Saturday, December 15, 2012

Difference between snapping and composing

What is the difference between a random snap and a careful photographic composition?
81 Bo Kaap
The answer may not appear obvious at a glance. Uncovering the joy of photography that has been crafted requires a measure of effort and engagement from the viewer. Sadly too often in our hyper-speed online and social media world images are clicked past in a split second.

The carefully crafted image looses out but so does the viewer, missing the joyful discoveries that can be made by someone who takes the time to really read an image. Today image consumption is akin to flying over the grand canyon in a jet at the speed of sound. If you really want to enjoy the view you've got to sit on the canyon rim for an hour and watch the sun going down.

Using my own humble example above I'll try to illustrate why 81 Bo Kaap is not a random snap. The first reason is something the viewer will not know. The photographer, me in this case, pre-visualised the image. I didn't just lift the camera and press the shutter button. Walking toward these ladies I saw the potential for a an interesting image and I started a conversation. At the same time I was looking at their surroundings, the light, shadows and angles.

The first thing that struck me besides their friendly demeanour was how well the dress of the lady on the left blended with the background. Perhaps I could have asked the lady on the right to step out of the frame but this was such a spontaneous moment and I didn't want to spoil it by trying to choreograph a shot. The mood could have instantly changed and wherever possible I try to shoot what I find without interfering. If I had interfered I might have lost elements like the lady on the left's hand gesture and its shadow.

I saw the shadow and the 81 in the background, moved to position this element in an interesting way and line up the edge of the gate with the wall join - all split second decisions that photographers make to enhance a shot. Ultimately it is these small details that help achieve a composition that works and is pleasing.

And there you have it. The difference between a snap and composing an image is:

  • an element of pre-visualisation (even if it just takes a second)
  • asking yourself what can I do to make this image better?
  • attention to detail 
  • alert visual awareness to the possibilities
  • empathy with your subject so you preserve the fragile moment that caught your attention in the first place

I'm under no illusions. Many viewers will see this image and just flick past it, mistaking it for just another snap, others may pause and decide they like it but will not be able to pin down exactly why, and a few will read the image and see how it all fits together - and that is the real pleasure, as a viewer, unlocking the puzzle until you 'get it'.

Enjoy making images and enjoy reading them.

That's all for now,


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Photographic myths #1

Beach talk: shot on Nikon FM2 with 80-200mm Nikkor zoom on Fujifilm in 1996.
There are a number of myths that the majority of photographers seem to believe without question. Occasionally someone will come along like the little boy in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, and point out the truth, but that does not appear to affect photographer's behaviour and desire to acquire all that is shiny and new.

Meet Jack. He is a keen photographer and a marketer's dream. When a new camera comes out, especially one with a faster burst rate, more options, focus points and more mega pixels, he wants it. He's been photographing using a digital DSLR with a crop factor, but now he realises that he really needs to go full frame. Several lenses he has are not going to work on a full frame but the manufacturers have brought out new lenses with special coatings, so his problem is solved.

Jack is camera manufacturer's marketing dream.

The reality is that the latest cameras available today, 27 October 2012, make it far easier to take pictures that are technically well exposed, have well rendered colour and show very little noise. What they do not do is make better pictures.

The simple truth is that all the images that have gone down in history and have proven to have staying power were taken on old equipment; from Ansel Adams landscapes to Henri-Cartier Bresson's decisive moment images on film, and that amazing photograph which you saw x-years ago and made you want to become a photographer - yes may have been taken on a 4.1 megapixel professional camera (eg D2Hs from 2005).

Don't get me wrong. I love new gadgets and buying cameras. But if you are a passionate photographer, and you're not well off, maybe in a country that has a difficult economy at the moment, then don't feel you're missing out by not having the latest cameras and lenses. Just remember all those amazing images, in museums,  books and galleries that were all taken on equipment much older than what you're probably using today.

Ultimately it is the photographer that makes the image, the camera is just a mechanism for taking it.

Till soon,

The image above is available to buy from the Saatchi Online gallery here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Joe McNally shares 25 years experience shooting for National Geographic

Joe McNally shares stories and layouts from 25 plus years of shooting for the world’s premier picture magazine. Anecdotes from the field, discussion of editing, layout and how pictures have to succeed emotionally, pictorially, and informationally to grace the pages of National Geographic.

At the start there's a minor glitch where Joe's photos do not appear full screen but that gets soon sorted out, so just persevere.

This is a fascinating account and the interviewer opens the floor for questions from the audience during the last 30 minutes.

Joe is one of my favourite photographers and it is fabulous to hear how he thinks about creating the images that tell the stories in National Geographic.


Till soon,
Paul (this is the hub of my photographic world with links to all my social media homes, exhibitions, info and portfolios)

PS. My thanks to Manfrotto School of Excellence (my favourite tripods) for producing this excellent video

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How to criticize photographs

How do you criticise photographs and what does a good critical comment look like?

Food critic by Paul Indigo. Note the discarded  plate, his expression and the  piece of baguette.
Social media enables amateurs, enthusiasts and professional photographers to publish their work to a wide audience, who can then openly comment and criticize the images. I would hazard a guess that 99% of the comments are fairly superficial positive expressions of appreciation like, "good shot", "nice work", "great composition" etc. Social media is not really a good forum to give and receive criticism on your photographs.

When I upload an image I don't expect to get an in-depth critique nor do I give them very often. This does not mean that I don't look at images critically, and as with many photographers I am most critical of my own work.

Do you look at images critically? What approach do you use when analysing how good an image is?

For me the most important element is to try to understand what the photographer's intention was when they took the image. The universal standard that can then be applied is how well the image communicates the photographers intention. Every approach is fraught with problems and academics have long debates about the validity of different methods of critiquing. Looking at intention has long been called a flawed approach, see the debates on "intentional fallacy". More about that further down the page in a lovely story.

As a photographer I can't imagine working without having a specific intention and a set of boundaries that I choose to follow. Put another way, how can you hope as a photographer to communicate something if you don't know what it is you want to say and how you would like to say it?

A photojournalist can't manipulate images in any way at all while an advertising photographer may have different constraints imposed by working within brand guidelines. Understanding the photographer's intention and the constraints they work under are for me the two essential keys to being able to really evaluate an image. Of course this information is not always readily available and sometimes you have to make assumptions.

The process of making a photograph consists of hundreds of decisions, from visualising the image, to technical and compositional considerations, to digital darkroom enhancements and finally deciding on how the finished image should be presented.

For me the best way to judge an image is to think about the decisions the photographer had to make to get the image. Choices were made about composition, timing, sometimes lighting, content and so do they stack up to the final product. Does the image really communicate the photographer's intention?

A good critique will examine the decisions a photographer made, from the choice of viewpoint to the way he or she handled the technical challenges and environmental, social, technological and other constraints.

Here's a great story about the intentional fallacy:
"Actually, it was a very long time ago that I first got slapped down for brandishing the intentional fallacy. As a wet-behind-the-ears college senior, I once glibly mentioned the term in the presence of the painter Ben Shahn. ''What the hell is that?'' he growled, interrupting my discourse. ''What is what?'' I asked with trepidation. ''That fallacy of intention you just spoke about.'' As I explained, Shahn's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. ''Are you trying to tell me that I don't know what I'm doing when I paint?'' ''Well, not exactly . . . ,'' I began. ''My God,'' he roared, ''every time I put a brush to a canvas, I have an intention. And I damn well better know what it is, or else the painting ain't gonna be any good.'' He rolled his eyes. ''Intentional fallacy,'' he muttered. Then with a weary sigh: ''What do these critics think art is? Monkeys dabbling? Art is nothing but decisions. Decisions, decisions, decisions.''
Published: June 9, 1986

Till soon,

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Carnival: preparations and the big day

New reportage. View in HD with the volume turned up!

In 2012 the Leeds West Indian Carnival celebrated its 45th year. The festival is one of the largest of its kind in the UK, second only to London's Notting Hill Carnival.

For a number of years I photographed the carnival and in 2010 we photographed the people behind the scenes. They put in a tremendous amount of hard work to make those fabulous costumes.  This slide show follows the process through from the preparations to Carnival day itself.

Carnival founder, Arthur France, is enormously pleased with the on-going success of the event and says the Leeds carnival continues to improve year on year. "What distinguishes the local event", says Arthur, "is the fact that it remains traditional in terms of the costumes and music which are central to the spirit and character of the carnival."

My thanks to all involved in the Leeds Carnival and particularly those that organised access and the friendly people at the Leeds West Indian Centre.

Till soon,
Paul Indigo

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Legendary photographer Jay Maisel

Legendary photographer Jay Maisel, shares insights in this extract from the Big Picture's Emmy award winning documentary about him.

Jay is an inspiration to so many photographers and someone I greatly admire. His focus on three core elements: colour, light and gesture, underpin his teachings and famous workshops.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful peek into Jay's world.

Till soon,
And to see my work head over to:


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Close Up Photographers at Work; Steve McCurry

This is a lovely insight into people photography featuring Steve McCurry, with opinions also being expressed by a number of other photographers including Bruce Davidson, Susan Meiselas, Jay Maisel and Brigitte Lacombe.

Hope you enjoy this insight as much as I have.

While you're here take a look around. Loads of articles ranging from ethics to inspiration, technique and insights into what it takes to produce great photography.

Paul (updated with new content yesterday)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Wimbledon behind the scenes

I was fortunate enough to photograph some of the things that visitors do not get to see when they go to the Championships in Wimbledon.

Hope you enjoy the mini-tour.

Till soon,

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Travelers photo story

The settled public often view Travelers as a community living on the margins of society. They are generally misunderstood and feared. The reality is that this friendly group of Travelers were only too happy to welcome strangers to share a rest stop along the road.

Hope you enjoy these 'life on the road' images.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Steve McCurry's One-Minute Masterclass 'What Makes A Great Photograph'

Steve says it like it is as usual. For me great photography comes down to making images that change people's view of the world. This can range from a subtle increase in awareness, to altering someone's opinion, through to causing a change in behaviour.

The 7 steps on the journey for the viewer of a great photograph are:

  1. seeing the image
  2. experiencing a sensation
  3. which turns into an emotion
  4. that evokes a cognitive process
  5. leading to a shift in understanding
  6. and a change in attitude
  7. that motivates the viewer to take action.

I'm not a psychologist or a philosopher. This is just my observation based on experience.

Till soon,
Visit the hub of my online world:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Steve McCurry's One-Minute Masterclass 'Don't forget to say hello'

I think this is excellent advice from a great photographer. It's exactly what I feel too.

Thanks for watching.

Till soon,

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spirit of nature multi-media experience

My new multi-media piece (2 minutes). Really enjoyed doing this one and I think it works. Take a look and let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy the experience.

Watch full screen in HD with the sound turned up and enjoy the experience :-). Please Fav and share if you like this video.

This is multi-media piece based on a series of images created in collaboration with a Butoh dancer. Many interpretations are possible. Each viewer will have their own.

To me the key concepts are inner energy, nature, internalising the external world, the similarities in structures of nature (arteries and tree branches) and meditation.

No digital manipulation was used to create these images. These pictures were all shot on Fujichrome film and scanned.

For more of my work please visit

Thank you,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Photographing Honfleur

Honfleur is a beautiful harbour town in France, located 5km from Le Havre. We spent a few days there photographing it both during the day and in the evening. Fortunately the light was good. I hope my images capture a sense of the place, the marina, the architecture and shops filled with local produce.

If you would like to find out more visit my photo-story page.

Connect with me on social media:
Google+: Paul Indigo 
Twitter: paul_indigo
Facebook: Paul Indigo
Flickr: paulindigo


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tips on shooting tourist attractions

The Alhambra in Granada is one of the must see tourist attractions of Spain. A selection of the images I shot there are in my You Tube video in full HD and you can view the still images at your leisure in my places portfolio. Here are a few tips on photographing the Alhambra which can be applied to other popular tourist attractions.

The Alhambra limits visitors to between 5,000 and 6,600 per day and it frequently sells out of tickets for the main attractions. So book well in advance if you want to gain access to the Palacios Nazaríes.

Think carefully about what equipment you really need. The place is packed with tourists and in the palace the security guards ask you to carry your bag in front of you. So if you've got a big camera rucksack you're going to have to walk around like a pregnant lady for the afternoon. Being bumped and bumping into other people is not a pleasant experience, so it's best to travel light.

When you have to book in advance and work with ambient light you're at the mercy of the elements. Fortunately Spain is a lovely sunny country so chances are the light will be good, but it's always worth thinking about the best time of year to photograph a particular tourist attraction.

What do you photograph in a place where 6,000 tourists a day, armed with cameras, snap everything in site? I made a few decisions:

  • Try to find views that show the atmosphere by showing the surrounding landscape
  • Avoid the obvious where possible
  • Focus on typical details and the real essence of the place
  • Look for interesting and unusual angles
  • Chase the best light (if the subject does not have interesting light then forget it)
  • Try to minimise having other people in the shot

In the opening shot of the video you see the Court of the Myrtles. Typically this scene is shot vertically and includes a water feature in the foreground. I went for something different that worked with the hard angled light and reflections. It just needed something more. Then I saw the lady wearing red wandering around on the other side of the pool. I had to wait for several minutes before she walked into the perfect spot to create that extra focal point that completed the image for me. It's small elements like this that give an image that extra kick they need to lift them above the ordinary. You have to constantly ask yourself, "How can I make this image better by using what's available in the scene?"

Here are my tips for photographing tourist attractions:

  • Do your research first so you know what to expect
  • Plan when would be the best time to photograph and book in advance
  • Travel light so you can enjoy the experience
  • Try to find a different angle or viewpoint and avoid the obvious for your art images
  • Don't forget to take the tourist shots as well for your family album and memories
  • Look for subjects with great light
  • Remember to capture the interesting details

On this last point my thoughts were that the essence of the Alhambra is the craftsmanship and and attention to detail in every element, but the really amazing thing is the sheer quantity of detailed work, and that's what I tried to show in several of my images. There's just so much going on in every room in the palace it is breath taking.

Hope you found this insight useful.

Till soon,
Paul (check out my other photo stories here)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Expressive Moment

To me the expressive moment is simply the moment captured through the lens by the photographer when there is a clear expression of mood, emotion and feeling. It is different to Henri Cartier Bresson's 'decisive moment' which revolves around a visual harmony and balance in the frame rather than being about emotion and expression.

The ideal is to achieve both the perfect visual balance across the frame, the decisive moment, and capture the expressive moment. Of the two I would choose the expressive moment as the most important because the essence of photography is to communicate an idea or emotion to your audience. Of course the aesthetic elements of an image play a vital role, but they support the message rather than being the message - just as in architecture, form should follow function. This is the realm of photojournalism, editorial photography, advertising, street and fashion photography.

Here we use the expressive moment to get the audience to:

  • really see
  • feel
  • think 
  • and when possible act (change their behaviour)

Naturally in certain genres, like graphic or landscape photography the aesthetic side is the message, it's purely about enjoying the visual and there is not necessarily a deeper message.

The slide show above is best viewed with the setting on HD and full screen, with the volume up :-)

Please feel free to use the social media sharing options on my blog or YouTube.

Till soon,

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Flamenco story video

See and hear the Flamenco photo story action. And turn up the volume!

In my previous post I described the photographic technique I used and how we came to shoot this story on a world famous Flamenco dance school. There was a lot of interest in the blog post so, using Magda's Indigo's behind the scenes video footage I made this short film (3.45minutes).

You'll get a much better understanding of the lighting conditions and circumstances we were working in, and we have have included some of the still images from the story so you can see how I interpreted the scene and the results.

In all the whole shoot lasted about 60 minutes. We used minimal equipment (see previous blog post).

Hope you enjoy our film. Please let me know what you think of the images too. If you'd like to see the higher resolution versions you can view them on my portfolio of Flamenco photographs.

Till soon,

Friday, February 10, 2012

Shooting the Flamenco photo story

Flamenco is full of passion and fire.
When these dancers tap out there vibrant rhythms the floor shakes. As you watch your heart beats faster, your temperature rises and energy courses through your veins. The dancers work incredibly hard. You'll see that in the images.

We were fortunate enough to photograph an advanced dance class at one of the world's best Flamenco schools. Please take a moment to view the selected images from my photo-story. When the image opens you can click the i to see the accompanying text. Here are most of the same images on Flickr too.

For those interested in the technical side, I used one flash, bounced on the white walls and 'dragged' the shutter to achieve a balance with the ambient light (which was mainly terrible overhead florescent). It was a real challenge. For the most part I used a 50mm lens. The wider shots were done with the 17-40mm on my Canon 5D. I did not use burst mode. It's too random and you miss vital moments - far better to anticipate and capture the perfect moment in one shot.

Thank you in advance to those that share this post and take the time to comment.

Till soon,

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The making of a photograph

A porter reaches back to help another as they struggle to carry their burdens up into the city, Istanbul, Turkey.
It strikes me that photo enthusiasts are often more interested in the equipment used to take a photograph and the settings as if somehow that knowledge will help them create images like the ones they admire.

On the other hand art critics look at images as the starting point for an interpretation. They often give images a meaning far beyond what was in the photographers mind at the time of making the image.

Professional photographers on the other hand look at images and think about how they would have tackled the same situation to get the shot. They are less concerned with the equipment or the interpretation and more interested in the practical decision making involved and the point of view, both physical and interpretive, of the photographer.

Over the years the image above has become quite symbolic to me. Each man carries a burden through life and sometimes everyone needs a little help to take the next step. My understanding of the image I shot on that day has evolved. Here's how the actual moment of capture happened...

One day when I was a young photojournalist student, I was walking near the harbour in Istanbul when I saw a row of men with heavy barrels on their backs. They were crossing the road and as each man crossed the one in front turned around to help the man behind him up onto the pavement. It immediately struck me as an iconic and symbolic moment.

I had my SLR, loaded with Ilford HP 5 film, hence the grainy print, and an 80-200mm lens. I was a long way off and had to run flat out to get close enough for a shot at 200mm. By the time I was in range I could only manage to shoot one frame of the last two men in the row. Weeks later when I got home and developed the negative I realised I'd captured something special. The image has been in my portfolio ever since and reaction from viewers has always been good. Generally people 'get it'.

The thing that interests me now though is that over time the power and meaning of the image has grown.

More soon...