The Power of Presets

I noted recently that most of the images that I’m posting here and other places are made, and finished, using the iPhone. I enjoy the way of working it’s fast easy and I can do it anywhere. If I have 5 or 10 minutes to kill I’m likely to scroll through the recent batch of images that I took and run them through one of the apps that I have on my phone.

I’ve generally been pretty happy with what I’ve been able to achieve although I have received some criticism of the processing of some of the images that I posted – mostly ones from a while ago when I was heavily using presets to process the images. Phototoaster overcooked my images! As a reaction to that feedback I’ve migrated to using Snapseed to adjust contrast and saturation and not do much more to the image if it were color. For black and white I finish the image up in VSCO using one of the black and white film emulations.

In the last week though I’ve started to play with the presets in Instagram. I’m starting to think that I’m not pushing the images as far as they can go, or at least fully exploring the possibilities. I’ve been surprised that some of the filters in instagram achieve a better result than the one that I decided was ‘done’ in Snapseed. Why is that?

I think it was Brian Eno that suggested we go to an extreme and retreat to a more useful position. I don’t think that I’m going to the extreme – pushing saturation a little harder to see what is possible, pushing contrast to see what effect it has – and that is limiting the visual impact that my images have.

How about you? How do you process your images? Do you use presets to explore the potential in the image before setting to work in earnest? I’d be happy to hear about it.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.

It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.

That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.

This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.

The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.

I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.

Permission to Play

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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.