Friday, March 31, 2006

Images that resonate

Two comic talents give an impromptu show on a street in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Usually people smile when they see this image. At first it's the expressions that catch the eye, then the hands and finally the tiny details like the dummy in the one guy's hand. I think my composition, the moment I captured, adds to the humour with the raised finger appearing to be under the nose of the other chap and direction of his gaze, all adding to the dynamism of the image.

In an earlier blog I talked about what makes us respond to an image. As I listed there are several factors but the second last point I made in the list is the most important one. We respond to an image because of personal associations and experiences.

The best term I've seen to describe this deep connection that one can have with an image is that it resonates. You can go to a gallery and admire the esthetics, the lighting, the composition, the subject matter and all the rest but if the image does not touch you on a deeper level, if it does not resonate with you, then you are not going to fall under its spell.

It's a strange business. After all these years I've got an idea of the types of image that resonate with me. But a curator could present me with hundreds of pictures that fit the description I could give and yet only a few of those images would actually hit that spot and connect on a deeper level with my inner world.

Sometimes an image that resonates is not technically perfect, other people will walk past it and see nothing special and yet it will stop me dead in my tracks. The whole subject is fascinating and I'll investigate it further because, quite frankly, at the moment this phenomenon is largely a mystery to me.

I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts.



Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ethics in photography

I saw a guy with a camera the other day stalking a homeless person. The homeless person was sitting in doorway with his dog. He was unaware that he was being photographed.

It made me wonder about the intentions of the photographer. Why was he taking the picture? Who was he taking it for? What did he want to show?

Street photography has become more fashionable with the ubiquitous digital camera and even camera phones. Self appointed 'photojournalists' are out and about snapping everything in sight.
It makes me feel uncomfortable because I'm not sure of the ethics of all of these photographers. The questions, why, who what keep bouncing around in my mind.

A true photojournalist is a witness to an event or story. He or she is the representative of all of those people that have not been able to see something for themselves. Photographing someone who finds themselves in unfortunate circumstances should only be done if the photographer is ethically motivated to seek and show the truth. The photojournalist needs to be socially and morally aware that they are documenting a human life, a real human being whose rights, feelings and emotions should be respected. Too often amateur photographers take pictures without an ethical/ legitimate reason, without understanding, without knowledge and without a proper purpose.

Do you want to know what gives certain images a real power. They are usually images taken by photographers with authenticity and integrity deeply concerned about their subjects. W. Eugene Smith's work in Minamata epitomizes this.

The antithesis of this is the photographer that snaps shots of unfortunate people because they're easy targets for cheap sensationalism.

I welcome your views. Feel free to email me.



Sunday, March 26, 2006

Giving your images a feeling of quality

What's the number one ingredient that gives an image a sense of quality? It's something that's free and readily available. Hmm so not that new state-art-digital camera then... nope. Well it's got to be the lens then. Nope. "Free", oh I see, well it'll be the composition, depth of field and colour then.

Well no it is none of the above. I am sure you must have guessed already that I am talking about light. Photography is after all drawing with light. It pains me to see so many photographers spending a fortune on new equipment in the pursuit of clear, sharp images that exude a feeling of quality only to get knocked back with disapointing results.

If you have an understanding of light you can use a toy camera with a plastic lens and achieve a feeling of visual quality. Put that same knowledge together with a great camera system and you're on your way to quality Nirvana.

There are many excellent books and articles on the net about lighting so I'm not going to give a lesson here. All I want to do is say that in my view the most important factor in determining image quality is the lighting. Of course it's not the only factor.

It is however the most exciting to work with as the variables are almost infinite. Light is affected by the time of year, the atmospheric conditions, the time of day, reflections etc. Man made light also comes in a tremendous variety. I have a friend who used to do a lot of evening shots and he loved using car headlights, claimed no other light source gave him that exact quality.

In the studio using a softbox, a translucent white umbrella, a silver reflective umbrella, a beauty light ... all give vastly different results. The only way to really learn about light is by using your eyes to look at how different light sources behave and by examing your images. And don't think you have to invest in very expensive studio lights to get a good result. A cheap off camera flash with a translucent white umbrella can provide an excellent diffused light source, ideal for portraits. As always it pays to be creative and think outside the well worn paths that 'experts' and marketers try to drive everyone along.

The image of Ivan above was shot with a soft box, partly covered with black cloth to reduce the size of the light source (I didn't have a small softbox handy so improvised) and a backlight with a honeycomb. This image and others can be viewed in my online portrait exhibition on

I am happy to respond to any questions you may have. Just email me.



Saturday, March 25, 2006

Travel photography is more than 'photography'

I really enjoy travelling, meeting people, listening to their stories and learning new things. In a way taking pictures is an interesting by-product, a way of recording and remembering things. Life is made up of an endless series of stories and experiences.

There's an interesting zen of photography idea that I'd like to pass along in this article. To some of you it will seem so obvious that you'll wonder why I bother to write it and to others I think it may be a bit of a revelation.

Here it is. Your photography will become more meaningful and powerful if you stop concentrating solely on taking the perfect picture. By that I don't mean you shouldn't strive for perfect composition, lighting and all the other technical aspects. Sure you've got to get all of that right but you should be doing that without having to think about it too hard.

A good photographer focuses on far more. It's about being open to the world, the experiences, listening keenly to the people you meet, feeling the emotions, enjoying the interaction and the moment and then taking all of the experience and channeling that into creating interesting images. I think when you part company with your subject you should both feel enriched from the shared experience.

The picture above was taken during a tea and story telling session with this Bedouin gentleman in his tent in the Negev desert. I took the shot as he stared off into the distance watching his camels. The picture features in my latest online exhibition of portraits.

Cheers for now,

Paul Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 24, 2006

Environmental portraiture, or is it?

Environmental portraiture, lifestyle photography, on location - and the list goes on. Categorising images informs viewers about how they should interpret an image but does it change the image itself, or only the viewers perception? And what exactly does environmental portraiture mean? What about lifestyle photography? It sounds to me like a marketing term to help professional photographers sell reportage style portrait shoots. What's the next great concept going to be?

Whatever you want to call it... this is a picture of a man with his pipe and dog, out for an early morning walk on the Ostend pier.

I like photographing people in the studio, outside doing daily life things - posed and unposed, aware and unaware of the camera. Each style has it's own unique strengths and reasons for connecting with the viewer: perhaps a subject for a future blog.

'Walkies' features in my latest online exhibition. Hope you like it.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New online exhibition

The new online exhibition at indigo2 photography features work by Magda Indigo and myself.

Magda's exhibition is titled People at Work. It's a positive and enjoyable journey. Her subjects seem oblivious to the camera although many are smiling. There's plenty of visual humour in her work too. Well worth a visit.

My exhibition is titled Portraits. It features images taken in the studio, on location and snapped in the street, like the two guys clowning above. The exhibition has both colour and mono portraits.

I hope you will visit our exhibitions and you are cordially invited to sign our guest book.

Cheers for now,

Paul Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ultimate Image Quality

This article on the Luminous Landscape website is bang up to date (12 March 2006). Author, Michael Reichman, describes his new digital camera outfit put together to deliver the ultimate in image quality.

It makes for an interesting read. As many photographers have discovered, the limitations these days are often the lenses rather than the chips. But a happy combination does exist, although it costs a bit...



World Press Photo

This site is well worth a visit and of course every year they bring out a book. World Press Photo has been going for 50 years now and their gallery celebrating the winners over the last 50 years is quite a journey.



Friday, March 17, 2006

Digital workflow #3

I have had a long think about how best to discuss this section. The principle of workflow obviously remains the same throughout as described in my previous two articles on the subject.

A sound recommendation which you don't often see is that you should learn and stick to a few different types of paper media. Like all equipment and media you should learn the way they behave under different circumstances so that you can predict the results you're going to get. And more importantly you will learn how to play with the process to extract that extra something from your materials.

Once you've got your ICC profiles sorted, your monitor calibrated and everything else optimised you need to get a feel for how everything works together. I recommend doing soft proofs but as you get to know your materials and equipment the whole process will become routine and easy. In the end the initial effort will save you time, and money too.

I really recommend downloading the PDF described here.

By the way, I still love C-type prints and Ilfochromes are unique. Yes, inkjet printing is superb, sharp and can last a long time but chemical prints have got a different quality to them and in many ways I still prefer them.

Cheers for now,


Link to index of previous popular articles

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Equipment reviews

I regularly get asked questions about which lens or camera is the best. As with everything you buy there are two prime things to consider ie your budget and quality.

A third question also has to be asked. Why do you want this new piece of equipment? Be honest. There's no shame in admitting its because you want the latest gadget. Personally though there are only two reasons I would buy a new piece of equipment. I need it because it will increase commercial opportunities or because it opens up new creative possibilities.

The easiest place to start is by fixing your budget, the real one, which is always a bit more than you would like to pay but not impossible. The next step is to find the best quality you can buy for your budget, taking into consideration all of your existing kit and things such as compatibility and longevity. One thing though. There is always a new model in the pipeline so if you're waiting for the latest product to come out you'll never buy anything and just because it's not this year's model does not mean that it has suddenly become trash.

Back to the starting point in this article. I don't know about every camera and I don't write reviews but here are a few websites which I've found useful when researching equipment:

If you cannot find what you're looking for here then try Google. You'll be amazed what you can dig up with a little effort.

All the best,

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Digital workflow #2

Picking up on my previous post about digital workflow, here's the second installment.

Processing images

Essentially workflow is about getting complete control of the process from taking the image through to the final print. Every link in the chain is critical if you want to consistently produce high quality images. So let's take a look at what you do with your images once they're downloaded onto your computer.

You may choose to shoot JPEG or RAW. Each process will have it's own workflow requirements but the key thing is that you follow a routine, a set series of steps which will ensure speed and consistency.

I shoot in RAW unless it's a photojourn assignment or event photography which requires the results to be speedily delivered. It is possible to deliver RAW images quickly too through using batch processing but it still takes more time than a straightforward JPEG.

The monitor is calibrated, ICC profiles loaded, so let's get down to processing. The first step is to delete all the images you just know you're never going to use. A quick cull is essential to keep hard disk space free and speed everything along. I have three categories. Shots I'm definitely going to keep, the maybes and the definite nos.

I start with the image I think works best from the session. The first thing I do is STOP AND LOOK. The best advice I can give you is don't rush in and starting cropping, altering curves etc, just look at the image. Consider it's potential, previsualise what you want to achieve and then set about planning how to get to your destination in the simplest and quickest way.

Photoshop and other image editing programs have several routes to the same destination and everyone uses their program in their own way. I think it would be wrong for me to say you should follow one or other path. What you need to know is: what you want to achieve and set about finding out which tools will get you there. Thousands of websites offer excellent advice, the help files in Photoshop are generally good; there are tutorials, books etc. Besides one advanced course in Photoshop I've learnt everything I know by reading up on it and experimenting.

The workflow process you follow, once you've decided what you want to do, should be to first start editing globally. I start with a crop, if the image requires it. This again speeds up the process because I don't want my RAM to be processing bits of image that I know I'm not going to keep. Every second counts.

I then move on to global corrections for colour, contrast, saturation etc

I always work in layers and name them appropriately.

Once the global corrections to the image are done I move on to work on selections. Avoid using burning and dodging tools if possible. It's far better to work with levels or curves on a selected area.

Once the image is processed I save it as a Tiff or PSD with all the layers. This is the master file. I am starting to use DNG, digital negatives now but I've still got a lot to learn on that side.

Your images all need to be properly captioned, keyworded and archived. There are several excellent portfolio software programs. Read the reviews and select the one that you think will work best for you.

Next week I'll discuss printing.

I hope this post has helped you.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Infinite variety means it's not all romantic

Photography can vary tremendously, from the mundane to the sublime. If you do what I do it can be infinitely varied, which is of course part of the attraction.

Oh the excitement of it all. I've just finished a series of images for a magazine. Bread and butter stuff or perhaps you could call it 'plonk and shoot', but no maybe that's a bit harsh. You've still got to take care to get everything just right. Actually I'm always glad to be shooting. Tight deadlines and all.

I haven't forgotten about the second workflow article but it will probably be the weekend before I get a chance to do it.

The shot below seems to have suffered a bit from compression during the automated upload process from Picasa. Never mind, you get the picture.

Cheers for now.


 Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 06, 2006

Them spoons - a success

This photograph of spoons hanging in the back window of a hotel kitchen is proving to be one of the most popular in my recent exhibition. The final print is gorgeous, even if I do say so myself.

It struck me again that at the moment I took the shot, although the subject made me smile, I had no idea how popular this image would become. Sometimes an image just seems to connect with people for no obvious reason.

Thanks to everyone who has responded to my workflow article. I'm emailing replies but it will take a while to work through all of your questions.

Cheers for now.

Paul Indigo

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Digital file quality in your workflow

The digital file quality of your images is central to your workflow which is all about getting control of the whole process from capture to output.

The institute of Quality Assurance (IQA) has joined forces with Adobe, Epson, Fujifilm, Kodak and others to address the issue of digital file quality. They have developed a set of best practice guidelines, available for download as a pdf.

If you're serious about producing high quality images then I strongly recommend you have a look at this document, which has just become available. Yep, I've got my finger on the pulse.

The free download is available from the IQA website at

Do take a look.

All the best.

Paul Indigo