Thursday, December 31, 2009
You may have noticed that my blog has been a little quiet lately. All the usual excuses apply; been incredibly busy including doing two business films.
Looking back at the article I wrote on 31 December2008, it seems just as relevant today. As I had predicted 12 months ago, video has become increasingly important and integrated in the photographers armoury.
Twitter really took off, but as a marketing tool I have yet to be convinced that for most photographers it can generate sales and seriously impact the bottom line. As with everything there are of course a few exceptions but for most photographers... the verdict is still out.
The message I have for this year is that fads come and go. Photographers, creatives and marketers will keep chasing the next big idea. But the things that really matter, still matter and always will; authentic vision, individuality, clear creative thought and good communication will always be central to connecting the images you make with the audience.
So enjoy playing with the latest fads and technology but always stay true to your own vision. Uniqueness is still the most attractive and desirable quality that any creative can possess.
Have a wonderful 2010.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
This summer we came across a remembrance ceremony in Flanders where some of the bloodiest fighting during the World War One took place.
I photographed Magda as she listened to the speeches, the Last Post and a moving rendition of the Belgium anthem. We remembered our friend killed in Afghanistan as well as all those men and woman lost in wars around the world.
Magda has written a blog illustrated with her images taken during the ceremony.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Before discussing creativity, let's take a look at execution; visualizing your image and then making it happen. The three things you need to keep in mind are: light, composition and colour (LCC). I include grey values under colour here although black and white are not scientifically speaking colours.
In most circumstances photographers are reacting to what they see in front of them. You can't run through a mental checklist of hundreds of items before taking an image. So just keep LCC in mind. Simple right? How you execute the image - shutter speed, aperture, point of view, use of flash etc will all be determined by your LCC evaluation. This is an easy to remember and fast 'flight' check before making any image.
Brilliant execution means nothing without creative content. The secret of making a powerful photograph is to keep it simple. How do you do that? In essence you should distill your creative ideas down to a single word, which captures the concept or idea you are trying to communicate. You have to then make the execution of your photograph fit that one word. If you're a commercial photographer taking an advertising image you will need to understand the essence of the brand. What one word would sum it up? Found it. Right, now may your image fit that word.
If you're a portrait photographer and you're photographing a designer like Philip Starck, then your image should shout creativity. On the other hand if you're photographing a head of state the image could be the embodiment of authority. Shooting a caricature with a fish eye lens from under his nose is probably not the best idea, albeit creative. You see where I'm going with this. Building your message around a single word is an enormously powerful approach. Just think of how Obama used the word change throughout his campaign.
Having that single word in your mind when you take an image will ensure your creative focus is as sharp as your lens focus.
Words and images are symbiotic. One enhances and helps the other. Using words as a creative tool for making images is an easy technique and combined with your LCC evaluation will boost your creativity and strengthen your photography.
If you have any questions please get in touch.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Before working on the portrait of Willy above I spent an afternoon desk bound carefully retouching another portrait in Photoshop. It got me thinking about how many hours I spend working on images in front of the computer. The conclusion: way too many!
All around us we are inundated with images that strive to portray human perfection, from the sublime to the ridiculous in some cases. Just take a look at Photoshop disasters to see what I mean.
How many books, articles, tutorials are there showing you how to smooth skin, remove the faintest wrinkle, whiten the eyes, change the jaw line and the list goes on till nobody looks like themselves anymore in a photograph.
Well I'm declaring myself out of that particular race for unnatural perfection. Keep it real, raw and natural. If you've got laughter lines it's because you earned them and you should be proud of them.
As for the photography: get it right in camera. If the light is good and the composition works, and all the other technical stuff has been taken care of you will need very little post processing. And that's what I'm aiming at. I'd rather be taking photos than sitting behind a computer. I'm definitely a photographer, not a photoshopper. The portrait of Willy above is virtually straight out of the camera - just cropped.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Abbey ceiling on the Mont St Michel, Normandy, France presents and extreme exposure challenge.
Do histograms on your camera's LCD really matter and what benefits could you derive from understanding your histogram?
First though, what is a histogram?
At it's most basic level it is a graphic representation that uses a bar graph to show the proportionate distribution of the pixels in your image, ranged from black on the left to pure white on the right. In other words the bars that peak the highest in your histogram show that there are a lot of pixels with that particular tonal value in your image.
If most pixels are on the left of your histogram your image is mostly dark. If on the other hand the longest bars are on the right then most of your picture is bright. Simple. So if the bars are all heaped up on the right hand side then your image is 'clipped' in the highlights, which means there are tones of pure bright white. Another phrase commonly used is that you have areas in your image that are 'burnt out'.
There are different types of histograms. Some show luminance and others provide colour information (RGB). Here's a link to one of the best detailed, technical explanations that I've found on the net, Sean T. McHugh's tutorial on his site Cambridge in Colour.
But are histograms really useful to photographers
The answer for me is mixed. Yes and no. When I'm shooting I have enough knowledge and feel for light not to need to bother looking at histograms. The last thing I can afford is to be peering at the back of my camera and studying the information while all the action happens and I miss the shot.
Histograms do provide a useful tool to photographers who need to learn how their digital camera and its meter react to a given light situation. So like trainer wheels on your first bicycle, they can really speed up the learning process until you're cycling along with perfect balance and everything becomes automatic.
In complicated lighting situations with flash mixed in I will take a peak at my histogram just to confirm everything is fine - but that's driven more by my fear of messing up than anything else. By the way a healthy fear of messing up and recognition of one's fallibility is a good thing in my view and it has saved me on many an occasion.
Ultimately every photographers' goal should be to understand exactly how your camera meter is going to interpret a given situation and having anticipated what it is going to do you can tweak your settings with exposure compensation. So you're ready for the moment when it happens in front of your lens. It's no good getting the shot and then looking at your histogram and finding out you've clipped all the detail out of your highlights. OK so you adjust your exposure for the situation but in the meantime that shot has gone, and probably another one while you were peering at your histogram on your LCD display. Not good.
I shoot 90% of the time in AV mode (aperture priority). The camera is always trying to pull exposure into the middle of your histogram. Your camera is trying to give you a nice bell shaped curve in the middle because it is designed to put most values in the mid-grey (safe) range.
However if you want to produce exciting images with dramatic light then you have to break away from the dull mid-grey world and live on the edge, close up to that bright white or in the deep shadows. Drive the camera, don't let it drive you. Remember you don't get exceptional images by playing it safe. To continue the driving metaphor, no Grand Prix races are going to be won by a racing driver going at 70mph down the middle of the track. Use all the available road. Just don't spin off and crash.
To sum up: learn to see the world like your camera meter sees it, anticipate, adjust and concentrate on getting the image, not the histogram on the back of your camera.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Today publisher Harper Collins officially launched three books, Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, all featuring book cover photographs by Magda Indigo (aka my dear wife).
Needless to say I'm rather proud that her images were chosen for these classic novels. In the last three months Magda's images have been chosen for seven different books by a variety of international publishers. With the quality of her work she deserves every success in my opinion, and it seems that some pretty renowned art directors in the book publishing industry agree.
Anyway I wanted to share this little bit of news with you and take the opportunity to brag about my favourite photographer, who I just happen to be married to. If you'd like to see more of her work head over to our website www.indigo2photography.co.uk and there are links from her portfolio page to a lot of her stuff on Flickr too.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunflowers in the wind.
Autumn is here in the Northern hemisphere and the days are getting shorter. Time to catch up on some reading. To help you discover something of interest I've compiled a list of some of my most popular articles that get read every day. Maybe there'll be something here that you find helpful or interesting.
That's all for now.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Finally had some spare time and got round to revamping our website, updated our bios, added new galleries, pruned the links page and added a page listing some of our clients.
I would welcome your feedback which can be sent using the contact form on our site.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Always make sure your camera is set to standard settings at the start of a shoot. I call this zeroing my camera. For me that means IS0 100; AWB; single shot; centre autofocus point; F4; Aperture Priority; matrix metering; RAW etc. When I arrive for a shoot my camera is always set up in the same way, and batteries are fully charged and memory cards formatted. From the standard setting I then set the camera up to suit the particular requirements of the photo shoot.
- Always keep a UV or skylight filter on your lens. Replacing a scratched filter is a lot cheaper than replacing a lens
- Leave the lens cap off when you’re at a shoot. Putting it on and taking it off will just slow you down, causing you to miss shot
- Use a lens hood. Lens flare seriously reduces image quality. Only take the hood off when storing the camera between shoots – not during a shoot. The less fiddling you have to do with equipment the better
- If your lens gets wet in the rain, dry it off at the earliest opportunity.
- Keep the lens clean but don’t be obsessive. A tiny spec of dust on the lens will not show on your picture
- Bonus tip. Do everything humanly possible to keep your lens steady when photographing. Camera shake is the biggest cause of unsharp images
- Make sure you understand your lens’ anti-vibration and focus options. Read the manual to get the best out of your lens
- Keep you camera clean, but don’t be obsessive and if it gets a little scratch, the worst consequence is a few dollars off your resale value. Cameras are tools to be used and most of them can take the odd knock
- Keep your viewfinder clean. You can’t judge sharpness and composition looking through a blurry viewfinder
- Cleaning your camera sensor is very easy, although a bit fiddly. It just takes a methodical approach and a bit of daring. There’s plenty of step by step advice online on how to do it. It’s actually quite hard to damage a sensor. You’ll probably never get your sensor 100 % pristine but it’s not the end of the world to have to retouch one or two dustbunnies. (Disclaimer: you clean your sensor at your own risk)
- Generally these are incredibly overpriced in my opinion. I bought a padded sport bag aimed at fisherman for £9 the other day. The equivalent photo bag would have cost over £100
- I don’t have camera bag padding inside the bag because quick access and keeping everything to as small a total volume as possible is more important to me than keeping everything in it’s own little padded cell.
- The perfect camera bag does not exist. I’ve tried loads. Each one is a compromise between speed of use, comfort and protection. For me speed of use is the most important which is why I ditched my backpack
- Always take the minimum gear you need for a photoshoot. Lugging everything around including the kitchen sink will tire you out, give you back and neck pain and cause you to miss photo opportunities. And if you do forget something like a filter, never mind – just get more creative and work around it. Necessity is often the source of creativity
- There are no light good tripods. There’s a minimum weight required to hold a heavy camera perfectly steady, especially if you’re outdoors and there’s a bit of wind
- Make sure your tripod head can do the full range of adjustments and a built in spirit level is very useful
- Always switch the camera off before you change your lens. When your camera is on the sensor is electrically charged and dust will get sucked onto the charged sensor – so keep the camera switched off when the lens in un-mounted
- Hold the camera body facing downwards. Gravity will help keep dust off your sensor
- Try to change lenses out of the wind or where there is minimal air disturbance if possible. Use your body to shelter your camera
- Make the lens change as quickly and gently as possible. Don’t bang or grind the lens lock mechanism
- Once your lens is changed switch on your camera and keep it switched on. It really does not save much battery life to keep switching your camera on and off and I’ve seen too many shots missed by photographers who forget to switch their cameras on before raising them to their eye to frame the perfect but elusive moment
Looking after your memory cards
- Always format your cards in camera before you begin a shoot
- Switch the camera off when putting a card in or taking one out
- Avoid deleting images in camera
- Try to earth yourself by touching a piece of metal before you touch your memory card
Well that’s all for now. I’m sure there are a million other things I could have mentioned. Maybe more next time.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Seaside, Whitby, UK. An invitation to discover the subtle details from the crack in the paving to the pink crocs. Click on the image to see a larger version.
Seaside conversation - interrupted, Whitby, UK. Click on the image to see a larger version.
Most photographs are viewed on screens at low resolution and quite small pixel sizes. Is this affecting the way we look at photographs in general and in particular our ability to appreciate the finer nuances in images?
The way we experience images in different media affects our perception. When viewing photographs on the internet we click through very quickly to the next image. Pick up a large beautifully produced photo book and you are likely to spend a lot more time looking at each image.
High resolution prints entice the viewer to look at the detail and explore an image. Large photographs hung on a gallery wall invite the viewer to spend even more time discovering every aspect of the image. Nothing beats a beautifully produced original print. Despite the proliferation of online images I still think the ultimate measure of a photograph is how it looks in print.
On screen with typical dimensions ranging from 500 pixels on the longest side to 800 pixels, and screen resolution at 72 dpi it is impossible to convey all the subtle details that a full resolution image holds. The images that work at small sizes are bold, dramatic and full of immediate visual impact. Subtle images are therefore not popular on sites which invite fellow users to comment such as Flickr.
I hope that this does not discourage those photographers with a quieter voice, who load their images with layers of detail and subtle nuances, waiting for the perceptive viewer to discover them.
I love looking at images and nothing gives me a bigger kick than to go beyond the big main statement to find a subtle element, carefully included to add wit, humour or a poignant statement that enhances the overall image.
For me a lot of the joy in photography and indeed the essence is the extraordinary detail, subtle colour and light we can capture with our extremely high resolution cameras and lenses.
On the internet I see an increasing tendency to produce highly manipulated images, using texture layers, high contrast, blurring and other filters to strip out the detail. And I understand this trend in the context of viewing images on the internet where bold images stand out. Sadly the initial impact often does not last very long. It’s fast food for the brain. Compare many of these images to a picture like an Ansel Adams landscape, which will keep you discovering new things for years because of the richness in detail and the subtle interplay of light on the subject.
We need both types of image, and like music there is a place for contemporary and a place for the classic.
I hope that readers of my blog will take a moment to think about, discover and enjoy the quieter images that go beyond the obvious, the images that reward the viewer who is prepared to take their time to discover and enjoy the tiniest detail. It is the discovery of these tiny details that ultimately helps the viewer to take the image into their heart and make it their own to treasure.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
In every walk of life the way you deal with people is incredibly important and can determine how successful you become. Photography is a people business. Even if you primarily take pictures of inanimate subjects – cars, food and architecture – you will still be dealing with a lot of people to make your shoots work.
When it comes to photographing actors and models your people skills are even more important.
I’d like to share a story with you that made me quite sad and inspired writing this blog. We’ve recently been doing headshots for actors, like Leanne above, and I kept hearing the same thing.
Most actors wanting headshots need them for a casting, for their book and their headshots have to be regularly updated. This means they experience different photographers. Sometimes they work with a photographer provided by an agency and other times they search for a specialist headshot or portrait photographer who knows what agents and casting directors are looking for and how to present the actor in an honest, useful way that will catch the eye of casting agents.
The actors we photograph all said the same thing; how comfortable they felt, how patient and easy going we are and how enjoyable the photo-shoot had been. You may think actors are comfortable in front of the lens but when it comes to stills and they don’t have a script and they are not acting, they can feel as vulnerable as next person.
The stories I heard were about how some photographers treated their models and actors as objects. They were often abrupt, rude and sarcastic, and in some cases reduced the models to tears. In particular this happened with photographers working for a modelling/acting agency. The photographer saw their client as the agency feeding them a conveyor belt of actors and models to photograph.
These photographers probably took very good care of their agency clients but forgot that their subjects, the actors and models are real people. I think this is appalling. Now I know that sometimes models and actors can be ‘difficult’ but there is absolutely no excuse for not treating people right.
Photography is a service industry, and like a hairdresser, restaurant or high street retailer we have to ensure our customers, the people we photograph, have a good and rewarding experience – before, during and after the shoot. And that goes for the whole team on the shoot too – make-up, hair, styling and assistants.
Treat people right and you’ll go a long way in this business.
Monday, June 15, 2009
“Photography is my passion,” is an often used phrase. I’ve noticed that many amateurs are particularly enthusiastic about being photographers and dream of turning professional.
But when you look at a survey like the one done by jobsrated.com the reality of being a professional photographer hits home. You may be forgiven, after reading professional photographer’s blogs that every single one of them is as happy as pig in the mud. However in the survey which rated the top 200 careers photography only came in at number 125 behind jobs like bookkeeper (39), librarian (43), typest/wordprocessor (54), cashier (110) and telephone operator (115).
“Moving further down the rankings reveals an eclectic mix of jobs which either suffer from intense physical demands, such as veterinarians and construction machinery operators, or, as in the case of photographers, post mediocre scores in work environment and stress while offering exceptionally low pay,” writes careercast.com.
So having established that once you become a professional photographer life is not necessarily a bed of roses let’s take a look at what I think is the essential difference between those in the profession doing a job to put food on the table and those who are living the dream.
For me the fundamental differentiator is loving what you do. Through circumstances you may currently be doing wedding photography and you’re stressed out, tired and doing your best to deliver high quality work, but deep down you’re not loving it, and you’d far rather be photographing your favourite sport or fashion, or something else. Or it may be the other way round and you’re currently shooting fashion but long to get out of that slightly unreal world and work with ordinary people and share their emotions on the biggest day of their lives, their wedding, so you like to be a wedding photographer.
Every one of us is drawn to something in particular and the trick to being happy in what you do is to recognize what that is and then work towards making your job all about the photography you love to do.
The benefits are exponential because once you’re doing something you love you’ll be more enthusiastic, more dedicated and you’ll get better at it and more clients will want your work.
If you’re a professional photographer and you don’t love it then for heavens sake go and do something else. Follow your dream! And of course the same goes for photographers not currently shooting what they love. I urge you to do everything you can to rekindle the passion and love for what you do on a daily basis. It will bring you enthusiasm, energy and enhance the quality of your work.
Take the first small step soon. Go make a picture of something you love.
I don’t follow trends. I don’t chase after the latest money making ideas. I do what I love. It’s the only way to get ahead. I’d rather be making trends than following them.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
However when I look at what is communicated I wonder about the real value of much of this information. When someone announces on twitter that they had a cheese sandwich and cup of coffee for lunch, I have to ask, “Who on earth cares?” I certainly don’t. By the way I plucked this example from thin air, so if you tweeted about your lunch please don’t take it personally.
Then there’s the endless regurgitating and recycling of information. I just did a quick search on Google for the ‘golden mean in photography’ and got 1,280,000 hits. Anyone who thinks they can add anything of value by writing about this topic again needs their head examined – total waste of time. But I bet right now there are people researching the golden mean by reading some of those articles and then paraphrasing them and rewriting the same stuff which has probably been written 20 times better in the past.
I know I’ve done this too but from now on I resolve to try to tackle things from a fresh and original perspective. I want to contribute something of value – not just add to the noise.
The other thing that bothers me is the quality of writing we are subjected to these days. The internet enables anyone to publish their words without the benefit of the slightest editorial control. Correct grammar and punctuation have become alien arts. People forget that there are reasons for rules and conventions. While I am not a language purist by any means I do recognize that the purpose of correct grammar, spelling and punctuation is to enhance the clarity of the message the writer is trying to communicate.
The reason why professional writers are successful is because they use language effectively to communicate ideas clearly – and that means conforming to the rules or bending them in a way that does not detract from the clarity of the message.
I receive numerous emails from students wanting to work with my company. Often their punctuation is poor, they don’t use capitals, their grammar is appalling and there are loads of spelling errors. In the worst cases they use phone text abbreviations. They forget that all I have to judge them on is a few sentences. What do I see? The student doesn’t care about making a good impression, can’t be bothered to put the effort in and pays no attention to getting detail right. Would I give them a chance ahead of someone who shows more diligence? No I would not.
The same logic applies to others who are trying to market their services. For example I often see photographer’s websites with appalling language errors. Again it indicates to me a lack of care and poor attention to detail. Immediately alarm bells start ringing. Would I trust an expensive shoot to this person? Not likely.
On the other hand I have tremendous empathy with people for whom English is not their first language. It’s a huge challenge to communicate in a foreign language and I can only praise their efforts.
Ultimately I believe that readers appreciate a carefully crafted and well written piece. The writer’s reward for putting the extra effort into their writing will be readers who are prepared to match their effort with their own effort to understand the ideas the writer is trying to communicate.
Success as a writer or photographer is far more likely if you communicate something of interest to your audience with absolute clarity.
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Monday, May 18, 2009
Many of us photographers get a little carried away with all the cool gadgets, equipment and cameras. We end up with lots of stuff – sometimes causing mild distress to our partners. Fortunately my wife is also a photographer although she takes a very practical approach to equipment. I’m definitely the Magpie in our family.
So I’ve ended up with truck loads of cameras and gadgets. And guaranteed when I open a photo magazine tomorrow I’ll see something else that ‘I need’. I’m sure that many of my readers will be nodding their heads wistfully at this stage. All sounds a bit familiar eh.
But sometimes all of this stuff can get in the way of good photography. I remember seeing a photographer in the street a while back with a backpack, a camera bag in each hand and a tripod, and two cameras dangling round his neck. The poor chap could hardly move, never mind capture the action on the street. He decided to go for a tripod shot and then spent 15 minutes struggling with various bits and pieces on his tripod and changing lenses – opening this bag and then that one, shifting things around. In the meantime several really interesting people walked by but he had his head down busy with his stuff. I stood there and shook my head in wonder. After 15 minutes of watching him fussing and not taking a single shot, I gave up and wandered off.
So what should you take with you on a photo-shoot. Well it very much depends on what you want to do. If you’ve got a big production ala Annie Liebowitz then you’ll need an articulated lorry. If you’re into flash and bringing your own light to the party like David Hobby or Joe McNally then a few bags of flashes and lighting paraphernalia are the norm. For photojournalists like James Nachtwey a camera and a 28-70 F2.8 will do nicely, or Steve McCurry – travelling light with his camera and three fixed lenses. Cartier Bresson famously took most of his images on his Leica with a standard lens.
The key questions to ask yourself are:
- What type of image am I after?
- What is the environment going to be like?
- Will I have somewhere to leave my equipment safely or will I need to travel light and move fast?
- What is going to cause me more hindrance than it is worth?
- If I leave xyz behind will that kill my chances of getting a good shot?
Here’s another tip for you. If you’re travelling and don’t want to risk lots of expensive equipment in the aircraft hold then you may want to investigate hiring stuff when you arrive on location. It can save a lot of headaches.
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Sunday, May 10, 2009
However, in the world of photojournalism and reportage style photography wide-angle lenses are commonly used to give the viewer a feeling of being right in the middle of the action.
Nowadays in everything from weddings to corporate work, photographers reach for their wide-angle lenses and because we see so many images in magazines, books and online most people have grown accustomed to wide-angle distortion. It has become more acceptable to see celebrities, politicians and people featured in news stories looking slightly distorted.
I say more acceptable because we’ve gotten used to it. But at the same time I’d like to urge you to be cautious about how you use your wide-angle when it comes to photographing people.
I work with a business communications company and the company was in the news recently. A national UK newspaper wanted to run a story and they sent their own photographer to take a portrait of the Managing Director. This was a well respected, highly experienced photojournalist with many a story under his belt. He opted to shoot with a really wide-angle lens, capturing the MD in the foreground and his staff at their desks behind him. The newspaper ran the story and I’m sure that the readers just saw it as another typical news photograph.
However behind the scenes the staff of the company, family and friends all hated the picture. One of the directors commented that the MD looked like he’d been “photographed on the back of a spoon”. His face was distorted and anyone who knows him in the flesh would say that the image did not really look him, and it certainly was not very flattering.
Now if I had shot that portrait for the company’s annual report, do you think I would get another job with them? Of course not.
So the message of this blog is to use your wide-angle with care when photographing people. In certain circumstances you can get away with it. But overall if you want to take corporate portraits, or family portraits, wedding reportage etc do be careful about putting people’s faces close to the edge of the frame. That’s where wide-angle distortion tends to be worst.
The trick to using a wide-angle for a portrait is to keep your subject close to the centre of the frame, and also don’t press the lens right up against their nose. Play to the strengths of the wide- angle and let it do its work by showing the context around the person you’re photographing. After all that’s what wide-angles were designed to do – show everything in the scene while working reasonably close to your subject.
Unless of course you want to do a really wacky humorous image and your aim is to make it look like you photographed someone through a ‘door spy’ lens.
One of the greatest photojournalist portrait photographers in the world, Steve McCurry uses a few prime lenses, the widest is a 28mm and the longest is 105mm. Many of his famous portraits were shot on a standard 50mm lens (a 35mm gives you approximately the same focal length on a digital camera with a crop sensor). Others were taken on his 85mm and 105mm lenses.
As with all things photographic there are no absolute rules that we should slavishly follow. All I’m trying to say is beware and think about distortion. If you want to take a flattering, authentic portrait then the old conventional wisdom of not using a wide-angle holds true in most cases.
Also do not be afraid to put your subject in the middle of the frame. Many people harp on about the rule of thirds, which works a treat when you’ve got a scene and you want to control the viewer’s eye and get them to look at your focal point in the scene. But if you’re photographing a person and they are clearly the subject of photograph, then there’s a definite logic that says they have every reason to be in the middle of the frame. Don’t take my word for it. Just look at any master portrait photographer’s body of work.
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Sunday, May 03, 2009
Light is the language of photography. To express yourself well and communicate you need to be able to speak with light.
Light determines what you see (and what you don’t see); the mood of an image; colour and tone. Light can be loud and brash or soft, gentle and soothing. It can wrap around something or cut across it as hard and sharp as a Samurai sword.
People have probably been writing about the qualities of light and how to use it in relation to photography from the moment the first print was made. Google “light in photography” and you will get millions of hits (well actually 68,800,000 hits to be entirely accurate).
In the past I’ve been complimented for explaining things clearly in plain language. So here goes on the subject of light…
Things to consider about lighting when you are about to make a photograph:
- What do I want to communicate about my subject? Consider, personality, mood, clarity, what you want to emphasise?
- What do you want to show and what do you want to hide?
- Pick your view point with the light in mind. Can you control the light within your frame? Can you make it say what you want it to say about your subject?
- How can you improve the light? By adding flash, using constant light sources, bouncing light, using reflectors, covering windows with a translucent material, using black cloth to absorb light, using Gobos and flags between the light source and subject, using gels, waiting for a different time of day etc
Here’s some layman’s science to help you understand light
The size of the light source and its distance to the subject affect how hard or soft it is and how deep the shadows will be. A larger light source like a softbox, large window, umbrella flash or bounced flash will produce a softer light. The smaller the light source the harder the light and stronger the shadows. Diffusion simply comes down to making a light source bigger in relation to the subject.
Light always hits your subject at an angle, whether it is straight from the front, at 90 degrees, behind, top, bottom or from many angles simultaneously. The angle of the light dramatically affects the look of the subject.
Light has colour, specifically it has a colour temperature, which means it can be warm, cool or neutral. The colour we see depends on the wavelength of the light reflected off the object we are looking at. Colour deeply affects our emotions. Warm colours seem to come forward while cold colours recede. Using colour of light in this way is a classic way to create a sense of depth and visual tension in an image.
The quality of the light will be affected by its intensity. For example the same flash reflected off a silver umbrella has a harsher quality than if it were reflected off a white umbrella surface.
So if you want to speak the language of light here’s a quick checklist you should run in your head:
- How intense does the light need to be?
- What is the best angle for the light?
- What colour/s do I want?
- What size light source?
- What can I do to control and enhance the light?
Just remember every element above needs to contribute to the emotion you are aiming to communicate. Think of light as the language you are using to describe your subject; quite literally to show the viewer what you want them to see – nothing more and nothing less.
Controlling light and getting it do what you want it to is a technical art. It is not easy. But with perseverance, determination, close observation and loads of experience you will begin to master it. After all my years as a photographer I am still learning the language of light every day and this journey will continue until I shoot my last frame.
As ever, I hope you find my blog helpful and your comments are always welcome.
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Monday, April 20, 2009
Read the article here and see the images for yourself.
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Thursday, April 16, 2009
Everyone has their own taste. Overall my blog is nice and warm and positive in tone but for once I’ll let out the dark side and tell you which types of photographs I hate and why. Within each category there will be exceptions of course, because the first rule of photography is that there are no absolute rules except the first rule.
In no particular order then...
Over 90% of HDR images are absolute rubbish. They’re flat, lacking in contrast and it often looks like someone has smeared black pixels across the highlights and mid-tones. HDR generally looks unnatural and cartoonish. It produces bland pictures with no sense of light; without mood. Everything is on display, depriving the image all quality and character. In contrast (no pun intended) non-HDR images do not give up all their secrets. The viewer is left to use their imagination, to fill in the shadowy areas and their eye is led skilfully by the photographer from one light area to another as they are seduced by the mystery and tension in the frame. Women have long understood that to preserve a little mystery makes you far more attractive. HDR photographers on the other hand believe in baring all.
I come across so many images that are unsharp. I don’t mean completely out of focus. I mean that search as you may you will not find a single area that is completely sharp in a huge number of images. Usually the cause is camera shake but sometimes it’s bad processing too where the pixels have been so messed about that they fall apart.
Of course poor focus also has to be mentioned. I see a small thumbnail on screen of a lovely portrait and open it only to be thoroughly disappointed. The photographer has focused on the tip of the subject’s nose or their ear instead of on the pupils of the subject's eyes.
Then of course you get those photographers who over-sharpen their images producing all manner of unpleasant artifacts. I suspect over-sharpening is often resorted to by photographers who are trying to compensate for unsharpness in the original. Forget it. Unsharp is unsharp. No software can match getting it right in camera in the first place.
Colour casts, heavy vignettes and effects filters
I’m all for using colour creatively but I hate ‘artistic colour casts’ applied without any rhyme or reason. Colour has meaning. It conveys emotion. So why for example take a picture of a young pretty lady and then obliterate her with a bilious green colour wash. It doesn’t make the image more interesting or artistic. Newsflash: art does not equal going mad with the hue and saturation sliders in Photoshop or applying one or other kitsch effects filter.
And please spare me from the arbitrary and random use of blur, dark vignettes, lighting effects and assorted filters which photographers apply to make their images look like anything except a photograph.
A few, a very, very few photographers can get away with using the full Photoshop and assorted plugin arsenal of effects because they ultimately create an image which has the power to move the viewer's emotions and it communicates. It is such a rare treat to discover one of these.
I also do not like the highly oversaturated images with eye popping intense colours, which would be totally unprintable. Just because you can move the colour saturation slider all the way to the right doesn't mean you have to do it!
An image file is a delicate and fragile thing. Apply auto levels, use massive curves adjustments and push contrast and brightness sliders too far at your peril. Image quality will suffer. It is always best to get the image right in camera. Besides saving image quality you also save a lot of time sitting at the computer and the ultimate frustration of producing an image which looks OK on screen but is totally unprintable in a book or magazine.
Assorted other reasons
To me every element and aspect within the frame should contribute to enhancing the image. In a way it is like a piece of music and the photographer is both the composer and the conductor, bringing everything together in way that the audience can enjoy and instantly grasp. But if the percussion instruments are not keeping time, the violins are doing their own thing and the brass section is off key – well you've just got a noise – or to transfer the metaphor back to photography a badly put together disharmonious image, unintelligible to the viewer.
In summary here is a list of comments I could make when looking at images on the internet:
- Skew horizon for no reason (sometimes it can add a dynamic element but most of the time it just looks bad)
- Poor composition
- Too far away from the subject
- Boringly photographed subject matter
- Poorly lit
- Boring light
- No clear focal point
- Colour cast
- Poorly manipulated eg bad cut outs
- Bad or awkward pose
- Disturbing visual elements eg an unattractive foreground
- Camera shake
- Badly focused
- Bad make-up on the model
- Airbrushed to death – you know these portraits with plastic skin and not a single bit of skin texture left, and eyeballs as white as a ping pong ball in the sun.
- Bad vignetting and unexplainable dark patches clearly added in Photoshop.
- Texture filters and 'arty' effects
While writing this I had a chat with my wife, pro photographer Magda Indigo and she made an interesting observation. She said that it seemed like a lot of photographers were trying to make their images look like paintings while at the same time there are painters who try to make their paintings look like photographs. What's that all about?
In this day and age of digital photography it has never been easier to produce a technically perfect picture. Why not aim for pure photographic quality? It's far harder to achieve than taking a mediocre snapshot and messing around with it in a software program. The true art of using image manipulation programs is knowing when to stop. I wonder how many really good photographs are currently buried under a ton of software filters and effects.
There I've said it.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
What is copyright? Despite numerous articles spread across the internet, discussion in books, on TV and in magazines some people still do not seem to understand copyright. So in a non-legalistic jargon free way I am going to explain it again - because judging by how many pictures get stolen many people still do not seem to get it.
How do you get copyright?
The moment you take a picture you automatically own copyright to that image. You do not have to register it. You do not have to do anything at all. It is yours. There are no exceptions. But you can choose to give up your copyright by for instance signing a contract with your employer, an agency or an individual to pass copyright over to them. The point is you have to enter, or have entered a legal agreement, to give up your copyright.
What does having copyright mean?
It means that nobody can copy your image and use it without your express permission. Even if the person for example copies your image and gives you a credit and links back to you, they are still breaking the law. It is illegal to copy someone else's work.
You also infringe on copyright if you take someone else's picture and change it, for example by giving it a treatment in photoshop or including it in a collection of other images eg a mosaic.
It does not matter if you have no intention of making money from the copied image. You infringe on copyright the moment you make a copy of someone else's work.
What is the difference between copyright and plagiarism
Copyright infringement is not the same as plagirism. "While both terms may apply to a particular act, they are different transgressions. Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of a copyright holder, when material protected by copyright is used without consent. On the other hand, plagiarism is concerned with the unearned increment to the plagiarizing author's reputation that is achieved through false claims of authorship."- Wikipedia. In other words plagiarism would occur when you make a picture which is substantially similar to someone else's work.
You do not infringe copyright when you click on an image and it downloads to your internet browser and is stored in the memory cache on you hard disk. But if you then take that image and use it in a PowerPoint show, a Word document, on your blog, website, email it to someone else or use it in any other form, even if you substantially alter the look of the image you are infringing on the original authors copyright.
If you infringe on copyright you are breaking the law. There are legal and financial consequences. Some companies, agencies and individuals pursue their copyright vigorously in court and are awarded huge sums of money in damages. The precise award depends on the circumstances of the case.
I work with an international agency which specialises in protecting copyright. If anyone infringes on my copyright they get an invoice. If this is not paid then the next step is my agency. I have been 100% successful in recouping damages so far and fortunately have not had to go to court.
Disclaimer: obviously the subject of copyright is complex and my article is certainly not meant to be a legal guide. In layman's terms it is meant to simply explain the dos and don'ts. If you stick to the advice above you will not infringe on anyone's copyright. Enjoy looking at photographer's images but don't use them!
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Saturday, April 04, 2009
There are some really great blog posts out there and I'd like to refer you to a few which I've enjoyed recently.
Joe McNally is one of my favourite photographers. He's not only good with a camera, he can write very well too. This blog post touched me. Read the story at the end of the post.
Chase Jarvis wrote a post which every editorial photographer should read. This is sound advice. Push your art director.
Comedian turned photographer, David duChemin shares the parallels between being a comedian and being a professional photographer. His portfolio is also well worth a visit too. Lots of smiling faces guaranteed to cheer you up.
I'll be back with more soon. Thanks for the great reception to my previous two posts and the emails. Feel free to comment too!
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Monday, March 30, 2009
Light is the essence of photography. It tells the story in your image by connecting directly with the emotions of the viewer. Harsh light and soft light, shadow that hides and sparks the imagination, bright light that shows every detail – all have their characteristics. To be a good photographer you need to learn how to speak the language of light and use it to tell the story you want to communicate to the viewer.
Colour, and in black and white the tonal range and values, also connect with the viewer's emotions. Colour provides the inner energy of the image. Vibrant and bright colours have a profoundly different mood to soft muted colours. Warm colours come forward while cool colours retreat, creating depth and emphasis in your images. Dark and light tones in black and white images create a pattern and fill the frame with energy when used in high contrast or soften the mood when you use subtle greys.
Action is the word I use to describe what is happening in the image. This may be a decisive moment ala Cartier Bresson or it could be tension created in a still life composition between different elements for example an egg balanced precariously on the edge of a table. The action in an image is what gets the viewer to pose the all important questions, “What happened next and what happened a fraction of a second before?” Action is a slice of frozen time the split second the shutter opened. As photographers we have to both pose the question to the viewer, “Why was this particular split second important?” And in the image we have to provide an answer as well so that the viewer can discover something in your image which makes them say, “Oh I see why!” It could take a split second for the viewer to ‘get it’ or a minute but that discovery has to be there to make the image truly interesting.
Right. There we have the three legs of the tripod that good photography rests on. Now you need to think about how to use all three to make your images connect with the viewer’s emotions and intellect. You have to surprise, amaze and enthrall them to get your images to communicate. Each step of the way you’ve got to think; how can I use light, colour and action/interaction/reaction within the image to make it more powerful, creative and meaningful. Simple really…
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Thursday, March 12, 2009
Your picture can have a profound effect on the life of the person you have photographed, their family and the public. One example that illustrates this is Dorothea Lange's iconic photograph “Migrant Mother”. Jeffrey Dunn has written a great article about the affect of this picture on all concerned.
I find it fascinating when people who played a prominent role in a famous photograph are rediscovered, often unaware of the role the image made of them played in history. A recent example was revealed in the BBC Wales TV documentary where Professor Dai Smith traced a miner who described how he and two colleagues had met renowned photographer W. Eugene Smith on their way home from work at the pit and had been instructed on how to pose for one of the photos published in Life in 1950. The miner remembered the day he was photographed quite clearly and that Smith offered a little guidance as to how they should stand and where they had to look. Smith was trying to communicate his story. The village backdrop, the miners, the light, their gestures, all contributed to the story he was building.
Smith used the miners, as Lange used Migrant mother to visually communicate the truth about a situation. In a sense photographers direct the action and their subjects become actors playing a role, which may or may not reflect their actual personal situation. The photographed subjects may be quite unwitting in their complicity and indeed the photographer may not fully realise the truth they are communcating in that moment. It may come out in the brilliant clarity afforded later by history.
I do not agree with Susan Sontag's statement, “To photograph people is to violate them,” in her book On Photography. The word violate is far too negative. Art and journalism are always an interpretation of reality. Through this interpretation we hope to uncover the truth. I do not think that most people who have been photographed feel that they have been violated. They are usually willing participants in the story and like the miner do not feel strongly one way or the other. Some will feel the truth of their story has been misapropriated but like the Migrant mother's family eventually they may come to realise the role an image played in history was important.
Photography is an incredibly powerful medium. My wife and fellow photographer recently got back in touch with a famous dancer she had photographed twelve years ago. He saw the portrait she had made and he became emotional. He said his whole life since that moment flashed in front of his eyes. The image had a profound effect on him. He has asked Magda to make another portrait.
Photography is about time. The split second the image was taken and the way that image resonates through time. Pick up any book of historical images and you can feel the ghosts speaking to you.
This power to communicate through images means that as photographers we have to realise that we have moral duty to treat our subjects with respect and dignity. We should tell the truth of their situation as well as provide our audience with the the wider social truth of their circumstances. This extends to the way we present our images and caption them and most importantly we should feel the heavy hand of history resting on our shoulders every time we push the shutter with another human being in front of our lens.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Mowing down everything
If you look back over the last month or two I've been sharing the stories behind some of my portfolio images. I will continue this series of articles, dipping into my work every now and again. I hope you find them interesting and if you want to know more just leave a comment or send an email.
This guy was mowing the grass with tremendous determination. The shot was taken on a Cambo 4x5" technical camera with a super wide lens. A large technical camera on a tripod is not exactly made for capturing fast action, and believe me this guy was moving at quite a speed across the lawn. Although it looks like he is in full action, I had to pose this shot. The film was Ilford's beautiful FP4 100 ISO.
I printed and developed the negative in the darkroom. The image won praise at exhibitions and I have sold a number of prints. I've kept a print in my general portfolio ever since and it has always had a good response.
A few years ago I scanned the full large format negative and worked on the image in Photoshop. The detail is incredible.
I took this image when I was studying photography under the wing of the legendary Obie Oberholzer at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. If you're curious about Obie you can see a video of him talking about his work here and a great interview here. You can also see his work through his agency Bilderberg (look for his name under Fotgrafen).
Friday, February 13, 2009
Internet Brands which acquired Trek Lens, Trek Earth and Trek Nature has used its Terms and Conditions to cynically grab the rights to sell and adapt the work of photographers who upload images to its photo-sharing sites.
Here is the relevant paragraph from their T&Cs:
By displaying or posting content on the Site, you hereby grant us a nonexclusive global license to publish the content submitted by you to the Site. You also grant us global nonexclusive adaptation and resale rights over any content and material submitted to the Site. These nonexclusive publishing license and resale/adaptation rights extend to any materials submitted "for publication" within the Site, including both message board postings and content submitted for uploading and subsequent publishing within non-message board portions of the Site. Neither we nor our staff will be responsible for any misleading, false or otherwise injurious information and advice communicated on the Site or for any results obtained from the use of such information or advice. We will not be liable for any loss or damage suffered by a user through the user's reliance on information and advice gained on the Site.
Photographers who upload their images have expressed concern on the Trek Lens forums but so far Internet Brands has not responded.
We have seen efforts to grab the rights of photographers before, for example when they enter a picture in a competition, but I do not recall seeing anything on this scale where thousands of images uploaded by photographers in good faith over many years have been grabbed for resale by the website owners.
As with most sites the owners reserve the right to change their T&Cs without notifying members but surely when it comes to copyright work which may have commercial value this kind of thing cannot be acceptable. Yet legally as far as I can see members who not agree to hand over the rights to sell their work have only one option. Delete your work and leave the site.
I sincerely hope the media picks up this blog and brings pressure to bare on Internet Brands. If they do not change their T&Cs I feel sorry for all the photographers that have spent so many hours lovingly working on their images, uploading them and writing informative and useful notes. So much good work will be lost if they have to delete their porfolios.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Railway worker - Grahamstown, South Africa. This is another image that has remained in my portfolio for many years.
I took it while I was a student studying for my Postgraduate Higher Diploma of Journalism at Rhodes University.
I was crossing the railway bridge when I looked down and saw this worker walking along the tracks. Immediately I saw the potential for a graphic composition using the structure of the bridge railing. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the worker to walk into the right position in the composition. All I had time for was one shot. My heart jumped when I pressed the shutter and I instantly knew I had captured something worthwhile. It's a good example of anticipating the moment.
Famous South African photographer, Obie Oberholzer, my teacher and mentor at the time, praised the image when he saw it. He suggested I print it on a high contrast paper to add more impact, which is of course exactly what I did.
I followed his advice and this image has stood me in good stead over the years.
My camera at the time was a Pentax ME 1. Shot on Ilford HP5, developed and printed in the University darkroom.
Hope you enjoy it too.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
I photographed this fish eye in the studio using my Horseman 4x5 technical camera with a 6x9 film back on Fuji colour negative. The neg was then scanned and converted to black and white in Photoshop. It looked a bit grim in colour with the blood in the eye. This way it becomes more abstract.
I used one overhead softbox with a Godard flash head. Luckily the job was completed relatively quickly and after opening the windows the smell of fresh fish soon left our studio.
I know I've not been around for awhile now. I've been swamped with work. However, I'm ready to take up the blogosphere again and normal service will resume.