Just a wee reminder that I’ll be doing two talks this weekend (Saturday and Sunday – 11am – 12) at the Scottish Nature Photography Fair in Battleby near Perth, Scotland. More information and prices for tickets for the fair can be found at www.snh.gov.uk/snpf
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
In 2009, I wrote an entry on this very blog about creative procrastination. In it, I expressed a view that when one is procrastinating, it’s often a sign of something else, and in this entry, it was about lack of drive. There are those that do and those that talk about doing. The people who carry through with a project are driven to do so by something deep within, while those that think about doing something and never carry through lack drive. That lack of drive can stem from a number of factors: either they’re not really that interested in it, or perhaps they’re suffering a form of writers-block. But what if perfectionism is the culprit?
I bought the Brooks Jensen ‘single exposure’ series recently. They’re small A5 booklets containing small, easy to digest articles by Brooks on many subjects related to photography. One that got me this week was his article about perfectionism. I’ve written about this a few times in the past myself, and I entirely agree with his viewpoint that perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Except, that I think that what perfectionism does, is create a form of creative constipation (otherwise known as writers block).
By setting the bar too high, your abilities are no long able to keep up with your own standards, and ultimately, everything you do, is found to be wanting, lacking in some way. This causes severe dissatisfaction in what you’re doing (which kills the whole point in why you started photography in the first place), and before you know it – the whole thought of going out with your camera to do anything, fills you with dread.
In my previous posts about Perfectionism, some of the replies indicated that Perfectionism is ultimately a destructive attitude. I completely agree. But what we need to do instead, is strive for Excellence. There is a subtle but major difference between Perfectionism and Excellence. Perfectionism is the act of striving for something that is not possible while striving for Excellence allows you the freedom to reach the best of your current abilities.
Being too much of a perfectionist, means that you may never actually finish anything, because it’s never good enough, or because you feel it’s not reached some unobtainable standard – and it never will.
In my own photography, It would be all too easy to look back at some of my best images, and worry that any new work will not be as good, or will not be an improvement. I think measuring yourself in this way is dangerous to your creativity. For creativity to flow, you need to let go and see what happens. By placing no constraints on yourself when you are out making new images, can you possibly create some new work. It is only when you return from a shoot that you should allow yourself to be critical and strive for excellence, but don’t strive for Perfectionism, because you’ll never get there.
Which reminds me, that next time I’m out shooting, not to beat myself up so much, when I feel things aren’t going the way I hoped – this is a reference back to my recent trip to Iceland in June, where I just so happened to create a body of work I’m extremely pleased with, but didn’t feel it was coming together at the time of the shoot.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Today I received the last batch of proofs from the printer of my book, and I’m very happy with what I see.
They are printed on FOGRA approved paper. Which basically means that the paper is certified to be within a certain ISO colour standard. The have also been printed using one of the best CMYK simulation RIP’s available (GMG). In a nutshell, the proofs give a very accurate simulation of what the final press output will be like.
It’s been a very exiting and interesting project, working on this book, and I feel I’ve learned a lot in the process too.
Once I’ve approved the proofs, the next stage will be onto printing the book. I’ll give you all more details about the expected arrival date of the book once we’re past the proofing stage. Until then, I can’t really say for sure just when the book will be here, but I’m hoping for sometime around October or November.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Today I’d like to write about something that has nothing to do with photography, but everything to do with how the social-networking thing is panning out.
Last week I logged into my facebook account to find out that it has my personal landline and mobile numbers on full display to everyone who is linked to my account. I remember a month or so ago being asked to provide them as a matter of security, and once I’d given them, kind of hit my head and thought – duh – why did I do that?
The thing is, why am I so mistrustful of Facebook?
Well, there are a few reasons:
1. Most of it is invasive. Did you know by default, it sends out invites to folks in your email address book?
2. Their user interface makes it hard to switch stuff off, which by default, should be off anyway.
3. I deleted my personal account several months ago. Oh, I think it was March I did it. Friends told me that it would be deleted after 2 weeks anyway, but I was able to log back into it a few weeks ago, and it was magically re-activated.
The same with Linked-In. I deleted my linked-In account, because I felt it did not represent me anymore, and I’m more aware of public profile than I ever have been. Yes, we all have a public profile whether you know it or not. But I still get ‘invites’ to Linked In. I don’t think they’re ‘Invites’, because an invitation has the option of saying ‘no’. Linked-In Invitations give you the option of accepting, or waiting for a reminder to accept, and if not, a reminder later on to accept, and then another reminder to accept……
So I’m a little tired of the invasion. It’s invasive. There is no etiquette.
When I worked in IT years ago, you had a choice. There was a way you could decline, but I feel these companies are giving you one choice: sign up and be on their records forever.
If you have a facebook account, go in and check if your mobile number and landline numbers are available. You can also check who has given their numbers out for the public. Here’s how to do it:
Go to ‘Account / Edit Friends’. Once there, you will see on the far left hand side a ‘contacts’ list with a mobile phone icon. Clicking on this will give you a list of everyone who has given you public access to their phone numbers.
I would so love to show you a picture here of all the people on my facebook account. Every one of them has given their phone numbers, and I could show you a screen shot of it – but it’s not appropriate for me to do that.
I’d like less invasion, and I’d like these companies to stop treating me as some form of information that I have no right to decide how I am represented or recorded.
By the way – I just logged in again, and I see that I have Steve McCurry’s phone number. Brilliant. I’m sure he’ll be really pleased to hear from me :-)
Why work with something like Facebook, if it can’t be trusted to work with your details and keep your information private?
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I love Ryuichi Sakamoto’s album ‘playing the piano’. What struck me upon first listen, was his classical ability, and how, some of his compositions remind me of Debussy so much. I don’t mean to draw comparisons for any particular reason. I just enjoyed his album very much, and it gives me a lot of inspiration.
I’m fully aware that this might not be to everyone’s taste, but it suits mine very much. I think it’s important to spend time with art, music, books, anything that you can lose yourself in, or connect with. Photographic inspiration does not just come from looking at other photographers work, it comes from all around us.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
This week I spent a small fortune on books at Beyond Words Edinburgh festival stall. I thought I’d go for a visit, catch up with Neil and see what he has to offer.
I came away with an exhausted bankers card, because I bought:
Hiroshi Watanabe’s ‘Ideology in Paradise’
Paul Caponigro’s Meditations in Silver
Editions 1,2 & 3 of Brooks Jensen’s ‘Single Exposures’ series
Michael Kenna – images of the seventh day.
All are excellent books, but I’d like to talk about Hiroshi Watanabe’s Ideology in paradise book.
A beautifully put together book, I found it on Neils book shelf at the back of his display purely by chance. I think I was intrigued by the front cover and of course the title. What could ‘ideology in paradise’ mean?
So I opened up the book and browsed the contents. Don’t you find you make your mind up about a book in a matter of seconds? Well the image above drew me in. The people dancing, and those vibrant colours, just made me want to find out more.
I wasn’t even entirely sure just what the book was about. In fact, I went through it, and wondered just where in the East the photos had been taken. There is nothing in the text or title of the book to suggest it’s North Korea. It was only when I decided to read the inside flap that I understood. To quote, it says:
“One is quietly lulled into a sense that life in North Korea might, in fact, be just as it appears within the frames of these images – normal – instead of like the stories of kidnappings, military posturing, and famime. To Watanabe, it is this sense of tension between the news stories flooding the media in both Japan and in the US and his experiences travelling and photographing – that interests him in this topic”.
On the surface, looking at a lot of the pictures in the book, which have a very beautifully over-processed look to them, you feel that Watanabe is making casual snaps of friends.
It would be so easy to think that people in North Korea do not do as we do. They do not laugh, they do not go for a walk, they do not live normal lives, but as his book shows, human nature comes through all the while, even if the regime that is above them has a grip on how these people live.
I really enjoyed the book. I was intrigued and I think that’s the hallmark of a good book for me. I’d already bought the other books I listed above, and all of a sudden I was breaking the bank and going for this one. I had to own it.
One thing though, I’m sure some of you wonder why I’m so interested in the subject matter. These images look like reportage shots to a degree, and that’s not really how I shoot. True, but talking to Neil from Beyond words about this, he has told me that a lot of photographers he sells books from – are similar. What they shoot, and what they like to look at, or enjoy in terms of photographic sensibilities, often is a different world away.
Ideology in Paradise is available from Beyond Words, if, like me, you have an interest in other cultures and a documentary style of photography.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Today I was tweeted the following interview with Paul Caponigro. In it, there is one particular thing he says which really cuts to the chase for me:
“In order to be a good photographer, you need to work more on your emotions, than you do on your technique”
That is it, in a nutshell for me.
The tweet posting was timely, because this week I bought a very beautiful book by Caponigro called ‘Meditations in Silver’, which I believe is now out of print.
The images are finely produced, and show an attention to detail, symmetry and tonal range in his work.
In his interview he describes how he gets inspiration from everywhere and mentions music. I’m a music fanatic and not a day or hour goes by without it. I find music fuels my imagination and gives me a way to be inspired. I think it’s important to tap into your imagination as often as you can.
I have a lot of workshop participants who tell me that they spend a lot of time with very technical or factual thoughts, and don’t get enough time to dream. Dreaming is important, and it’s something we do really well when we’re children, and less so, perhaps when we’re older.
I also think Caponigro mentions how he appreciates silence. I too, am finding as I get older, that I enjoy silence around me, and certainly, when I’m making images, I’m almost drawn by the quietness of a location. Everything around us, feeds our imaginations.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Note: this video may not be viewable in certain countries due to BBC licence restrictions. It will also only be available on the iPlayer for a limited period.
A few nights ago I was watching the last episode in the ‘Impressionists’ series that’s been on the BBC iPlayer.
You might wonder what art and impressionism has to do with photography. Well, for me they’re almost inseparable. But I’d like to discuss two points that came up in this documentary about the Impressionists:
1) Seurat’s colour theory and dot painting.
If you have the three primary colours or red, green and blue as light sources and mix them together, you get white (or as Waldemar Januszczak shows us, you get a mid grey tone on the colour wheel he demonstrates with). But if you’re a painter and you mix red, green and blue together, you end up with a durge. Seurat wondered how to convey the luminance of a subject in his painting and figured that if he painted in dots – and put red, green and blue dots side by side, he could trick the mind into thinking about higher luminance values. Of course, he failed in that respect, but I thought it was really interesting, because it’s not too far away from how film grains and pixels in sensors are used to convey different colours.
2) Monet’s failing Eye Sight.
At the end of the documentary, Waldemar Januszczak takes us to see the large set of panorama’s painted by Monet, towards the end of his life. He firstly tells us that by this stage in his life, Monet had cataracts which affected his vision and colour interpretation. He also tells us that as a result, the only possible surgery at the time was to remove the lens in the eye, and for the rest of his life, Monet had to deal with double vision. Waldemar Januszczak makes a remarkable statement that Monet’s lack of vision free’d Monet’s immagination.
Wow I thought. That is exactly how I feel about using rangefinder cameras. I don’t get an exact representation of what the camera is picking up, but instead, I have to visualise the image – I have to use my imagination more. This I feel, allows me to get more involved in the picture making process. I believe it is because It’s more me making the image than the camera.
I’ve often said that many photographers have an over reliance on their equipment. Sure, the right equipment can only help and the wrong equipment can really hamper (I’ll be writing more about this with regards to a Hasselblad camera I acquired last year). But ultimately, handing too much of the decision making process to your camera (think autofocus, auto-exposure), means that you’re less in control. Having very accurate viewfinders do not help you compose better, they help you lean on the camera, rather than rely on your own judgement. Having systems which you know aren’t entirely correct, that are approximations can really force you to take more control and be more involved in the picture making process.
So I really understand what Waldemar Januszczak said, when he suggests that Monet’s failing eye sight freed his imagination.
Monday, August 8, 2011
This posting is a review of a camera bag. Before I go any further, I would like to explain that a few weeks back, I was contacted by ThinkTank, who said that a lot of their customers have cited my blog as a good source of photography information. ThinkTank got in touch with me to ask firstly, had I heard of them, and secondly, would I like to look at some of their products?
Well, I do know of ThinkTank, as I bought one of their bags around 3 years ago – the Airport International. It’s a great bag for helping me get through the airport merry-go-round, with all my camera equipment intact. It is, perhaps one of the few bags I own that I have an extremely high regard for.
But as much as it’s a great bag, no bag can satisfy everything I need from it. The Airport International is great for the airport, but once I’m at a location, I tend to use a second bag for day to day shooting (this is usually squashed up and placed inside my checked in luggage). So when ThinkTank offered to send me some freebies, I said that I would be interested in two bags:
1) The Airport Takeoff. This bag is similar to my existing international bag, but offers to act as a backpack once I’ve got through the airport merry-go-round and am now on location somewhere. It seems very appealing as it can continue to be of use once I’m shooting.
2) A waste level camera bag. They are sending me one when they have stock. Personally, I hate backpacks, much preferring to have access to my gear without having to stop, lay the backpack on the ground, and remember to zip it up before I try to put it on my back (I’ve forgotten a few times, and have had lenses and bodies spill out everywhere). But i use backpacks now, because in my 40′s, I’m more aware of looking after my spine!
But I must stress that I did not pay for this bag. It has been sent to me to see what I think of it, and I also must stress that I am under no obligation by ThinkTank to review it and there is no contractual agreement in any shape or form.
This review though, is about the Airport Takeoff, with some comparisons to the Airport International.
In a few words
If you would like to cut to the chase, I will say that this is an excellent bag, with amazing build quality. It is a very high end, professionally made bag, with very logical layout and some nice small (but essential) add on features. I’m really taken with it, so much so, that I’m going to try to use it for all my future foreign trips where I am not trekking at the other side (when I trek, I take an 80L Macpac rucksack and extend the hood, so I can slot in a small camera bag – when will someone invent a trekking backpack that has a detachable camera bag?). But when I’m going some place where I don’t expect to have my temporary home strapped to my back, I would definitely take the Airport Takeoff.
The Airport Takeoff conforms to most airline dimensions for a walk on bag – US and Europe. I would say that this is true for most airlines. I have found some where the overhead lockers are simply unsuitable for putting anything in, unless it’s a toothbrush. So under those circumstances, I’ve managed to get by, either by storing the bag below my seat, or by the air cabin crew storing it somewhere for me. There’s little we can do about this, but the Takeoff has been designed well to work with most airlines.
It’s very sturdy. They’ve taken a lot of care in the design to include non rip materials and the bag is extremely durable. Think ‘military’ rather than ‘wallmart’, in terms of strength and attention of robustness. It would be very easy to think these bags are costly, but when you actually see the build quality to them, you know the money has got you a bag that will last for a very long time. ThinkTank have told me that one of the design concerns was to make bags that won’t get thrown out so quickly. Not only do they provide you with something that should last a lifetime, they have told me that with their warranty program – they try to keep the gear on the road for much longer. I can’t stress enough, that when I got the bag, just one look at how much effort had gone into making it very durable – instantly made me think the price tag was entirely justified. This is perhaps something that’s not easy to convey in any marketing material or by looking at pictures of the bag on the web.
Comparing it to my International bag, I’d say it’s of very similar build, and that bag, has been thrown about in dusty old Rajasthan as well as Nepal. The wheels are solidly made, although I see the Takeoff wheels are made from a type of heavy duty plastic, whereas the International bag I own has alloy wheels. I’m not sure why this design change, but they do seem very robust and I have a lot of confidence in them to work under very abnormal situations.
The internal compartment is very roomy. They give you plenty of section material to allow you a lot of freedom to re-organise the bag to your own tastes. The space is deceptively large and I can easily fit my entire Mamiya 7II outfit, plus filters and also my old Hasselblad 500CM camera with three lenses too. Personally, big bags encourage me to take far too much gear, and I often find myself overburdened once I’m at my destination. But there’s plenty of room in this bag to handle most needs, including large lenses such as a 400mm Canon telephoto. There are also lots of zipper compartments to hold things like batteries, cleaning cloths etc.
If you are the type of person who wishes to take a laptop with you, then you can buy recessed sections from ThinkTank to allow you to have the laptop inside the bag. I’ve got the recessed sections for my international bag. I kind of wish they would just include it as part of the original bag, because although the recessed sections are a less deep, they’re more than adequate for keeping all your gear organised, and still provide plenty of real estate for storing of bodies and lenses.
There is a nice security cable for the bag and they also provide a padlock for it too. So you can lock the bag to something. I liked that feature with my International bag, which didn’t come with a padlock.
Now, the whole point about this bag, is that you can use it as a dual purpose bag – for the airport, and also as a backpack. The straps are nicely contained in a pouch on the back of the bag, and are easy to get at. The entire side of the bag unzips and flips back to reveal the straps. I thought, upon first inspection, that the flap would just hang down and flap around, but they’ve taken care to give you a velcro fitting below the bag to allow you to keep it firmly out of the way.
I was wondering just how comfortable it would be to put a walk-on trolley bag on my back, and it turns out that this is pretty good. The flap that folds back to reveal the straps acts as a lumbar support. The bag doesn’t feel like a compromise when in backpack mode – I felt right at home with it on my back as soon as I put it on. The only thing I felt that was missing, was some form of waste strap, but I think this would have caused some major headaches trying to fit that into the limited space requirements they are trying to keep the bag to. You do however, get a breast-plate strap to keep the two straps from falling back off your shoulders. Under the circumstances, I think this is sufficient.
In terms of weight, I don’t think the bag is heavier than my current backpack – a Lowepro Vertex 200 bag. That’s pretty amazing, considering it has a very sturdy extendable handle built into it, as well as the strong wheels too.
If there is one part of the bag that I find a bit fidgety, it is the tripod holder section. I do feel, that ThinkTank put a lot of effort into it. The initial set up of putting the straps together is a little bit of a fidget, but what’s nice about it, is that to take some of the straps off, or fold some of them away into the nearby pouch isn’t much of a big deal, and they did include that small pouch just for this scenario.
I have a series 3 Gitzo tripod. It’s pretty big. I was able to have it in the side holster on the bag, and use it no problem. Personally, I just don’t get holders for tripods. I feel that a camera bag should be for holding cameras and lenses, not for acting as a tripod holder too. So for me, I think I’ll have a tendency to forget about the attachements – simply because I can’t get enthusiastic about having any bag take care of my tripod for me. What I would like, is for someone to design a sling-shot style cable that is easy to attach to a tripod. I hate tripod bags. I want to have quick access to my tripod and bags just get in the way.
In terms of flying with tripods, ThinkTank aren’t assuming you will attach the tripod to the side of the bag. I’m sure that most airport security is not going to allow you on a plane with a three-pronged impaling instrument, so do what I do – wrap lots of clothing around it, take the ball head off, wrap lots of clothing around that too, and place them right in the centre of your check in luggage.
In summary, I’d say that this is a remarkably well engineered, beautifully designed ‘high-end’ bag, and I will be using it for my forthcoming trips to Switzerland this October and Norway and Iceland later on this year too. I will feel very secure getting through airports because the bag conforms to airport guidelines and it’s very sturdy. It also works very well as a backpack when I’m there, so I won’t need to pack a second walk around bag. So if you’re doing a lot of flying, want to be less conspicuous, and want to use the bag as a backpack once you’re there, then I for one, would be very happy to recommend it to you.
I’ll keep you posted how I get on with it. There are a few trips coming up where I’ll be taking it for sure (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Patagonia & Bolivia).
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Last night I posted some images of two proofs from my forthcoming book. The proofs look amazingly accurate considering that all books are printed in a four ink process – CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black).
But today, I thought I’d show you a small preview of the book layout (click for larger view). In this picture you can see a 1:1 mock up of the book (it’s 12 inches by 13 inches in size) that the printer has sent to me. Don’t assume this is close to the final print, because it’s not. It’s printed on standard office paper, and the colours and depth are way off. It’s simply intended for verifying layout. They have generated this from the Quark Express press ready file we sent them. It’s their way of double checking that I’m happy with the order of the pages, and for me to sign off or let them know about any corrections.