Saturday, January 28, 2006

The joy of street photography

Street photography is more than a style, it's a way of seeing, a way of being, a kind of zen of photography. It requires being in tune with everything around you to capture that special moment, without prejudices, without preconceptions. It's liberating, a celebration of life and reality in all incarnations.

Someone that shares my enthusiasm for street photography and is making quite a name for himself is Johnny Mobasher. His site is definitely worth a visit.

I have written an article called Strategies for Street Photograhers in a previous blog which you may find interesting too.

I photographed this little girl with her dad in the background, enjoying a moment in the street in Leeds.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The beauty of truth

Portrait of Mrs Madelain, 8 days before her death.

She used to be a photographer, quite a pioneer in her time. We talked about photography. She posed for me on the veranda of the retirement home. Staring out to sea she seemed to be looking into the future.

Mrs Madelain was patient, understanding of course all the steps required to get the image, metering the light and so on. In her day things were done even more slowly.

There is beauty in truth and photography has the power to capture truth.

This image is dedicated to Mrs Madelain and all those that seek to show the beauty of truth in their photography.

Paul Indigo

Monday, January 23, 2006

Clarification of types of photographers

I've had great feedback about my previous post and one of the most interesting questions was , "What is the difference between a documentary photographer and a photojournalist?"

Documentary photographers tend to stick with a particular subject for a length of time doing nothing else. Their focus and attention is narrower than a typical photojournalist.

The photojournalist tells stories wherever he finds them and probably goes into an area for a few hours, a week, maybe a month and then moves on to the next story. The photojournalist is concerned with bringing the story to a wide public audience, their readers, while a documentary photographer wants to record something for prosperity or sometimes a specific audience.

Documentary photographers usually take images for publication, but sometimes only for an exhibition in an art gallery or other public forum. Sometimes an organisation or company will commission documentary photography of its activities, but the pictures will only be for its private archives.

In many ways the documentary photography and photojournalism overlap and the distinction is blurred. It's probably most useful however to regard documentary photography as a subcategory of photojournalism.

Paul Indigo

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Understanding different types of photographers

Photography is a medium. So are pen and paper. The same pen and the same piece of paper can be used to create a shopping list, write a novel or draw a masterpiece. You have to look at the intention of creator to understand what a photographer’s work is all about. Let’s examine some of the ways in which the medium of photography is used.

There are plenty of definitions of photojournalism in textbooks and on the web. In my view, a photojournalist, someone that does photojournalism, is essentially a story teller. Images and captions are combined to achieve the highest goal of any photojournalist – that is to reveal the truth to their audience – the people that read the newspapers, magazines and visit the websites where their work is published.

It is the photojournalist’s goal to show reality and to tell true stories that fundamentally separates this type of photographer from other photographers except the documentary photographer. The difference with the documentary photographer is that she is concerned with just one story over an extended period of time while the photojournalist concentrates on newsworthy events and has a far more diverse focus. Cynics may say the photojournalist’s job is to make images that help sell newspapers. I suppose so. But really the authentic spirit of the photojournalist is to show the truth and capture a narrative in the form of an image and caption. Unlike other photographers the photojournalist uses words as well as images. Most photojournalist’s I’ve known really are driven to reveal the truth and have tremendous integrity and independence.

Paparazzi confuse the issue. They look like photojounalists but all they want to do is capture something sensational which papers and magazines will pay a fortune for. Their drive to take pictures is money. The truth comes a little lower down in their priority list.

The advertising photographer’s job is to show their client’s product in the best light possible. The driving force behind their photography is to visually sell the subjects of their photography. I class fashion photography in this category too. Commercial photography is all about persuading the audience to buy.

The social photographer, who does weddings and portraits, is driven to by the need to earn money by taking the most pleasing images that they can create for their client. They seek to flatter and enhance reality.

The art photographer is concerned with expressing an inner truth. They want to expose their personal vision and seek to reveal it through their images. Their work is essentially a projection of themselves onto reality. The art photographer reveals themselves gradually to their audience through a body of work.

What about the amateur photographer? I think the amateur is driven by several different factors. The serious amateur photographer wants to ultimately win recognition for accomplishment in the technical aspects of photography, such as the ability to capture an interesting image, with a good composition and exposure. They seek to create the perfect textbook image that ticks all the boxes and they are often obsessed with equipment rather than vision. Many amateurs submit work to stock libraries and magazines and they are absolutely thrilled when it gets published. A goal has been accomplished. A professional editor has rewarded their efforts and they have achieved recognition for their technical proficiency. The money is pretty handy for an extra piece of kit too.

Many amateurs have extended their drive to achieve technical proficiency to other areas surrounding photography such as digital processing and manipulation.

The difference between amateur photographers and professionals such photojournalists, is their point of departure, their ultimate goal. For most professional photographers a great image is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Their work gets published everyday. That’s what is expected and it’s nothing special, although I will say it is nice to see your image getting used on the front page of the newspaper or the cover of a magazine.

The above breakdown is rather simple. You could write several books on the subject but in a blog it is not practical to go into too much depth. All I would really like to do is to get you to ask yourself the following: “What is the drive behind my photography and what is my point of departure.” The answers will help you focus your work on what is important, saving you time and wasted effort, not to mention frustration. How can you ever be satisfied with what you achieve if you can’t measure it against an objective goal?

One more thing: photojournalism really is the odd one out of the list above for three fundamental reasons:

All the other forms of photography are about taking images of subjects while photojournalism is about telling a story about the subject. Action, interaction, reaction and context are essential to the narrative, which is always about people.

The second fundamental difference is that photojournalism is about exposing the truth. There are always three elements involved: who the story is about, the photojournalist (story teller) and the audience (the readers). The photojournalist works for the readers, to show them the truth, not for anyone else. The best photojournalists have tremendous integrity and if they are ever exposed cheating results or lying through their images the consequences are dire.

The third and final difference is that photojournalism is inseparable from the written word. Every image needs a description. It is incomplete without its caption.

As always your feedback is tremendously welcome.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The bridge

Magda strides across the foot bridge near Bolton Abbey in Yorshire. She is someone who is determined to follow her own path.

Photographs that capture something about a person don't always have to be full frontal portraits. As a photojournalist you choose a way to shoot your subject that helps tell their story.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Critical success

The internet allows photographers to publish their images to a potentially huge international audience. Online systems enable them to measure the popularity of an image through seeing how often a picture is viewed or through ratings systems. And of course authors can get direct feedback through comments on their work.

But is the approval of peers and the ratings they give a true measure of how good an image is. The short answer is no. Inevitably when any of us interact within community we create an online personal brand. People's reactions to a picture are influenced by the way they perceive the photographer's personal brand. Audiences often measure success in terms of expectations so that a beginner who suddenly produces a good image may be rated higher on an image than someone more experienced who consistently produces a high standard of work. The appreciation of an image is influenced by numerous factors.

How then do you know if your images really are good? Like all successful brands the best measure is in fact how passionate people are about your brand and your images. Being disliked is just as good an indication that you are making an impact as being popular. In fact the more brilliant your images are and the more passionately people feel about your photography the more likely you are to experience detractors, negative criticism and dislike.

To illustrate the point about brands lets take the example of Canon and Nikon. To all intents and purposes both camera systems are equally good. Yet like all successful brands Nikon and Cannon have passionate supporters and equally importantly passionate detractors. When it comes to good clearly defined brands, opinions  are invariably polarised

Look at the great photographers who have made a huge impact on the world. All of the master photographers have their ardent supporters and their fierce critics. The key indicator of success is not how popular your photography is but rather how passionate people are about it.

So I say embrace negative criticism, celebrate your detractors because it shows that you are making your mark and your personal brand is becoming successful.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Paul Indigo

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The value of preparation

Photography is instant. You press the shutter and capture a split second of light reflecting off your subject and registering on the camera's film or sensor. I've found that the most satisfying captures are often those special moments when the action unfolds in front of you and, just as everything comes together, you push the shutter. Magic.

So it's no wonder that so many photographers go off half-cocked. After all photography appears to be one of the most spontaneous 'art forms' there is.

In fact to create magic takes a lot of preparation. Before you do anything you should be considering what you want to shoot, the lenses you will need, the set up of your camera, background information on the location, know who you want to photograph or what. It's dedication and attention to detail that separates the photographer with a professional attitude from a happy snapper.

Even papparrazi take the time to learn locations, habits of their prey, build up vital contacts and most of them memorise loads of license plate numbers and phone numbers. Wedding photographers may do pre-wedding photo-shoots, scout locations and certainly take a detailed brief from the couple. Landscape photographers need to know what to expect from the weather, should have an idea of the angle of the sun, the tides if they're on the coast, the history of the place and what to expect generally from the location.

At the center and heart of every bit of preparation is the photographer thinking about and pre-visualising what he or she wants to shoot and how. This will inform all sorts of decisions such as equipment to take (why carry loads of stuff you won't need or use) and how to set up cameras to optimise the results.

No matter what you do when it comes to photography, by the time you pick up your camera to take the first shot you should have done stacks of preparation - if you're serious about getting the best possible results.

Please let me know if you found this useful by sending me an email. Could you also tell me if you would like to be added to my new mailing list. I plan to send out irregular emails about particular events, with tips and news that I don't include in my blog (my blog is more about personal opinion than photographic news).

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Paul Indigo

Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Exhibition

A new year a new exhibition. My wife, Magda, the other half of indigo2 photography and I have launched an online exhibition on our website

Magda has produced two superb Flash slide shows capturing the magic of winter and I've put together an exhibition of unusual landscapes.

We'd love to hear what you think of our site and the exhibition, so please feel free to send us an email or sign the guestbook.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Capture the action

Think of an image that really means something to you. Not just an image that is pleasing to look at and contemplate but something that really touches you. I bet the image tells a story. It may not be the most brilliantly realised picture in terms of technique, nor perhaps the perfect composition but something about it touches your emotions and moves you deeply.

In our world of over-hype the sheer volume of images that crash against our conciousness every waking minute is overwhelming. It's incredibly refreshing to reach over and look at the snapshot of a loved one, a favourite memory, perhaps something that makes you smile or evokes your empathy.

I find myself tremendously attracted to photojournalism again. Good 'old fashioned' story telling pictures that reveal the human condition and that go beyond the all too common overmanipulated and Photoshoped to death kitch view of a reality that does not exist outside cleverly enhanced pixels.

Of course digital and darkroom manipulation can work but they should only be put to use to enhance meaning, to reveal, rather than to mask reality. Every element in a picture should be there to help tell the story.

Below, a moment captured in Ostend when everyone and their dog was out dicing with the huge waves crashing against the promenade. Many people over the years have lost this game and been swept away. Happily these two and their dog made it and I was in the right place at the right time to capture the moment.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

What makes us respond to an image?

Mowing the lawn in an old cemetry in South Africa.

I think are several factors which can influence the importance we attribute to an image or how we rate it aesthetically. Without going into a philosophical discourse about it, here are a few key considerations:

I don't think there is such a thing as a bad image or a good image, just pictures that are interesting and pictures that are not interesting. Whether or not depends on several things:
  • Historical context. Older pictures tend to get more interesting
  • Subject matter
  • Technical and aesthetic qualities
  • How well an image communicates an idea or emotion
  • How unusual the image is. Unique views and rarely seen subjects are more interesting
  • The caption or text associated with the image is extremely important to how we perceive it
  • The way the image is presented. The same picture in a magazine, a book, on screen or in a gallery will all be perceived in a different way. Many pictures that work well on a computer monitor actually come out quite poorly in print and vice versa. Each medium has its own associations and particular graphic quality
  • Who took the image has an influence on the way it is perceived. Mediocre images by famous photographers will still generate more interest and acclaim than superb images by unknowns.
  • Personal associations and experiences that relate to the subject matter will also influence the way you perceive it
  • Personal taste in things like colours

Why we like a particular image and why we find it interesting are complicated issues but hopefully I've provided some food for thought.

Paul Indigo
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