One of my most successful shots of 2020 was also one of the easiest I made during that year. Living by the sea on the south coast of Spain is very peaceful and beautiful, but being on the edge of the sea also brings tempestuous weather. Like most southern European houses, mine has roll-down steel shutters.
On the morning of November 26th I was woken up by my shutters rattling in the frame; just another day on the coast I thought. The shutters were down in the living room overlooking the sea (I had put them down due to the storm warning the previous day) so I pulled them up and was greeted by a dark sky and rolling sea only illuminated by multiple lightning strikes.
My heart jumped! Camera! Camera I need a….Oh, here it is, all setup already from the still life I was shooting the day before. (Zero effort before coffee is always a good thing in my book.)
So here I am still in my pyjamas going onto the balcony with my camera and tripod. It was still 30 minutes before blue hour, leaving astronomical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below horizon) and coming into nautical twilight (when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon).
It wasn’t easy framing with barely any light, so I mostly just filled the frame with sky and put it on a timer to take continuous shots. I set the aperture at f/6.3 for 10 seconds as a test shot. This is what I got:
This is NOT sunlight but light from the lightning!
10sec @f/6.3 ISO640
When shooting lightning you don’t want to use small apertures. Why? Because apertures control the INTENSITY of light. And you want the lightning to be intense yes? If you shoot, say at, F/16 then you get thinner, weaker looking lightning. Apertures between 2.8- 8 work best.
This image is actually f/10. But still too skinny and dull.
Once my camera was on the tripod with the 50mm I attached the remote release that I use mostly for timelapses, and set the exposure time for 13 seconds @ f/6.3. Then I went to go make coffee.
After about 3 minutes of exposing, I reviewed (chimped) the images to see what I’d caught. There were loads of good lightning strikes! I made another 2 minutes of exposures adjusting as I went along.
50mm 20sec@ f/5.6 ISO50
The 50mm was working well but as I was shooting the lightning strikes kept getting closer. I mean really close, right overhead – if I had been on the open beach I would have left, that close! But since I was safe on my balcony undercover on the side of a building, I felt secure in my now cold pyjamas… So I switched to a 17mm to achieve more coverage and distort the angle-up perspective a bit.
Now that I could see better I reframed to include the top of a tree and the horizon for added perspective. I think without the tree the size and magnitude of the lighting is lost. Now it was just a matter of luck and patience.
2.5sec @f/6.3 ISO50
At this point in time it was blue hour and the sun had just started to warm up the Eastern sky, which you can see in the final shot. I started the remote again with 2.5 second exposures. I was sipping my coffee transfixed by how awesome nature is when bang! A strike so close and so bright.
I was looking right at the space it happened and it burned itself into my retina as I heard my camera shutter go click and I thought: ” Yeah, I got that!” – followed by the instant rumble of deep thunder. Amazing I tell you!
Soon after, the storm moved away and the sunrise came up and I was done.
I reviewed the camera images again and there it was – the perfect strike right on top of me. And I hadn’t even finished my whole cup of coffee yet. A second cup of coffee later and I was sitting at my computer uploading.
A few people have asked me how I processed this image so I will start by showing you the out-of-camera file:
Doesn’t appear so colourful, in fact, it looks rather flat and dull. But don’t judge a file until you have a good look at the histogram. What do you see here?:
Low contrast, yes, to be expected by looking at the file itself. But what I want you to notice are the colour channels of yellow and blue.
That is a lot of yellow towards the darker tones and a lot of blue towards the lighter tones. What this tells me is that I can push these channels and really make the image colourful without making it seem over-processed and fake. I am taking the inherent qualities and enhancing them with saturation and contrast.
And when I do I get a histogram that looks like this:
After processing histogram
I have spread all the tones out, increasing contrast. I also upped the vibrance and saturation which you can see in the colour channels.
This is my best processing result but not my first. When I first worked on this image I was into my 2nd cup of coffee the same morning, still hadn’t eaten and was “over-excited”, and when I am “over-excited” I tend to push sliders too far to the right, especially Clarity and sometimes Dehaze (ouch!).
This is what that looks like:
For me this did not reflect my personal experience as it feels too dark and brooding when it was actually highly energetic and intense. This feeling is also mostly due to over using the Dehaze slider. It is a cool look but later I felt I wanted it to be more natural.
I could shoot lighting everyday for the rest of my life and still love it. I love zooming in at 200% and looking super close at lightning. It is awe-inspiring for me. And so, so beautiful. I did 263 frames over 45 minutes. Maybe 30 with strikes!
I now have weather apps that forewarn me of lightning in my area so next time I will be ready to go…as long as I can stay safely on my balcony drinking coffee 8).
A couple of the last strikes of the morning. It was amazing how the colour dramatically cooled at sunrise. Strange, strange weather but I live for it.
I’d love to know what you think of this, or if you have questions ask them here on my blog and I’ll answer them.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
A plethora of ideas for Abstract Street Photography
How are you? I hope life is good. Today I have some awesome ideas for you.
What I love about photography is that anything, and I mean anything, can be your subject. In photography, we are limited only by our abilities to see interesting things in the world around us and to use our imagination to put them together in compelling ways.
Sounds simple, right? Well, today I would love to talk to you about one of my favourite things. We can call it abstract street photography, but I like to think of it as exploring the streets with my camera and letting my imagination go wild.
For me, almost nothing allows us to use our imagination in such a personal and interesting way as abstract photography. And because I spend a lot of time travelling and shooting cities, abstract street photography is one of the genres of photography I love to shoot the most.
I would, though, offer a caveat. I am not an abstract photographer. In fact, I wouldn’t assign myself to any genre of photography. Too restrictive! There is so much of the world I love to explore with my camera, and so much more to learn, that I have stopped even trying to confine myself and my curiosity.
Today I would love to give you a bunch of different ideas about how you can jump into this liberating style of photography – either if you’re new to shooting in this style or not!
If we’re going to define abstract photos I would start with this quote from the writer Henry Miller:
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world itself.”
Everything for me about abstracts is removing the realism, the candid, the obvious from our images, and making images that, as Miller says, evoke mystery and provoke our minds into thinking about magnificent new worlds.
Abstracts are creating new subjects, new worlds that have sprung completely from our imagination. We are leaping away from the old, familiar world around us.
What’s at your feet?
A big thing I see in my students is how little they look around when observing a scene. People are used to looking in the obvious places – but what about what’s at your feet? What’s behind you, what’s up high, and what’s around the corner?
Having infinite curiosity to explore the space around you from every angle is a really strong sign you are becoming more adept in your photography. Usually I am looking around to find interesting patterns of light, and watching where light is bouncing, streaming and falling.
And I love to find interesting things at my feet. Strange discarded items, colours, patterns, textures, dirt and hidden treasures. The world of the actual street is super interesting.
Always be looking at what’s at your feet!
Another fairly obvious, but often forgotten, place that I look all the time for intriguing elements are walls. I love to shoot things like torn posters, interesting shapes, bad wiring, holes, moss growing, light illuminating a dank and dark wall. The possibilities for creating a mini-universe all of your own is completely open and up to you!
Look at this crazy wall I found in Havana, so cool!
Playing with the shapes, lines and perspective of walls and corners is exciting. You have here in Morocco some very simple colours and lines, giving a nice depth with the angle I chose.
Playing with buildings and perspective in my photos is a favourite. Shooting buildings straight on in a realistic way can be good, but also trying out different angles and perspectives is super fun.
I shot this one below in Paris, and I was intrigued by the shapes and colours of the buildings all slotted together in this small area of the city. I wanted to capture their looming feeling, but I also was really intrigued by the golden disc. It created a strange element, something unrecognisable, and added a quality that meant the buildings stopped being pure buildings but with this perspective became a series of shapes and colours.
It’s also great to use the windows, lines and textures of buildings to fill your frame and disconnect the viewer from the whole scene. I like how the lines of windows converge; it looked to me like the building was being folded in half.
The world is awash with fascinating textures! And often I find things that normally would be ignored or were thought to be ugly, but when you go close in and shoot them, they become quite unctuous and touchable.
The rain on a road with broken tarmac feels like a case in point:
As I mentioned earlier, shooting torn posters on walls is a favourite. I find that you get this interesting mix of poster and wall, which means you can have these strange elements left on the wall, out of context.
If you’ve never looked for torn posters I would encourage you to now. It’s super fun to find how many remnants are left on walls, and the fun starts when you find many stuck on top of each other, each torn and worn. Then there exists an interesting collection of contrasting images.
What I really love too is how the textures of the paper and the wall create their own strong element in the photo. And you know what they say, one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. How cool that we can repurpose the unneeded and discarded for something interesting and new?
I am often on the lookout for reflections because I am ALWAYS on the lookout for interesting light. And light creates all kinds of interesting effects.
I really love creating these kinds of discombobulated reflections:
Having lots of overlapping elements in the frame that take some time to really see what’s happening in the photo. You can do a lot of fun things with reflections like these, creating a sort of ordered chaos:
What can you create with all of the elements around you?
“Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography” George Eastman
If I were to pick a subject or general way to describe myself, it would be as a photographer of light. Light is really my main subject. And therefore what light falls upon is really my secondary subject.
I love to chase light, follow it, explore and play with it, and I observe it constantly to see how it’s changing the world around me.
Because light is always changing how we see the world around us. You can be at a scene that looks one way at midday and completely different two hours later, all because of the light.
One of the biggest challenges I see many of my students face in their photography is that they are thinking too much about their subject and not about the light surrounding them.
If people haven’t a deep awareness of light, I always encourage them to spend time just observing the light, seeing what it’s doing where they are now, and then how it starts to change.
Where is the light going? Is it bouncing off a window and creating pools of light on the floor? Is it creating shadows? Is the light warm, cold? How does the light feel and what does that feeling do to your subject?
“Energy and motion made visible – memories arrested in space” Jackson Pollock
Motion is just pure fun in my mind. It’s really about having fun with light and your subject, and totally ignoring reality. The sensation of movement, the colours of it, are wonderful to capture.
I like this idea that these connect with memories too – and how so much of what we shoot, especially in this abstract style, is about things that remind us of experiences, places, ideas, people, books, events, characters from films etc.
We could even say that so much of our photography is about shooting our memories, because what we are curious about, what we notice and what fascinates us is filtered through who we are. Our entire life experience comes into every shot we take.
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” Georgia O’Keeffe
Colour is a very important subject for me. Almost as important as light! Shooting colours is awesome – and they can be their very own subject.
Colours bring all kinds of feelings to an image; joy, melancholy, danger, fear, fun, exhilaration…. And are often very impactful. What do these colours below feel like?
Abstracts are obviously not about creating clarity, but using the world around us in a new way to make something that fires up our imagination. We are looking for the elements to take on a life of their own. To become something else.
Like in this photo. The shapes of the branches and the barbed wire fence are easy to figure out, but what is interesting is seeing the shapes together, stripped of colour, and only in silhouette. An intriguing contrast I think.
Here we have some great bold colour and a simple strong shape:
In the photo above this is just a piece of an element I found whilst wandering around. It’s nothing fancy or unusual, I just made the shape from the larger whole object, taking the little piece of it that I found interesting, and ignoring the rest.
These shots of mine are not really abstract photography, more surrealism. Surrealism is in a very similar realm to abstraction, because it’s using our imagination rather than being committed to documenting the reality of the world around us.
We can tell stories, reveal people’s lives or just create interesting moments by not making literal, realism-based photos.
Finding quirky moments, odd situations or sad experiences. We don’t need to get everything in frame to tell a story.
We are always working to open up our awareness as photographers, to see more. This is so important because we don’t see anything close to what is actually there in the environment around us. Our brains focus our attention so we don’t get overwhelmed by the billions of bits of visual information around us.
It is why I can take six photographers to the same spot and they all capture something different. So opening up our awareness to take in more visually will help us find more awesome moments to capture.
Shadow and silhouettes
The feeling of silhouettes and shadows can be immensely powerful. The darkness and the shapes they create can bring so much feeling to an image. For example in the photo below I at first used a correct exposure so I got the detail of the man. But it was a really boring image.
So I went down a couple of stops and created him in silhouette instead, and I think it was perfect. The simplified outline of his posture is so much more powerful than having all of the detail.
Here we have the pattern of the repetitive shapes and that is very pleasing to the eye. The brain loves order and repeating patterns create that soothing feeling for the eye.
There we have my collection of ideas for creating engaging and compelling street abstracts. I really hope that sparked some ideas for you, and you are inspired to go out and see what you can capture.
I would love to know if you’ve got some ideas from this article – let me know in the comments below. It’s always great to hear your ideas!
Have a deeply awesome day.
Anthony and Diana
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It might sound strange to suggest that painters can teach us anything about photography.
I believe, though, that any creative pursuit springs from the same space within us – whether it’s photography, writing, painting or even making exquisitely beautiful cakes.
Creativity comes from a desire to express ourselves, to verbalize our experiences, thoughts, ideas and what fascinates us about the world.
The ways we express ourselves are merely our personal preferences, but the fact that we choose to create, that is a universal desire and, what I would argue, is also a need.
In keeping myself motivated as a photographer I love to look for inspiration from all across the creative spectrum.
I like to take the advice of my favourite photographer Ernst Haas in this, when he recommended to:
“refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
Not only do I love Van Gogh’s paintings, but I love how he talks about being an artist. I feel he expresses that desire to see the world in a new way so uniquely.
I liked too how he wrote very simply of the life-giving qualities of being creative.
Today I wanted to indulge in his brilliance and see what we can draw from his life to help us with our photography.
1. We are all deeply creative
“Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” Van Gogh
I have met too many people who say they aren’t creative types or arty types. And yet they have a huge desire to create, to be people who make things.
That desire is enough. That fire within is enough to take you to where you need to go with your photography.
2. The strange magic of creation
“What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently.” Van Gogh
I love this quote. It shows some of that strange magic that is involved in the act of creativity, but also the grind of just doing the work.
Sometimes I don’t know where my images come from. I just know my role is to show up, push through discomfort when it arises and keep going.
3. Paying attention to your subject changes what it is
“It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning.” Van Gogh
When you look deeply at a subject it starts to transform into other things.
Perhaps it becomes intertwined with your imagination, your memories, and thoughts. Your imagination transforming it from one thing to another.
Perhaps it changes because as you look, really look at something, you notice its many facets, its individual details, its many elements. It becomes less a part of a whole, and more a whole world in itself.
4. We all need to be courageous
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? Van Gogh
I need this stapled to my forehead sometimes. I feel that my life requires a lot of courage, often. I’ve chosen a different path to others, so I see what this would be. When I overcome fear and feel courageous, wow, it’s an amazing feeling. When I succumb to fear and am not courageous, then, yes, it doesn’t feel great. But the mere act of attempting courageous acts induces a lot of creative energy within me.
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore” Van Gogh
5. Taking photos is the most important thing I can do
I wonder if it’s my age, but my desire to create photographs feels in some ways more urgent than when I was younger. Maybe urgent is the wrong word. It feels more essential than it ever has.
When I was younger taking photos was a deep pleasure, it was fun, it was adventurous! I have loved all of my work and projects and learning.
But there is something about getting older when you see with starker and starker clarity what is essential to your life and what is unnecessary filler.
I want to only fill my life now with things that are essential to my being. That makes me proud, that push me to be a better person, that help me grow and learn and help me experience the world in beautiful new dimensions.
6. Kill self-doubt with action
This connects to my last post about how we all need creative pursuits in our lives. I love this quote of Van Gogh’s:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Self-doubt is the enemy of creativity, and it’s one we all face. But self-doubt only controls us if we let it. If we plough on regardless, self-doubt is eradicated by taking action.
7. When we are seeking to do what we love, life is complete
“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” Van Gogh
This is the true test for me of a good life – are we in it with all of our hearts? I like to think I am in mine, and like family, photography is a natural conduit to living in a wholehearted, connected way.
So I hope these are some nice thoughts for you, giving you some inspiration for your photo practice.
I’d like to leave with one last quote from the great man, one I have quoted several times before on my blog, but is always a good reminder for me:
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” Van Gogh
So there is no reason not to do things. The time to do things is now, regardless of where you are and what you don’t know (yet.)
Can I help you become a more creative, confident and artistic photographer?
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Anthony and Diana
PS: Want to know more about us?
I’m from California, but I now live in Andalucia, Spain with my beautiful family. I came to Europe to shoot London twenty years ago for my first book, London at Dawn, and stayed to create a series of books and exhibitions on Cities at Dawn. I run my business with my wife Diana who is a writer and marketing genius. My projects and work have been featured on The Guardian, BBC World, French Photo Magazine, The Economist, CNN, Atlas Obscura and Digital Photographer. As well as sharing my knowledge and passion for photography in regular articles + videos I also run photo workshops around the world and inspiring live online classes.
What a strange year this has been, right? Yet curiously this has been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time.
I’ve been pushed into being more creative, more expressive and more imaginative with less resources that I have for a long time. It’s been really exciting.
It’s also been a time when Di and I had to stop business-as-usual (along with the rest of the world of course) and think – how do we want to move forward now, given all that is going on?
And ask ourselves – can we carry on living this creative life? Sharing our passions and knowledge for photography? Will this new normal allow that?
And because we love to push ourselves – can we create things that are even better than what we’ve been doing before?
So it’s amazing to think, 6 months into the pandemic, we have transformed and done so much to create a new way of life, and new work along the way.
Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic, or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.
Of course we’ve had our share of freezing and panicking, but over all we have been focusing on this idea from Albert Einstein as a way to keep ourselves inspired:
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
I would love to share 4 more ideas that have made an impact and helped me develop my photography this year.
Being a beginner is an awesome opportunity
During the lockdown I got super into watching youtube videos of people painting with a tablet. It really inspired me!
So I ordered a tablet and have been, in my odd moments of time, usually late at night when my kids are in bed, playing around with it.
And I am pretty terrible at it so far!
But you know what is so cool about being a beginner – you know that you’re not supposed to be good so you can just play around and have fun. Experiment.
Being a beginner means you aren’t constrained by any previous ideas, you can relax and just go with the learning process.
People can be at their most creative when they ‘don’t know’ the proper way to do things. And that is something to celebrate!
When you are bogged down in knowing a lot, it can actually constrain and confine you. It can make you think of the rules too much and what is and what isn’t possible.
So this is to say – if you are new to photography, if you are feeling intimidated by how much there is to learn – try to throw out that feeling of overwhelm and instead celebrate the experience of not knowing.
Knowledge and skills will come. But the magic of a beginner’s mind happens only once, and you’ll never know what you can make until you get started!
And if you aren’t new to photography, take a leaf out of the Zen Buddhists’ book, and try to cultivate this concept of a beginner’s mind as a way to approach your shooting:
“Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
I’ve also been starting out the learning process with my new HD filters, and I’ll tell you this – I’ve already created some downright boring shots!
But you know what I also know as a professional? That you often have to go through a lot of boring or rubbish shots when you are trying something new, trying out new ideas and concepts, or new kit.
It’s rare to get good at something straight away, and get something beautiful and incredible.
So I am in no way disheartened. In fact I know it’s just part of the process.
I’ll soon be ready with some of my HD filter shots, and show you the journey I’ve gone from terribly boring to completely beautiful.
(And this is a cool 3 min video from the mindfulness teaching of Jon Kabat-Zinn about how you can bring Beginner’s Mind to all of your experiences. I think it’s a cool idea to bring to your photography.)
Constraints can be magic for your creativity and imagination
It’s important to me as a photographer to be taking photos on a regular basis.
To remember that it’s important to me, even if it’s not directly related to work or a commission or a project.
And so when we were in lockdown, I decided to look around my apartment and find something I could do inside that would be a great project.
This was a huge challenge for me because I am not a still life photographer, I very, very rarely shoot inside.
My love is for natural light and for exploring and wandering around outside – and I am just as happy in a cool city as in nature. The point for me is exploration and looking for interesting light.
So setting myself a project inside was pretty strange, but ended up unbelievably cool.
So cool in fact that the work I made is the best I have done in probably the last year or two – so much so it’s going to be my next gallery show!
I won’t share it with you right now, but the cool thing is when you have endless choices it can often feel like – what the heck do I shoot?
But when you have very few choices it can get your imagination into working overtime to create something.
And I have often felt like my imagination works best when confined by time or place or location. It makes me work that bit harder to make something beautiful.
So what can you create right now with your photography? Regardless of the situation you are in – on a long commute, confined at home, over busy with kids – how could you use the limitations you are under to make something?
Everything ordinary is extraordinary
You’ve probably, like most of us, already experienced deeply challenging things in life. Like who alive hasn’t had their life upended by grief, loss or pain?
But there is something pretty unique about this pandemic situation – it’s an issue that we all share, a challenge that we all face.
Of course, there are people who are suffering way, way, way more than others. Financially, physically and emotionally. It has created a lot of havoc.
It has also for many of us made us remember (or realise) what is important.
We really only have one thing in this world, and that is the moment right here. Not yesterday – that is like ancient history now – or even tomorrow because that is not a given.
We have now. And so what do we do with it?
What I have realised is that I don’t want to spend endless time worrying unnecessarily. Or not fully and totally appreciate every single thing that I have.
I have remembered that I don’t want to put off the opportunities to go out shooting because I am feeling lazy or distracted.
I want to fully and totally appreciate the moonlight on the sea, rather than getting getting sucked into stupid discussions on Facebook.
I want to spend time talking with my kids until they run out of energy, not just thinking about the million emails I need to answer – because who knows when they’ll want to talk to me again? Well, my teen at least. Our 8 year old still thinks I am pretty interesting. Lol!
How long will that last?
So how does this relate to photography?
It is to remember that we can use this medium, this craft to create something extraordinary from our lives at any moment.
Focusing parts of our life on creating and not just consuming or doing – brings so many benefits.
I can’t be reminded enough to look at the big picture and make sure I’m doing things that make me deeply satisfied.
It is to say that I encourage you to always be taking photos, to try and make a photo project, to weave your passions more and more into your daily life.
To live these moments of our life with as much reverence and gratitude as possible.
To always always always have our fingers in the creative pie, as it were.
To not put off shooting because we have too many other things to do.
Because emails never end. Websites are never perfect. Accountants always need replies.
Photography is a journey
And it’s OK to go in and out of it, to have ups and downs
And this sounds almost like the opposite of the idea above, but in fact it’s not. It’s accepting the flow of life and therefore the flow of photography.
Even though I try to be regularly doing my own photos, my own projects, I often fall out of the habit of shooting for myself.
And that’s totally cool. We are not machines, we can attempt consistency, we can strive for it, but we can also not get het up with ourselves when we stop being creative.
I have periods when I don’t shoot, don’t feel creative, have no new ideas, get distracted, have important life things to do etc.
But I know that when I allow myself complete freedom with my photography, and don’t have expectations of what I should be doing, that’s when I come back to photography full of ideas and energy.
So remembering that you love taking photos, but not giving yourself a hard time when it falls out of your life. Just get back to it when you can.
That is awesome and super powerful.
I mean we have expectations about so many areas of our life, so many shoulds, so don’t let this mysterious, amazing and wonderful area of photography be tainted by such negative concepts.
I would love to know if any of these ideas resonate with you. If you experienced any of these things this year with your photography?
And what have you learnt in 2020? What has made your photography better this year?
I’d love to know, let me know in the comments below.
Stay tuned, stay safe and stay creative!
Anthony and Diana
He really inspires me, not just with the art that he made, but how he talked about creativity and how we can all tap into that inner realm of mystery and magic to make things that are unique to us, our soul, our vision, our selves.
“Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.” Vincent Van Gogh
And this is what we are all trying, right? To capture the beauty and poetry that we see all around us.
“How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.” Vincent Van Gogh
Today I want to dive into a lesson all about colour. I have already done articles on the colours purple and blue and one exploring many different colours.
I love to photograph colour, and am always ready to let colour take centre stage in my images.
Because, and I repeat these quotes a lot, because I couldn’t say it better:
“Color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.” Photographer, Ernst Haas
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” Painter, Georgia O’Keeffe.
Even if colour doesn’t capture your imagination in the same way it does for me – because we live in a world awash with colour, you need to be able to work with the impact that it creates, and the power that it has, so that you can master using it in your compositions.
Just a splash of yellow in this photo – but doesn’t it make a huge impact?
You don’t want your photos to be hijacked by unintentional forces – and this is what colour that you haven’t fully considered, can do to your photos.
A splash of red can distract the eye, a dark grey sky can create a feeling of foreboding on a joyful subject and just the merest hint of green could create imbalance in an image.
We want to be intentional about everything we are placing in the frame, therefore developing an awareness of colour is vital, so that we can be in control of our compositions.
I like to think sometimes that we are just working with shapes and forms in different colours. It can make thinking about composition much easier.
Even though Claude Monet is talking about painting here, this totally applies to photography:
“Try to forget what objects you have before you – a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, ‘Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow,’ and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene before you”.
We create the photos. We place all the elements that we want in the frame.
Everything is intentional, and colour is really good to focus on because it’s one of the easiest compositional tools to become aware of and start working with.
Today I want to explore a colour that is often associated with the feeling of joy, happiness, brightness, positivity. And that colour is of course YELLOW.
Now like everything in our universe, where there is light there is also dark. The ying and the yang.
Yellow can also invoke feelings of decay, cowardice, fear, sickness and jealousy.
But why do I talk about the feeling of colours?
Because firstly – photography is all about feeling. Most photos don’t ignite any feeling because most of the photos we take are not good photos.
All excellent photos are made excellent because they create a feeling within the viewer.
It could be any feeling – awe, joy, love, fear, apprehension, melancholy, desire etc.
And this is because it doesn’t matter how great the photo is, your viewer will never remember it or take pleasure or interest in it if it feels meaningless, devoid of feeling.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” Don McCullin
I always like to ask myself:
How do colours make me feel?
How do they affect the scene and my subject?
Yellow is a warm colour and sits next to orange and red on the colour wheel.
It stimulates the nervous system and energises us (and painter Kandisky said that if colour were a sound it would be a joyous one) but if overused it can feel nauseating, tiring and be a strain on the eyes (rooms painted yellow are quite rare because of this fact.)
So let’s dive in and explore the different ways you can use yellow to create different feelings and messages in your photos.
Bright yellow is very powerful, and grabs your attention, even the merest hint of it. It is bold, joyous, positive and uplifting.
Bright yellow is used to attract attention. For example the combination of black writing on yellow is one of the easiest colour combinations for the eye to see on things like buses and signs.
It is also the colour of warning and danger. This is because it is the first colour that is seen with our eyes and that is why it is used as a warning all over the world.
What does this yellow say to you? What about the combination of bright colours?
These splashes of yellow are so strong and vibrant, right? Bright yellow is such a dominating colour that you only need a few suggestions of it for it to really create a powerful feeling in your photos.
For example, this photo below is very busy – but look how how striking the yellow elements are:
How about the yellow in this photo I shot in Morocco – how does it interact with the other colours?
To me the line of yellow is so bright and happy it connects with the smiling boys, and contrasts with the more sombre face of the woman.
Look at the photo below. Even though this is also a bright yellow, how do the textures of the street affect how you think about the colour?
Now to Istanbul and its famous tulips. To me this bright yellow is a burst of joy against the dull light and the grey wall. It says to me, the beauty of nature is amazing, even on the greyest, saddest of days:
Now, how about this – yellow is playing a big role in the photo – as a contrast to all the blue – and blue and yellow are complementary colours (opposites). Doesn’t the yellow here feel a little melancholy?
Let’s jump over to Cuba now. I love to place people against bold, simple and colourful backgrounds. Especially when you can contrast the colour of the outfit with the wall:
The yellow in the photo above is not as bright, and to me not a joyful feeling at all. What does it make you think of?
This photo below is one of my favourite images, and it takes on that more melancholic- decay feeling that yellow can imbue that I mentioned earlier.
Do you think it’s the fact that it is tape on the street or the shade of yellow that creates that feeling – or maybe both?
Now to the glorious glow of sunlight on the sea below. It’s so rich and golden. It has such a different feeling to the bright yellow, no?
To me this golden yellow feels so opulent. It’s like summer in one colour. You can feel the radiance of the sun, its heat and almost feel this rich light on your skin.
Now, how about the yellow glow of this street light, a totally different feeling, right? You can feel the atmosphere it creates in the early morning.
So that finished up my mini-study about the colour yellow.
Did this help you think about the role colour plays in your compositions? I would love to know – please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Tripod as Zen Master – Using a tripod regularly in my photography has created a huge impact on my photos – not just technically but in how I shoot. It has slowed me down and given me the opportunity to become even more connected with my environment.
My most controversial photography article – ever – Even with my regular smartphone use I am still a massive fan of shooting on manual. No computer makes better creative choices than us. Hands down. Until that changes, this is what I discuss in an article I wrote for Digital Photography School which people loved or hated!
(It’s really all about) Developing the artistic mindset
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” Ernst Haas
This is where I start with people in my workshops and courses – your mindset! Because we are what we shoot!
Photography starts with preparing yourself and how to connect with your creative energy, becoming present and connected to your environment and bringing your imagination into your photography.
Here are some great ideas to help you:
You are an artist (even if you don’t think you are) – So many people say to me – I’m not a creative person! Well, you are. Every single human being is creative. It is how our brains are made. All that happens to our creativity is that it atrophies from under-use.
What kind of photographer are you? – We are all on our path, our own journey as creative people. So there will never be a one-size-fits-all learning journey. That’s why I personalise everything I teach, so that it connects to who you are as a photographer, as a human being and what excites you creatively the most.
Fear is prevalent in almost everybody’s photography practise. It’s a normal reaction to new experiences and new learning situations. I am not immune to it either. Here are two articles about how I deal with fear – How fear holds us back from being better photographers and
Creativity and Age – There is such a misconception about aging and being creative. I say – let’s get more creative as we get older, not less. Use our incredible life experiences to blossom in our photography.
(Not the normal) Composition techniques
Photography is all about what you leave out – Photography is a process of construction AND reduction. In this article we talk about how to bring this idea into your photos so that you are able to consciously construct your composition.
Capturing the feeling of light – George Eastman summed it up for me when he said – “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
5 advanced composition techniques – I love to teach all of the core compositional techniques like leading lines, as they have helped my photography tremendously. But here are some more unusual techniques that are super-helpful to create better compositions.
My ultimate guide to travel photography – Immediately I am going to say I am not a traditional travel photographer, but really a photographer who happens to travel a lot. But what I have to share is fascinating and it’s a lot of in-depth teaching in this guide.
In keeping myself motivated as a photographer, I love to look for inspiration from all across the creative spectrum. I like to take the advice of my favourite photographer Ernst Haas in this, when he recommended to: “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
What John Berger can teach us about photography – I photographed the writer John Berger before he died a few years ago and he inspired me so much with his love of photography and art. He has a wealth of excellent ideas for us photographers.
Some pure and beautiful photography inspiration
Here are a couple of videos I made about my love of travelling, shooting and light!
How are you doing right now? I hope things are good wherever you are.
This is Diana today, hello!
The more we are in lockdown the more Anthony and I are asking ourselves, what are we learning from this experience? What can we do with this time to help us live and create things in a deeper, more fulfilling way?
How can we draw something from it that makes us more aware and more in touch with the vast spectrum of human experience?
Being human means that of course we naturally get to see and feel so many different types of experiences – incredible joyous moments, times laced with sadness and fear, long hours of boredom.
Everything is available to us.
“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
But I think so many of these experiences that we have, we throw away. We discard as unimportant or insignificant.
Because we are so used to thinking of our lives in terms of being either productive or pleasurable.
But when we are creative people, everything can feed our imaginations.
We escape the long moments of daily domesticity in our minds by thinking of other things – work, pleasure, dreams of travel and wild riches, perhaps.
We discard the gentle poignant moments of quiet at night to escape into our phones or into a book or the latest sensational news.
I read an article on Brain Pickings about the writer Rainer Maria Rilke, that brought the spectrum of human experience into the ideas and the awareness of life that we can use as creative people.
He wrote that in order to be a writer (but let’s substitute photographer or any creative pursuit) we must allow all of the different experiences that life can be.
“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning.
One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one has long seen coming…
To childhood illness that so strangely began with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars — and it is not yet enough if one may think of all of this.
One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor…
But one must also have been beside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises.”
To me this awareness and connection with the big and small moments of life is so very essential to our exploration as creative people.
Both “the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning” and “to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet”.
And to know “mornings by the sea” and “to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars”.
As creative people we can use everything, every single thing that we experience to see what ideas, what thoughts, what things our imaginations and our minds do with this plethora of things.
We can soak it all in.
Let us choose to live in our life, not push it away from us – let us embrace everything that our life is and what we choose to do with it, or whatever is thrust upon us.
And now we are having a collective time of isolation – that perhaps feels terribly lonely, or wonderful in it’s solitude or strange in the time-emptying-out of activities. This can spur us deeper into ourselves to find new realms of imagination and thoughts.
It’s perhaps obvious to say, and too simplistic really, that to create something, anything, you must have experienced both the good and the bad in life.
The light and the darkness of life feeds our minds and creates ideas.
But it is also saying that there are many other experiences between those highs and lows. The hundreds of train journeys we’ve taken, the nights we’ve held our sleepless baby and looked out onto the street, the darkness punctuated by warm globes of light; the endless washing up and cleaning of our dwellings.
All of our experiences are nourishment for the creative spirit, because:
“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Those are the thoughts and ideas I wanted to share with you today. I hope they provide something interesting to mull over.
We’d love to know what you think of these ideas, let us know in the comments below.
We have heard from many of you over these past few weeks, telling us how you are getting on in the places that you are in. And we love hearing from you.
For us it’s incredibly special to us that we have met so many of you – either in person or online on one of our many live sessions, webinars or classes.
We are always here – so if you feel like saying Hi we’d love to hear from you and see how you are doing at this strange and interesting time.
We are hoping you are all safe and well, and managing to use creativity for a way to explore all that this experience is bringing to our lives.
Sending our very best from our family to yours,
Diana and Anthony
8 ideas to rejuvenate your photography & stir your imagination
I hope you are all well and fine in this holiday season, if indeed it’s a holiday for you where you are.
Maybe during the holiday season you don’t have the time or inclination to take photos. But we can still spend time developing our imaginations and our creative mindset whatever we are doing, so that when you find time you are excited and full of ideas for your photography.
It’s nice to remember when we are busy that when we are being creative we inhabit a totally different world to the one that we are usually in – the one of work and busyness and looking after people.
Today I wanted to offer you some beautiful ideas that I hope will stir your imagination, to stoke the embers of your creativity.
1) “Take notes. Everything is copy” Nora Ephron
I recently watched the Netflix documentary The Creative Brain, which gave a really interesting take on the creative process – looking at it from a neuroscience perspective.
What fascinated me the most was learning that – and I am distilling some more complex ideas into a very basic form here – from a scientific point of view creativity is made from the unique way that the human brain works: that it starts with the act of having multiple diverse ‘inputs’ coming into your brain.
These ‘inputs’ are everything in the world around us that mixes with our ideas, experiences, feelings, moods, thoughts, memories, visual stimuli etc.
Because our brains are bigger than other animals’, we have the opportunity to analyse these inputs, to not just react to them.
And it is this multitude of inputs coming into our brains, smashing against each other, that we take in and contemplate, look and analyse in a way that is totally unique to each person, that creates the ideas and vision that form the foundation of creativity.
Thus, when the writer Nora Ephron wrote that ‘everything is copy’, meaning everything she did, saw and experienced could end up as material for her writing – it means that we do have the same ability to use what happens around us to feed our ideas for photography.
We can use everything in our world as subjects, and everything in our world for inspiration.
2) We are all innately creative – you just might have forgotten that
The human mind is built for creativity because of our how our brains are built.
We have millions of ‘inputs’ – and the ability to reflect, digest and contemplate these inputs is what gives us the material for creativity.
If our brains are intrinsically able to be creative, it then means that there isn’t anyone on this planet who does not have this exquisite ability to make things.
So anytime you are thinking: I am just not a creative person! Remember that the science tells us that just by having a human brain, you have the ability to be creative.
3) We need the mystery and beauty of making things
There is something in being creative and immersing ourselves in the creativity of others that nourishes a part of ourselves that nothing else seems to.
Perhaps because our brains are built to question, explore, ruminate and generate ideas, we need to use that part of ourselves in order to feel whole and complete.
To be having a creative practice is as essential for me as taking long walks, having fun with my kids or having deep conversations with friends. It brings something wondrous that is impossible to quantify, but easy to feel when I am doing it.
I agree with Pablo Picasso when he said:
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
4) “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso
Building a strong creative practice is like using a muscle; we need to do it regularly because it just gets easier and easier when we keep that part of ourselves alive and working.
When we move our ‘creativity muscle’ every day it gets stronger and more limber.
But we also do it because if we want to feel that magnetic and exhilarating sensation of inspiration, we have to be doing something creative to allow it to strike.
5) When we are creative we explore the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary
When I read or see or hear things that focus not on the most exotic things in our worlds, but instead celebrate what is here with us in the everyday, it helps me to stop and pay attention:
“Within the mystery of life there is the infinite darkness of the night sky lit by distant orbs of fire, the cobbled skin of an orange that releases its fragrance to our touch, the unfathomable depths of the eyes of our lover. No creation story, no religious system can fully describe or explain this richness and depth. Mystery is so every-present that no one can know for certain what will happen one hour from now. ” Jack Kornfield
6) Untether yourself from the idea of doing
“So you see, imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and sputtering.” Brenda Ueland
There is I think such a misconception that being creative is a similar process to working or doing the other things us adults are required to do.
But creativity comes from a very different place – and requires your mind to have freedom from that achievement-based way of thinking.
Whilst having a regular habit of being creative is important, so too should our life include the rejuvenating and inspiring activities of drifting, day-dreaming and getting lost in whatever ways that feed our imagination.
7) Photography is magic
Even though I am not a photographer, I find photography to be a magical medium. I think in all honesty I married Anthony partly for his ability to create such beautiful photographs.
(I know this to be true because when he first showed me some of his photos, and I didn’t like that particular project, I wondered to myself – Can I continue to go out with you, even though I don’t like your photos? Thankfully he showed me more of his work, which I loved, and I gave myself permission to continue to date him.)
I spend hours with Anthony’s photos, and looking at other people’s photos. In a way that music can take you to places emotionally and in your imagination and you are not sure where that is, or why, that’s what photography does for me.
“I believe in the photographer’s magic — the ability to stir the soul with light and shape and colour. To create grand visual moments out of small and simple things, and to infuse big and complicated subjects with unpretentious elegance. He respects classic disciplines, while at the same time insists on being fast, modern and wild.” Amyn Nasser
8) Creativity brings new dimensions to the world
When we are being creative we are working in a realm away from the 24-hour news cycle, the fractious emotions of politics, the exhaustion of life.
This is rejuvenating for the mind and soul in and of itself.
With our creative practices we can move and inspire people, we can show them new places and new ideas. It’s an exciting time to be creative because nowadays we have so many ways to share what we have made.
It’s an honour and a joy to be creative.
But also because…
“The painter has the universe in his mind and hands.” Leonardo da Vinci
I hope some of these ideas and have sparked something interesting for you. If you have any thoughts please let me know in the comments below.
Today is Thanksgiving in the US, and although I haven’t lived there for twenty years and we don’t celebrate it here in Europe, when I am reminded of that word – Thanks…giving – I am reminded me of the awesome power of being thankful, grateful, appreciative of the gifts in my life right now.
To take a pause, a small moment to ask – what should I give thanks for in my life right now?
I am of course supremely grateful for many things – most of all my family. My wild and delicious family who give me unbelievable love and support. I am thankful for other things – friends, our beautiful lives in Spain, good health and, of course, this amazing business that we run.
And I am intensely grateful for photography.
Photography has given me a radically wonderful creative licence to be completely connected to life.
It has helped me perfect a skill that brings so much good into my life. It is what makes me a good photographer.
And this skill is about being completely present, completely in the moment.
Because, you can’t see and capture good photos unless you’re connected to what’s happening around you, in the present moment.
And what a gift photography is in the pursuit of presence.
It gives us the excuse to be paying attention to the world around us.
It gives us an excuse to reject a life of incessant doing.
To sit, wander, walk, explore – and just look.
And when you are looking – you are looking with full engagement with what you are looking at.
(Because of course you can be ‘looking’ but lost in your thoughts. Like when you drive home and think, how did I get here?)
This pursuit of living in the present moment so that you can see more for your photography brings a ripple effect into your life.
It shows you how we can waste our lives with constant thoughts of the future, with constant distraction.
And being in the future with all of its worries and feelings of expectations – that’s not living!
Why not instead live right now. Be here now. Be here in this body, in this life that is throbbing and full of experiences.
Not lost in thoughts, in the mind.
We don’t want to just pass through this world, on its surface, consuming.
We want to create, to feel and to really, truly see what is here, to be deeply connected to this vast, beautiful and messy world.
Let us be prepared to stand and notice.
And this for me is the crux – we have this opportunity in every single moment, to be awake, completely awake to life.
This for me is the biggest gift of photography.
It’s the opposite sensation to feeling that hours just disappear, or the day being a blur of activity, of life racing away from you.
It’s being aware of the sensation of the moment.
Not the sensation of life speeding past you.
And it can start with this simple question – can you be present for your life?
Can you inhabit it, live it fully to its edges. Live it with its myriad of amazing opportunities?
This is what photography can bring. This is a skill I use every day as a photographer. To be alive and awake to this very moment.
Of course sometimes I am lost in my own world of stress or overthinking.
We all have lives that bring stress and anguish into our lives, worries and anxieties that can fill our minds and spirits – we are all human, all fallible. There is plenty to bring us to the darker sides of life.
But we can reject the worries and thoughts of tomorrow – even if it’s just for a short while.
An hour, an afternoon, a day can also let us be grateful for all of those normal, every day, ordinary moments.
Those moments where nothing is really happening (but of course when you are looking, you’ll see that so much is happening.)
Those moments waiting for traffic or for a meeting to start or as you are waiting for the kettle to boil.
Fall into awareness instead of onto your phone or into obsessive thinking.
Celebrate the dull, the ordinary, the every-day moments.
Life is a collection of moments – be present for them.
I would love to know what you think – are you living in the present? Have you cultivated a feeling of being awake and alive in the moment – and has it helped your photography?
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Oscar Wilde
How are you? I hope things are good and life is flourishing for you in many ways.
As you can probably tell, I am not a big portrait photographer. I rarely seek people out when I am out shooting, and I don’t have an urge to always be looking for people to capture.
I was thinking about this a lot recently when I was shooting in Vietnam.
And I think partly it comes down to – I am chasing light and that’s my subject, so that is always my focus. If a person is in great light, great; if it’s a tree, also great.
But mostly – it’s about what I prefer to do as a photographer, and as a human. My way is usually that I prefer to engage with the people I am shooting.
I want to make a connection.
I also want to try and give them something if I can – not just take their photo and leave.
I don’t always do that. I have taken plenty of ‘anonymous portraits’ but for the most part I want there to be an interaction, I want to chat, hear their story, see who they are and share time with people who I am going to shoot.
To me that feels good, it feels nourishing to both me and the subject – it feels a more generous way to shoot.
Because it may not feel like it but capturing someone’s photo, freezing them in that moment, is a big deal.
It’s a photo that will always be there for them – maybe online shared amongst many, or quietly stored on your computer.
It’s an exchange of energy and I want it to be positive for them too.
What I also love is to have a story about my photos. They are not always stories I tell, but I have endless stories of the people I’ve met on my wanderings, and the chats we’ve had, the places I’ve been taken too, the things I have discovered about the world around me.
This makes my photo wanderings so much more fun and interesting – it makes my experiences of the world richer and deeper.
In Vietnam, because people were so generous with themselves I felt particularly acutely that I wanted to connect and shoot, not just shoot.
People were always going out of their way to help us, to talk to us, to give us their attention.
It was rarely for anything in return. It was joyful and curious and fun.
I caused much entertainment on my travels around Ha Giang with my dreadlocks. Women were constantly grabbing my hair from behind and pulling it. Laughing and disbelieving that it was real hair.
I want to soak up the amazing abiding beauty of the human spirit, especially in places that are so warm and open. And I don’t want to destroy that by constantly shoving a camera in people’s faces and then walking away without connecting with them.
We are all toiling away in our worlds with our joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures.
We all are worthy of attention and connection and respect.
However much we think we are alone, or that humanity is more cruel than kind, more destructive than creative – go out and explore. Talk to people and take photos. Wherever I have found myself – in East London on a freezing dawn morning, or in the hard streets of Havana, or the busyness of Venice on a spring afternoon or a lazy summer’s morning in Provence – there are always people ready and willing to talk, to be seen and to connect.
And when I get out of my daily routine I always end up feeling deeply inspired. I end up remembering that the human spirit is strong and vital, mostly kind and generous, mostly good.
Photography is one of the easiest ways to connect with the world around us, to experience people outside of our own little worlds, and discover for ourselves the myriad of stories and people out there ready and willing to share their lives with you.
Here are some tips about capturing people from my recent wanderings in Vietnam.
Talk to people
The first most important idea. Talk to people, not just to take photos but to connect and find out – what is it to be you? What can I learn from you? What can I share?
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” Susan Sontag
Tell your subject’s story – of their passions, their interests, their life
In Hanoi one morning we ventured down to Banana Island. We noticed a guy swimming and got chatting to him. He was a local photographer and gallery owner who was exercising and doing his daily meditation and breathing. He allowed us to shoot his regime and I loved his openness.
A few days later we bumped into him again, outside his gallery. He was playing his guitar (a true Renaissance man) and he showed us his incredible photography.
These are the experiences that I want to have when I am out shooting people.
People respond to positive energy. Photography is supposed to be fun, right? Connect with what makes you passionate and then go and shoot it!
Get close & connect
The biggest barrier we face in photography – particularly with shooting people – is our own fears. When shooting many of us are afraid to get too close, to impose, to look weird etc.
You need to learn to break down your fears around people so that you can get close and create that kind of connection that brings beautiful, interesting and fascinating expressions bursting forth from your subject.
It’s always good to try and remove your attention from yourself, and how you are feeling, and concentrate instead on your subject and how they might be feeling.
“The quieter we become, the more we can hear.” Rumi
Get quiet and see how you can make them more comfortable.
The easiest way to create the comfortableness for connection is to talk to the subject, or smile if you don’t share a language.
And once you get comfortable, shoot and keep shooting. People will relax and start to share more of themselves when they are feeling your confidence and comfort.
Shoot a lot of pictures so your subject relaxes – and you can relax and get into the flow of the creative energy.
Don’t chimp while you’re shooting!
Because this totally breaks our concentration!
Don’t look at what you’ve captured right then and there as it takes you out of the flow. If there is one thing we all need more of, it is to be in that amazing creative flow energy.
Taking photos isn’t a process of ticking boxes. It’s a strange, mystical, amazing creation that draws on all of your senses, all of your experiences and passions, your imagination and your desires.
It’s a mood. It’s an energy.
Editing and analysing photos comes from the other side of your brain, that analytical practical part. So if you can – save the analysis for later! Pretend you’re shooting with a film camera!
Keep an eye on your background when you’re shooting portraits. Too many people lose their subject with a busy background. I am always on the lookout for clean, simple and striking backgrounds.
Capturing the moments of life
As I said earlier I don’t always connect with people when I am shooting. But I always aim to shoot people in a respectful way – I am not one for embarrassing people or making odd photos of them.
Each click is a representation of who is before you – it’s a responsibility.
To me this photo says – dedication and hard work:
Elliott Erwitt talks about capturing the human comedy – and I think we all notice different things around us. For some people it’s drama & conflict, or it could be chaos, love, friendship, joy. Consider what you notice, what draws you about the human condition.
It’s still all about the light…!
When there is pretty light, I am always looking for things IN that pretty light to photograph – and people can be especially interesting.
This was a perfect moment of a beautiful smile in a lovely burst of light.
Focus on the eyes – eyes will tell you everything
Eyes are your secret weapon with photography. Eyes reveal so much about what that person is thinking and feeling.
Practice by looking at the eyes of your subjects and trying to decipher their feelings!
It took me a long time to overcome my fear of shooting strangers, and occasionally I still experience the fear. But you won’t get past the fear unless you keep shooting.
And if you really struggle just start by shooting around your potential subjects. Get used to being out on the street with your camera shooting window frames or buildings or funny street signs.
Gradually you’ll get comfortable doing that, and then you can slowly start with shooting people themselves.
So those are some thoughts that I hope will be useful for you when you’re out shooting people.
I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.
I have created a superb printing workshop that will give you all of the skills you need to start making prints with confidence.
You’ll get 4 full days of teaching – and we will learn by doing! You’ll make hundreds of prints and you’ll learn exactly what you need to take these skills home.
If you’ve already started printing, I will have plenty of advice and tips to improve your work. I am a Master Printer, and I will distil my technical and creative knowledge for you.
I also totally get that, for many, printing can seem like a daunting task. But with my years (and years!) of experience, I have boiled down some simple tips to give you that will help you liberate those images from your computer.
Yes, it’s pretty technical, but even if you don’t like the technical I promise I will inspire you to print – and if you love the technical side, I have much to teach you; you’ll love it!
How are you? Some of our most popular articles are ideas on new photo challenges you can do. Today we wanted to bring you not just one or two new photo challenge ideas, but 30!
Why is doing a challenge good for your photography?
I think it’s because there is a constant tension when you are creating things – between discipline and wild creative energy, between rules and freedom.
There are many traps you can fall into when you are being creative; one is waiting for inspiration to strike, another is to wait for when life presents you with enough time to relax and enjoy and go take photos (Ha! When does that ever happen with us adults?)
When you want to create you can’t wait around for these magical things to be presented to you (time and inspiration); it ain’t going to happen – or not in great quantities.
We have to create the opportunities for our creativity, and the more we do, the greater benefits it will bring to our lives.
Inspiration won’t just drop into your lap, you have to go out and find it. When you do a photo challenge, you’ll set aside time for yourself that maybe you might have wasted mindlessly reading silly internet stories, or on a TV show you don’t really like but are too tired not to watch.
Maybe this will make you change your routine so you walk part of the way home rather than drive.
Your creativity will be focused by time and this discipline – and who knows what you will create? What adventures your photos will take you on.
Pick a challenge that aligns with where you are at right now. And that gives you both a feeling of thrill and excitement and that invokes fear. The things we are afraid to do in our photography are often the things that will lead to our greatest growth.
They teach us way more skills, and build our confidence so much more than doing things within our comfort zone all the time.
I am not a fan though of just doing things because they scare you. There has to be some fun, some excitement there too. You have to want to do it otherwise you’ll never finish the challenge.
Colour is deeply affecting to us as humans. Think of all those colour charts – red signals danger, blue signals cold etc.
For me colour is a way to bring emotion into your photographsin a very simple, powerful way. In this challenge you should aim to capture the feeling of the colour you choose.
You want your photo to reveal the inherent qualities of your colour. Read our ideas and tips on how to capture colour.
Tell a story in three photos
I love this challenge! It’s harder than it sounds. This challenge will get you to think about not just your individual shots, but how they work together to capture a story.
The story can be an event, a person, a situation – anything. But the key is to ensure that each photo works together to reveal more about the story you are trying to tell.
One photo per day
This idea came from a recent interview from our community, with Tanya Murchie and Chuck Rubin who are both based in, and love to shoot, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
They commit to sending each other one photo a day. I love the daily discipline of this. You are also accountable to someone else, which spurs you on and gives you a boost of encouragement as you’ll get feedback from that person too.
This is an intensive challenge for when you are ready to do a deep dive and accelerate your learning and experience of photography.
When you are actively seeking to take fifty good photos every day your attention will be heightened, your ability to see the opportunity for photos around you will develop and your senses will bring new visual information into your awareness. Read more ideas.
Go processing free for one month
If you are relying on processing too much then it will effect your photos and can make you lazy when you’re out shooting! Try to capture everything in camera, see what you can do au natural.
Opposite challenge: will be for those that rush their processing, or don’t do it at all. Stop shooting and start learning, experimenting and playing with processing. Do it for a month.
Shoot Black & White or Monochrome for a month
This is for people like me! I am a total lover of colour, so going in such a dramatic opposite direction is challenging but it will teach you so much. Recently I did some monochrome shots of a little town in Northern Vietnam. I loved them so much, I am going to continue to see what else I can do in a similar vein.
It opens you up to so many more ideas when you go the opposite way in your photography.
Become confident with your camera
Do you have a secret burning desire to finally become confident with your camera and learn how to use it? Commit to a month of shooting on manual. Commit!
If you are new to them, just try one and practice shooting until you totally get it, can totally see it all around you. Or try some Advanced composition techniques.
A few winters ago I stayed in a castle in Tuscany for 2 months with Di and the kids. Up until that point in my life I had never really considered landscape or nature photography. It would occasionally appear in my photos, as I would find myself in the countryside with a beautiful vista. But I had never dedicated myself to the genre of landscape photography.
Over these two months, with acres of forests and wintry olive groves around the castle to explore, my desire to capture this beautiful landscape ignited in me the wish to delve into this new genre.
I wasn’t totally happy with my first forays, but as I did more, explored more, I started to get images I was happy with. And now that we live in our little beach village in Spain, and I am exploring nature on an almost daily basis with my camera, it has taken my photography in many new directions.
It’s good to keep yourself humble too, if you are brilliant in one genre, then that’s the perfect time to jump into a new genre. Keep your mind sharp and always learning.
Always be open to new possibilities of inspiration. They can come from anywhere and everywhere.
Shoot every single day for a month
A simple one this challenge! Like exercise or learning a new skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll get …! This is a great challenge when you are getting started or have had a long break from photography. Gets you immersed and gets the wheels oiled quickly.
Simplicity is very interesting to me. It makes me happy to find something clear and clean and strong to photograph. And it’s not easy to create something simple and interesting.
For this challenge aim to create a simple – but interesting – photograph.
Focusing on simplicity is also excellent training for your eye. Learning to extract everything that is unnecessary from your photo is an indelible skill to develop. This challenge will help you with that. Read more ideas.
This was a recent challenge I set, and the photos that were entered in our Light Monkeys group were fantastic. This is a wonderful challenge, as to be successful the subject and composition have to create a clear feeling of a season that is universally recognised. It cannot be ambiguous. Read more ideas.
Start sharing your photos on Social Media
I have a challenging relationship with social media. It sort of goes against the fabric of my photographic approach – which is to be thoughtful, slow and not rush my photography. To work on a project and let it build and grow over time.
So the instant feedback of Facebook slightly repels me. I think it distorts how we shoot if we end up a sucker to likes. But it has in many ways been good for me to put some of my photos out there, to connect with other photographers and people who love to travel. I’ve had great feedback on my work and meet so many other cool photographers through social media.
For me it has been about balance. Therefore if you have my sort of reluctance, but feel that bringing your photos to the world in this way might be interesting – take a few weeks or a month to experiment and post your photos on social media and see what happens… see what kinds of stories you can tell, who you will connect with and what else you can find that you love in this vast world of social media.
Of course if you’re a social media junkie – take a break!
And not just from social media – TV, the news, mindless entertainment. Focus all of your spare time on photography. Create space for yourself to do some deep, thoughtful things with your photography.
Stop distracting yourself with the digital world, and instead, slow down and see what ideas and photos you can create when you aren’t being permanently distracted. Inspired by the book Deep Work (see the short book review.)
Emulate your favourite artist / photographer
See what ideas and experiences you have when you copy someone else’s work. What do you notice, learn and see when you are ‘pretending’ to have a different style. Inspired by the book Steal Like an Artist.
This isn’t so much a challenge, but an invitation to spend some time reflecting on what you want to do with your photography.
All photographers have different passions and ideas for their photography. I think you can often distill the essence of what photographers are trying to capture – light or the human comedy or history. Think about what you are trying to express with your photography. Read more.
Reflections are everywhere! And they can bring all kinds of interesting feelings and elements into your images; like abstraction, intrigue, mystery and beautiful patterns. This is a playful challenge, see what you can discover about a world in reflection. Read more ideas.
Start a camera club
One of my greatest pleasures of running photo workshops has been to hang out and work with so many interesting and passionate photographers. Having been a photographer for many, many years – which usually requires me to be alone – this was a revelation.
I love the camaraderie, the spirit and motivation you get when you go out exploring as a group. If you don’t have a local camera club, or one you like, start one up!
Capture the spirit of a person in a portrait
This is a tough challenge. This is for people who are willing to really spend time with their subject – observing them and working out how to bring the spirit and uniqueness of that person onto the page.
If this appeals to you – don’t stop until you achieve it!
Change your camera
Only shoot with your smartphone camera for a month – or if you are leaving your DSLR to gather dust in the closet and are wedded to your camera phone, go the opposite way and only shoot with that.
This is for those of you (and you know who you are!) who love to have lots of lenses, and keep moving between them.
The best way to really get to know your kit is to use it continuously. So this challenge is in part about getting to really understand your lens – but it’s also about what I discussed at the beginning, giving yourself a boundary to work within and see where your creativity takes you.
Print your photos
Most people who spend time and money on getting a great camera and capturing beautiful images, maybe even investing time processing to perfect their images, then leave the images sitting there on their SD cards, hard drives, clouds etc. Don’t, I say! Bring them to life.
Top tip – try and relax and enjoy the learning process. Printing may seem intimidating – but the learning curve is worth it, and you’ll get there.
Join my free How to Print Facebook Live on Weds 19th Nov. Register by emailing Diana for details firstname.lastname@example.org
Shoot your subject from 5 metres away….or less
When we’re shooting people, especially with street photography, we can be so nervous that we don’t go close enough. But to capture emotion, to get a sense in your photos of a person, their experiences – you need to get close.
Try this experiment of creating a set distance with your subject, so you are always trying to get closer. This will help you connect with your subject more so you can observe and capture a significant moment.
As Robert Capa said – “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Learn to get intimate with your subjects.
What subject are you most scared to shoot? Shoot that.
If you want your photos to be meaningful for people then – what becomes such an essential part of photography – is imbuing your photos with feeling.
Even if you have everything else perfect – great composition, beautiful light, perfect exposure, there will be *something missing* if the photo isn’t imbued with feeling. It will be looked at and forgotten.
And this starts with you. As Don McCullin says:
“If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
Challenge yourself to find an emotion – and capture it. A more advanced challenge would be – without using the human face! Read more ideas.
Look over your archives and pick out your 5 best photos
Improving your photography is not just about taking more photos – but also being able to reflect back on your photography and see what you have done well, what worked.
I find leaving my photos for 6-12 months a perfect time to allow them to drift out of my consciousness and to lessen the emotional attachment I have. I then have a more objective eye and often find ‘hidden gems’ i passed first time round.
Capture the word – silence
I think you could use many other words for this challenge, but the word silence really appealed to me as I think it’s a pretty good beginner assignment.
Capturing an idea, or an emotion, is all part of bringing imagination into your photography. Practise this ability to translate ideas and feelings into your images with this challenge.
Because it’s easy to take amazing shots of amazingly beautiful places. But to create something beautiful, or find beauty in the mundane? That’s a skill that is fantastic to have, and worth developing, because it will help your photography as a whole.
This is Diana and today I am standing in for Anthony as he is deep into teaching our workshop in Vietnam. It’s got off to an amazing start, and the group are loving the experience.
I am always learning things from Anthony about being a creative person, and he vice versa I would say. One thing that I feel is so significant is that he never stands still with his photography, there is always a process of evolution.
Now it’s a very slow, long process of evolution. His photo obsessions and projects can take a year, or even a decade. But evolve he always does.
And even within a project like his Cities at Dawn, on which he has been working in different cities since the early 2000’s, the way he shoots and what he shoots, and how he shoots is always developing and changing. Slowly but surely, it’s like a very long, windy road leading from one place to the next, landscapes slowly changing.
So I suppose what I have learnt from this way of working – is the importance of being committed to things you love, the subjects that make you feel excited and passionate, but gently keep pushing yourself to learn more, see more, and do more with that subject.
Keep asking questions, keep looking to get deeper into your subject.
This morning Anthony sent me some new photos he’d taken of the little village of Du Gia in Ha Giang. After our most recent post all about photography in COLOUR they were surprising – because all of these photos were in monochrome.
Anthony does occasionally take photos in monochrome, but never a series. So I was delighted to see them.
When I asked him why he chose monochrome for this selection of images he said:
“I went for the monochrome because after travelling through miles and miles of green – and shooting this dense, verdant green – I wanted to experiment with a new look. Something with a heightened and exaggerated texture.”
I thought this was very cool because it’s this idea of always gently developing one’s photography. Always pushing a little envelope.
So here are some more photos from this beautiful little village in the mountains of Northern Vietnam.
I’ve interspersed it with some extracts from poems by famous Vietnamese poets, which I thought would be wonderful to share.
“The grieving willows droop in deep mourning,
Their sad hair streaming like teardrops falling.
Here comes autumn, here comes the autumn cold
In its faded mantle woven with leaves of gold.Various blossoms have fallen off their branch
Amidst a garden where the red mingles with blue.
The trembling breath of breeze shakes the leaves and
A few shriveled limbs like fragile bones in somber hue.”
From Here Comes Autumn by Xuân Diệu, translated by Thomas D. Le
“Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves.
Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:
the lush, dark canopies of the gnarled trees,
the long river, sliding smooth and white.
I lift my wine flask, drunk with rivers and hills.
My backpack, breathing moonlight, sags with poems.
From Haste by Xuân Diệu, translated by Thomas D. Le
“The russet and the brown of distant woods of maple trees seemed like a background frieze, new-painted by the autumn sun in colours drab and dun to symbolise their parting woe, towards which, sad and slow, the horseman rode in robes of rust, wreathed in red clouds of dust, and slowly disappeared from sight…” The Tale of Kieu, by Nguyễn Du, Huỳnh Sanh Thông (Translator)
We’d love to know what you think about Anthony’s new images – please comment below.
Today I am still driving around the fairy-world-like landscapes of Ha Giang, it’s a breathtaking experience.
I am unashamedly a colourphotographer. I have always loved colour in my photography, even when I was at photography school, emerging as an artist and black and white dominated the art scene.
I stuck to what I was most passionate about – and that was a life in full colour.
My own journey with colour has been one of experimentation, fun and pushing the boundaries.
I spent many years developing a solarisation process for my film colour photos, leading to the kinds of surreal photos that you might imagine coming from dreams:
I have also relished capturing the pure colours of nature:
And also the hyper-real colours that come from HDR photography:
And of course the fun colours that humans bring to the world:
As well as the results of colour work in processing:
The point for me with colour is to enjoy the process and go where my imagination takes me.
Because imagination is such an important part of photography for me.
Imagination helps you see beyond your immediate environment, and creates something that weaves in your ideas, your experiences and your passions.
“When I’m ready to make a photograph… I quite obviously see in my mind’s eye something that is not literally there… I’m interested in something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.” Ansel Adams
Today I want to share with you some ideas that I teach about colour – and how they can be used to evoke emotion in your photographs.
I also have a photo challenge that I am setting for you at the end of this post – because I know so many of you love to experiment with these ideas.
And I have a free eBook for you too – that brings many of these ideas together into a nice and simple explanation.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about my love of light. Light to me is mesmerising. I want to feel it, to capture it, to show it in all its glory.
But colour to me is an equally beautiful thing, and totally connected to, and affected by, light. And because:
“Colour is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.” Ernst Haas
I love that thought – carried by colour and joy! Haas for me is king of capturing the feeling of colour and light.
“I paint because colour is a significant language to me.” Georgia O’Keeffe.
I want to celebrate some of the sheer vibrancy that colour brings to our lives and how we capture that as photographers, as artists, as people who are paying attention to this wild and beautiful world.
I want this to inspire you to look at how you capture colour in your photos too.
Colour is deeply affecting to us as humans. Think of all those colour charts – red signals danger, blue signals cold etc.
For me colour is a way to bring emotion into your photographsin a very simple, powerful way.
The artist Wassily Kandinsky developed a colour theory that stated that colours made people feel certain ways.
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” Wassily Kandinsky
Let’s look at some colours – and the emotions they induce.
Warm, exciting, happy
In the photo above look at the contrast between the red and the yellow. What does the yellow bring to the photo?
I would say this is a happy yellow – would you agree?
A more muted yellow – how do the textures of the lemons and the lines affect how you think about the colour?
Deep, peaceful, supernatural
I find the blue in the photo above very soothing; what do you say?
A much bolder blue – does it feel cold to you? Striking? Deep?
Another light blue with very soothing peaceful qualities. Also expansive?
Here is a lovely little film animating Kandinsky’s colour theory. Plus an article about the artist that brings in the sound and musical elements of his work, as well as the feeling of colour.
Now do you agree with Kandinksy’s ideas about colour? Do they evoke those emotions within you?
The key for me in creating emotion by using colour is to capture the essence of that colour.
For example – the happiness of yellow, the peacefulness of blue, the boldness of red. You can use the characteristics of the colours and find objects that encapsulate these characteristics, or the essence of that colour.
We want to feel the innate qualities of the colour, we want to have a deep emotional response to that colour in the photo.
So it isn’t a matter of just going around and looking at colours and snapping away at them. It’s finding colours that provoke an emotion within you, and working to capture that feeling.
Let’s look at some more photos and see…
It doesn’t have to be vibrant colours. The depth and subtle variations of any colour is a mesmerising world of its own.
In this photo above can you feel the coldness of the white frost and the earthiness of brown? This to me is capturing the essence of a colour.
In the photo below I love to bring out the richness of the more muted subtle colours. Which I have to really be good at as winters are long in London, lol!
The feeling of the photo is made by these muted colours.
Capturing colour as the main subject of your photo is often easiest to start doing when you break down the elements, photographing parts of the subject and turning it into an abstraction:
“Everything that you can see in the world around you presents itself to your eyes only as an arrangement of patches of different colours.” John Ruskin
I would love to know – how does colour affect you and your photography? Let me know by commenting below.
It’s time for a photo challenge! I would love to see your photos of colour in your photography. Post them in my photo sharing group Light Monkeys on Facebook or email them to me.
Free Colour as Emotion Photo eBook
I have a free 31 page eBook, if you’d like to get a free copy of this, email us on email@example.com.