I’ve been feeling overwhelmingly stuck and uninspired over the last few months, perhaps longer if I’m being honest with myself. That’s not to say that I haven’t had my moments but it’s been and continues to be hard going.
The usual advice that you get in these circumstances is to keep going. Work yourself out of the funk, make a lot of work and see where that leads you. My advice to myself was to play more.
After a bit of digging I realized that I was working within a particular sent of constraints that had provided a useful framework at one point but now were stifling. I needed to step back and break the rules that I’d established for myself.
Playing the camera on my iPhone has been enormously helpful in breaking one of my rules – always shoot on a tripod – it also forced me into using a single lens which made me move around and change my point of view to get the shot that I was interested in.
I also pushed beyond the boundaries that I am comfortable with in processing these images, often adding a lot of contrast, a texture, a tilt shift look, really piling stuff on until it was in a realm that was totally alien to me. I think that Brian Eno would do similar things in music production push beyond the limits but then retreat to a useful and usable position.
I’ve been enjoying playing and continue to do so. Here’s a question for you:
What ‘rules’ either acknowledged or not do you follow? How could you systematically break them.
I’d love to hear what restraints you impose on yourself.
What do you think of when you see or hear the phrase ‘visual story-telling’? My mind immediately goes to the classic Life magazine photo-essays such as Eugene Smith’s ‘The Country Doctor‘, or the kind of article you might see in the National Geographic the Smithsonian magazine or my new favorite magazine Orion.
My reaction has also been that I don’t see the world this way, that I’m not trying to tell a story but look for things that resonate with me. That there’s no story here. In part that’s true but stories are all around us, whether we realize it or not. Any time there is a gap in our understanding we tell ourselves a story to explain it. Any time someone does something we like we tell ourselves a story. Any time someone does something that we don’t like we tell ourselves a story. The photographs that we choose to take do tell a story, whether that’s our intention or not. They tell people how we see the world.
The more we understand our own story the better placed we are to tell it to the world and the stronger this understanding the more likely that your work will be unique. My question for you then is ‘What’s your story?’
There have been so many times when I wished I had a camera with me and regardless of how small the ‘pocket’ camera is I never have a pocket big enough. My iPhone goes everywhere with me.
2. I’m ‘playing’ more than I do with a DSLR.
Along with having the camera with me all the time I’m trying things that I would never have tried with a DLSR such as shooting from unusual angles and trying out different types of processing.
I’d never heard of the Lomo LC-A camera before I started using the Lomo preset in PhotoToaster. Now I’m half seriously thinking about getting one. Until then I’ll keep trying out the Lomo preset on all of my color images.
… and a few things that I don’t
1. Small file size and consequently small prints.
Some of the iPhone photos I’ve taken in the last year I love but I also know that I will struggle to make big prints from them.
2. Apps that dump data and make small files even smaller.
As I’ve mentioned before here, I’m having a blast working with the camera on my iPhone, largely pushing into territory I had previously thought was not for me. One of the presets that gives an effect that I like is ‘Lomo’ in the app Phototoaster. Not being a student of history it took me a while to realise that ‘Lomo’ actually refers to a camera, the Lomo LC-A, that has somewhat of a cult following. Characteristic photos from the Lomo LC-A have effects caused by light leaks, strong vignettes and rich, saturated colors. Often lomographers will shoot with slide film and cross-process to give strong color shifts. Take a dip into the Lomography photostream here.
While I mull over the purchase of an LC-A+ I’m going to continue playing with my iPhone. Read on to see how easy it is with the iPhone.
I am typically using Camera+ rather than the camera app that comes with the iPhone. Here is the image as shot. Lots of problems with this, my biggest criticism is that I should have been closer to crop out the sky and the trailer. You can zoom with Camera+ but be aware that it is a digital zoom – in effect you’re just using less of the sensor. If I have to crop I’d prefer to do it in software after the fact. I’ll admit that I think cropping is not a big deal particularly with my DLSR but is an issue with the small files that come from the iPhone, so try to get it right in ‘iPhone’ as it were.
The first step is to bring the file into PhotoForge and do some preliminary editing. Photoforge is a great app with lots of capabilities, curves, sharpening, cropping, textures, frames and effects and is one that I highly recommend. One of the neat things is that Photoforge has layers so you can work in a layer based manner if that is something that you’re used to. I generally am not using layers but I’m also just doing very simple edits. I will generally look at the levels panel and tweak there if I think the image needs it. In this case it didn’t a levels adjustment and so I moved on to add a bit of contrast using the curves function. I didn’t like any of the other tweaks that I might usually add and so I saved the file back to the photolibrary and jumped into Phototoaster.
I’m almost exclusively using Phototoaster now to add the Lomo effect. There is a Lomo effect in PhotoForge but it feels a bit washed out for my taste. I cropped the image to a square to remove the distractions and applied the Lomo effect which can be found …
I like the square but also wanted to see what else I could do. Here I didn’t lock the crop to a particular ratio and came up with this crop that I particularly liked and as before then added the Lomo effect.