Honesty and Critique

I’ve spent a bit of time these last weeks, reviewing another photographers portfolio of work.  The task of looking at work, both for me, and the photographer, is that we both have to be honest about what we are looking at.

One image, the photographer kept telling me, was really hard to get – the subject matter was hard to find, and even harder to get a good solid photo of.  When I looked at it, it was a messy construction and clearly not that good.  The photographer though had invested a lot of time and emotion in the image, and would not let it go.  He was convinced it was good, and nothing I was going to say would change that point of view, but the fact is that the image is going to be perceived by others on an entirely different level from that of the photographer.

Which takes me on to the question of feedback about your work.  What kind of feedback do you REALLY want? and importantly, what is your response to that feedback?

If you really respect the person who is looking at your images – it can be upsetting to hear that they don’t like it.  After all, you want them to like what you have produced, that’s why you show it.

So, what should your response be, when someone you know and trust, doesn’t like your work.  It’s hard, because maybe the work is bad, and maybe you just need to be told that. Maybe you need to listen to their advice and go away and change something, or even forget that image, and replace it with a new one.

You should remember though, that maybe the person looking at your work just doesn’t like the subject matter.  Though in fairness, they should tell you that right from the start.  I would hope that the good critique maker, should be able to look past the personal likes and dislikes and see the image for what it is.

So it’s up to the photographer to ask the right questions at this point, and so you need to ask the reviewer what it is they don’t like about the image.  This is then hard, as the reviewer might tell you what they would do to make the image better, and that then might make it more their work, than yours.  So you have to be careful.

If I show my work to someone I trust, and say that it is to inspire calm, and they say it looks like a battle is about to break out – then I think I can safely say I missed the mark on that one – and if this happens consistently then maybe I’d need to rethink my entire strategy or portfolio.

When I judge competitions – I try hard not to say whether I like it or not – at least not at first – what I try to do is work out how an image makes me feel.  Sometimes I will say of a picture (let’s assume of an animal or bird for arguments sake), that by looking at it, I know how it would feel if I could run my fingers through the fur, or feathers, or grass, or whatever.  Then I might say what emotion it gives – peace, excitement, confusion and so on.

The title of the piece helps direct too.  An image can be confusing till I know what it’s called – then a combination of title and subject matter can bring together a unity of purpose.

A95T2401-Edit

 

Has Photography been Trivialised?

I was reading an article the other day about the number of photographs that are taken each  year, and in addition the number of photographs with people in them, who don’t know that they are IN them.

A bit of research took me to the oldest known photograph with people in it.  It was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, and it shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris.

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The street is lined with lamps and trees, and in the middle of the frame is a tiny figure. A man getting his shoe shined, who likely had no idea his image was being captured at all. (In fact, Boulevard du Temple is and was a busy street. When Daguerre took the photo, there were carts and people streaming up and down the street and sidewalks, but only this one man shows up because the photograph had to be taken over the course of 10 minutes. Only the man standing still shows up after such a long exposure.)

A lot has changed since then – think of the numbers of photographs taken each day, and uploaded to Facebook, or shared with applications such as Snapchat. Facebook revealed in a white paper that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos, and are uploading 350 million new photos each day.  It’s a number that I just can’t get my head around.

Another way to think about it (and data here from another blog I read) – more photographs are uploaded every day, than existed in total 150 years ago – and that’s just the ones that are uploaded.  It doesn’t count all the ones stored on hard drives.

Images are becoming almost mundane – it’s all been done – and much like the UK debt, they can only increase with the passing of time, especially if you think of the numbers of mobile phones being used as cameras.

I do wonder, at what point will the number of images being taken, become so overwhelming that the medium of photography will become trivialised and border on meaningless.

Already it is getting harder and harder to find images that are unique, and photographically exciting.  The rise the in popularity of photography started to skyrocket around the year 2000 with the production of the ‘smart’ phone.  Photography is now moving forward so fast, that it’s likely to be tripping up over its own feet.

Has the magic disappeared?

I certainly think that some photographers have started to become lazy.  For example, take the photographing of UK wildlife – if you wanted photographs 20 years ago – you had to go out and look for it yourself.  You had to learn skills.  Tracking, hunting, understanding your subject.  Now, if you want a photo of, say, a red squirrel, you just look on line, and pay someone to set up a hide for you – supply the requisite nuts – and maybe even tell you what camera settings to use.

And of course it’s even easier with a digital camera – you can afford to make mistakes and use the wrong settings.  Just take a lot of images, and if it all goes wrong, pay again, and shoot again.   The comment “oh, it’s another red squirrel”, was not one  you would have heard even 10 years ago, but it is much more prevalent now.

For me, the act of being a photographer is much more than just recording my day to day life, and posting my lunch on Instagram.  It’s about the excercise of the process, rather than the result of the process.

A commitment to follow the path of art can be a thrilling one.  It’s not about the technology (though as I have said in the past, it can help), it’s about the making of the image, and I still find this to be the very best part.

I’ve also found over the last 18 months or so, that entering competitions has lost some of its flavour.  I see so many changes and developments in the different categories of the competitions, and just can’t keep up with all of them.  Not that I’m expected to I suppose.

On the other hand, I find the new technologies to be tremendously exciting – the advent of the mirrorless camera has provided me (and a good number of others) with a new found freedom.  They are lightweight, compact, and the images are massively superior to some of the older DSLR cameras out there – and when I say older, I don’t mean THAT much older either.  The ability to throw a small camera into a bag and walk out and shoot has been something I missed for a long time.

My first camera was a Sony Cybershot with 3.2 Million Pixels.  It used the (then fashionable) memory stick.  Easy to stick in my pocket – it got used a lot.  Then along came the bridge camera, and later my first DSLR  – the Canon 350D – still reasonably compact – but then the Canon 5D, and later still on to the Canon 1Series.  Each time they got bigger, heavier, and the lens followed suit.

The advent of mirrorless was only on the fringes of my perception for a long time.  Then suddenly Fuji, Sony, Olympus, and others,  produced a range of gear that, in the end I had to take notice of, and the purchase of the Fuji X-T2, and now X-T3, has encouraged (and allowed) me to shoot even more.

So, has photography been trivialised?  To some extent I would think so – but in the same breath, I think there is still room for the serious shooter, and I’m looking forward to browsing Instagram, Facebook, 500px and other places for my next batch of inspiration.

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A16 towards Tetford

 

Photographic Skills

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what we, as photographers, need to be doing to enhance our skill-sets.

We all need to be able to work the controls on our cameras, even in the dark, it should be second nature to change an ISO, or an F stop, or a shutter speed without even having to think how to do it – and the only way to achieve this is to practice.

We also need to know how to ‘see’ a photograph before we even press the shutter button, and it’s these skills that can separate the terrific, from the merely competent.

With the advent of new digital cameras, it’s actually quite hard to make a really bad exposure.  Even harder these days to achieve an out of focus image.  Cameras are very clever these days, and have built in exposure settings, and shake reduction in either the camera body, or lens.

However, on top of all these things, I think that photographers need another set of skills outside that of just ‘taking’ an image.

1. Computer Literacy – software is the mainstay of the post image taking process.  We need to be able to email images, to resize them, to compress them, and send them to storage sites such as Dropbox.  To do that, we need to be able to type, and express ourselves in a clear and concise manner.

2. We need to be able to competently edit, and select images.  These days, we don’t go out and shoot a roll or two of film.  We go out and come back sometimes with hundreds, maybe thousands, of images.  We need to be able to select which are the best ones, and the ones that our ‘client’ will like, and not just ones that are our own personal favourites.  We need to be clear that the sharpest images, are not always the best ones compositionally, and conversely the best composed ones, won’t always be the sharpest – we need to be able to make that distinction and choose wisely.

3. We need to be aware of art history, and photographic history.  If you are asked who your favourite photographer is – it’s not just going to be the chap down the  road who takes amazing bird photographs – he might be the one impressing you at the moment, but who in history influences the images you take?    Art and photography are inching closer and closer together, and soon, you will have a hard job telling the difference.

Melbourne Photographer Bill Gekas photographs his daughter in the style of all the old Masters.  Take a look here

https://www.boredpanda.com/5-year-old-daughter-classic-paintings-bill-gekas/

Google for photographic images of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer, and see what others are up to.

you need to understand art now, to understand photography.

4. The art of conversation – There are times when you need permission to shoot.  Either a person, or a place.  The need for access can sometimes be smoothed over by a polite conversation with owners, or guardians.  After photographers have trespassed on land, you can’t blame the owners for being angry at finding ‘yet another’ on their property.  Go in first, ask the questions – I think you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people will be, just for asking.

5. And lastly – filing and organisation – there is no point in having the worlds greatest image if you can’t find it on  your hard drive.  So, keep your drives tidy, split your images into sections or groups, back them up externally, and don’t rely on your website either – if your provider goes out of business – you could be left high and dry with no images.

If you use Lightroom, avail yourself of the catalogue and make sure your images are correctly sorted, tagged, and keyworded.  Sure, it might take you a week (or more) of hard work, if you’ve not started yet, but in the long run I think you’ll be pleased you did.

For example – I sold an image at a craft fair 5 years ago – it was mounted but not framed.  The client decided to have it reframed, and the picture framer damaged the print.  He contacted me, and asked if I could supply a new one, so that he didn’t have to tell his client; and because I’d got a good catalogue, I was able, within an hour, to send him a file, so he could get it printed again.  Job done.

GWPE

Please be Gentle – It’s my First Time

Please be Gentle – It’s my First Time

I’ve not blogged in an age – we moved house, I started to rebuild contacts in a new area, I neglected all sorts of things in an effort to re-establish my life in a new county – and when I look back, all these things are excuses for not concentrating on blogging, or on so many other things I needed to do.

What’s prompted me back into writing again, is the constant stream of excuses that photographers are coming up with these days, to explain their below standard work, which they are sharing on Social Media on an almost daily basis.  It’s driving me nuts……

That’s not to say of course that there are many excellent photographers out there, sharing some truly inspirational work.  The trouble is, there are so many more ‘photographers’ (and I use the quote marks intentionally) who feel the need to share a lot of sub-standard images, and who feel that people should be praising them for their trouble.

I’m a member of a few Facebook groups – and I’ve actually left a good number – trusting that the few I stuck with would be more ‘constructive’.  Some of these groups encourage members to post images for constructive critique, and this is where the whole thing starts to fall apart.

“Please be gentle, I’m only just starting with photography / photoshop / Lightroom / Elements – don’t be harsh”

I’m more than happy to give constructive critique to those who really want it – Telling people their images are good, when they are good, and offering (I hope) constructive feedback  to those whose images are not so good, but have potential.

However, if you are new, and just starting out, is it not even more important that you get honest feedback about your images?   If people constantly tell you that what you are producing is good – then of course you will keep on doing it – in exactly the same way, and you will continue to make the same mistakes, and I find that the poorer the image, the less likely people are to accept any criticism of it.

I also see poor advice being given, and explanations for poor technique being blamed on equipment.  A prime example happened today.  I was reading a post where someone had put an image up for review – there was so much noise in the image that you could barely make out what it was.  The image was scaled up to 200%, the ISO had been set at 6400 and the exposure time was just 1/200 of a second.  The usual explanations were offered.  The high ISO, and the darkness of the image – the upscaling, all contributed to the rather messy image.  

Later in the discussion – someone chipped in with and offered the explanation that it wasn’t the photographer who was to blame at all.  It would be a combination of a faulty SD card, and the fact that the Battery was nearing depletion that caused the ‘grain’ on the image.  A number of people tried to explain that a low battery would not cause this effect, but the photographer was relieved that it wasn’t anything they had done.  It was a ‘gear’ problem and so they could fix this by always taking with them a spare battery……..

I’m sorry, but this sort of thing is worse than useless.  Taking the easy way out, is not always an option.  Sometimes you just have to learn how to use your camera, and understand what the settings do, and how you can work with them, when the light is against you.

Understanding your camera, and it’s limitations are key to making better images.  All photographers need to know and understand the relationship between F/stop, shutter speed and ISO.  Adding in white balance, focus, composition and using a tripod where necessary.  There is a host of information on the net, and asking a question on a Facebook forum does not mean you are going to get good answers.  Check out the ones you do get – make sure the information is accurate.

You can’t work on the principle of “It was on Facebook, so it must be right”

So before you post images on the net, asking for critique ask yourselves these questions

Do I REALLY want other peoples opinion?

Do I really?…… because there are some images that we just feel are ‘right’ for us.  It won’t really matter what other people think, because they are personal to you.  It might not be a technically perfect image, but it captured that moment, which means so much to you.  But don’t forget, other people don’t know your circumstances, or your family, or your pets.  To them it’s just an underexposed image.

2. Is the opinion really about what you have posted

Opinions can be hi-jacked by other things happening in the same thread.  Some posters will ask questions that others will answer, and in the end the whole thing is not about your image any more, it’s about something different.  So be careful when you read the comments – it may not even be you they are talking about.

3. Are the comments actually helpful

Does “wow”, “amazing”, “beautiful work”, “incredible”, actually mean anything to you?  Or would you prefer comments such as “the composition works well”, “superb lead lines”, “nice and sharp”.  Even negative ones “the shadows are too dark”,  “you have some blown out highlights there”, “love the shot, but I see a couple of hot spots on the models face”.   Some of these things can be fixed in post production, and because you are so close to your images, you don’t see them sometimes.  It’s good and helpful to have them pointed out to you later on.

Hearing feedback about general things in your image can help you later on.  Ask yourself – can you take what’s being said, and apply it, to other images. If you can’t, I don’t think you should be asking for critique in the first place.   Is there a lesson to be learned in the feedback you are getting.

I encourage my students to take time looking at other people’s work.  Not just photographers, but artists and painters.  Ask yourself “why” is this person’s work so good – how does this compare to what I am producing.  Visit art galleries and photographic exhibitions and try to work out what is good about some of the images you see.

In summary then, if you are new to photography, photoshop, lightroom, whatever – then doesn’t it make more sense that people are absolutely truthful about your work?  There are ways of offering constructive critique without being rude or disrespectful.  If people ask for critique, then we should give it truthfully, and honestly, and expect it to be treated as such.  If we continually praise poor workmanship, then this will become the norm, and we will start to forget what truly great images look like.