many of us to the brink of despair.

I’m pretty sure then that all this bad news can deflate our sensibilities unless we do something positive to combat it.

My ‘recovery’ began a week or two ago, when I started to look at more of the work that is appearing on a Facebook Group called ‘She Clicks’,  (www.sheclicks.net) – a group for female photographers.  Then I attended a Royal Photographic Society Event in Nottingham, where the speaker was Magnum Photographer Ian Berry.

I conclude that a further aid to my ‘recovery’ is to surround myself with excellence.

I must look at excellent photography, listen to good music, and watch artistic and creative films (for which Netflix has an abundance if you look carefully) – for example, the other day I watched an old black and white film called ‘Laura’.  I knew the music, but not the story – and it reminded me of family times in my younger days where we would listen to music together.

Moods change, and with it, creativity changes too.  I’m currently looking through some of my photography books, reading about editing, and discovering again things I want to try. the mojo (I’m pleased to say) is slowly coming back.

I actually want to get out now, and take some images, make some art….. it’s been a long time coming, but at least I now have an idea for the cure……

Trees Autumn 3

Autumn is here – let’s go catch some colour……

The Guilt Complex

I’ve noticed – since I stopped working full time – (and so am not taking photographs because I have to) – that I work through peaks and troughs of creativity.  I seem to be really creative for a while, and then for whatever reason, it just drops off, and i have no idea what to do next.

I also found, that the more I worried about it, the worse it went (a bit like insomnia!).  Sometimes it’s just because life has got in the way, and I don’t have the time to photograph.  Other demands, and other things have to be done before I can have time to pick up a camera.  It doesn’t matter why I can’t do it, I still get feelings of guilt that  I’m not – even if the other thing I’m doing gives me pleasure.

I mentioned this to a friend a little while ago, and to my relief discovered that she had the same thing happen to her – and then when you open up the discussion – you realise that nearly everyone who makes or creates art of any kind has the same fallow times.

One photographer I know, gave up the camera for a good period of time, and concentrated instead on painting – she created some incredible artwork, and invited me to her house to have a go.  We paint poured (I’ll post an image when it’s dry, and she’s back off holiday) – and it was so incredibly relaxing. We sat in her summer house, listening to the birds, and crafted abstract images by pouring paint onto a canvas.

So totally different from photography, and much less instant, as the canvas will take days to dry completely, and will then need to be treated again to bring the shine back.

In between times, I realise that my camera sensor is filthy, and I need to deal with that before I do anything else.

So, till the inspiration comes back, I’ll relax, go with the flow, and try to do something totally different, and try to finish the words for my Meridian talk….

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I’m waiting to be discovered….

I’m getting older.  I’m 61 – and fortunately in reasonably good health.  I think I’m a reasonable photographer, maybe a tad better than average, but I’ve certainly not been discovered.

I have spent my photographic life producing work in complete obscurity – well near complete anyway.  The people who have seen my work are mostly clients, then camera club folks, then the people that I can bore on a semi-regular basis.

Though this might not be ideal, I am at least, on a par with probably 99% of the photographers that I know, and that is a comfort.  There must be billions of people who own cameras, and even more billions of photographs are uploaded to the internet every day.  Goodness knows how many get uploaded just to Facebook, without thinking of Flickr, or 500px, or any of the other social media channels.  So I suppose I’m in good company.

I don’t suppose for one minute that I’m ever going to be famous.  I suspect that the photographers that I know now, who are well known, in my circles are not going to be internationally famous either.  So why do we continue? – well, I think it’s because we like to have an audience of sorts, even if it’s of our own compatriots.

Photography is expensive, it can be demanding, we push ourselves to make the best images we can, and sometimes we are rewarded with applause from our friends, or maybe a competition win or two, and this is where there is potential for it all to go wrong.  We win something – we achieve a qualification, therefore we are good, and so we should, maybe, be fighting off the adulation from our doors….  NOPE – that didn’t happen either.

Success in competition or accreditation is satisfying.  Success in the outside world is rare, and is for the few, but I’m not suicidal yet…..

Fame in the real world is not just about skill, craftsmanship and the ability to produce brilliant images (I see that every time I look at images on 500px), it’s also about chance, luck, and being in the right place at the right time.

Why for example is Ansel Adams (my hero by the way) so famous..?  Well I looked it up on Google – and here’s the theory.. He was born in 1902 in San Francisco, California. He rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park, using his work to promote conservation of wilderness areas – and there we might have it – Conservation of Wilderness areas.   He was there, producing images of the wilderness at the time conservation became a big issue in the 1970’s which is when he rose to prominence. His work fitted the situation exactly, and his hard work over previous decades was given credence because he lived and worked there, and because he had a huge catalogue of work already complete.

I’ve been to Yosemite, wondered at the majesty of Half Dome – decided to stand on the bridge that Ansel Adams stood on and get ‘that’ picture of the sunset.  Me with the 40 odd other people jostling for position, on what amounted to a small bridge.  No – you need to live your own creative life, and not try to live it through the eyes of a hero…

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We have no control over who likes our work and who doesn’t – we have more control over who sees our work, but we can’t make them buy it.  (It’s great when someone does though) – we cannot have any idea what will happen to our work in the future, and we have no idea if anything we have produced will influence future generations.

All we can say for certain is that our work will still be visible after we have gone, the internet will see to that, and I personally have no idea if my work will  influence anyone in years to come.  Enjoy it whilst you can…… you do not know what tomorrow may bring.