I woke up early today – and stood looking out of the window at the field that was cut only yesterday – the farmer must have thought the rain wouldn’t come, but it has, and it’s that fine drizzle the soaks you through without you even noticing it’s happening. The trees are starting to drop their leaves, and though it doesn’t seem five minutes since I was sweltering in the heat, today, I’m wearing a thicker jumper.
There is a whiff of autumn in the air, and I can’t wait really for the leaves to start to turn a golden hue so I can catch the new season as it happens.
The dog walk today took longer than usual, as there are so many fresh smells left over from the night before – a dog fox trotted across the field in front of us, and nose dived into the cut grass after a vole. We had to watch. The dogs fascinated, but unable (fortunately) to get in the field. The fox, red and confident, possibly knowing it was safe from us, seemed to linger, munching on whatever it had caught.
Earlier this week, I went for a walk in the woods with a friend of mine – we admired the tipi tents of wooden branches that were scattered about, and wondered if these had been used at all, or if they were just practice ‘things’ – who knows…… actually, let me know if you do …..
I continue to play with ICM (Intentional camera movement) because although lots of folks are playing with this – I never have. What I really enjoy here is the fact that even if I continued to stand in exactly the same place taking pictures, using exactly the same technique, they would all come out completely different.
There’s been talk recently on a forum I lurk on about photographers intent. I’m sure that all photographers have an intent each time they press the shutter, or create something in photoshop later; and I know that some leave it to the viewer to determine their own impressions.
I hope that with some of my more abstract work I’ve managed to convey some motivation by use of visual elements, and hopefully careful composition.
I’ll continue to play, to study, contemplate and enjoy many genres and styles of photography. As far as I’m concerned, the more the better. I shall seek inspiration in the works of others, and hopefully I can inspire others with my own work.
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.
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.
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….