I was quite excited to find out that the image above ‘Three Beach Pilings’ was selected to be included in the South Shore Art Center exhibition ‘Photography Now‘ curated by Karin Rosenthal. The exhibition opening is April 12 from 6pm – 8pm. Please do stop by and say hello if you’re in the area.
Getting basic techniques down and being able to replicate photographs that others have made is all well and good. But how do you advance beyond that to make photographs that are unique, that express your unique vision.
Many people use the struggles and creative processes of writers to help guide the photography path. Skeptical? Take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ and change his mention of writing for photography and you’ll see what I mean.
My development as a photographer has paralleled the way I learned to play the guitar. I spent many hours learning how to play songs and even more time how to play blues riffs. At first this was following along with instructional books and CDs, as an aside David Hamburger and Dave Rubin produced some phenomenal instructional books and CDs, and then later working out riffs for myself from the CDs that I had. This let me build up a series of phrases that I could be dropped into either my own songs or the songs of others, in many ways like learning elements of photographic technique that will later be pieced together to make an image.
For both writing and learning to play the guitar there comes a point where progression comes from studying the work of others. Either reading more in the case of writing or listening more when it comes to learning an instrument. The same is true for photography. We’re surrounded by images but I suspect that few of us take the time to really look at them, to really see. When was the last time you went to an exhibition of photography or painting? When was the last time that you pulled one of your coffee table photography books down and spent 10 minutes looking at a single image?
If you’re like me, more engineer than artist, perhaps part of the reason is that you don’t have the language to describe what your seeing and you could argue if we could use words we’d be writers. The very act however of simply describing the image in front of you is enormously useful first step in becoming comfortable with describing photographs and identifying elements within them that you could use in your own photography. The more time you spend looking at other photographs the more photographs you’ll see when you have your camera in hand.
So how to start? Start with a very basic description: What is it a photograph of? Color or black & white? Shape of the frame? Where was it taken? When was it taken? How was it taken? Then go beyond the basics: Why was it taken? How does it make you feel?
I’d be interested in your feedback and comments if you run through this exercise with the image above.
To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.
1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.
2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.
3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.
4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.
5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.
I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.
Joe Cornish is one of those photographers whose work I continue to return to. Much of what he does is shot in the part of England, Yorkshire, that I consider home and his ability to articulate what he’s thinking as he frames a particular shot is instructive. I’m also lusting after the Linhof Techno camera and the Phase One back but that’s a different topic entirely. Find out more about Joe Cornish here and enjoy the videos below.
The gear sirens have been calling me again. I’m now deep in thought regarding what a compact camera system such as the olympus pen e-pl5 coupled with a Panasonic 20mm F1.7 would do for me. I’m sure it’s a game we all play from time to time. Somehow while I was surfing around trying to get to grips with how much better my life would be with this combination I stumbled across Daido Moriyama.
It seems to me that Daido Moriyama is ‘street’ photographer, who seems to produce much of his work in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. The photographs are predominantly high contrast, gritty black and white images that depict the seamier parts of life. I could take or leave much of what he’s produced but I do like the aesthetic of the images and also of interest for me is his prodigious production of photography books.
Check out the video below
Daido Moriyama on compact cameras:
When I was working with Bob Korn to learn the rudiments of printing, Bob would take some time to show me what he was working on or to talk about some of the work that was on his wall. I was blown away by the photographs of ’60s music icons that Bob had up on the wall. It was work of Rowland Scherman. I like the photos of the Beatles at Shea Stadium but was stunned to recognize and realize that Rowland’s photograph of Bob Dylan was used for the Dylan Greatest hits album.
Chris Szwedo is now working on a documentary of Roland’s work and has a Kickstarter project to help with funding that is now nearing the last few days. Click here to find out more and contribute. Even if you aren’t interested in contributing I hope that you’ll check out a clip from the documentary below.
On my regular trawl looking for interviews of photographers talking about the creative process, the future of photography etc. I found an interview with Cary Wolinsky, a 30 year veteran of National Geographic and one of the founders of the Center for Digital Imaging Arts from the Press Pause Play Project. Check the interview out below. I’d be interested in your thoughts and comments about Cary’s view of where things are headed for today’s photographers.
My recent experience at Art Wolfe’s Olympic Peninsula Workshop, while not bad per se, led me to reflect on what my ideal workshop would look like. My goals for any workshop are to have fun, make friends, learn something and if I get some photographs that I like so much the better. With that in mind here’s what i came up with.
I prefer relatively small groups
The reason for this is two fold. I want to get to know the people that I’m with for the duration of the workshop. Some of these folks often know more about the technical aspects of photography, or the software than the instructor does. Handy to know these people.
I want to get to know the instructor and allow the instructor to know me.
I feel like this can only be a good thing when it comes to learning and overcoming challenges that I’m dealing with.
Daily critiques of new work
While it can be painful, I find that daily critique of the images that the group has created is a powerful tool to improve the standard of the work that the whole group does. Which leads to the next point.
I want to feel safe enough to step outside of my comfort zoneOne of the things that workshops afford us is the opportunity to try things and quite likely fail spectacularly. I’m not likely to do this or at least share the results of my experiments if I don’t feel safe.
I don’t want to be rushed
Workshops are a funny vehicle for learning. Often you are sprinted from one location to the next without an opportunity to return and put what you’ve learned into practice. I completely understand the ‘photo tour’ aspect of many workshops and this is great if you intend on returning to select locations on your own to fully work through the photo possibilities that it offers. Otherwise I prefer at least similar locations that would allow me to refine my thinking about how to approach particular subjects.
What would help make the ideal workshop experience for you? Leave your suggestions in the comments section.
Sarah Moon’s name came up in conversation this week as a photographer to take a deeper look at. At the time the name was unfamiliar and it wasn’t until I saw the video below that I realized that I had been down this road before. All too often it takes couple of times to internalize and connect the name and the work. Sarah Moon lives and works in Paris, and is one of the great icons of fashion photography. While her work falls under the umbrella of fashion it’s not the slick, glossy, over produced fashion work that immediately comes to m mind. Instead, much of her work is black and white (I haven’t been able to find much of her work in color at all) that has an ethereal quality to it. Captivating. I don’t know the original source of the video below but I do hope that this is narrated by Sarah Moon herself. It gives a real insight into the mind of the photographer as they go through the process of finding the image.
I’m in the Pacific Northwest this week to attend a workshop with Art Wolfe. It was through researching potential workshops with Art that I came across Jay’s work and have been following his blog for a couple of years now. His outdoor work, covers a wide spread of nature, landscape and adventure photography but he also builds on his architecture training to make some stunning photographs of buildings. Goes to show that the more you know your subject the better the photographs will be.
It’s hard to know the person behind photographs when your interaction has been purely electronic stalking but Jay’s about page reinforces the notion that I had of a pretty mellow, if not passionate and intense guy. Do all those fit together I think so. Get a sense for yourself in the interview with Jie from an episode of ‘Framed‘ last year.