Landscape as director

I’ve just had to accept that certain landscapes are what they are. They have an uncanny knack of knowing how to direct you: they tell us what needs to be done. We just have to listen.

Therein lies the problem. Most of the time we don’t listen to what the landscape is telling us. Instead, we often try to force upon it what we want. What we are looking for. Instead, we shouldn’t be looking for anything. We should be a clean slate, ready to work with whatever conditions we are given.

How many of us go to places with pre-visualised expectations? Hoping to get a certain shot we’ve seen before, or the same conditions?

I’ve been having problems this past year with my use of colour. Or perhaps the lack of it. I was very happy to find that my South Korean image had quite a bit of colour in them. I feel there’s been a pendulum-swing as I’ve gone from reducing colour further, and then further still, to feeling I’m starting to re-introduce it into my work.

Not so with Hokkaido.

As you can see above. These images may ‘appear’ to have little or perhaps no colour to you. All I can say in my defence is : it’s what the landscape directed me to do. I can’t make the landscape be anything it isn’t and rather than have an up-hill struggle to make it so, if I follow what the landscape tells me, things just tend to ‘flow’ much easier.

Hokkaido is not a landscape of strong colours. But it does have them. I think the art in making good photos of Hokkaido isn’t necessarily about working with negative space. Neither is it about working with snow scenes only. I think it’s about working with tone and colour responses. These are where the emotion of the picture reside.

Snow is not white. Neither is it just one continuous tone. Snow is a vast array of off-whites, with subtle graduations running through the landscape. Our eyes are often blind to these subtleties as we start to photograph it, but with some well informed time behind the computer monitor editing and reviewing, we should all come to learn that white has a tantalisingly vast array of shades and off-white colours.

Hokkaido has been my director. It has guided me in my lessons over the past four or five years. I’ve learned so much from working in this landscape when I have chosen to listen to it.

Today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday

I’ve just completed work on some new Hokkaido images. The past few weeks have been a journey in colour reduction and more specifically: colour use. Reduction can be done by anyone, just turn the colour down. But to apply colour sensitively, takes skill and a whole lot of consideration and doubt.

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Now that I’ve finished the Hokkaido images, I’m struck by how little colour there is in them. Yet if I try to put the colour back in, they just sit wrong. They don’t work. They need to be the way I’ve edited them.

Looking at my website main page today, I was struck by a feeling that there is simply too much colour. I don’t think that’s true one bit, but what it is telling me is that I’ve been working with such quiet, muted tones this past week, that somehow, every colour feels strong for me at the moment.

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Our visual perception is often changing, and I think for me, it’s as if it all depends on how I feel today. Tomorrow I may feel otherwise, find that there isn’t enough colour. All I know is, that colour needs to be used carefully, and applied only when it’s required. You can create some noisy, complex images if you let the colour run riot.

Perhaps my sensibilities are changing yet again. Perhaps it’s just a moment. A passing phase. All I know is, that today, colour seems louder than it was yesterday.

The idealised view

Photography isn’t about capturing what’s in front of us. It’s more about capturing what is within us. Often when I see workshop participants want to stop somewhere to make a photograph, it isn’t what’s in front of them that they are drawn to. Instead, they are drawn to an idealised view of what’s there.

I was laughing to myself when I saw this. It was simply too good to be true. Too symmetrical, too balanced, too orderly. Too close to an idealised view.

Image © 2019.

When we see a composition in our mind’s eye, what we do is take each element of the scene that is important to us, and discard the rest. Although the scene may be far from perfect, we focus on the parts that give us what we see in our mind, and discard the rest. This is often why many of us find our photographs never match what ‘we saw’ at the point of capture.

In other words: we have a tendency to idealise the view.

If we can find such an idealised view that requires little or no post-edit work, this is perhaps the goal we all seek. But it’s often not like that, and often most compositions out there are compromised in some way.

I think this is why I love Hokkaido so much. Although the landscape is heavily shaped by man, with a bit of work it is possible to find those rare moments when everything clicks into place and all the components before my camera lens fit into perfect symmetry. It satisfies my urge to make sense of the nonsensical, to make order of the disorderly, and to make pleasing compositions of random elements that come together for a brief moment in what seems like an intended way.

Mark Hollis, musical genius has passed away

Dear Mark Hollis,

Thank you so much for the music.

Spirit of Eden is one of my most treasured of records. Musically it is a masterpiece that many did not understand at the time of its release in 1988. But it has since garnered the badge of being one of the most influential rock albums of all time.

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Spirit of Eden is hailed as the source of ‘post rock’, and cited as a major influence by bands such as Sigur Rós

Many say that Spirit of Eden was responsible for the wave of post-rock bands such as Sigur Rós. I well remember upon its release that there was nothing to compare it to, and that this was the problem: it was too ahead of its time. It was released when there was no post-rock genre to embrace it. But people did. What started out as a sub-culture of appreciation for this work has grown over the years to the point that the album is now recognised for being the treasure that it is.

Being a creative person myself, watching your career, and how you managed to remain true to yourself and your art over the years has been a vital lesson for me. You taught me, through your music, that is much better to follow your own path than to follow others. It may be a lonelier road at times, and many people may not understand you, but being true to who you are is what counts.

Spirit of Eden has given me so much peace and beauty to my inner-life over the past thirty years. I wish to let you know.

I wish you peace Mark.

Classic locations vs anonymous locations

A few days ago, I discussed how it’s ok to go and photograph well known locations, and even copy well known compositions. I explained that you can learn a lot in the process of going through trying to emulate a shot you know so well.

I’d like to think that the reason most of the readers to this very blog are here, is because they are either seeking inspiration for what they do, or at the very least, looking for some advice on how to develop as a photographer. Particularly in finding one’s own ‘vision’ and ‘style’.

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I’m afraid I can’t help you find your own style, but I can at least help you figure out how to work on your own vision. Vision for me, is all about what is seen in the mind’s eye. When we stand and look at some scenery we’re often able to imagine a completed photograph in our mind when we spot one or two compositional objects around us.

As much as I think going to well known places can be hugely instructional. I don’t think that travelling the same well trodden route as countless other photographers is an easy way to find your own vision.

Firstly, you may suffer from ‘I’ve seen this place so many times, shot a particular way, that I can’t see it any other way’. Yes, being overly familiar with a place before visiting it can actually make it more difficult for you to find your own view.

Secondly, even if you do find your own take on a well known place, it’s just extremely hard to make it ‘your own’. This is the main problem for me. Well known places are harder to stamp your own individuality upon, because of familiarity.

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For me, I’d much rather find my own places to photograph. 

Firstly, I’m less burdened with pre-visualised views based on other photographer’s efforts. I feel I’m able to avoid the trap of doing what everyone else has done, because no one else has done it.

I also have more of a chance to find what ‘I see’. My ‘vision’ get’s more of a workout.

Secondly, If I’m able to find good compositions in less visited places, I’ll have more of a chance of making them ‘my own’.

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Working with anonymous places may have all these benefits, but they also have a few challenges as well:

Firstly, it’s really really hard to work with anonymous places. The reason they are often anonymous is because easy to find, obvious compositions aren’t available (otherwise there would have already been a lot of visitors turning the location into an iconic spot).

Secondly, it takes a lot of effort to find good compositions in lesser known places. Whereas with Iconic well known places everyone knows where to stand. With anonymous places we have to go out there and scout for locations that no one has found before. This takes money, effort and a whole lot of time.

But if that isn’t enough, finding original places and compositions require creativity and talent: the skill of finding a good image where no one else has done so before is the elusive ‘x-factor’ that all photographers should seek.

Thirdly, a degree of conviction is required, and trust in one’s own judgement that there is something here to photograph that no one else has seen before. Unlike iconic places, anonymous places aren’t tried and tested. Photographing them means being vulnerable because you have no other photographers to back you up in your decisions. You may doubt yourself because you think ‘if there were compositions here, surely someone else would have found them already’?

Choosing anonymous places requires hard work, and guts. Shooting them shows independence. It shows you’re not happy to follow what everyone else is doing (in my opinion a great attribute to have). Shooting them allows you to start with a clean slate. Being the first explorer of a place that hasn’t been photographed before can be scary and exciting at the same time. Scary because you may be wondering if you’re wasting your time, and exciting when you find something beautiful when you least expected it.

I’d much rather choose anonymous places over the iconic. I’d prefer to avoid the tried and tested. At least that way I’d be working towards my own vision of the world.

The world is certainly big enough, with most of it un-photographed and undiscovered, for each of us to find our own voice. And some of it is staring you in your face, right now, just waiting for you, and easily within reach of your doorstep.

Romania, visit #2

I’m in Romania right now. I first came here in February 2018.

I seem to have a habit lately of taking friends up on their invites, and of doing zero research and just going and seeing what happens. This approach often yields images that I couldn’t have imagined if I had planned anything in advance and I like that very much. Art isn’t about guarantees.

This week is no exception to last year’s visit, where I finished the trip by thinking ‘I’m not sure if I got anything’. The Romanian landscape requires a lot of work.

But I’m ok with that. In fact, I ‘m more than ok with that. I like the ‘not knowing’.

Shooting in Romania. Image by Florin Patras. Used with kind permission.

Returning home, feeling that things are unclear is a good way to end a shoot. One shouldn’t go home thinking ‘I cracked it’. You should always be left in doubt about your efforts.

Doubt is healthy. It means you care. The most proficient always have doubts. It means they are willing to consider that the work may not be right, that there is room for improvement. Doubt is not a weakness. Being overly confident is.

You see, for me photography has never been about guaranteed results. Nor has it ever been about capturing great images. For me, photography has been about taking a chance, and getting out there. It’s been about living in the world around me and engaging with it.

Whether we create great work or not is always to be seen, but living in the moment and connecting with the world is, I believe, why we do what we do.

And if it isn’t, then we’re in trouble ;-)

Good artists copy, but great ones steal

I believe Pablo Picasso once said ‘Good artists copy, but great ones steal’.

When I first started making pictures, I was keen to follow in the footsteps of my heroes. I remember going to Patagonia because of Galen Rowell’s images of Torres del Paine. So too, I visited Hokkaido because I love Michael Kenna’s work from there.

I think it’s a mandatory part of the process of learning, to follow in your heroes footsteps. Imitating your heroes is one of the best ways we learn.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

An old image of mine, of Elgol, on the Isle of Skye. Visiting well known locations can teach us a lot and even copying well known compositions can aid in the teaching also. I think that for me, I’m really keen to see if I can transcend the well known view, to try to find my own style or vision. To make the scene ‘my own’.

As an example of this, every song writer will tell you that when they first started writing songs, they would cover other people’s, study others guitar riffs, anything they had heard and liked. They will also tell you that they learned a lot by doing so.

I remember while at high school, watching the new kids arrive at the beginning of a new term and choose to hire out the music equipment from the music department. It wasn’t long before I heard them playing ‘house of the rising sun’ or ‘stairway to heaven’, or some other well known ‘standard’ - songs that are known to be great to learn to play. This is completely natural and to be encouraged.

So copying and emulating the people you admire has always been part of anyone’s education.

With regards to the ‘stealing’ aspect of Picasso’s quote, I think what he was referring to the talent some people possess at being able to take an existing idea and make it their own - in other words take someone else’s idea and make such a good job of it that they now own it. A perfect example of this, is the musician that covers someone else’s song, but does such a unique or exceptional rendition of it, that they become so well known for their version, that the song becomes their song.

I think as photographers, if we go to well known locations to make photographs, we should hopefully be striving to do the same: make the scene ‘our own’. I make no judgement on those who are content with making copies of well known locations, as it is similar to all the musicians out there who ‘cover’ someone else’s songs. But if we can somehow make a rendition of a well known place that transcends the derivative, then we have achieved the ultimate prize in our own photography: we have managed to make the scene ‘our own’.

For me, photography is all about developing my own vision and consequently, developing my own style. Trying to put my own stamp on a place, by either shooting it in a way that hasn’t been done before, or by doing something that enables it to be clearly evident that it’s one of my photographs is what I am most interested in.

It’s just extremely hard to do.

We all have to start somewhere, and we often begin by emulating the work of those we admire. It’s perfectly natural and constructive to do so. We can learn so much about the craft in the process. Copying is often a transitory thing for most of us - an apprenticeship if you will, and the precursor to developing our own sense of style and vision. Which I firmly believe is the ultimate goal of our own aspirations.

Too much noise in our lives

There has to be space, plenty of it, to enable us to be creative. There has to be lots of free time to allow us to get under the skin of a place. If there’s too much distraction in our lives, then we’re not able to give photography the attention it needs.

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Finding space is one thing, but having a settled mind with which to be creative is an entirely different thing altogether.

I think photography can be a meditative act. A space where you lose yourself. All sense of time disappears. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that often when I’m making photographs - I disappear. I am not aware of thinking any particular thoughts, or of being aware of being here.

But you can only get to this state if you feel your mind is capable of being settled. Got too much worries in your life, or too many pressures, and it’s hard, even with a lot of space - to disengage.

Decluttering one’s life is important, because by doing so, you give yourself the space to let something else in - your creativity.

For me, I’ve always needed space around me. I’m an introverted extrovert. I like being around people and I like being social, but I also recognise when I need to recharge my batteries and need time alone, space to do …. nothing …. or more precisely …. nothing much in particular, or with no agenda … is something I need more and more. Knowing I don’t have to be somewhere, knowing that the day ahead of me is free and I don’t have to stick to a plan is something that helps me a great deal.

I’m convinced this 'settled mind’ I’m seeking allows me to absorb my experiences, to digest what it is that I’ve travelled to make photographs of. When I come home from trips, I often find I need a decompression period of around two weeks. It gives me time to adjust, to think about where I’ve been and more importantly, to understand what it all means to me.

We’re not here to make only pictures. Photography shouldn’t be only an acquisitive act. It’s about how it feeds you that matters most. For example, I often find the greatest joy and satisfaction during the review of work that was created many weeks prior. Not the actual shooting.

Reliving my experiences this way, often after some time, allows me to reflect upon it, to really understand what it meant to me, and this can only happen if I have enough space, and peace of mind with which to engage with it.

The pendulum of colour

You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.

I see changes in my photography happen slowly throughout the years I’ve been making images. I think we have several muscles that need to be exercised: our visualisation muscle, our composition muscle, our tonal muscle and also with regards to today’s post: our colour muscle.

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Learning to use Colour is something many of us don’t even know we have to do. I remember in the early years of my photography how happy I was to just have very strong colour in my images. I never gave colour much thought except ‘is it punchy enough’.

Now I see very differently and understand that some colours:

  1. May not compliment the scene

  2. May cause distraction if too dominant

  3. May cause the scene to be too busy if there is too much of it

  4. May cause the scene to be too ‘dead’ if there isn’t some form of colour in there

  5. Colour needs to be used carefully because it is a component of what we call ‘Composition’.

I think I’ve been working on my Colour-muscle for the past 4 or 5 years. Where I was once happy to just load up the photos with oversaturated colours that caused my eye to be thrown everywhere at the same time, I began a process of reduction. And further reduction, until I began to feel as if my work was just a shade away from being monochrome. I have a theory about this which I’d like to call ‘the pendulum of colour’.

The Pendulum of Colour

We have to learn where the boundaries are. Boundaries are personal: your boundaries will be different from mine. But we all have to find them. Boundaries are important because they tell us a few things:

  1. That we’ve really explored the realm

  2. That we know where the limits of acceptability are to us

  3. Most importantly, that we have found we can go much further than we thought we could.

If you don’t go beyond what you think is acceptable, then how do you know you’ve gone far enough? If you are conservative with your use of colour, tone, composition, focal lengths and stick to the same formats all the time, then you’re never really exploring what’s possible. You aren’t reaching your full potential.

So you have to go way beyond what you think is acceptable to find out where your limits of acceptability are.

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I think, for most of us, our use of colour tends to have this kind of trajectory:

  1. We begin our photography by being delighted at having strong colours in the work. Any form of strong colour is great. But we still have to learn how to use colour selectively

  2. As the years go by, we begin to tire of strong coloured photographs and begin to feel we need to find something more. We start to notice that some of the colours are displeasing and we want to reduce them, or desaturate selectively This is what I would call the first pendulum swing: we are now going the other way with our colour use.

  3. Years may pass, but we find we become more aware of colour casts, of shadows having deep hues we never saw when we began our photography. Indeed, looking back at our first attempts causes us embarrassment.

  4. We begin to tune out certain colour casts. The photos become more muted as a result.

At some point, you may feel you’ve reduced colour far too much in what you do. That’s where the 2nd pendulum swing happens. This pendulum swing is different though, for one reason: you have gained experience and understanding of colour. Although you may be re-introducing colour back into your work, you’re much more informed about where, when and just how much you need to use.

As I said at the start of this post today: “You have to go too far one way, in order to know where to dial it back. If you never go beyond your boundaries, then you’ll never know where they are.”

Your use of colour is like a muscle that needs to be exercised. You need to push it far beyond what you’re normally capable of to find out if there’s more potential for you. You also need to do this to understand where the limits are for you. Dialling it back is informative because you begin to understand that you don’t often need as much colour as you once used. When you’ve been doing this for a while you realise that you can re-introduce colour, but it works best when applied selectively and with a much more considered approach.

We change all the time. Our tastes, aesthetics are all on their own pendulum swings, but each time we revert back to something we did a while ago, we do so as a changed person. We don’t repeat: instead we become better at what we do.

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In Hokkaido

Sometimes I wish I had photos to show others where I was, and what it’s like to be there.

After reviewing the image below, I’m just sorry I never made any use of that lovely curved tree trunk to the left of the frame. I was too busy (that’s me in blue) shooting one of my favourite trees in Hokkaido during an exceptional snow storm.

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

Image courtesy Steve Hunter, Hokkaido tour participant

If you only ever shoot in sunny weather, your photography will take on only one possible dimension of what beautiful planet Earth has to offer us. The more I continue with my photography, the more I am realising that images can be made in all kinds of light, and during all times of the day.

Years ago, I only ever shot at sunrise and sunset. Everything had to have a red glow about it. These days you’ll find me shooting in the middle of the day, and sometimes in sunny weather if I feel I can use it to some benefit.

But I still think that most of us pack up and go home when the weather gets tough. Yet that is when things get interesting. Just look at the diffusion of the light on the base of the trees in that photo above. I haven’t got my films back yet, but I already have anticipation of the day we went to lake kussharo and photographed in extremely stormy conditions. It was wonderful.

Symmetry, patterns, Maths

There’s high correlation between music and maths. So too, is there high correlation between photographic composition and maths. And if that is true, then there is high correlation between music and pictures. They are one and the same.

One of my passions is music. I think that when it comes down to it, I’m just attracted to patterns. Whether it’s visual patterns (such as diagonals, curves, lines, shapes etc in photography) and patterns in music.

In the video below, the presenter shows you how electronic music is created by using certain numerical patterns. I’m not expecting anyone to know what a VCF, Gate, Clock, VCA is, but if you just listen to the sound he’s creating, and realise it’s all based on maths - it’s really inspiring.

South Korea 2018

I went to South Korea in December last year for an 8-day trip. I had been invited over by my friend Kidoo whom I met through my workshops. I hope to write more about my travels there in my coming newsletter this month. In the meantime a new gallery is up on the site for you to enjoy.

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Ghostly Steel grey

This image has been sitting in my filing cabinet (I shoot transparency film) since February 2017. Volandstind is one of my favourite mountains in the Lofoten islands of Norway.

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This image was taken on a particularly windy day in Lofoten with driving rain passing through every few minutes. Making images like this one doesn’t happen on a calm day, nor does it happen on a settled dry sunny day either. But you knew that, because that’s why you come to my blog. I shoot in inclement weather mostly, and if the weather is challenging, then it’s a good indicator that you might get something of interest in your photographs. If you can get over how rotten it feels to be outside on such a day.

I remember having to set the camera up and just wait as the squalls of rain passed through. Rather than just firing the shutter, I prefer to stop and watch the elements and look. Some times the visibility increases too much and that beautiful conical shape of Volandstind was lost to too much detail. Other times the visibility would decrease so much that the mountain was hardly visible at all. It was all a case of waiting for the right level of visibility and studying the weather.

You have to become an observer of weather patterns. Understanding what sort of day it is, and whether the rain squalls are passing through and what their frequency is, is important in anticipating what will happen next.

Most of my ‘strong’ images often leave a big impression upon me at the point of capture. Because I’m a film shooter I have no preview, so I have to trust what my memory tells me. With this photo, the residual memory of it stayed with me for so long that when I dug out the transparencies today I had it first and foremost in my mind to seek out and edit.

Steel blue

You can use colour to convey a feeling. And if you reduce the colours in your pictures to just a few, then the message gets stronger / simpler.

You can use tone to help lead the eye around the frame, but it is colour for me, that conveys emotion.

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I’m not the same photographer I was 10 years ago. Where I once crammed lots of tone, texture and colour into the frame, I now do the opposite.

With early efforts, I think the high saturation, high colour, complex textures and busy compositions are similar to someone trying to convey all their points in one paragraph. As we learn to go on, we move each point to its own paragraph, to its own space where it has a chance to express itself.

I didn’t see the ‘steel blue’ when I was in Romania. It only happened during the editing and by creatively messing around.

I like to try to be as fluid as I can. ‘what happens if I turn the hue slider this way?’ and suddenly a steel blue colour leapt out of the frame. It was always present - you can’t bring something out that isn’t there, And once it was there: I knew it belonged.

Scars on land II

All landscapes have scars. It just depends if you choose to see it that way.

The word ‘scar’ may sound negative to you, conjuring up the idea that some kind of abuse has taken place. Not for me. A scar is simply the remnant of a moment, after all, even the most treasured loved objects we own, if we have them for long enough accumulate scars.

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Scars are recorded history. Marks of moments in time.

Surely, all photographers are interested in capturing a moment? We are all fascinated by the idea of freezing time. Of pressing pause, of being able to focus on one tiny moment in time.

I think that’s why I like lines, features, geological elements to the landscape. I think it’s why we all do. They are scars. They are signs of moments in time.

We’re not just into photography for pretty-picture-making. I’m sure we’re into it for something more metaphorical in nature, of having a dialog with our surroundings. Photography is a way of connecting.

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In the works

During last year’s printing workshop, I found that we got stuck in too much detail about the technology. Monitor calibration for instance, is a big topic that can consume you for days. Colour spaces were often confusing for most, and then there was the issue of rendering intent. Why do you have to choose the rendering intent in the print driver, even though it’s been set in the proofing set up? Some folks got confused between proofing settings and printing settings and couldn’t understand why they are different, and have different purposes.

Then there was the aspect of sharpening, and paper profiles. Yet another large topic that one can get lost in for days, if not years.

But it had to be covered. You need to know this stuff if you want to get good at printing.

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I’ve got to prepare some notes for this years workshop. So participatns have something to refer to when they get lost. Rather than getting stuck going over the same material, I need to crystallise the information so I can keep the workshop on track, and those that find some parts confusing have notes to refer to.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been working on the content of this workshop for the past few months and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it would suit an e-book as well.

It’s a massive topic. And I felt a sense of dissatisfaction from some workshop participants - how do you learn about printing in a week? You can’t. It’s like trying to learn about composition in a week. You can’t. All you can do is point people in the right direction and try to cut out some of the crap. Cut down the chances of them going down the wrong avenues and getting lost down them for years.

So I think there is room for a stripped down information pack that cuts through a lot of the information out there, and tries to simplify it down to what you just need to know to get up and running. So that’s what I hope to do with this new e-book that is currently in development.

Stay tuned.

The lure of the road.....

I’m just home from Japan. I was there for a whole month. Sitting at home, enjoying being home, it is quickly wearing off…. there is just so much out there to go and see.

This little video is very inspiring. Surely all us photographers have wanderlust?

Art should be disposable

Being a serious photographer or serious artist is certainly something I would encourage. But you know, I think if you are passionate about photography or art, then you’re probably already there in that respect.

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Being precious about what we do is hard. It’s hard to show others our efforts, particularly if they mean a lot to us, and somehow, when we care less about the work, or feel it’s ‘throw-away, disposable stuff’, it’s much easier to be less critical of ourselves.

Creating work takes confidence. Confidence to feel happy knowing it may not be as good as we hoped. Confidence to feel happy with whatever people think of it. Confidence to take it or leave it.

A split personality is often required: one that can take or leave our work and not get too precious about it, but also at the same time care very deeply about what we do. Let me explain.

To be truly free, to be able to explore, we need to free ourselves from any chains, or self-imposed limitations or rules. That’s a pretty hard thing to do if you are trying to be serious about what you do. We start to judge our efforts often before they are complete and as I’ve said on many previous posts - that can lead to writers-block - unable to produce anything because nothing seems good enough.

Creativity is all about letting go. You can’t let go if you are bound by rules and self-imposed restrictions. And to let go, you need to either develop a sense of ‘who cares if it’s rubbish’, or get confident in what you do.

Confidence does not mean you are good at what you do. Confidence has nothing to do with it. Confidence is all about being comfortable with whatever you create, no matter how good or bad it is.

I think one way to get around any self-imposed restrictions, is to look at your photography / art as disposable. Even create it with the mind that you will destroy it.

We’re all far too precious about it. We want to keep what we create for perpetuity, but that in itself is an illusion. We don’t last forever, and nothing does. So why should our photography? Why can’t our work be a product of the time it was created in? Why can’t it just live for the time it was made in, and be gone afterwards.

If you can get used to throwing your work away, of maybe printing it, and then throwing the negative or RAW file away, I think we would set ourselves free. Free to do whatever we want because we are no longer being tied down to judging ourselves on our past work, on thinking that the work we create represents us. It represents nothing but a moment.

I sometimes think that photography or art should be disposable. If you can create it with this in mind, then I am certain that things become more free. You lose your inhibitions, judgement, and an over-riding sense of value in something that should just be a passing moment anyway.

If you are having problems creating work, then I’d suggest you go out one day to create 10 images. Work on them quickly, print them, delete the raw files, and file them away if you feel you are too judgemental on them. Forget them. Come back to them a week or so later and think about the transient nature of what you did, and more importantly, how you were able to produce something so quickly.

Good artists create. They keep moving forward. They don’t build museums to their work. They don’t stagnate. I think the way they do this, is to understand that anything they create is just a passing moment, and something not to be taken too seriously. Free yourself from your older work and you can find the space to move forward.

What would you do, if you had no undo?

I’ve written posts in the past about the act of committing to your decisions. When we create art, we have to commit to our decisions along the way: where to place the tripod, when to click the shutter and when to say when something is finished / complete. There are many stages along the way where we have to make a choice knowing we can’t go back.

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But there seems to always be a need to have an undo button with the software we use. We think that the undo button is pretty neat. Don’t like what we’ve done? We can undo it. It’s powerful. We now have more options in front of us, and that makes things more powerful, more creative, right?

Well, I don’t think so.

Having a way of being able to undo a decision is a cheap way of saying ‘I don’t have to worry about any decisions I make, and therefore, I can take them less seriously than if I knew that once they are made, I can’t go back.

What would you do if you had no undo feature with your software?

Would you be more careful with your edits? Would you think twice before you delete something? Would you find that every decision you made became quite difficult? Would you slow down? Would you find yourself torn, unsure of what to do?

Being a creative person is all about taking risks, of accepting that you may fail. Failure is good for us. Being able to be comfortable at failing when experimenting means that you open up your chances of doing something surprising. It also means you aren’t following the beaten path of the derivative.

Having no undo, means you have to stand by your decisions and learn to let go if things go wrong.

Having no undo means you are free. Because as soon as you are no longer scared to screw up, you are free to try anything you want, and to see where it goes.

Creativity cannot be controlled, perfected, done with no room for failure. Failure is part of the creative process, and having no undo button is actually a good thing. Having an undo button is actually stopping you from letting go, and from trusting yourself to give things a go because you believe in what you do.

Working your aspect ratio muscle

I’ve been saying for many years now, that certain aspect ratios are easier to work in than others. Choosing the right aspect ratio for your own aesthetic temperament will aid you in finding compositions, whereas working with a difficult aspect ratio will hamper you. The thing is, you need to find out which aspect ratios work for you.

I’m still surprised that so many buy a digital camera and don’t consider the aspect ratio it shoots in. I have always thought that 3:2 is a particularly difficult aspect ratio to work in and choosing a less panoramic format such as 4:3, 4:5 or 6:7 would be easier to help you compose in.

Anyway, the reason why I am writing this post today is to say that by choosing different aspect ratios to work in, you force your eye to move into regions of the frame that you don’t normally visit with your eye.

If we consider the 3:2 format below, I’ve marked the region where most of us tend to spend time with our eye in black. The white areas of the frame are where we spend less or no time looking in.

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I like to think of the black areas of the frame as ‘concentrated areas of experience’ with the white areas being ‘areas of little or no experience’.

If you choose to shoot in another format for a while, the different shape of the chosen aspect ratio will force your eye into areas of the frame that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit.

I found with square, my eye was visiting more of the frame, as is illustrated below

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Interestingly, I found my eye had less to travel to reach the far corners of the frame than in a 3:2 format. My ‘area of experience’ isn’t too far away from the corners of the frame.

As a result, I started to put objects at the far corners of the frame.

This isn’t something I was ever comfortable doing with 3:2 or 4:5.

After shooting square for a few years, I found that when I did return to 4:5 or 4:3, I found that all those exercises of putting things in the far corners of my square aspect ratio helped me use those corner and edge areas of the rectangle aspect ratio. As in this picture below:

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Working with different aspect ratios is a good exercise to do. Move around between them too much and perhaps you won’t learn anything as I do believe you need to settled into one or two ratios for a few months if not years. But certainly it is true for me, that by moving to a different aspect ratio for a while, has changed my photography and how I compose when I have returned to an aspect ratio I used many years ago.

Your visualisation skill is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you never force your eye into the corners of your frame then I think you lose the skill to visualise compositions that can produce very dynamic work.