Monday, May 24, 2010

Why we need more creative photojournalism

To tell a story visually is difficult as any picture editor knows. You have to grab attention, communicate the essence of the story in an image and engage people so they follow through and read the article.

There's the old saying that a 'picture is worth a thousand words' and it keeps being used because it's true.

Getting people to pay attention relies on three elements working together - picture, caption and headline. Two of the three most important elements relate directly to photography. Pictures sell magazines, newspapers and website content.

Unfortunately editorial departments are under siege, often drained of human resources, budgets and under increasing pressure to take the 'safe' creative option as editors fight to keep the wolf from the door. There are many exceptions and numerous editors who will take risks and put their necks on the line to support good photography – thank goodness. Most editors are just trying to maintain the status quo. This is not good enough.

In the face of fierce competition they should be enabling their creative team to produce art that is going to win readers: images that stand out, that are more creative, that will be remembered.

For example rather than an image of a poster or screen showing the faces of missing people, which is the same old tried and tested safe option, why not do something like this...

275,000 people go missing every year in UK

Missing People, the charity that helps both the disappeared and those left behind, told the Independent Newspaper that more than 250,000 missing persons reports are filed each year. The Independent's sources suggest the total in 2009 was closer to 275,000.

The Independent reported: "This, the equivalent of the entire population of Plymouth being spirited away, means that, across the country, one person goes missing every two minutes.”

Most are found or return soon after they have been reported missing but as many as 20,000 disappear completely, sometimes for decades, many forever.

My image is an artistic/editorial interpretation of the story. It was taken in Kings Cross, one of the locations where CCTV cameras sometimes provide the last glimpse of an individual arriving before they disappear.

The idea behind the image was the 'footfall' of thousands of passing people every day and how they can just disappear – graphically illustrated by feet and ghostly figures. The monochrome blue toning helps convey mood and emotion.

A still image can have layers of meaning and a depth that video does not have. Still images confront the viewer with the essence of the story in one split second. Photojournalism and still images in particular offer editors an extremely rich opportunity to gain and hold audience attention. The challenge is to find the creative talent that can go beyond the obvious and stimulate, intrigue and capture readers.

Hopefully my creative efforts demonstrate the point I am trying to make in this article. Your feedback and comments are welcome.

Till soon,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How do you measure success as a photographer?

What signs should you follow?

If you upload pictures on social media websites you will know there is usually  some form of audience judgement of your success as a photographer.

How good you are is supposedly measured in votes, clicks, awards, views, badges...

This is a good strategy for website owners because everyone likes a pat on the back and so visitors keep coming back to their website for the rewards and little treats. As they say in website terminology it makes the site more 'sticky' and more visitors equals a bigger audience share and more revenue.

Photographers fall into the trap of trying to please broad website audiences and they let this cyber-gang steer and even rule their creativity.

Do you really want to let people who breeze past your image barely giving it a glance or pausing to comment, vote or paste a badge determine the direction of your creativity and influence your vision as a photographer? Most visitors are hoping you'll return the favour and visit their offering. It's a sad cycle to be caught up in.

If 'popularity' is not a measure of how good your photography is then what is a good measure?

  • Do people contact you out of the blue wanting to buy your work? 
  • Do people want to publish it and share it with others and exhibit it and talk about it? 
  • Does your work change opinions or even people's lives? 
  • Does it communicate ideas? 
  • Has someone sent you an email saying that your photography is incredible and it moves them deeply? 
  • Has anyone ever said to you that what you do has changed the way they see the world?

If this has happened to you then you're on the right path. Keep going. If not then you need to work harder on your art and focus on your creative vision rather than the hollow lure of popularity.

Being popular is wonderful so long as your fans genuinely value and love the work that you do. If your audience on the other hand has a different agenda for praising you and you fall into the trap of believing that their accolades mean you are making worthwhile art, then you are playing a fools game.

Till soon,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Whose opinion about your photography really counts?

Every photographer wants to improve. But how do we know we are getting better? Besides looking critically at our own work we listen to the opinions of others.

Allowing other people to judge your work is essential. But you have to be cautious about who's opinion you value. It is human nature to give a negative opinion more weight than praise. The bad comments tend to stick in your mind. So be careful of giving the following people the power to influence your art:

  • There are plenty of great photography teachers that just love sharing their knowledge and are very good educators but there are also some who teach photography but may harbour regrets and be a little bitter about not making it to the top. You have to spot the difference. You'll know the ones to avoid because no matter what you do they will always seek the minor faults and flaws and you will never be able to please them.
  • People who knit pick on small things but don't really help you develop your vision.
  • Someone who may have set themselves up as the font of all knowledge but all they do is parrot formulas and rules without real understanding. The best way to unmask these people is to look at their own photography. You'll soon see if they know what they're talking about.
So who should you listen to:
  • People that have no agenda and have made it to the top, acknowledged masters. They are often the most generous with advice too.
  • Those rare people who see your potential to develop and can identify the strengths in your work and can advise you on how to develop your art as a photographer. People who can help you with your creative vision for the future, not just technical advice.
Once you know the direction you want to go in you can easily learn the technical stuff.

Just learn what you need to know to realise your vision. Put your effort into creativity rather than into trying to learn technical manuals.

Beware of whose opinions you listen to. Learning who's opinion to value and who to ignore is a life and death decision for artistic success.

Till soon,

PS. Picture above of a Flemish Heavy Horse. More about this amazing animal weighing over a ton here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Fleeting expressions and picking the moment

Taking a photograph that tells a story requires patience, knowing what you want to say and then picking the right moment.

I noticed this lady selling jewelry on the market. She was chatting to customers and showing them her merchandise but nobody bought anything.

She was aware of me taking pictures and didn't mind. I kept an eye on her and picked the moment that I thought told the story of her day on the market.

There are still many businesses struggling with the recession and people have certainly tightened up their budgets, even on items like market jewelry.

I decided to upload this image to illustrate how waiting patiently and picking the right moment can produce an image that communicates the story.

A few seconds later her expression changed and the brave sales face was back on again.

Sometimes photographers take a lot of images in the hope of getting one good one. Seems too hit and miss to me. The real key to getting that good image is figuring out what needs to happen in front of your lens to tell the story. Then with patience and timing you can photograph the moment, a split second that nails it.

Till soon,