The Golden Bullet

This week, over the Christmas break, I’ve been able to sit down and read ..  and something I noticed, in fact have been noticing for a long time, is the number of articles that offer photographers the Golden Bullet which will make them more successful – make their business take off – improve their photography – and all at the touch of a button.  The right camera body, the right lens, or the right software….  and not many of these articles ever talk about the right attitude, or the right skill sets.

Here’s a few headlines from this week:-

“Hack your Smartphone and become a better photographer” – really ???

” Five weather sealed lens that will improve your photography” – please explain this one to me..  It might let you get out in bad weather, but just how does it improve your photography?

“Why natural light is best for portraits” – absolutely……

“Why flash is best for portraits” – absolutely (but if you are a new starter, this could be a bit confusing..)

“Lightroom / Photoshop presets to take your photography to the next level” – yes, bolt on that preset or that filter – you don’t need to learn how it all works….

“5 of our favourite lens for environmental portraiture” – 5?  Can’t we use just the one?

“Secrets of sports photography” (insert any genre at this point) – because after all it’s good to know a secret isn’t it?

I read one or two articles about building a business, and working on accounts, and keeping clients, but mostly they’re about getting new cameras, lens, computers, and software.

It’s such a shame that photographers can get sucked into GAS (gear aquisition syndrome), so much that everything sensible seems to leave their heads.

With a constant bombardment from your favourite camera brand telling us what’s new – or what’s coming soon, it’s so easy to get sucked into this strange new disease..  This obsession we have with getting the ‘next best thing’ in camera tech leads to a vicious cycle and will continue to distract us from our art if we don’t find out what it is we really need to focus on.

Education is a photographers most powerful tool when it comes to progressing, and being successful.  Sure, improved gear can be a great help – but there’s nothing to beat a good course on accountancy and business management – not as exciting to be sure, but an absolute essential if you want your business to succeed.

We all love our toys though, and it’s great to have the ‘latest’ thing, and if you can afford it feel free to indulge.  For those of us though who max out the credit card just to be able to say “I bought this”,  you should probably reconsider things.

BUY BOOKS – NOT GEAR

Having gear can make it easier to capture the type of image you want, but won’t make you a better photographer.  Buy books, look at pictures, attend gallery exhibitions, listen to podcasts.

Books are expensive yes, especially good quality photo books – but compare that to the price of a new lens.  Every time I go to a talk by a photographer that I admire – I buy the book they are selling at the end.  It’s not often I’ve been disappointed, and I’ve had some brilliantly creative images put in front of me that I can stare at for as long as I want without the computer being switched on.  Sometimes, there’s little or no text, just pictures.  It’s brilliant, and inspiring.

If you are serious about taking your photography to the next level – buy books.  Buy lots of books, buy tutorial books.

Again I reiterate that having good equipment will help you create the images you seek, but it won’t make you a better photographer.

I hope that you’ve all had a happy and relaxing Christmas, and that the New Year will bring all you wish for – be it gear, or books, or both…….  enjoy……

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Easy Photography?

I was stood in a shop the other day, looking at the pictures they had for sale in there. Some were paintings, some craft, and some photography. The photographs were pleasing images of the Lincolnshire wolds – woodlands, landscapes, and also beach scenes.

A lady stood next to me, humphed slightly, and announced in fairly loud tones, that the photographs were easy – anyone could take them with a decent mobile phone, and she didn’t see quite why they were even for sale, never mind at the price asked.

Part of me wanted to get involved in a conversation, but in the end, she walked away, and I continued to stand and stare, and wondered why people think photography is so simple.

Part of the issue is the preponderance of images that are available on the internet, and on Facebook – mostly, I see very poor ones (I’ve talked about this before) – but mainly it’s the idea, or assumption that the creation of a good photograph is easy, and takes little or no skill to create, but merely the good luck to be in the right place at the right time. It is generally assumed that the glass and body of the camera has all the cleverness built in, and it is thought that actual talent is not needed to make an image the way it is. They think that anyone who can see, with or without glasses, can make the same picture.

The assumption is that photographs can be made without the interference of vision, craft, dedication, repetition or talent of the photographer.

People think that because they own a camera, they are photographers. It’s surely the same principle of – “I bought a new oven, therefore I am a chef”. I see it all the time, the new camera owners who instantly think they can make money from their ‘art’. They don’t need to learn all the nuances of photography – they can put the camera on the green square – full auto, and wonderful pictures will spill out – which they can then overprocess (because they don’t know when to stop, and after all, a great coloured filter will really enhance that shot)….

Do they really think that Ansel Adams got great images of Yosemite every time he got his camera out? Do they really think that Edward Weston’s Pepper number 30 came first time….. no – the clue is in the title…. Pepper number 30 – which means that there were at least 29 others that came before that… and who knows how many afterwards. It just means that Weston thought that number 30 was the best for publishing at that time.

So when I see images on line with wails from photographers who say, “I shot this and no-one has commented… but when I do something different people do” ….. then I say – there might be a reason. Maybe your talent doesn’t lie in that direction, and maybe you go back to what you are good at. Or maybe the shot, though competent, has no soul.

A portrait of a model sat on a wall, can be just that, a person sat on a wall. There’s no story, no soul, no romance….. NO INTENT.

I’ve always found that planned shoots, with a visualised end are successful. The times when I wander out with no idea what to do, usually result in a lot of deleted images (but hey, I had the day out and enjoyed company maybe, or just the good weather).

Ansel Adams reckoned that your first 10,000 pictures are just practice, and you get better after that….. so I’d better get the camera out again……

Enjoy your shooting

 

Never Go Back !

I was on my way to a job a couple of years ago – fairly locally.  I had a deadline to be with the client to photograph a presentation, and didn’t really have time to stop on the way.

Driving past, I saw this boat – moored up, and I thought, that’s great – I’ll go back an shoot it on the way home, or maybe another day.

The voices in my head, that I’ve talked about before, and said you should listen to – shouted at me “do it now”.  I did, I stopped the car, got out, and took this one image.

When I was finished – I drove home the same way, back to see the boat again.  There was no boat any more.  It had gone.  No longer any photo for me to take.

So, I reiterate….. “Never Go Back”… shoot it now.  When and if you do go back it won’t be the same.  It can never be exactly the same.  The weather will change, the light will change.  The thing you want to shoot may not be there any  more.  It might be better, or worse, but never the same.

I always tell people to keep going back to the same location – over and over – to see it in different lights, moods, and seasons.  You will have a different attitude, and a different mood.  You will try different viewpoints.

Always though, shoot first, and ask questions later……

Enjoy your photography…..

 

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