Saturday, January 26, 2008

Technical knowledge is not that important

Everyone is telling you that you've got to learn the technical aspects of photography. Blogs, websites, books all hammer the message home and if you don't know your f-stops, the difference between a jpeg and raw file and how to use every tool in Photoshop, you're somehow inferior and can't possibly take a good picture.

I suppose in our technology obsessed world it's not surprising that the how you do something takes precedence over the why you do it.

Technique and the technical aspects of photography are vitally important. You have to have enough technical knowledge and craftsmanship to be able to create the image you envisage each and every time. As a photographer you have to have the skills and technical knowledge of a builder, or you house will fall down, but you also need the vision of an architect to create something beautiful and interesting.

Recently on two separate occasions I saw promising new professional photographers at work. They knew their technical stuff, had a good understanding of lighting and composition, were enthusiastic and motivated to deliver good images but as I watched them I realised something vital was missing. During the shoot both photographers appeared to lose focus on the most important thing of all, the reason they were taking the pictures.

These photographers were far to busy with the 'how' questions while taking their images instead of the 'why' questions. They broke the flow of their sessions by constantly chimping (looking at the screen of their digital cameras) instead of keeping their attention on their subjects. Every time they looked at their screens they went off into their own little universe and lost contact with their subjects. They worried about exposure, histograms, lighting ratios, camera settings etc. While they should have worried about whether their images would communicate with the audience.

A few professional photographers I know say how liberated they feel when they go out with a Lomo or Holga 'toy' camera. Just point and shoot. They enjoy taking the images. Neither camera has a sharp lens so you don't have to even worry about that aspect of technique. It becomes all about making an interesting image. The technical burden is lifted from their shoulders.

For me technical knowledge is far less important than communication. You have to know what you want to say and why you're taking a picture. The technique follows from this. In architecture the phrase is often used; 'form follows function'. In photography you could say, 'technique follows expression.'

Lets look at this from another perspective. If you think of the great masters of the craft of photography then Ansel Adams is bound to spring to mind. But why was Ansel so obsessed with the technical aspects of photography? He had to master the technical aspects so that he could to put the vision of the final image he had in his head on paper.

You will see the world in a completely different way to Ansel. You will have your own emotions and thoughts that you want to communicate. For your images to have real authenticity that touches the audience you only need to learn enough technique to be able to produce on paper or screen the vision you have in your head. Of course if you don't know enough then you will fail too.

So to summarise here are dos and don'ts that will help you become a better photographer:
  • Don't be seduced by the craft of photography
  • Don't learn photography theory that you don't need and won't use
  • Don't waste time trying to learn everything there is to know about Photoshop
  • Don't worry about technical stuff when you're taking pictures (it's too late)
  • Don't let technically obsessed people make you feel inferior because you don't have a clue what they're on about
  • Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you have enough technical knowledge you will somehow become a fantastic photographer. Why you take pictures is far more important.
  • Don't chimp constantly
  • Don't let craft and technique get in the way of you getting the shot
  • Don't fiddle with your camera and lights constantly when photographing people

  • Do think about why you are making the image and what you want to communicate
  • Do give your full attention to your subject
  • Do learn the technical knowledge that you need so you can realise your creative vision
  • Do become so familiar with your camera, lighting setup and other aspects that they become routine and automatic
  • Do focus your efforts on your creative vision rather than on learning the technical aspects of photography
Technique and technical knowledge are there to serve you, to help you express yourself. To use a metaphor. If you are making a speech you can have perfect diction and a pleasant voice but if what you are saying is boring, or doesn't make sense, your audience will soon lose interest. If you do not know why you are taking the picture and you don't feel it in your heart, then don't bother pushing the shutter button.

Comments welcome.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

On-the-move now live

The image of a 'fashionista' belongs to my on-the-move series but is not included in the web gallery. Let's call it a bonus image for my blog readers :-)) Click on the image to see it larger.

In my post on 9 January I mentioned that I would soon publish my on-the-move series. You can see it here on our recently revamped website .

Comments welcome. You can also send me an email if you prefer.



Thursday, January 17, 2008

New indigo 2 photography website

We've just launched our new website , and we would value your opinion. The old site was getting a bit bulky having grown organically over the years.

I hope you like the new streamlined version with bigger images and simple straightforward navigation.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

On-the-move series

For several years I've been working of and on creating a series of images involving the impression of movement.

It seems that everything moves faster and faster these days. Except perhaps air travel. They took Concorde out of service. Anyway, people, careers, the supermarket (they keep moving stuff around on the shelves) and especially technology, keeps changing at an astounding pace.

I wanted to capture a sense of the dynamism of our lives in my images. When the series is 'complete' I'll post an online exhibition. In the meantime, here's another image as a sneak preview. Comments welcome.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Setting your goals

The white cliffs of Dover in gently evening light.

How good a photographer do you really want to be? Where should you set your sights?

The first rule of setting a goal is that it has to be realistic and achievable within a given timescale. It should also be measurable but that's fairly tough in such a subjective field. How do you measure how good you are as a photographer- sales, awards, praise, response to exhibitions, the opinions of critics or your peers? All of these methods are influenced by factors other than the pure quality and aesthetics of your images. You'll have to to decide on which measure works for you.

One traditional way of trying to establish where you are in the vast range from novice to acknowledged master is to actually look at the work of successful photographers in their respective fields. How do your images measure up?

If you're interested in portrait photography, find out who's hot and have a long think about what makes their work better than yours. Then try to do something about the areas where you think your weaknesses lie eg lighting, composition, relationship with the sitter etc. The same applies to landscape, wildlife or any other photographic genre. Each genre will have its own set of challenges.

Looking at who's really hot works in every field except perhaps art photography. When I look at some of the photographs that are called art and hung in galleries, I cringe. Not for all of it of course! But some of the stuff you see is such utter rubbish, totally uninteresting and not even original. So I guess if you want to be an art photographer anything goes so long as some sucker is prepared to pay for it.

The toughest arena to succeed in is professional photography. However I think it is fair to comment that as with any profession there is a huge difference in the quality of the work produced by the professionals; for example the snapper in the supermarket taking portraits of toddlers and a top editorial photographer taking portraits for a prestigious glossy magazine are worlds apart. I am not knocking the abilities of the store photographer.

As a professional photographer you play the cards that are dealt to you and you try to do the best job possible under any given set of circumstance. Today you may be photographing toddlers in the supermarket, or churning out portraits for some commercial chain but who knows what the future will bring if you set your goals and aim high.

If you're an amateur then comparing your photography to that of other amateur photographers on sites like Flickr is probably not a good way to set the standard for yourself. Social photography sites are great fun but overall the quality of the photography reflects the general standard of amateur photography which is not very high. There are of course many exceptionally talented amateurs.

I'll probably be standing on toes here so let me explain my measuring scale. If you have a graph with ratings from 1-10, with 1 being clueless and 10 the best in the world; then I would say the peak of the curve for amateurs is between 3-4. The average professional is a 7. The best in the world at what they do are 10s. For me James Nachtwey is a 10. The measure can only applied to a whole body of work by the photographer, not an individual image. Anyone can take one or two brilliant images.

You may say, "I'm perfectly happy doing what I do and just enjoying it. I have no ambition to be a master photographer." That's fine. You've set your standards and know what you want to achieve.

If you really want to improve your photography and set high standards for your work then you should spend time looking at the work of the best professional photographers. I reached into my bookmarks and grabbed a few links to some of the photographers who've caught my eye. No particular ranking or order is intended. Hopefully you will be inspired.

Andrew Eccles Photography
Greg Gorman Photography
Jeanette Hägglund (Swedish photographer friend who is making a name for herself)
Joe Buissink (weddings)
Steve Bloom (wild life)
Obie Oberholzer (my first photography teacher who is represented by Bilderberg I will forever be grateful to him for his mentoring and pointing me in the right direction)
Eryk Fitkau
Sheila King Photographers (lots of good photographers represented by this agency)
Noelle represents (another good agency)
karin taylor (still lives)
BOB MARTIN Sports Photography
Jerry Avenaim
Pep Bonet Photographer
Mark Tucker
Tom Stoddart
James Nachtwey
Nicolas Guerin
Grant Pritchard (a friend and excellent all round photographer)
Magda Indigo (my wife and inspiration)

There are so many more but that lot should keep you busy for a while.

Till soon,

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

Magda and I celebrating New Year at home.

My blog started in March 2005, so as we enter 2008, and another year of blogging, I would like thank you for your continued interest and support. I very much appreciate your comments and emails, and I must say I'm always a bit surprised to see how many readers from all corners of the earth visit my humble writings.

It's also great to see from the stats that many of you continue to delve into the archives to find articles of value.

January looks like it is going to be incredibly busy but as always I will endeavour to write regularly. As you know though I only write when I've got something to say. There's enough clutter and noise in the world without me contributing.

As always, if you have any issues you'd like me to comment on then please don't be shy, send an email.

Wishing you good health, happiness and inspiration for 2008.