I hope you are all having a great week. Today I got an email from someone that started in the same way that many many emails to me start.
“I have been so rubbish, I haven’t picked up my camera in months!”
And it really struck me because it was so self-judgemental. I should be taking photos, I haven’t, so I’m being a rubbish person.
That is no way to treat your creativity!
And to be honest – why is it so important that you take photos all the time if it’s so difficult for you? If you can only manage to fit in once every few months then so what?
Being judgemental about ourselves – in any way – actually leads us to do the things that we love even less (I believe).
If you are saying – I should take more photos – I think it creates such a bad feeling inside of us, such a sense of judgement and thoughts of I’m not good enough – that we end up doing the exact opposite and taking no photos at all.
This shows the amazing light here in Hong Kong. The sun is behind my subjects and the light is being reflected off onto a green wall. I stood here for about 20 minutes just shooting people in this amazing light.
Same light. I think I prefer this photo to the one above – what do you think?
“If we demand perfection from ourselves we are not living in the real world…The inherent problem in the relationship between the ideal & the real is that the ideal judges the real as unacceptable and brings down condemnation and wrath on the real. This sets up an adversarial relationship between the two and like all adversaries, they move further and further apart.” Henry Cloud
So instead of telling ourselves that we should take photos – why not just wait until we are inspired and feeling good? Make it a time of fun and celebration! Enjoy it as and when it fits into your life.
Di is writing a book at the moment – very very slowly. She works with me on our business, we are ‘world schooling’ our two kids and she also is writing her book. When she started out she created a ridiculous schedule for herself that was impossible to maintain without creating stress. And we definitely didn’t start this world-travelling-working adventure so she could be all stressed out!
I love this shot! The light! Amazing! What do you think?
So she decided to pull back a bit, and lower her expectations. The top priority for both of us now with our creativity is to enjoy it! To allow it to bring us the intense incredible pleasure that making things with our very own hands and minds creates.
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Neil Gaiman
Being creative makes us both feel amazing, and in total awe of this planet. Being around other creative people makes us feel amazing too. Of course we’ve got lots of work to do too, but we’ve decided not to force our creativity. We have decided to just let it flow when it feels good.
And you know what? The more allowing, the less judgemental we are about our creativity and stopping all that negativity – the more we actually create. Because it makes us feel good in all ways! It’s no longer a should.
Of course right now I am in super insane inspiration mode because Hong Kong is INCREDIBLE. As you hopefully can see from my photos from this past week .
It still feels a little raw to show my photos straight away like this – before I’ve had the chance to mull them over – but I am not giving into my fear! I am putting them out there to see what you think, to get feedback and to show you how I work putting together a project.
Now help me here solve a marital dispute. Di thinks there is nothing special about this picture below – it’s just a load of poles, and some buildings! Said she.
Whereas I think it has a deeper narrative about the relationship of progress and environmental impact.
Now who is right?! Is there a deeper narrative or not!?
I would LOVE to know what you think of this batch 🙂 Please comment below. It’s always great to hear from you.
So exciting, because Palermo is another truly photogenic city. We’ll photograph the city at first light and as the sun settles at the end of the day. We’ll photograph the people, capture the atmosphere and the city so rich in history. I will lead numerous photo walks, feedback sessions and critiquing.
Have an amazing week! Thanks for reading – and please share with anyone you know who loves photography. It’s so helpful!
Anthony and Diana
This is a real cow. I had to queue up to get my photo taken with it. Cows are just wandering around on Landau Island, and being a sacred animal here, lots of people wanted their photo with it.
19 Photos to Show You Why Your Camera Doesn’t Matter
Today I wanted to have a little fun and make this suggestion – your camera is nothing without you. It’s an inert machine that requires your vision, your inspiration, your excitement and energy to create interesting photos.
So to illustrate this today I want to send you some photos I took in the last few weeks with my smartphone camera.
I want to show you that:
1) It doesn’t matter what camera you have – good photos can always be created.
2) Regardless of where, and with what you are shooting, take time to pause and compose your shot! In fact taking photos in the day-to-day way with your phone camera is an awesome way to practise composition. A little practise every day will do wonders!
So let’s see what I came up with with my smartphone camera in these past few weeks….
How many of the photos in this post are about light?
Light doing interesting things is everywhere. You just need to look out for it….
What do you think? Am I right – or do you totally disagree? I’d love to know!! Let me know in the comments below. It’s amazing hearing what you think.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
PS – here is the 19th shot, taken by Di, on the subject of how difficult it is to take a nap when there is a 5 year old around 🙂
‘Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.’ Imogen Cunningham
To me there is nothing more electrifying than walking the predawn streets of cities whose culture and landscape I love.
I love that feeling of breathing in the fresh, often cold, morning air. Watching the sky turn from inky black into deep blue and then gradually bringing the wild colours of sunrise – pinks and oranges, yellows and bright blues – to light the magnificent, empty city.
I have found a subject that I follow all over the world – dawn – that makes me feel incredible to be alive. That makes me want to roll out of my warm bed (and oh, how I love my warm bed :)) and go explore.
Today I want to share with you some simple, but powerful ideas to help you create stunning and unique travel photos.
I also want to help you ignite that incredible joy you can get in finding a subject that is mesmerising to you as dawn is to me.
If you are new to travel photography I will to arm you with knowledge that will empower you to follow your curiosity and get great images.
If you already do a lot of travel photography, I want to offer inspiration and ideas that will help you develop your photographs so they have more depth. To help you say more about what it is like to stand in that place, to feel the energy and the atmosphere and to translate all of that wondrous unique spirit to your images.
This travel photography guide is divided into sections:
Mindset – how you see, what you’re thinking about, in fact the state your entire being is in – are all the things that define you as a photographer. How you travel, what you see and the energy you bring to the place defines the photos you take.
Subject & composition – here I discuss the approach you take in new places, along with some simple techniques.
Your kit – some simple tips for gear. Plus links and resources provided here for more in-depth teachings.
Exploration – once you have your vision established, your gear packed and you are away, this last section will look at some ideas about exploring and finding subjects.
A lot to cover – so let’s get started!
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Anonymous
First, a question:
I want to ask you this: why do you want to travel? What are you yearning to see, to feel and to experience? What is it about travelling that excites and moves you? What do you want to learn?
Many of us might think: well, it’s to see things, beautiful and interesting things. But I will counter that by saying: no, it’s not just things we want to see – it’s experiences that we want to have.
So often we are on our hedonic treadmill – going about our lives and living the way we do. But then we also want to get off that treadmill – we want to feel something different.
I believe that most of what we need to develop as creative people – as photographers – is already inside of us. We just need to find ways to reveal it. Travel is an amazing way to do that.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” Seneca
Travel brings new ways of seeing and thinking into our lives, but we all have different reasons for wanting to do it. I like to get a feeling, some ideas, about what I am looking for when I travel (because it changes all the time.)
Sometimes for me it’s about overcoming a fear of the new, or pushing myself outside my comfort zone; sometimes it’s about connecting with the beauty of the world to refresh my frazzled brain; sometimes I want to meet people and hear stories of new places, or it could be I just need some thrill of the new in my life.
“I lay in one of those protracted moments of rapture which scatter this journey like asterisks. A little more, I felt, and I would have gone up like a rocket.” Patrick Leigh Fermor (wonderful travel writer)
Right now I am sitting in a darkened bedroom in the south of France, looking out onto the faint lights below in the garden of a little hotel. Behind me my children are sleeping, I can hear their soft in and out breaths. The world around me is quiet, but the air feels heavy with expectation.
It feels exciting because I am in a new place, the air feels different, the world around me looks different – but in fact it’s not the newness of it. It’s the fact that I am totally present, totally fascinated by looking out this window in twilight onto a garden I have never seen before.
I can’t help but be present when everything is new to my eyes – when I am seeing it for the first time. It’s electrifying.
I am feeling totally open and aware of this experience. Not wanting to move or do anything but simply witness what is before me.
It’s sitting round a table on a rooftop in a new city at sunset, talking to new people, drinking a different kind of wine, eating new foods, as the night settles onto you.
We yearn for the new, we yearn for adventure, we yearn to have something new come into our lives and shake that sleeping person awake.
So I ask you again – what is it that you want to see, to feel, to experience in travel? What adventures are you looking to have?
Subject & composition
Look to shoot the iconic in a different way…..
I am always trying to go for a different approach when I shoot. I want my photos to have a unique feeling and quality about them. I don’t want people to look at my work and think it’s indistinguishable from everyone else’s.
Now to do that you have to be looking, always looking, around you to get a feel of what you could be adding to your photo about the place that you are in that could be different.
It could be shooting a famous building (here, the ‘Shard’) from a different angle (here through the gap in another building:
Or getting in the ambience of around the famous building (here, St Paul’s) and not making it a focal point of the image:
Or just being so patient by going back and back and back to a place until you get the perfect light:
Or it’s getting a great angle by going up onto a rooftop – like my shot of the Blue Mosque:
Always look out for unique elements at the location – and play with them. Like the graffiti in Paris, the flat grey skies of London, the deep blues and greys of Istanbul. Make them an asset in your photos.
People are hospitable and want to engage
I’ve written about this in-depth in my article ‘How to Photograph Strangers’. The essence of the article is that people are in general hospitable and kind, and most don’t mind having their photo taken.
I want you to assume that the world is your oyster and if you take the time to connect with people almost anyone can be your subject.
But I also want to point out something very significant, that I am coming across increasingly as I travel to more countries with intense poverty that attract lots of tourists….
Don’t just take (photos) – give something
In this world where we all have cameras on our phones, let alone actual cameras, it’s important to remember that in places that have lots of tourists there are people who are going to be photographed every single day by the constant flood of foreigners.
Photographer Lauren Pond said in an interview about her project about serpent handlers, “That’s another weird thing about photography, I think it tends to mentally sort of remove you from the situation.”
So I think we have to be aware of that.
For example – in many hot countries people are out and about on the streets and have no choice but to be there. Perhaps they work out on the street, or their apartments are hot and stuffy and to be out on their doorsteps is cooler and more refreshing, or perhaps life is just lived more outside.
Be aware of this: that people are just living their lives and don’t owe you a photo. They aren’t there to be photographed by endless strangers.
Think to yourself – if I am taking this image, if I am taking this from someone, what am I going to do with this image? And, what am I prepared to give?
When I think of giving I think of the place I am in, and the way I am travelling. Am I using local businesses rather than big multinational chains? Am I spending locally? Am I working with local people?
Am I being culturally sensitive? Am I giving my full attention to the people I am photographing – offering respect, gratitude and kindness – can I send them a photo or something else when I get home?
It’s wise to think: I wonder how it feels to be photographed constantly? Are we turning people into tourist attractions? Are we interacting with them or are we just looking at them as objects that we have a ‘right’ to photograph.
This opinion isn’t supposed to make you more self conscious about taking photos, it’s meant to get you to think more deeply about your purpose in taking photos.
If you are chatting, connecting and being open to the people around you, if you are coming with the attitude of giving and being grateful – you will get more complex, more in-depth photos.
You could be buying something in a market or shop, starting a conversation with someone, asking about their house, the history of the area, their religion, the food they are preparing – taking a genuine interest in people’s lives is so important when you travel. It is the connection that is often like the ‘payment’.
When you connect with people that’s also when magical things happen, like when I was in Venice. I ended up talking to a random guy who then invited my workshop group into an ancient clock tower that a specialist clock fixer who comes to Venice once a year, was fixing. It was utterly amazing to be in this secret place, and it happened just because I had my camera out and was wandering around talking to people.
Or the time it was early morning in Istanbul and I ended up being invited up onto the roof of a building where I got one of my best shots of the city – 45 minutes after having left my hotel for the first time ever!
I truly believe it’s my feeling of openness and gratitude that brings me cool photo experiences like that.
Take a look at this incredible photo project by Greg Girardabout the now-gone walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong. A former Chinese-run enclave when the island was run by the British, it became a lawless state because the Chinese government couldn’t access it. Girard photographed Kowloon shortly before it was demolished. One of the best photo projects I’ve seen recently.
In praise of slow travel
There are places in this world that astound me, inspire me and make me almost shake with excitement – Havana is one of those places. At first it was an intimidating and difficult place to be. I found the poverty, pollution and tourist traps to be overwhelming. I felt like I had been planted in a different world that I just didn’t understand.
But after a few days of quiet observation, of wandering around and just looking, catching my breath, settling into myself and my new surroundings – I started to feel the rhythm of the city and get a feeling for how it worked.
Every place has a rhythm, has its own logic and energy that you want to connect with.
This is why I advocate ‘slow travel’. This is what works for me. I would rather spend a week or two (or a month or more if I can!) in one place than go to ten different spots. I don’t want to ‘see everything’ – but I do want to give myself plenty of time to really absorb and notice and wander and drift to the things that interest me.
I know it’s tempting to try and see a lot – go here, go there, fit it all in! But I think that leads to a rushing mentality, almost like you’re marking things off of a checklist.
When you get to know somewhere things happen, like perhaps you become friendly with the your local cafe owner where you go for breakfast, or get to know the cats on your street, or you see the weather and the light change over several days, or weeks.
Having time to notice, to absorb and feel a place is an incredible way to connect to its atmosphere.
It’s no coincidence that in the 18 years I have lived in London my photos of the city (even the same places in the city) get better and better. More ideas, more complexity, more atmosphere developed as I got to know the streets and areas, the personalities of the places over the years.
Of course you don’t need years to capture a great photo – but you can see what I’m saying, right? There is an advantage to developing a relationship with your subject that isn’t just a quick photo here, then move on, and that’s especially relevant with travel photography.
If you feel deeply inspired by a place, stay longer or go back. I’ve travelled a lot and for me there are places that I have enjoyed photographing – and places that I have loved photographing.
I try to always pick the latter for my projects: Venice, Havana, Istanbul. These are all cities that make me feel excited and incredibly alive. I want to keep discovering new facets of them – and I doubt I’ll ever be done.
Key take away:
A collection of images that tells a story about a person, a place, an event is much more interesting and powerful than vast collections of unrelated images. Less is more is usually my advice (unless you struggle to actually get your camera out and take photos, and then I’ll say, just to start, more is more 🙂
Trente Parkes’ projects of Australia. Couldn’t agree more when he says “I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical. ”
So many boring photos suffer from these two highly significant issues…
Not moving your feet!
Literally the number one issue I see with photographs where the subject is interesting but the photo is not, is that the photographer didn’t get the right angle. In some cases it’s because there wasn’t time, they couldn’t get to the right spot quick enough. But mostly it’s because the photographer wasn’t moving around enough and looking for the perfect angle.
They saw a cool subject and got so caught up in the subject they just started shooting, rather than taking the time to set up the perfect angle.
Preparation is everything, people!
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” Yousuf Karsh
Lots more on finding the perfect angle in my ‘Finding the Perfect Angle’ article! Possibly the most useful article I have ever written. It’s not a sexy idea, but it’s super super impactful.
Remember what Robert Capa said: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. I don’t think you need to always be thinking close, close, close, but what you do need to be thinking is – what is the optimal range for this subject? Usually people are not getting close enough because they are scared. OR they are not moving into the optimum position because they feel self conscious.
Start to focus instead less on the world around you (so what, you’re taking photos?) and more on the subject. Start to concentrate on placing your attention on your subject – and not on yourself or your surroundings.
The optimum range can be – not very close at all! But as long as that’s intentional then that’s cool! I loved the approach Greek photographer Niko J. Kallianiotistook in his project about daily life in the rust belt of America –
“He doesn’t enter houses, diners, or stores. He prefers to imagine them from the outside. “If I do decide to enter, I most likely will not take my camera inside,” he told me. He keeps a certain distance. It seems almost superstitious—like he’s afraid of breaking something precious by getting too close.”
So each photographer – and each project – is different. No ‘one size fits all’ advice here – you set the intention.
I also liked Kallianiotis project about Greece, Motherland. I am half Greek but apart from being born there and growing up with a Greek mother, I have no real connection to the country. To me this project feels a bit more ‘real’. I suppose it says more than all the pretty picture postcards of Greece. It intrigues me…)
I also liked this recent photo essay about Notting Hill Carnival – I think it shows well how you can tell a story about an event or place. You’re not always able to make every image incredible, but to capture a story is fantastic.
I am a full on advocate for taking total creative control and shooting on manual. There is a freedom to be found when you can use your camera without feeling intimidated by it, afraid of it – or even the opposite, too overawed by its capabilities.
You can still do more amazing things on Manual than on Auto – because instead of letting a computer make a creative decision to interpret what it sees – you are making the creative decisions.
Your camera is just a tool that is helping you capture the vision that you see and bringing it to life. No more, no less.
It may strike you as silly, but the best general camera advice I can give is to read your camera manual. That will hands down give you the best technical advice you need, and it’s something I have noticed people rarely do.
“The best camera is the one you have with you”. Chase Jarvis
People ask me all the time what camera I would recommend and probably the best advice for travelling is – hold it first before you buy. Don’t get stuck with a camera that fatigues you quickly. Feel it, weigh it. Then think about price (if you have that luxury!) – and all the bells and whistles – later.
Pack light – of course it’s super tempting to really go for it on the gear front – but pack the least amount of kit you need, and that which you feel most comfortable with.
I would also encourage you to not over-use your zoom lens, because I think it can act as a barrier and encourage you not to get close to your subject (here’s my blog about Zoomlazia. Don’t do it!)
Invest in a good, tough portable hard drive – it’s obvious but don’t lose those hard earned photos when technology fails (it happens to the best of us!)
Keep your kit clean – another obvious one but not something I find all people do. Pack a couple of good cloths because they can get dirty after awhile.
Here’s a guide to shooting on manual: I love Cambridge in Colour for tech advice. It’s comprehensive and clear and I could spend hours, days even, reading the articles. Even if you dislike tech stuff you’ll still find it useful.
“The tripod of my camera served for a candle stand, and on it I hung my clothes and boots at night, out of the way of rats… With absolute security from vermin, all else can be cheerfully endured.” Isabella Bird
By the way – Isabella Bird was an amazingly inspiring woman who in the late 19th century travelled alone to China, Malaysia, Colorado and through the Middle East. If you need an injection of adventure inspiration read this great article about her here.
One of the many amazing benefits of travel for me is that I am growing so substantially as a human everytime I go away and explore. I am being fed by this experience so that I come back having learnt new things, enjoyed and experience new ideas.
Here is a little more about how I see travel as helping me grow and develop in my ‘How I travel like an Artist short film’.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux
As I will mention below I like to scout a location before I go, but a big intention for me is to get lost. I want to get lost because the magic of creativity for me usually comes when I am not following a map, or looking for something specific, but I am just in that state of wandering and looking around.
We live in a world that is very ordered and organised. That’s awesome when you want to file your taxes or find out when the bus is coming – but less so when you want to see something unusual, interesting or new.
So I make it my mission to frequently get lost so I can lose that ordered part of myself (which let’s be honest isn’t that massive, I really think my artist personality dominates in this regard). And this could be relevant for you.
Scout locations and research before you go
I always explore a new location using Google Earth – it’s so intensely helpful to help me get my bearings.
Because I also love to look for inspiration in many places, it was interesting to read about how travelling to Hawaii was a great inspiration for Georgia O’Keefe and moving to Arles likewise was for Van Gogh (before the breakdown of course)
Travel can be tough – it brings out new facets of yourself
I don’t think of travelling as always an easy, blissful thing. Sometimes it is, and it can be a wildly exciting escape from the drudgery of day to day life. But it can also be tough, and it’s usually asking you to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. I would even say that if you’re not feeling a little uncomfortable at times you’re not doing it right.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide
Prepare your mind (see mindset again, it’s everything) with thoughts of adventure, with the intention of discovery and pushing yourself beyond what you already do and already are. Commit to discovering new things about the world, but also about yourself. Don’t settle just for some nice photos and a good time.
“Fear is only temporary. Regrets last forever.”
Commit to keep learning and opening yourself up to possibility. I always, always, always want to be learning. Learning, like getting lost or going to new places, keeps that brain matter alive and electrified.
True exploration will always reveal new things about who you are, and who you could be. Really honour that.
Remember, wonder and awe, beauty and inspiration are everywhere
There is a quote I am sure I’ve read somewhere that the whole of the journey is the destination, not the destination itself. From getting on the bus at 5am to go to the airport, to sitting in the airport lounge watching the rain and grey skies outside – everything you experience on your trip is food for your imagination.
I love to photograph mundane, the ordinary, just as much as I love to photograph the wildly exotic. Being in thrall to the world and all that it has to reveal to you, and knowing you can find incredible subjects anywhere and everywhere, is amazing as a photographer.
“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” Matt Hardy
My last idea is to say that everyone travels in a different way – attracted by different things, drawn by different forces. Remember to be led by what fascinates you, be led by who you are and how you like to travel.
What fascinates me and what fascinates you is likely to be very different. But we are united by the desire to explore – and that is what is beautiful and incredible. Let’s celebrate this world by observing it, and sharing what we discover.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I would love to know if you have any tips or ideas or advice about travel photography. Let me know by commenting below. It’s amazing to hear from you all.
I hope you are all doing very well and having a great summer. I have been really getting into teaching live online classes this past year and I have to say, I’m loving it.
I was so nervous at first, and it took me a while to not get freaked out by talking to what I felt was a black hole of empty internet.
Gradually, though, I’ve figured out how to engage with groups in my live webinars and classes, so they have a similar feel to my in-person classes. In fact this is why so far I haven’t done any pre-recorded classes. I am loving the live element so much.
I don’t like talking at people for hours, so working out how to engage people as a group online has been amazing. I love that feeling of back-and-forth in teaching. The discussion, the questions, the contrasting thoughts. That is what makes it so fun and what helps people learn so much.
One of my plans as I travel around the world is to keep teaching online wherever I am — so that I can bring learning and knowledge from the beaches of Sri Lanka, the jungle of Mexico and the misty hills of Kerala.
I want to bring you on my world adventure too! Plus share all the cool new things I learn along the way (learning never stops, people! Arrival is the death of inspiration, said my favourite photographer Ernst Haas).
Before I head off to my first stop of Arles and the French Riviera, I will be running a free Photography Masterclass on August 13th at 8pm BST. I will be talking about my two favourite subjects — Light and the Art of Seeing (although really they are one subject to me, which I will weave together), I’d love for you to join me!
When I take photos I am always photographing light. You might think it’s a photo of a chicken but, no, I am focusing on how the light falls onto the wings of the chicken through the barn doors, creating a beautiful pattern on the floor and enhancing the reddishness of the feathers of the bird. OK, I don’t have a photo of a chicken like that but you get the idea, right?
I love light! I focus on light almost exclusively — you could say that the cities, the people, the textures I photograph are mere light receptacles for me. Ways to show the myriad of wonderful things that light does.
I love what light does to the world! I love that it changes how everything looks and feels. Think of your garden on a day when the light is grey and flat — and how that looks and feels to you. Now think of when the light in your garden is warm and sunny. The garden feels totally different, doesn’t it — all because of the light.
That’s what I love about light — it communicates so much feeling, as well as just being beautiful, intriguing and interesting.
“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
So in this free Photography Masterclass I will be discussing this fascinating subject — and give you some awesome tips about how to capture the many moods and feeling of light.
I also want to discuss the art of seeing! Another favourite subject of mine.
If you read my blog regularly, you will have seen that I write about how we what see is a very, very limited amount of visual information to what is actually out there. Our brains purposely filter what we notice, because otherwise we would become too overwhelmed with visual information.
Therefore you are only noticing a tiny portion of what’s out there.
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” Jonathan Swift
This is perfectly illustrated by a conversation I had with Di this morning.
Have you ever noticed that giant luminous green statue at the entrance of the park? She asked me.
Errr, yes, why?
Because I only noticed it this morning! I thought it was new but was told it had always been there. How weird!
This is at a tiny park near our house that my wife goes to every single day. I was a little surprised by this, but it shows that we often see less in our familiar surroundings because we are so used to them.
Now, this point illustrated in another way. This is a conversation Di and I have (apparently) all the time.
Me — calling from the kitchen — Di, have we run out of cheese?
Her — No, it’s in the fridge.
Me — I’m staring at the fridge and there is no cheese.
Her — It’s there, Tony! I just saw it, it’s on the middle shelf.
Me — It’s not Di!
By which time she will have got so annoyed that she has come down, immediately found the cheese (which was right there on the middle shelf! Who knew!) and given it to me in a huff. What can I say? We all have weaknesses 🙂
So what we are doing all the time in photography is learning how develop our abilities to see more in our surroundings — to go against that helpful brain and stop it from cutting out so much interesting visual data.
I will be offering my essential tips on how to develop your ability to see more of what’s around you — and how to discover those magical gems of subjects and elements so you can build them into incredible images.
Obviously I can’t help you in the art of finding things in a fridge, still something I’m terrible at, but finding great subjects for your photos — yes! I’m your guy!
I’ll also be spending some time answering your burning questions about these subjects — and I love this part because I get to talk to you and help you with what is really bugging you.
This will be a jam-packed session full of tonnes of useful and, dare I say, inspiring knowledge. You know why I do dare say that, because look at the review I just got from someone who took an online class from me last year:
“Although being a professional photographer for many many years, Anthony has still the fire and curiosity of somebody detecting the fascination of photography the very first time. Anthony’s still strong enthusiasm and curiosity and his ability to transmit his enthusiasm to the workshop participants is what impressed me most.”
A huge part of my photo practise is not taking photos. Photography is an inner game. And so I realised a few years ago that to create amazing images I need to feed myself with ideas that really inspire me and help me grow.
Today I want to write a post about some of the ideas that I have used to improve my photography practise. But also I admit that this post is aimed at reminding myself of what I know — so that I can keep inspiration high.
In four weeks we are off on a long, long work-travel expedition with our two kids.
You know there is nothing like jumping into the unknown to bring up all those fears that are obviously usually buried deep. When your life changes dramatically, fears are shaken up. So I need to keep inspiration as high as possible.
But trust me — this will be a great article for you too. Here’s a little bit of fun facts and ideas.
New experiences slow down time
There is this idea that time speeds up when we get older. I mean it feels that way, right? When you were a kid, a boring wet Sunday afternoon felt like it lasted for days on end. Whereas now time vanishes in a who knows where? kind of fashion.
But science tells us that that actually has more to do with familiarity than age. The more familiar we become with things — our environments, routines, habits etc — the less information our brain has to process, and this makes it work quicker. Interestingly when we are in new surroundings the brain has more information to process — and this makes time seem to go slower:
“When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated.”
I don’t know about you but that makes me want to jump out of bed and go do new things! Stretching time — wow! That’s exciting.
2. Bring something new into your life with silence
We all know how important it is to not have a life so full of work and distractions that you don’t get time for yourself for being creative. I recently came across this quote (on the very awesome blog of Austin Kleon) that puts a new dimension on why silence and having undistracted, unscheduled time can bring amazing unexpected things in your creative work and life:
“Silence is not only the space in which there’s no sound, but there’s no program. Nothing is there so that whatever is essentially unprogrammable can happen. How does anything new happen? In a world where everything is scheduled, everything is listed, everything is programmed, the first thing one needs is space… You have to be open.
It doesn’t mean something enormous will happen, but nothing can happen until you clear that space… Nobody has time to even receive anything that is actually new, including their own thoughts.” Ursula Franklin
3. Do it now. Often later becomes never
When we started to tell people about going travel-working with our kids, so many people said things like — oh, I almost did that with my kids, but we never managed it.
Hearing that breaks my heart a little. Because I know at the time the barriers to doing what you really really want often seem insurmountable. I know. It’s easy to say — later, later, later. Usually when you have more time/money/fitness etc
Here’s a thought, though — what if that magical time never comes and you get to an age when it becomes impossible. What will you think when you think back about the obstacles that are in your path right now? Will they seem that impossible from afar?
It’s rare that obstacles for doing something you love are totally insurmountable.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” George Bernard Shaw
Which leads me nicely onto:
4. “Everything you want is on the otherside of fear.” Jack Canfield
I believe that obstacles, for the most part, are actually just fear. Fear of the unknown, of making a mistake, of messing things up, of losing something.
Yet if we think that fear is just an emotion, I like to think of it almost like a mist, that if I can accept it, and allow it — all I need to do is walk through it and then on the other side is that awesome thing I wanted!
Plus, what we often think about when we are considering taking a risk is what we have to lose, but really what we should think about is what do we have to gain? (Di taught me that one!)
5. The magic of wonder
Awe for me is the beginning of everything with photography. I need to be in awe, in some way, with my subject otherwise it’s unlikely I’ll get anything great.
It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering awe — it can be the small awe we feel when we notice a bee doing its busy work, and wondering how it has that innate knowledge to know what to do.
I like how Margaret Fuller describes that process of bringing wonder and awe to our everyday life:
“We need only look on the miracle of every day, to sate ourselves with thought and admiration every day. But how are our faculties sharpened to do it? Precisely by apprehending the infinite results of every day.
Who sees the meaning of the flower uprooted in the ploughed field? The ploughman who does not look beyond its boundaries and does not raise his eyes from the ground? No — but the poet who sees that field in its relations with the universe, and looks oftener to the sky than on the ground. Only the dreamer shall understand realities, though, in truth, his dreaming must not be out of proportion to his waking!”
Look around with intense curiosity and you will always find subjects that will bring forth wonder and awe in you.
6. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” Pablo Picasso
I love this quote, because to me it doesn’t matter how many techniques you have up your sleeve, how awesome your camera is and how well you know how to use it — you need to get out there regularly if you want to improve.
Don’t wait for perfect circumstances or light — which is one of my weaknesses. I’ll tell you, though, that I have got so many awesome shots on days I didn’t expect to and had literally shoved myself out the door.
“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Thomas Jefferson
Another thing I heard recently was someone talking about comfort zones and how:
7. You only need to inch a little out of your comfort zone every day, in order for it to quickly double in size.
(I have paraphrased her words as I can’t remember who it was!) I did discover this which was awesome though:
To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves. Peter McWilliams
These points are all super-relevant for me right now — and I hope it’s given you something interesting to chew over.
That’s it for today. I hope you are all having an amazing day. I would love to know if there are things holding you back in your photography. Maybe I can help?
Just comment below and tell us!
Have an awesome day,
5 Photography Projects from Arles Photography Festival
I hope you are all doing well and having an awesome day. This photo is of my son taken on a visit to the Redwoods in California. The big event in my life this week is that he’s turning 12, so we’ve been looking at photos of him through the ages. I think this is a pretty cool shot in its own right, so thought I’d add it to my newsletter – obviously not because I am insanely proud father, ha! (But actually how cute is he?!? Super cute right?)
So now let’s jump into some juicy photo-goodness!
“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” Diane Arbus
I love the whole world of photography – not just taking photos but reading about photography, checking out kit, talking to other photographers and seeing their work. I love that it’s like an endless creative world that I get to jump into whenever I want something new and interesting in my life.
I’m really excited that next month I’ll be spending 3 weeks in Arles, home to the world famous photography festival. I get to really immerse myself in the festival before running my 5-day Arles photo workshop at the end of my trip.
The photography at the festival is pretty diverse, drawing from established and emerging photographers. I love that it’s shown in all these cool different buildings – old churches, big industrial spaces.
It’s a great opportunity for me to find new photographers and new work, to shake up my thinking and draw inspiration from different ways of seeing the world.
So today I thought it would be super cool to highlight some of the photo projects and photographers showing in the festival. I’m going to talk about their ideas and give you links to their work. I think this will be a nice little trip of photo-creativity-fun for you today!
I have read a lot about Meyerowitz’s philosophy on photography, and I love his ideas.
“We think of photography as pictures. And it is. But I think of photography as ideas. And do the pictures sustain your ideas or are they just good pictures? I want to have an experience in the world that is a deepening experience, that makes me feel alive and awake and conscious.” Joel Meyerowitz
I am now excited to explore more of his photos, particularly as he was an early proponent of colour photography in the 1960’s. I’ve always preferred shooting colour to black and white, but when I started out colour was still considered the lesser form. I loved photographers who championed colour!
This is a great 5 minute video where Meyerowitz explains how he works on defining what to put in the frame.
Meyerowitz considers himself a street photographer, but he also incorporates urban landscapes significantly into his photos.
When he first started out, he said he was intimidated when trying to figure out what to photograph:
“I was overwhelmed. The streets, the intense flow of people, the light changing, the camera that I couldn’t quite get to work quickly enough. It just paralysed me. I had to learn to identify what it was exactly I was responding to, and if my response was any good. The only way to do that is to take pictures, print them, look hard at them and discuss them with other people.”
“The back alleys of the city are my canvas. Look behind any building and you’ll find something strange.” – Michael Wolf, from a piece in The Guardian about why he loves to shoot Hong Kong
I am looking forward to this partly because I also love to photograph cities – but in a totally different way to Wolf. I love seeing different approaches to similar subjects. It feeds you ideas in a big way – because really photography is an exploration of what you see, versus what others see.
How is your vision unique, what are you noticing in your environment and subjects that others might not. What’s significant and interesting to you?
Patterns in Hong Kong – I love patterns!
To me some of his work feels like a collection of intimate moments that contrast with the vastness and anonymity of the cities. It’s intriguing to see the humanness around us, even when so much of city life promotes a very un-human way of behaving.
I also have a curiosity about his work as he lives in Hong Kong – and has photographed the city extensively – and Hong Kong is my new city that I am working on. (I’ll also be running a photography workshop in October. Very exciting for me.)
As an aside I have been reading about the history of Hong Kong, and was amazed to read about Kowloon Walled City, that until 1991 was the most densely populated area on earth. It was a tiny Chinese-run area in the middle of British-run Hong Kong – and became essentially a lawless state because the Chinese had no way of connecting to the tiny area.
My preference is to see the work of one photographer, rather than an exhibition of themed collections. I want to discover the stories and style of an individual photographer. I am, though, intrigued by this exhibition as I know little about Latin American photographers.
It’s a part of the world I am pretty unfamiliar with, drawing my ideas of Latin America mostly from popular culture. I’m looking forward to getting to know more about the countries direct from its storytellers – photographers, writers, artists.
The exhibition is drawn from the vast collection of Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski, whose collection was also used for this recent exhibition, which was amazing.
Featured in the show is Mexican photographer Carlos Somonte – and I love what he said about photography:
“It’s all about light, therefore shadows.”
Which is so right because playing with the absence of light is as significant as light itself.
This little video about Somonte is in Spanish, but it’s a nice intro to his photos, even if you don’t speak the language:
“Surrealism: a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature which sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.”
I’m not sure that, for me, Surrealism feels like I am engaging with my sub-conscious mind, but I love the feeling of fun that you can see in a lot of surrealist artwork. And we can all use a bit of levity, right?
“The man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.” André Breton
Fair point, right?
I also like this probing of reality. We now know that reality is subjective (science says so). If I am only seeing a mere few hundred of the millions of pieces of visual data that my brain is processing, then what few hundred pieces of visual data are you seeing?
“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.” Marcel Duchamp
So maybe for me this exhibition isn’t about the epic quality of the photos, but I like this feeling of ideas, some fun, and seeing something totally different – who knows what that will spark and where that will lead for me!
I was fascinated to read about Jacob Aue Sobol, who is only exhibiting at Arles this week, so won’t be on when I am there.
I like his work; it’s very moody, intense and intimate, grainy black and whites. He captures some pretty unique life moments and emotions.
His approach is intriguing – he only shoots for 2 months a year:
“When I’m out photographing I go into a space where I try to block out everything else. That’s why I only take pictures for two months a year, always in the winter. That comes from Sabine – when winter comes, I start to feel that I want to travel and meet people, to find this contrast between the cold, harsh, dark environment and the warmth of the people. It’s been part of my pictures all the way though. When I get back to Denmark and start editing, it is completely different.”
Isn’t that cool? He’s a professional photographer, but he chooses to shoot only at times when he is super-inspired by the world around him, shoots what he loves, and does other things for the rest of the year. We can all approach our creativity in whatever way it feels right to us!
If you are also interested in seeing some of this great photography, plus getting a serious photo learning upgrade – why not join me for my Arles workshop. I have a couple of spots still available – details here: photo retreat/workshop in Arles, running 21st-25th August.
As well as doing lots of shooting and in depth-teaching, we’ll be visiting many of the exhibitions in the area.
That’s all from me for now. I have a busy fun few days planned of family events (my sons birthday!), the ongoing work of clearing my house and hosting my live call for Online Light Monkeys tonight.
So that’s it, all the photography that’s fit to print! Happy photographing, and speak soon.
“The ratio of successful shots is one in God-knows-how-many. Sometimes you’ll get several in one contact sheet, and sometimes it’s none for days. But as long as you go on taking pictures, you’re likely to get a good one at some point.” – Elliott Erwitt
I love Elliott Erwitt. His straight talking about photography is so refreshing. I find his advice helps to demystify the whole process of photography.
Obviously Erwitt has a genius eye – I mean his photos are insanely brilliant. But there is a lot to be said for just getting out there, being curious and just working it to get the shot.
Now, today’s article is also about demystifying the process of getting good shots. My first ‘How I got the shot’ had such amazing feedback I thought I’ll definitely do another. So here we are.
Today I’m going to show you various shots I took before I got the shot I like. I am hoping this shows you some of my thinking and the process I took to capturing some cool shots that I really like.
Let’s get started!
This first shotis from an autumnal sunrise on Hampstead Heath
Gorgeous morning and great location. Now I took this, which I liked, but it just says to me ‘pretty.’
Just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s a good shot. In fact, if you are thinking it’s pretty it’s probably because it lacks any emotional depth or impact, and to me pretty usually means forgettable.
It doesn’t ‘say’ anything or evoke any emotion, thoughts or ideas. I was, though, really attracted to the reflection: that was what interested me.
So I decided to move. And here we have something I liked a little more – a more obvious reflection combined with the mist. Oohh interesting, I thought. Love me a reflection.
But there is something missing right? This is a nice, but still a forgettable image. And then luck appears in the form of a bird.
Now the bird is an interesting extra element. But it’s in the wrong position. So again, a smidge more of waiting and….
Yeh! Look at that great position the bird is in. Soaring into that beautiful sky. Way more interesting. Below the bird you have this eye-pleasing reflection, the evocative mist rising from the water. Yes – I was pleased with that.
Next up some colourful umbrellas
I love colour, I love shapes, I love repetition (and so does the eye). So I thought, OK, what can I do here.
Well, not this…
So I changed position (so important, move those feet!) But this is also boring:
I am now thinking, OK what else can we do with this colour. What else is the colour affecting in this environment – where is the light going that is shining through these umbrellas? (ALWAYS look where light is going and what it’s doing to the scene. Light does crazy interesting things.)
I looked down at my feet.
OK, this is getting interesting to me. I love the water and the texture of the brick, the echo of colour and shape, but it’s still not that interesting.
I play a little more.
No, still boring.
And then bang – I get it!
Now this isn’t the best photo I’ve ever taken – but it’s the best photo that I could get of a subject that I liked. So I am happy.
Next up – I was in Mexico City…
and I saw this engaging looking curving street. I do like an interesting line. So I am looking around and wondering what I could do with it.
I turned around to see if there was some other elements around that would be interesting.
No, not that. It’s all too busy. Too many shapes and other elements. I need to simplify! So I turn another way.
Still not interesting! But I am liking the contrast between the red adverts and the green lines. I’m thinking, possibility….
I am also looking at the people who are coming by, and suddenly I see this guy:
And I get excited! How awesome is this guy? A rollerblading dog walker, with greyhounds! So I change position and bang, I get the shot:
So you see how I did that? I checked out all the angles around me, walked around, found elements I liked (red adverts and curving green street) and then – fortune favours those of us who are prepared – when someone interesting came by I was ready.
Here’s another street photo
I came across these lines in Paris (more lines!! Lines will take you everywhere :))
Now what I like here is the sheer variety of lines and shapes that they are creating, and the lines are highly organised. All these lines are creating a feeling of order, which the eye loves.
Shooting it straight on though didn’t work. I changed angle.
This was better; I am getting a journey through the photo with the wall traveling through the photo and then out of shot. It’s also nice to have that semi-circle on the pitch as a little contrast. But still it’s not ‘wow’, it’s just a little interesting. It needs another element.
I persevere. I am looking around and suddenly I see this guy.
Now, this is getting interesting right? Having a shadow against these lines is pretty cool. But this isn’t a good shot is it? Boring! So I move around, a lot actually, and I after a few tries I get this:
And I love it! It’s made, of course, by the guy’s posture. It’s slightly – Oh jeez, another day! And that perception works really well with the feeling of monotony and of the endlessness of the lines. It says to me ‘the hamster wheel of life.’
Now, did I look at the lines and the man and think – the concept of this shot is monotony?
No, of course not!
For me it usually starts with an interest in shapes and elements. I am always looking for elements that are striking, and how to put them together in an unusual way.
I am drawn by my enthusiasm for these elements and then it comes down to an instinctive feeling. I’ll ask myself – what if walk over there and see how the scene looks from there, what is the light doing, what else can I find in the scene that is interesting?
I am lead by my instinct because we are continually receiving information from our environment into all of our senses. It’s not just our eyes that are receiving information – your ‘instinct’ is aware of all the information that your body and mind are processing.
Your instinct is way more of a reliable guide than your analytical mind.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. Carl Jung
Information is coming at us all of the time and we just have to tune in. That’s why your instinct is so important. It’s why, for example, we might get a weird feeling stepping into a room but not know why, or why we notice how someone is feeling without them telling us.
Getting peaceful, being mindful, trying to forget about all that ‘thinking stuff’ in your mind – and tune into all of the stimuli of your environment.
Let’s end with a quote from Mr Erwitt. I love this man. I don’t really agree with this, I learnt so much from my teachers – and still learn from other photographers. But I love the essence of what he’s saying – take photos! Then take more photos!
Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many pictures. Elliott Erwitt
As always it’s super nice to be in touch – let me know if this was helpful and I’ll do more! Let me know in the comments below.
It’s a beautiful day here in London. The birds are going for it, chattering away in the trees, even in the dense urban centre of the city. You can hear their sing-song in the odd quiet little breaths the city takes, in between the cars and the noise of the people.
There is sunshine, warm and deep sunshine on my skin as I am walking from place to place, jumping on the tube and buses, doing something that I love – organising the printing, framing and delivery of prints.
There is so much excitement for me when people buy my photographs. To know that my image has created something that speaks to people so much that they want to bring that something into their homes, that they want to see it every day.
It goes beyond the immediate gratification of being paid (which of course is amazing in itself!) It is a beautiful validation of what I love to do most – create images.
I have some big plans afoot. I feel like I am at a bit of a crossroads and I am being asked to choose. My natural ‘sensible’ decision is to pick the easiest thing; the thing I know about, the road that is known and more travelled.
But something is also niggling at me. There is a more unknown road I could take. One that really excites, electrifies me even, that will create more meaning and satisfaction for me. Can I summon up the courage for that road?
Because after all – stepping out into the ‘unknown’ can feel laden with fear and anxiety. It’s why we don’t do those things we deeply yearn to do, not because they are necessarily any more difficult that what we are doing right now – but because they are unknown.
Now how might my life decisions have anything to do with your photography? Well, there are interesting correlations here: whether you’re creating a photograph or a new life or a new job – you are involved in the act of creating something that didn’t exist before.
It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult – Seneca
I have used this quote before because it really speaks to me. I see regularly that unless I am being driven by what I love to do, then I am trapped. Trapped by the things that I yearn for, but maybe don’t have the courage to step towards.
Perhaps this is because from a very early age we are encouraged on to be sensible. To err on the side of caution when it comes to living our lives and the choices we make. Who are we to step outside of how most people make choices – and do something wildly different?
And before we know it we are knee deep into our lives, having made our sensible choices, and the wild and crazy ideas we may have had of what we wanted to do, the exhilarating experiences we yearned for, the adventures we wanted to have, the people we wanted to me, the interesting ways we wanted to live, have all but seeped away.
It makes me feel shivers of fright to think of the big things that Di and I wanted to do when we first met that we haven’t done yet. Things that feel deeply important to ourselves as humans, to our true purpose in life.
And I ask myself – what are we waiting for?
Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray – Rumi
I read this recently and it really affected me. I have always thought that doing what I loved was a bit decadent, a bit self indulgent – not the wise and sensible choice that one makes when you a have a family or are being a responsible human.
There are plans and projects that I’ve had brewing in the back of my mind that require tremendous amounts of courage for me to enact.
And should I?
But courage is an essential component of creating. Because when you create you need to step into the unknown. You can’t keep creating the same thing over and over. That is not creation, that is simply repetition.
To create requires doing something new.
You get in life what you have the courage to ask for – Oprah Winfrey
Most of things that inspire me in my photography have nothing to do with photography. What I need to remember every single day as a photographer is that I need to be courageous and take myself out of my comfort zone if I want my photography to evolve.
It’s not really an issue of ‘getting better’. I mean, of course, in the back of my mind I’d love to be called the world’s greatest photographer (!) but any creative act should be driven by what it does to you – how it adds to your life – how it creates new experiences – how it helps you live in a more interesting way – how it reveals aspects of life previously unseen – how it makes you feel overwhelming awe at all that surrounds us – the magnificence and sheer abundance of life.
Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences – Roy Ascott
This quote is actually talking about looking at art, but to me it really talks to me when I think about creating.
I like to think about being led by new experiences as a way to start the creating process. That doesn’t mean you have to travel to another place, but it means to try something in a new way.
It’s about rising up from habit, from the habituated states that we live in, that cause us to not see or experience the feeling of new, of awe, in our surroundings.
All of my best images are ones where I have forgotten about myself and stepped into the present moment, capturing the heady energy of that moment.
It’s the energy of fun and excitement as you pass a bar on a warm summer’s evening with people spilling onto the pavement. It seems to ooze a feeling of frivolity and freedom.
It’s the energy of the opulence and abundance of life by the river on a spring morning, flowers bursting with colour like they were bursting into song.
It’s the energy of a Monday morning in winter, the day made heavy by the dark grey skies, the energy of isolation in the wrapped-up-tight individuals crowding the streets but not acknowledging one another.
I would love to see all of you create something this week that you never have before. Whether that’s going out shooting when you hadn’t planned to, going somewhere you haven’t been, trying to shoot in a new way. Anything to inject something new and different into your experience.
New experiences will trigger new thoughts and ideas, leading you to who knows where!
And as always, because:
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream – Aristotle
I think if Aristotle said it, then it’s a totally valid reason to throw everything up in the air and do something crazy and new and wonderful. Case closed.
So I hope this is an interesting collection of thoughts. I hope it prods you out of your chair, away from your computer and into the arms of the unknown. Get that camera out of its dusty box; mute your phone and open its camera – and get out there and take some pictures!
Use this one incredible life that we have to create something that could inspire another human being. Make art because of the sheer fun of it – and because it helps you to do new things by shaking up your habits and the sameness of your routine.
I aim to do just that today.
Anthony and my writing partner-extraordinaire Diana (she who turns my simple thoughts into beautiful words)
I was up very early this morning. In the streets of East London I watched the pre-dawn sky change colour, from the magnificent midnight blue to ever lighter shades of blue. Colourful ribbons of pinks and yellows burst across the sky, and little wisps of purple and blue clouds appeared and disappeared at random.
There is some warmth to the early morning air now, an exciting sign that spring is here and we are entering my favourite period of life in London. Warmth, sunshine, and it feels like everyone is opening up as they come out of their winter hibernation.
Today I am not offering any big challenging teachings – today I want to give you something easy, something light and joyful. We have to be light and joyful sometimes right? Especially with the thing we love so much – taking photos and being creative!
First thing – today I want to focus on the subject of spring. What could be more joyful for us creatures who are emerging from the dark cold of winter into this light-filled nature-filled spring time? I know not all of you are in a springtime area, but I think you can sympathise, right?
Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’
Second thing – as you know, photography is not just about the aesthetics. It’s about capturing and evoking emotion. How many ‘pretty’ photos have you seen in your life that have created no lasting impact. ZILLIONS. Even if your subject is gorgeous and wonderful, you still need an additional element – lighting, an interesting expression or something that will invoke emotion.
My challenge today is to encourage you to go out and capture the feelings of spring – ebullient, hopeful, sorrowful…whatever they may be. And if you’re not in a spring-zone, then you can capture any mood created by a season.
I thought this is a perfect challenge for people who struggle to get emotion into their photography. If you start with something pretty simple like this, then you can build up your confidence to capture some more complex emotions.
Now – let’s explore some themes that we could bring into our spring photos.
You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.
Spring is a pretty hopeful time me thinks. Light pouring into our lives after a time of relative darkness. That’s why I think this photo of the daffodils feels like a ‘hope’ photo.
I am definitely up for some renewal right now! In fact, I believe in having regular times of renewal and rejuvenation. But unlike that feeling of renewal at the beginning of January that seems to come, I believe, from a place of guilt or panic (Must improve my life! Must get fit and start saving!) the feeling of spring’s renewal feels fun and frivolous, and very creative. A time to play with your photography, a time to experiment and explore.
Desire for adventure
In winter, I plot and plan. In spring, I move.
Having grown up in a different era where I could go out and play unattended for hours at a time, in a place that was basically summer and spring-like all year, there is something incredibly evocative for me seeing my kids in nature. But don’t we all have that nostalgic feeling when we see kids playing in nature; even my London-born wife who didn’t have the kind of outdoor adventurous life that I did feels wistful at the sight of our kids muddy and playing with sticks.
Even if it’s not about kids there is an opening up of the spirit when spring arrives. You stop hunkering down in the cold, and possibilities, ideas, thoughts of adventures start to flow. So adventure feels like a good theme for your photographs.
This photo below could be called ‘young love’. To me it is all about that feeling of beautiful weather and being finally outside, being with someone you like a lot, plus that playfulness that young couples have.
To get these kinds of shots you have to (respectfully) really look at, and notice, the interactions between people. So not just what they look like, but the dynamic they are creating together. You have to look, notice and then step forth and be brave and click when you see something interesting.
Spring has a definite feeling to it; the air somehow changes, people’s mood changes, and to capture not just an individual mood of something, but the the mood of a place is a great thing to practise in your photography.
I mean think about it, right. Every day you go out of your house and there is a mood or feeling created by the time of day, the weather, and any other extraneous events going on. Like when it’s dark there could be a sinister feeling, or an earthy atmosphere at the beginning of autumn.
For me there was a palpable mood the day after the Brexit referendum, for example, or the day after the US elections. When there is a collective contemplation about an event that also seems to change the atmosphere.
The sheer vitality of life
Sometimes it can be displaying the sheer amazing aliveness that spring brings into our lives. Waking up the soil, bringing millions of flowers, plants and trees into a dazzling life-affirming display.
As with everything, though, there is always an edge, an opposite
To all of this life and vitality there is also the reminder that darkness, loss, winter, are also part of life. I think this photo hints at that edge, the darkness that is looming after the burst of colour and life.
The delight of spring light
Gotta love all that light in spring. Especially as our days get longer. Here is a very typical shot for me. Light and shadow – the shadow creating a nice contrast to the beautiful light, and that contrast makes the light more intense and more delightful.
I also love interesting lines. Can you see the horizontal lines which, although not straight, are creating structure in the photo? Then the last element is the contrast of the old crumbly wall and the beautiful delicate flowers, which is another ‘typical’ thing I do. Contrasting old and new, fresh and decaying, light and dark. The contrasting elements always help to enhance the other, making them more ‘decaying’ or more ‘fresh’ looking.
The play of light and shadow, though, is what makes it a good shot, as you can see here. This is a similar composition but not as good.
Can you see how the set up in the two photos is almost the same – the ancient crumbling wall contrasted with the pretty vibrant flowers. I ‘organised’ the elements of the photo along horizontal lines, almost rule-of-third-ish. But of course the difference with the last photo is the absence of incredible light!
As if I need to tell my regular readers how important light is! You guys totally know don’t you?!?.
So I hope you enjoyed that! I hope it makes your feet itch and you want to get out and take photos.
I am wrapping up a very exciting week where I launched my new book. It arrived from the printer on Monday (you can see me ‘unboxing’ it here.) It was super thrilling to see all this work we’ve been doing come to fruition. Can I say too that it is an awesome, awesome book, really my best yet?
You can still get one of the last books that I have of East London at Dawn right here. But they won’t be available for long as my stock has almost run out!
Have a great day, and happy photographing! As always let me know what you think! Comment below, I love hearing from you.
I was so sad to hear of John Berger’s passing last week. He was a fascinating man, one whom I had the great pleasure to photograph a few years ago. He was very generous too; he sat with me after our shoot and read to me. I was really touched by his warmth.
It seems like now is a great time to reflect on his ideas and what he has to teach us photographers. I had written an outline of a post about Berger many months ago, and it had sat languishing in my almost-ready folder. So given that I am in Cuba this month with very little internet Di has hauled it out, polished it up and filled in the (many, many) missing gaps.
John Berger was a English writer and artist who, though born in London, spent much of his life living in Europe. He is famously known for his writing about art – his BBC TV show and accompanying book Ways of Seeing, made him well-known in the 1970s. As well as writing plays and fiction, he was also a passionate political writer.
He weaved his way through many genres and I think that is what made his work so thought-provoking; he was both fiercely engaged and fascinated by the world around him. I encourage anyone with an interest in art, photography, culture to read or watch his work.
And I admire anyone who makes the time to improve the life of others, and his thoughts and ideas about photography, art, all of it, were an incredible gift to all of us.
Here I want to talk about some of the ideas I love from Berger, that can help us develop our own ways of seeing, as well as thinking about, our practise of photography.
What I think I get from reading John Berger’s writing is a fascination with stories, and ultimately with the human experience. That there are always different ways to view the world around us.
What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time. John Berger
I love to keep things simple in my life, and in my photography. I love to be ‘clean’ in my approach, not having extraneous elements in my photos, and work always to simplify the shot so that I have the cleanest, strongest composition possible. That’s just me and my style. There are some amazing photographers out there who love to compose more complex compositions. It’s whatever floats your boat.
What I like about Berger’s quote (above), though, was this reminder that photography – like any art form, like how writing is just words – is using the most basic and simple elements. From it, so many incredible things can be formed. So however complex your ideas become about photography, a good way to not get overwhelmed by it all is to remember its inherent simplicity. All photos are made from just ‘light and time’.
To try to understand the experience of another it is necessary to dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it and to reassemble it as seen from his. John Berger
To me this shows us how we have to lose the sense of ourselves when we are taking photos of other people. We have to lose our preconceptions and just watch, absorb and try to understand what it is to inhabit the life of the person or people we are photographing.
This is super hard. Think about how much time you spend in your own head thinking about the world from your perspective. Your very subjective perspective formed from all the millions of experiences you’ve had that makes you so unique. Now – how much time do we spend thinking about things from someone else’s view? Jeez, I find it hard to think about the world from my wife’s perspective, let alone a random stranger on the street, and I live with her. Lol!
For me the lesson here is you don’t want to be just photographing through the lens of your own experience: try hard to dismantle that, try and move out of your little bubble.
And in a slightly different way – this aspect of thinking about your subject is particularly relevant when I am travelling in countries where there is a lot of intense poverty, or even when I am in certain parts of London. It’s so easy to wander around photographing ‘atmospheric ruin and decay’, forgetting this is people’s homes and their lives. It’s like a trend, and I see it all the time, forgetting that we are visitors to these places, often much wealthier that the people we are wandering around amongst. That’s when you have to remember to imagine what it’s like being on the other end of the photographer’s lens.
Even when I was writing on art, it was really a way of storytelling – storytellers lose their identity and are open to the lives of other people.
Being open to the lives of other people – yes! That’s what we photographers who like photographing other people should really embrace. We have hundreds of opportunities to observe people and their humanity every day. It’s an incredible thing to do, have the chance to really dig beneath the surface of what is going on in other people’s lives.
As Berger also says:
If one thinks of appearances as a frontier, one might say that painters search for messages which cross the frontier.
We are looking to dig beneath the surface, aren’t we? Looking for messages, clues, opportunities that help us see something beyond the appearance of things. Don’t settle for the surface.
The act of going beyond ourselves is the art act. Writing about Cézanne he [Berger] calls it “his love affair, his liaison, with the visible”. Here he is on Rembrandt’s A Woman Bathing: “We are with her, inside the shift she is holding up. Not as voyeurs. Not lecherously, like the elders spying on Susanna. It is simply that we are led, by the tenderness of his love, to inhabit her body’s space.” He quotes Simone Weil: “Love for our neighbour, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.
To pay attention to the people and the world around us can be a tremendous gift – to see people in a way that is kind, generous and full of genuine interest – that spirit also helps us to create portraits that are full of emotion and interest.
Whenever the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing. John Berger
When you take yourself out of your own little bubble and really concentrate on noticing, looking and observing life in closer detail, you become aware of the intense energy that other people, places and things are emitting.
Everything in our world has some form of energy – light, land, weather, the energy of movement between people. Even when it feels like there is an absence of energy – an inert object, a barren landscape, an empty wall.
That energy creates a dialogue, a quality to recognise and to understand within the scene.
Drawing is a constant correction of errors, maybe a great deal of creation is actually that. There is not really a point you’re suddenly aware that there is nothing more to correct, and if you were aware of that it would probably be very bad. John Berger, from this excellent 5 min interview on Newsnight
This is a reminder to all us creatives that creativity is a journey and we are not aiming for perfection, but I think instead, towards the act of exploration. Being creative means you are in constant motion, examining, probing, questioning, looking. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, do your best for yourself and your work, and keep moving.
If I am a storyteller, it’s because I listen. John Berger
I love this, and for some reason it reminds me of one of my favourite photographers – Elliott Erwitt. Erwitt has a stunning eye for the comedic and hilarious moments of life. He is one of the ultimate ‘listeners’ when it comes to noticing amazing visual stories in his photos.
I look at Elliott’s photos and I image him wandering around in a totally drifting mindset, just looking for stories, looking for comedy, being in an intense state of open awareness.
There are stories everywhere – we just have to pay attention.
The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. John Berger
This made me think about when we look at a photograph that makes an impact on us, there is the obvious aesthetic appeal, but there is also something that is very hard to explain. It’s almost that somewhere buried in our subconscious there is a reminder of an experience, or something else that we know. But we don’t know what. That feeling is almost like an echo to something you can’t recall, can’t explain – you just know that that photo means something more to you that the sum of its parts.
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. John Berger
I love watching very young children go about their days. The very young are in a permanent state of observation, as they watch without inhibition the world unfolding around them.
I think we could all benefit from doing that a little bit more – being in a state of open, uninhibited attention. Because words will only take you so far. We are, we should be, so much more fluent in the visual as words came much later into our worlds. So let’s stop translating everything into words, and trust in our visual intelligence.
The arranging of artists in an order of merit seems to me to be an idle game. What matters are the needs that art answers. John Berger
I’ve talked a lot in the past about what being creative brings us as the creators. For me it’s about being more aware and more connected to what’s around us. But what about the people who view our creations? Now maybe we are not on the level of the grand old masters, but I do believe that every single one of us has something interesting to communicate.
Humans are by nature storytellers – whether that is through song or photos, paintings or writing. The act of taking a photo is saying – hey, I am here and this is what I saw, this is what I found profoundly and amazingly interesting. And that’s exciting, that possibility that something you see and photograph could mean something to someone out there.
Maybe also it’s a bit like the human pyramid of needs, that once you have food, shelter and safety the mind likes to look around and see – what else is possible here? Maybe it’s great tequila, or travelling to warm places, or an awesome book (one of my favourites) and then art. Art for me in its many ways and many facets is an opportunity to explore, to reflect, to learn, to understand.
To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life in the giant scales of fate if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud. John Berger
Accept what life is, and relish every cloud… I really want my life to be an interesting experience. Maybe it’s not possible to do interesting things every day, but to me it’s about the spirit of how you live. How you perceive your life and the small choices you make to deepen your awareness of the world.
Living and interesting, inquisitive life is an art in and of itself.
Do you know the legend about cicadas? They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to. John Berger
This is permanent issue on the horizon for most creatives – the act of getting started and finishing! Sometimes it’s not even about finishing, because photography becomes this long story that we are involved in and we dip in and out of. It’s the act of doing and continuing to do that I think is so essential.
Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman. John Berger
I photograph a lot of cities and they can be hard to get a handle on them. They are chaotic and big and multi-faceted and hard to break down so that you can create interesting shots. But there is always a spirit to a place. Much like the fact that everything radiates energy, I believe that there is an atmosphere, a spirit, that you can discover about your subject. It’s something you can detect, something you find from observation, and this will help you get under the surface of a lot of subjects.
Maybe it’s your own interpretation of the spirit of your subject. Leave a dozen photographers in a city and they will all come up with something different, but there is an atmosphere that makes sense to you.
A photograph is not necessarily a lie, but it isn’t the truth either. It’s more like a fleeting, subjective impression. John Berger
Every photograph you take is a subjective impression of the world around you. I am always amazed how when I am out on my workshops the group can all be in the same place, but we came come out with very different photos.
This should give you tremendous confidence with your photography. We don’t have to worry if this place has been photographed 50 million times. We don’t have to worry what someone else has done, or is doing. We are unique and if we keep at it and keep pushing ourselves out of our little bubbles of what life is to us, then we will create something unique and interesting.
In 1960’s Berger collaborated with photographer Jean Mohr on a book about a very committed doctor in rural Gloucestershire, called A Fortunate Man.
It was suggested by his friend Victor Anant, who told him:
“‘You know, this man is really remarkable,’ Anant told me, ‘but one day no one will know of him. His goodness will have consequences, of course, but unless you write about him, the specifics of his life and his attitude may not be preserved.'”
I really like the idea for this project, because although we are now photographing and documenting life in an unprecedented way – most of that is just private or what I like to think of as reactive-photography. It’s not thoughtful, it’s oh there is a nice monument, there is an looking interesting person and up comes the camera – click. There is still so much that goes unseen in our world.
Look beyond the obvious, look at the people who aren’t been seen, puncture the appearance of things, and you’ll go a long way with your photography.
I feel that Berger is encouraging us photographers to be patient, watch, look and listen. Stories will come – in whatever form you are looking for them. Partly because…
“. . . the genius is by definition a man who is in some way or another larger than the situation he inherits.”
I’d love to know what you think. Does this strike a chord with you? Have you read any of John Berger’s writing and loved any particular ideas he presented? Please comment below 🙂
Sending great wishes for an awesome 2017 from Cuba (Anthony) and London (Diana).
Anthony and Diana
This is the main barrier to improving your photography
You haven’t heard from me for a while and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been mulching in a creative bubble. I have a super cool project; a new hotel has commissioned me to put together a limited edition book of East London at Dawn. As a photographer this is the kind of work you dream of: being paid to fulfil one of your creative ideas and, as so many of you who’ve been on my London workshops know, East London is my favourite part of the city.
But while I’m doing work like this – creating, shooting, thinking, looking at my images, I find it really difficult to live in the real world and do all those other things that life requires of me – emails, bills, etc. Di says I start acting like a cloud. I forget to return phone calls, I’m not great at remembering what’s happening in my diary. At least I can say, look man, I’m just an artist. And people sort of, sort of, understand 🙂
I think the point here being that any kind of creative pursuit requires more time than you think, and it requires a totally different brain space to the one that is keeping you going on a day to day basis. So although I totally, totally advocate keeping your camera at hand and taking photos as you go about your daily life because that is a powerful habit to develop for your creativity – remember, too, that carving out time for some dreaminess, drifting and creative mulching is also super beneficial for your photography.
Now let’s get to the main point of this post. The main point of this post is illustrated by this photo that I took a few mornings ago in Wapping.
I walked past this butcher and thought – awesome! Capturing people up at dawn is really hard, less so at the moment as dawn is so late in autumn and winter, but it’s still difficult to find people doing interesting things. I knew Di would love this shot – that blue early morning light on the buildings contrasting with the yellow tungsten inside. It really was a perfect combination of elements.
I lifted my camera, shot this, but I obviously wasn’t happy with it because the positioning is all wrong. Then I saw that the butcher had spotted me. Guess what I did? I carried on walking! I had been totally overtaken by the fear and just left the scene.
To be honest it sort of surprised me how fearful I was. I have a lot of years under my belt of photographing strangers; I teach a workshop about it! It just shows you, though, that fear is not something you overcome and then that’s it, it’s gone. It can come back at any time. And of course we professionals are not immune.
But you know what? That’s OK. For me the best way is to accept that fear is a bit like clouds in the sky or rain in London – it comes and then it goes. The worse thing for me to do is let it stop me from taking the shot – or in this case, going back and taking the shot.
I’ve written about fear a few times on my blog, and I will continue to, because I truly believe that fear in its many forms is the main barrier to improving your photography. It’s not just the thing that will stop you from photographing strangers – it will also stop you pushing yourself further with your creativity. It will stop you from envisioning what is possible to do with your photography – and then getting on with it.
Fear is an insidious and pervasive force that affects us all in different ways across our lives. But in terms of creativity it can severely limit how much you’re prepared to push yourself to experience new things, to work at seeing the world in new and fresh way and to create something that is unique to you.
It’s good to note though that it’s totally natural to feel fear when you are creating.
“We’ve evolved to distrust creative ideas: except in a crisis, there’s little survival benefit to trying something new.” Oliver Burkeman
I see fear all the time with my students, and often they are surprised when I tell them that everyone experiences fear when they are taking photos. They are not unique or alone in this. With them I see fear come up in the form of:
Not staying at a scene long enough
Self-consciousness when using a camera in groups of people. So instead of being in the moment, connecting to your environment and composing your image, half of your mind is distracted with what people might be thinking or what is happening outside the moment of the photo
Not shooting what you really want to photograph because it scares you too much
Not getting started! I see this a lot. Worrying about doing it just right, so people don’t even get themselves out the door. (Perfectionism is just another form of fear.)
“The real question, then, is not whether creativity provokes fear, but what to do when it does. Far too many authorities urge you to conquer it… but as with any emotion, launching an all-out attack on fear is counterproductive. That just puts it centre stage, and risks reinforcing the notion that creativity must – and should – be one endless, bare-chested struggle.”
So what I encourage in the dealing with fear is:
Be patient with yourself. Fear is just a feeling. Don’t react to it. Let it come up and eventually it with leave you. Probably the worse thing you can do is start adding lots of thoughts and judgements about your fear. Thoughts are like adding fuel to the fire. Let the fire just burn itself out.
Accept that it’s part of being creative: putting yourself out there in terms of showing your work, being out there in the world with your camera, doing something outside of your day to day life is going to provoke feels of discomfort. And really, if you are feeling discomfort you are on the right path – it shows you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone, you are onto to something new and different.
I also like this idea about overcoming fear by distracting your mind and creating habits:
“There’s nothing wrong with fear; the only mistake is to let it stop you in your tracks.
Athletes know the power of triggering a ritual. A pro golfer may walk along the fairway chatting with his caddie, his playing partner, a friendly official or scorekeeper, but when he stands behind the ball and takes a deep breath, he has signaled to himself it’s time to concentrate.
A basketball player comes to the free-throw line, touches his socks, his shorts, receives the ball, bounces it exactly three times, and then he is ready to rise and shoot, exactly as he’s done a hundred times a day in practice. By making the start of the sequence automatic, they replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.” Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.
When I am really struggling with fear I like to remember what Seth Godin advises about starting small:
“What we need to do is say, “What’s the smallest, tiniest thing that I can master and what’s the scariest thing I can do in front of the smallest number of people that can teach me how to dance with the fear?” Once we get good at that, we just realize that it’s not fatal. And it’s not intellectually realize – we’ve lived something that wasn’t fatal. And that idea is what’s so key — because then you can do it a little bit more.”
So I will be heading back to Wapping to get that shot – maybe it’ll be worth it and it’ll make the book, maybe it won’t and it won’t be the shot I want. Ultimately, though, I need to do it for myself. To show that I am doing the best that I can for both myself and for this project – since photography is totally an inner game and loosing confidence in myself is not a path I want to take. And because:
“Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished?
Yes; work never begun.” Christina Rossetti
I’ll be coming out of my creative cloud pretty soon. Which is awesome if you have an email that you’ve sent me and you are waiting for an answer (sorry!). The book is hitting the designers soon and I’ll have a bunch of organising and ‘real work’ to do – working with the printer, launching the book, sorting out my new website etc. Which is all super cool. I love what I do, and I feel so super grateful that I get to live like this – taking photos, working with other photographers, putting my ideas and images out there. Life could actually be no better.
Thank you for being part of this community of photo lovers, it’s so awesome working with you, hearing from you and talking to you about your work.
I’d also like to ask something of you today – Di and I are currently working out the subjects of our next few months of blog posts and we want to make them uber useful. We’d love to know therefore:
“What are you most struggling with photographically right now?”
Just drop me an email. I promise to answer 🙂 We can then write posts that are totally focused on what you need right now on your photo journey.
Have an awesome weekend – and happy photographing!
Anthony and Diana
Free online photo feedback session with me this Sunday
I hope life is good for you and you are doing some cool things with your photography. I’m doing well, enjoying this good summer in London and getting ready for a working trip to the south of France next week. Lots of fun.
A very quick and short one for you today. I’ve been really getting into all the online opportunities for teaching, it’s so cool! And I thought it would be awesome to host an online photo feedback webinar for you guys.
And it’s totally free!
Send me up to three images before the webinar and I’ll select one photo per participant to give feedback on, and people in the group can obviously chime in with their thoughts too. And if you want to just log on and listen without submitting your photos that also fine too.
It’ll last about an hour I think. It’ll be really fun, a nice casual session and you’ll get my tips and feedback on your images. It won’t be scary or harsh! Plus you’ll pick up a bunch of tips from my feedback from other people’s images too.
I’m going to do it this Sunday at 6pm GMT and I’d love you to join me.
To join me:
1) Register for the webinar – by emailing email@example.com.
2) Send me up to three photos – sized at 1200 pixels on longest length to me at firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight Saturday (GMT) so I can look at them before the session and choose a varied selection.
3) Attend the webinar on Sunday! You just need the internet to log into the webinar via a special link you will be sent after you register, and you will need to download Zoom. It’s extremely simple so don’t worry- you’ll get it.
Drop Diana or I a line with any questions (email@example.com).
Have a great day and look forward to talking to some of you on Sunday!
When I think about why I take photos, and what it does for me, this is what I come up with.
It’s about not living on the surface, skating over the rich and beautiful experiences that life has to offer. It’s about diving in and connecting with the mesmerising qualities of light, the stark melancholy of dark thunderous clouds, the rich beauty of the deep shades of greens and opulent colour of a summer garden, the intriguingness of graffiti on a crumbling ancient wall or a face that feels un-watched and so reveals the mind’s emotions.
Photography pulls you out of your busy mind filled with to-do lists, emails that need sending, shopping that needs to be done, chairs that need to be fixed. It pulls you away from all of that and it plants you right here and firmly in this world.
When I am teaching people how to see like a photographer, they think I am teaching them how to see like a photographer.
But I am not.
It’s something way deeper, way bigger and way more impactful than that.
It’s like how people think when I am teaching them how to use a camera, people think I am teaching them how to use a camera.
What I am doing is giving people the tools (and the key) to unlock their creativity. And what that brings is an incredible freedom.
It’s about going from feeling like being just a cog that’s turning in the machine, and instead becoming an explorer of the deep mysteries of this incredibly, complicated, messy and mesmerising world.
Photography is a gateway to enjoying the richness and beauty of the world. It’s an excuse to take yourself off to explore, to examine and to dwell in places you find breathtaking; it’s a licence to talk to strangers and photograph everything that’s weird and wonderful about them; it’s a reason to get up at 3am and watch the life-affirming beauty of a sunrise.
It’s capturing that feeling of watching dusk fall over a wild deep blue ocean or in the chair lift as it slowly rises above the epic vastness of the Alps.
It’s a gift to experience life in a deeper and richer way.
That’s what photography brings to my life.
The tools I bring to teach photography come from my 20 year career as a photographer, an explorer and a creator. I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire always to make my images better, more interesting and most of all to have connect more with the viewer.
“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” Robert Frank
On my workshops, taking photographs of strangers seems to conjure up a wild mix of terror and excitement. Most people are naturally drawn to photographing people, and I understand. I love it too.
I think it’s a tremendous honor to photograph people, as they go about their lives and reveal themselves in such interesting ways to us.
I’ve already written about fear and photographing strangers, so I won’t go over that again (street photography really is an ‘inner game’). But I will repeat this point, in case you are feeling a little nervous. Just remember that:
“Most people love to be noticed. Taking someone’s photo says to them: “I see you and you interest me”. For the majority of the population, that’s an exciting and affirming act. That’s your key.” Me
Here are five ideas to help you get awesome photos out there on the street – tips from me as well as from other photographers I love.
“If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph.” Bruce Gilden
In this post I’m talking about two different styles of photographing strangers. One is street photography – which is a “type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places. Street photographs are mirror images of society, displaying “unmanipulated” scenes, with usually unaware subjects.” Urban Picnic Street Photography.
The challenge with street photography is actually making a great photograph. Maybe 1 in a 1000 is worth looking at again. Trent Parke is famous for shooting thousands of images to get a few good ones. (I love his feeling for light. Incredible.)
The other type is street portraits, where the subject knows you are taking their portrait. They are most likely posing for you or allowing you to capture them in situ. This is how I photograph most, it’s just my personal preference as I think I’m drawn to people’s faces and I love exploring their facial and physical expressions.
This is a nice comparison of the two styles of street shooting, and here I am classifying street portraits under ‘documentary photography’:
Bottom line – do what you love! Do what thrills and excites you. No right or wrong answers here.
Photographer: I quoted Bruce Gilden above, a street photographer who is famous for (usually) photographing his subjects very close up, without their permission, using flash so that the light is very harsh. The results are pretty intense, so you can almost see people’s life history in their skin, see his site. I’d say his methods are pretty controversial.
2. Don’t be (too) dazzled by the humans and their behaviour
Sorry to say this but most street photography, and street portraits, are boring! I think one of the reasons is that we get dazzled by the humans we see around us and think they are being way more interesting than they really are – meaning our photos can end up being too obvious or just quite dull and ordinary.
Humans are usually pretty private animals – and yet it’s amazing how easily people reveal so much about themselves as they go about their day to day lives. I think most people are so wrapped up in their world they forget about people around them. So, as photographers, when we start paying attention to people we can fall into the trap of thinking they are being more interesting than really, objectively, they are.
It can also be a super intense experience photographing humans – especially ones you don’t know. Often the adrenaline starts pumping as you enter the orbit of strangers and again you get overwhelmed by the experience of photographing strangers, rather than by the uniqueness or compellingness of the shot.
So the aim is to get away from taking the ‘obvious’ shot. There has to be a certain je ne sais quoi about the person you are shooting. There has to be something about their person that makes your mind think – interesting…. And really that’s a lot to do with your own personal intuition. Trust it!
With any portraits – it’s always good to remember that people will have their barrier up initially, the ‘person’ they show the world. And everyone has their photo ‘pose’. You need to get beyond that, because that is very unlikely to make an engaging photograph. So you need to wait for their mask to drop, and it will, usually quicker than you think. Just keep watching them or photographing them. It’s like unpeeling like an onion, getting down to the deeper layers of a human being.
Look for what the story the person is telling you with their eyes. Eyes give so much away about how a person is feeling. There are also striking, subtle gestures that people make with their hands, legs, bodies. It’s extremely hard to hide anything for long.
Photographer: If you’ve never looked at Vivian Maier’s photos, I would totally recommend you do. Her work only became widely known after she died, a tragedy as it’s some of the best street photography I’ve seen, especially as much of it is from a time not as well documented as our current one. Love her colour work.
Photo project: Brandon Stanton Humans of New York project is a good example of how we are drawn into learning about those people who surround us. I listened to this interview with Brandon and his key advice on approaching strangers was: be confident – anything less than total confidence will stop people from trusting you.
3. Pick a theme
One of the easiest ways to get started is to pick a theme – like the amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle who shot old people passing by his house in Dublin. All the photos from the subsequent book were shot within a half mile radius of his home (excitingly for those joining me for my Arles photo retreat, Doyle has an exhibition at the Arles photo festival, plus here are some other great street photographers showing there.)
I like how Doyle explained his vision for his work:
“The one guiding idea was to strip away the visual noise of the street so that the people emerge in a different and hopefully more surprising way.” Eamonn Doyle
Having a theme gives you a focus if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of just stepping out onto the street and taking photos.
Other interesting themed projects are Stan Raucher, who photographs people on the underground all over the world, and Tirzah Brott ‘Women of a Certain Age’. Brott’s project reminded me that even though it didn’t sound particularly original idea, it was in fact not something that has been done that much. I think there are certain parts of society that are very well photographed, and some that aren’t. There are some people who are ‘seen’ more than others, and that’s an opportunity for us photographers, to seek out the ‘un-seen’.
So, inadvertently, I’ve taken a lot of photos of people taking selfies. It’s such an intriguing concept to me, people photographing themselves and totally controlling what they look like.
4. Photography as poetry
“Living in modern and crowded cities make photographers forget about poetry as a part of their lives. Gazing upon street scenes through our lenses reminds us of our lost innocence.” Ako Salemi
I think all photography is a form of poetry. Photography is about rhythm and creation and recognition of beauty. What I believe is so special and important about street photography is when you get away from being overwhelmed by the human experience and into the natural flow and spirit of the humans around you – that’s the poetry part.
Photographer: I love Ako Salemi’s photos, particularly This,this and this from his story asking Iranian professionals about the nuclear deal.
I also agree with what photographer Andrew Hinderaker says, that his photos are like finding little gifts around the city:
“But my favorite photos aren’t so contrived, they are little gifts that you happen upon, some weird moment, or some strange interplay of light reflecting off buildings in midtown, for instance. I look for subtle moments, gestures, people interacting. Generally I just shoot and move on, but I love that having a camera basically gives you a license to go up to anyone and ask them what they’re doing and why.”
5. Photograph what scares you
There are people who are easy to photograph – their demeanor is so open and friendly and warm that you move easily toward them and photograph them. My suggestion is – don’t just go for those people, that’s the obvious shot!
Now think about those people that you stay away from because there is something that scares you, or a place (OK have to state the obvious here – don’t endanger yourself OK!!!). People you are super intrigued by, but maybe their energy is less encouraging. Step towards your fear, rather than away from it. You will be surprised that more often than not their response will be positive.
This, for me, was actually the most scary photo I’ve taken on the street – for some reason I was totally intimidated by shooting these French guys, but I got over my fear and I did it! And I love this photo:
Thanks for reading this and I hope it has given you some ideas or inspiration for your street photos. Taking photos of strangers is such a cool and fun thing to do when you get into the vibe of it. I can’t recommend it enough.
And please do share this with anyone you know who loves photography, sharing is so helpful! I also have a very cool free creative photography e-course for everyone who signs up to my newsletter 🙂
Plus – I’d love to know what you think of my post – and what ideas you have for taking photos out on the street? Comment below.
I’m sitting at my computer and having a one-sided argument. The computer is not doing what I want it to do and all I feel is despair. I am organising my files that will eventually become prints, that will eventually be the exhibition that will be on show to thousands of people next week. And things aren’t going my way. After several hours of snail-like progress I leave my little studio and get the train home. My body feels so heavy and I am seriously freaked out. When I get home my wife and son immediately fall on me with hugs – I must have looked really miserable!
And in those wonderful dark hours of night, when there is no light to reassure, I think about the commitments I’ve made to sponsors and supporters that will be destroyed if I don’t get this right. The project that took me several months of shooting to create, that so many people have got behind, written about, supported, cheered on …. it will all be for nothing.
The next morning I’m woken by my daughter loudly proclaiming she needs me to get up so I can take her to school so that after school she gets to go on a playdate with a new friend. She is commanding. I enjoy her confidence. As we rush through the morning rain to the beautiful little hippy-school she goes to, in acres of green that is so relaxing to experience on a daily basis, I start to think through my computer problems in a different way, and slowly the pieces fall into place – so that by the time I am back in the studio I have come up with the start of a solution.
The goal of perfect prints is getting closer. I can take a small breath.
This is just one of the many, many moments in this life of being a photographer – artist – creative entrepreneur even. I find myself often walking on the edge of a precipice on the far reaches of my comfort zone. Everything that happens in this work is created by Di and myself. And if I mess it up, there is no safety net, no one to bail me out. We are living by our wits alone.
I am talking about this because maybe you are not facing the exact same challenges with your creativity as I am – but many of us get gripped by fear and don’t move on with our photography because, consciously or unconsciously, we are afraid of taking the step into the unknown.
And I am here to say – the fear may never go away, so if that’s the case, just get on and do it. Maybe you want to:
Ask for feedback on your work
Enter the competition
Ask that interesting looking stranger to pose for a portrait
Make that book
Be reminded of how to shoot on manual – again
It doesn’t matter what the goal is, the overwhelming fear of failing, feeling stupid, not being good enough – etc. etc. is the same. But if you don’t take that leap off the cliff – do you know what will happen? Something way, way way worse than fear.
Regret is a thousand times more powerful than fear. Because fear is temporary. It’s like a gust of wind or fog. You’re in it, you do what you’re fearful of and it magically blows away. Like it’s never even been there. Regret, though, burrows into your soul and infects your bloodstream, and is almost impossible to get rid of. Let’s not go there!
So I am back at my studio, I am plugging away, bringing all this work that I’ve done over the past year, taking my photos from my computer and camera – and I am bringing it out into the world for the start of a journey. More exhibitions, a book etc. This will bring much exhilaration and satisfaction, I know – when it’s done.
My wife always suggests that instead of fighting fear I just let it hang out and be there. And so for the next several days it’ll be me and fear, sharing my studio, until it gets bored by my acceptance and goes off to haunt some other establishment.
This week I have two things for you: an idea (a possibility) and some of my photos from the past few days. It’s hopefully a little light mind-and-eye refreshment, with a tinge of inspiration for you on this weekday-day.
“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” Mahatma Gandhi
One thing that I hear a lot on my workshops is: I am terrible at……technical things / being creative / seeing interesting photo opportunities. It doesn’t really matter which of these things people talk about, but many have convinced themselves that they are sorely lacking in one particular area and they will never, ever, be good at it.
I know we all have natural tendencies to be good at particular things. I know this just by looking at my kids. My four year old daughter has my intense practicality and is already telling her dreamy mother and brother they’ve put things away in the wrong place. (She recently came into the kitchen to tell us there was a wet towel in the bathroom, because obviously that was an anomaly – so she wanted to alert the necessary authorities. Which I of course loved because she notices everything. Just like Daddy!) Contrast this with my wife who doesn’t notice things like the toilet breaking or a picture falling off the wall.
So yes – we all have natural tendencies to be good at certain things. But we should never (ever, ever) just stop with what we are naturally good at. We should push ourselves to develop new skills – because we can! And it’s good for our brain to try! It is always possible to change and develop (and science now backs us up on this – our brains have the capacity to evolve).
If you think you are bad technically – don’t give into that and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Decide that you will now be technically excellent and your brain will start to organise itself towards acquiring those technical skills.
I’ve just got back from Venice, teaching a workshop and taking photos (I love my work!) I’m still a little bit infused with that mood and spirit that is so unique to Venice: dreamy, a bit wild, full of beauty.
“But if you died and in your will you asked for your ashes to be spread gently on the Grand Canal at midnight with a full moon, everyone would know this about you – you loved and understood beauty.” William Goldman
So this is why my post this week started with the thought of possibility. Because even though Venice is so old and vulnerable, its immense past echoing through every alley, so at the mercy of the sea and its wild energies – it seems like the kind of place that you can have mad dreams about your life, inventing, creating new ideas, even recreating yourself. It must be the beauty that intoxicates (and the sunshine :))
“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.” Alexander Herzen
Two things about Venice surprised me – the deepness of the silence (remove the cars and if you’re used to that constant background noise, it’s like letting the air out of a balloon, as you are enveloped in silence), and the dark of the darkness (very little illumination at night and almost no nightlife).
As a child I would spend hours looking up into the sky watching for stars and trying to spot planets. My mind would go crazy imagining other worlds, other galaxies, other spaces and time. And up there was so much possibility for things beyond what we as humans could imagine. But down here on earth I am continually impressed with what we humans can imagine. What we can decide our vision to be and then go out and execute that vision. It’s stunning.
And with its turbulent history still Venice has survived through the centuries, and what a testament to the human imagination that this beautiful city exists. What is so significant about Venice is the echo of the past. Never have I been to a city where you feel so intensely the life that has been lived: the layers of time, of people, of the dramas of life, all there, waiting to be found.
“This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty – this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism.” Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
And so I hope to ignite a little of that feeling of possibility in you today. We don’t all need to go to Venice to experience it, the feeling of possibility exists everywhere – we just have to see it. Looking up to our wide, wide open sky at night, full of stars; the gentle lapping of the dark green water on the river in the morning; the brightness of a blue, blue sky on a summer’s afternoon. It’s all there, waiting for you.
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas A. Edison
I really hope you are having a wonderful week, and I hope too that you are making time to take photos. As always, I’d love to hear from you so please comment on my blog or email me by replying to this. And if you like what you read I’d love it if you shared this, or any of my posts. It makes a amazing difference to us in helping to spread the word about our blog. Thanks 🙂
I used to be a news junkie. I’d get up, switch on the news and go about my morning listening to the worst of what was happening in the world today. Natural disasters, injustices, crime… you know! Until one day I realised that this constant feed of the worst of the world was, guess what, making me feel miserable.
More and more, people are discovering that our increasingly negative and inflammatory 24 hour news cycles affect how we feel about the rest of our day and the rest of our world. Being shown the worst of humanity on a daily basis makes it harder to see the positive parts of human existence. And yet! On the flip side, looking at Facebook – with its manicured and curated versions of people’s lives, usually only showing the best of what’s happening to people we know and love – also makes us feel depressed!
Why could this be? Perhaps because neither the constant bad news of the news or the ‘my life is amazing’ world of Facebook is about truth. And it makes us pay attention to the wrong things. On the news side – it’s paying attention to everything that is wrong in the world. On Facebook – it’s how everyone’s life is better/happier/more fun that yours. Neither is good.
For me consciously deciding what to pay attention to really makes a difference to my day and how I feel about the world around me. And this is where I started thinking about how this idea links to photography.
What we as photographers choose to pay attention to and what we then choose to photograph makes a tremendous impact on the general conversation around us. And increasingly so – whether it’s posting a photo of your family smiling and happy on Facebook, moments before it descends into a chaotic argument (why don’t people post photos of that! Like these, awesomely funny) – or it’s being a witness to other important human connections and conditions.
Writer, John Berger
Actively choosing what to pay attention to is the next step in the ‘art of seeing’. Seeing is vital, it is a process of opening up your powers of perception and it is the most important thing you can do as a photographer. Think of it this way – your brain processes millions of pieces of visual information per minute, but you only see a few hundred. Once you train your eye to stop being so helpful and actually let you notice more of what is around you, then you have so many more things to photograph in interesting ways. Because what you are now seeing in your environment is different from what you usually see.
But here is the next stage. What will you pay attention to and how will you do that?
Images have tremendous power and they help to shape how we think about situations, people, entire countries even.
Cop holding young man’s fake gun
Who and how we choose to photograph makes an impact in the world – in however minor a way you think it does, because it sends a little ripple out, adding to the ripple of everyone else’s perceptions.
We as photographers have the ability to transform people’s perceptions of a situation or a person or a group of people. It’s a tremendous power.
Use your voice. Whether that is to photograph yourself and represent yourself – or people who are marginalised, to share the power of beauty or to observe the wonders of just being human.
It’s this photo of a black boy hugging a white policeman during the protests in Ferguson – showing that there is never just one story, there’s never one experience or one thing we should be paying attention to. I like what the photographer Johnny Nguyen said about that photo:
“I had a gut feeling there was something special about Devonte, so I stayed at the scene. Before I knew it, Sgt. Barnum was speaking to Devonte. That’s when I got the powerful image of them hugging. From there, I knew I had something special. Something that I wanted the world to see. A powerful message I wanted to communicate. As a photographer, you always have to trust your gut – your intuition. It’s your best tool.”
Intuition is always your best friend. Use it.
Bob and Joy
It’s my wonderful friend Cara’s project Everyday Boston that is a platform for the people of Boston to tell their own stories (away from the news-driven bias of the media) and build connections in a city famously divided.
My way of using my voice is to find beauty in everything I come across and to try and reveal a truth about the people I meet. To me that is my contribution. To hopefully move people in some small way to help people connect more with the world around them. Not only because it’s a very enriching way to live, but if you are more connected to what’s around you then you are more likely to take care of what exists.
For me this concept of what I choose to pay attention to is always relevant for my work, even in places like Paris that are on the surface just beautiful and chic. But really it’s a complex city full of issues and challenges like any other city. For me what I noticed in my six months photographing Paris above and beyond the beautiful views were:
The graffiti that is everywhere
The abundant dog poo and human urine that was manically washed away every morning by an old fashioned but rigorous cleaning system
The segregated communities – where my family and I stayed, in Barbès-Rochechouart, it was a community of mostly West and North African residents. Walk a block over, and it suddenly became very white.
And though I didn’t make these the central themes of my project – I am not a documentary photographer nor a photojournalist – those observations are there in my work. I am always looking and making a choice of what to pay attention to.
Cleaning up the party, Paris
It also connects to the project that I am working on at the moment – Istanbul at Dawn. It’s me not listening to or looking at other people’s perceptions of this city but going in and experiencing the city for myself. And telling as many of the stories that I discover from my own perceptions.
I have loved the few months that I have already spent in Istanbul. I am overwhelmed by the friendliness I’ve encountered and the curiosity about my story and my situation. I have fallen in love with the history that pervades the city, the food that is so close to the food that my Greek mother cooked as we grew up, the beauty of the hills and the cantankerous weather that invades the city, making it feel like you are standing on a small rock in the middle of the ocean.
All of these things about myself and my history intermingle with how I see and photograph. But I am always aware of what arises within me when I take photos and push myself to see more. To pay attention to anything I might be missing (or what everyone else is!)
And so this month I’d like to encourage you to think about what you are choosing to pay attention to when you photograph, and how you choose to represent the subjects you are choosing.
I know this is quite nebulous challenge, but it’s a very powerful process to think – what am I choosing to photograph and why? How will I represent this subject and why? Will I try and dig a little deeper into the person, the situation or the place I am photographing? Will I move through fear or apathy and try to see things a little differently? Will I move beyond my own stereotypes and preconceptions (we all have them) to let the subject live and breathe beyond my subjective gaze?
It’s photographing strangers not just from afar but maybe chatting to them first, hearing their stories (like activist photographer Ruddy Roye I talked about in my Photographing Strangers blog), or observing them for that bit longer that you see more of who they are.
And this is not about being a photojournalist at all. Every photographer regardless of their subject is ‘creating’ an image, creating a perception. And so it’s something we should all be involved in – regardless of if we are photographing flowers, landscapes, people or our family.
It’s a really beautiful thing to take photos and it’s wonderful to choose to be actively engaged in the world – using your voice and shaping perception.
This might be something you don’t think beginners need to think about. But I would say this is relevant for everyone. It’s for anyone who takes photos and shows them to the world – either sharing them by social media or to friends.
And really the most important thing about all this is that it’s about focusing on connecting – rather than disconnecting. Using the power and the licence you have as a photographer and a human being to make more connections in this world for you and those who see your work – and not less.
So the next time you are out taking photos just ask yourself – what, why and how will you be photographing today?
I would love to know what you think – and how you choose what to photograph.
This week we are launching a celebration of super simple ideas that will a create super-sized impact on your compositions.
One abidingly strong concept in all of my teachings is to help people get beyond the ordinary in their photos, beyond the obvious shot that everyone else is taking, and into the extra-ordinary.
Over the years I have developed several different techniques to help people and so over the next couple of days I want to explore some of these techniques in more depth. My desire is that you can walk away with some really awesome ideas to practise with straightaway (maybe even this weekend!).
And this is because – as my regular readers know – I really believe that prioritising your creative practice is something that significantly contributes to having an awesomely interesting, amazing life. Although you might regret those delicious beers you knocked back at that fun party last night, or the abundance of hours spent working last week so you missed your kids’ bedtimes – no-one regrets going out with their camera to explore, to examine the world and to let their creativity have free rein. It’s like money in the bank for a happy life.
So anything that motivates you to get out the house (even on a bitterly cold morning) is what I most want to do for you.
And now to the first of my great techniques, which I am going to explore in depth today.
Have you ever had those moments when you’re perusing the back of your camera (a.k.a. chimping) and wondered why that amazing shot that you thought was going to be, well, AMAZING, just isn’t.
Your exposure was right – check; white balance – check; aperture – check; shutter – check. Lens…hmm. Let’s see. Lens? Yes, I shot with the right lens. If you are shooting competently and things are still not working out like you would want them to, I have a great piece of advice for you.
There is a tool in your kit that people rarely use to full advantage. You may not go out with your camera some days – but you will always have this tool with you. I’m talking about your feet. At first they may not seem like critical kit but let me assure you – they are. And here’s why.
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams
If you ever had the awesome experience of watching a pro shoot, you will notice a common character trait they all share. They move, a lot. They are trying to get their movement and positioning just perfect. Now we all move and position ourselves when photographing but what a pro knows and you may not, is the exact spot to be for the best shot. (OK – so maybe we can’t all be as elegant as this guy, but you know, just keep it moving).
Knowing where to be is part of creating an attractive background, of getting a great angle in a portrait, and something of interest in a landscape foreground. These can all be fixed by your position – where you are in relation to your subject.
It can happen like this (and I see it happen on almost every workshop of mine). You spot the shot and think great, that’s a great shot, hurrah! You raise your camera and capture the moment. Then you bow your head to view your prize and …what the hell happened? That’s not what I saw in my head. What I have is, well, a dud. Boring and not quite what you literally had “in mind”.
So what went wrong? It is highly likely you were in the wrong spot. Think of it this way – for every image that you “see” there is going to be one, and just one, perfect spot to get that image. And finding that sacred spot requires you to move your feet almost every time.
Positioning mistakes and cures
1. When you see a subject at a distance
Ever done this? You’re walking along and up ahead you see a really interesting subject sitting on a crate smoking a cigar against a red wall, a beautiful cliche and you must have it (I would). You are still approaching and still haven’t passed her yet, and better still, she hasn’t seen you! What a opportunity, you think.. You take the shot before she notices. Later your chimping and thinking “eh…It’s ok” but not what I saw.
So what happened? Position happened. And this time your position was wrong due to – fear. You let your fear get the better of you and you made a panic shot. Think of the shots you would be able to take if you’d engaged her and started to chat or just smile and point at your camera. You could stand in front of her and kneel, you could get close ups of her face and expressions. The possibilities are endless if you overcame your fear and got closer.
Robert Capa said – “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you are not close enough.”
2. Zoom zoom zoom
If you constantly put your camera to your eye, then zoom, you are almost certainly not in the right spot. That’s not how to use a zoom lens in my opinion. A lot has been said about primes vs zoom lens regarding quality, weight, coating and other tech stuff, but what I find is the biggest failing of the zoom lens is they make you lazy. They don’t demand you move. It can bring your subject to you. Right? Wrong. Most of the time this is just wrong. It is one of the reasons your great shot was a dud. Seeing an image in the mind’s eye is the image you want to capture. It is. Trust me. When you zoom perspective is changed, the angle is changed, along with depth and supporting environmental elements. The list is long. I’m not saying zooms are bad, they just can make you lazy.
I own one zoom and I love it. But I probably don’t use it the same way as you do. I have a really good understanding of focal lengths. What 35mm will get me. What a 17mm is going to capture. So when I am using my lovely zoom I don’t go through the whole range of focal lengths (17-40m) when I put it to my eye. I know which one I will need and leave it there. Then you know what I do? I move my feet to the position I need to be in.
3. Not taking your time
This happens to us all, believe me. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a situation where things are static and not moving, or going to fly away, take your time and try to see things from all angles. This will make your photos much better if you are making the effort to deconstruct a scene – break down the elements, change the relationship between them using perspective or just stop and THINK about it for a moment. Figure out where you need to be, how high you should be standing and how to eliminate clutter from the background. Make it simple.
4. Just being lazy
Again, this happens a lot. I’m guilty more times then I’d like to admit (good thing I put so many hours into my photography, huh!). It happens like this. You’re tired, bored, hungry (this is the one that gets me), or whatever it is that is making you lazy. But you still want to take photos to make you feel at least you got something, even if it’s just “eh..”. So you come to a scene and you start snapping away, uninspired and restless for some food. Either you should quit for the day or just stop and think and ask yourself: “what if I went over there to see?”
Now for some examples
People spend acres and acres of time and words trying to explain what makes one picture more special than others. Maybe someone has a formula, but I don’t. To me knowing that something is special, getting to that point where you think – oh wow – that is something that a combination of your heart and soul and eyes is telling you. This is something that is just not ordinary any more.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
There is nothing mathematical or technical about that deep stirring inside you that says – yes! – when you see something beautiful or wonderful. So although you can rely on some pretty mathematical and technical concepts to help you get there – rule of thirds, fibonacci numbers, leading lines etc. – in the end it comes down to you pushing yourself to finding a photo that when you capture it on camera, makes your heart pulse that little bit stronger.
So here we are in Paris. It was a beautiful spring morning, lovely light, and I found myself behind Notre Dame Cathedral where there was an array of cherry blossom trees in bloom. Very pretty. So this was my first shot. Pretty nice. But the bench, the sandiness, somewhat lacking impact wouldn’t you agree?
It’s too dark under the tree, it’s like is a vacant hole of un-interestingness.
So here’s my next shot.
Again, perfectly lovely and pretty, but nothing wow about it. Why? There is nice light but there is too much shadow. There is good contrast there – one that I use in a lot of my photos – of contrasting materials. The pale sandy brown permanent solidity of the church against the delicate, pink, joyful impermanence of the flowers. But this contrast is sort of spoiled by the railing and the low angle which brings in too much of the dark path.
And now to the shot I liked. I decided that bringing in other elements wasn’t going to work – I just had to go full on into the prettiness of the trees. That’s where the light was (always follow good light!). And so I like this shot a lot because you have all the loveliness of the flowers contrasting with the dark, strong, old branches of the tree, stretching outwards. Of course there is also the lovely element of the light.
So these three photos are a perfect example of what to do when you’ve found a great subject but everything around it that you are trying to bring into the photo won’t play ball. And so you have to go full on into examining the main subject and see what you can make from that.
These things aren’t always obvious – not even to professional photographers – so always be thinking around your subject – think in 3D!
Let’s now head to East London. Another dawn and I come across this lovely light on this building. Isn’t it pretty? It’s all dappled over this cool looking wall.
But that wasn’t a compelling shot, the building was just not interesting enough. But I don’t like to waste nice light so I went closer.
Oooooh, I liked that much better. I love a wall with interesting textures. You’ve got the paint, the graffiti, the different shades of brick, the glass, the pipes – all these interesting things made quite touchable-looking by this lovely light. Now I could have stopped there..
But one very important thing to know about light is that if it’s doing something interesting to what you are looking at – it’s highly likely to be doing interesting things to many other things around you. Don’t get dazzled by the first bit of lovely light you see, go further and explore.
So I went around to the front of the building and immediately I got a much much better shot.
The low light that had made the back of the building so pretty was now creating a totally different sensation from the front. I love the low shadows of this shot, and there is enough light so that you have this nice cool blue thing going on at the front of the building, with this warm diffused light coming in to contrast it.
I was hanging out with these guys in Istanbul. I liked the dynamic between them, and they both had interesting faces
But I couldn’t get a shot of the two of them that worked.
I decided to focus on the younger man as he was more animated. I felt like that there was further to go with him. So I went in closer.
Almost….am liking the intensity of his eyes.
And then bang, there’s my shot.
When you get the feeling that people are really comfortable in front of the camera (and these people do exist I promise you. I am in fact married to one and my son is one), then just let them be themselves and go for it. Move through any uncomfortable feelings you may have of pointing your camera at them – and remember that most people loved being noticed. It’s a compliment.
One thing I love about London is the random craziness of very old next to very new. And that is often what I’m looking out for, especially in East London and The City. It’s really extreme there.
I was walking around and saw this particular contrast of old church and one of those new ‘temples to business’. And I thought that’s my subject – that old/new contrast. But this came out pretty boring.
And then I tried this:
Better, but still not great, and I am starting to notice that actually there is a better subject in this scene. Can you spot what it is?
Lines and shapes! The church is almost irrelevant. Not quite, but it’s not a subject at all now, but a slightly supporting element.
And you know what? I have been to this particular spot a zillion times and never noticed these cool lines leading up to the cool shapes of those tall shiny buildings.
And now a question for you – do you think the trees enhance or detract from this photo?
One wintry morning I am in Venice on the northern edge of the Island. It’s a beautiful morning, as you can witness from the sky. I am looking out at these interesting things in the water – lights and a little jetty. But so far nothing is striking enough.
I turn my camera inland and start to see more potential. Some nice looking shapes in the water. I can sort of make out that there is some pretty coloured glass in the top of that building. But everything is in shadow, so pretty dull.
I am now seeing that with more light not only would we get something interesting happening on the water, lighting everything up that’s currently in shadow, but there is also that lovely coloured glass. What I am doing here with this scene is anticipating what the light will do, once it rises a bit higher and comes out of the cloud.
About ten minutes later – wowwee, the sun changes everything!
This is a building near my office in Waterloo. I like the boring, repetitiveness of the windows. I saw this shiny piece of building near it and I thought, hmmmmmm……I wonder. But this photo, erh! Too much going on. I see immediately that the tree doesn’t fit with the other elements.
So I try it this way:
I was pretty convinced that I needed to have the criss cross of the railway line in the photo. But now that wall beneath, too much, it doesn’t add. I remove it.
Now I thinking, – no, not quite right either. Do I have to lose that lovely criss cross? It’s too heavy.
But I’m liking the blue of the sky against the little box window shapes. And so finally I arrive at this…
Simple! So you can see the process of refining and removing elements here is really important. If you find an element or two that you like – stick with it. Keep removing things from your composition, keep moving around your subject until you get to something that fits the impact that that element had on you in the first place.
I hope that’s been a helpful demonstration on the importance of always moving, always searching for that killer angle.
It should be an exciting thought for you because it shows that even when you have a great subject and you haven’t got a great photo, there is still buckets of potential to work the scene and find something special.
I would love to know what you think – and if you found this helpful – please comment on my blog below. And of course – please share with anyone who you think would find this useful. Sharing is super useful!
I’ve got another super simple but really impactual idea for you tomorrow! Until then…
Anthony (photo man and ideas) and Diana (wordsmith and Anthony’s concept explainer extraordinaire)
This time last year I wrote a post about how January is a great time to review your work. Now I go one stage further and say – let’s get down to printing them. I realised recently that most people I encounter don’t make prints of their photos any more.
These are people who spend time and money on getting a great camera and capturing beautiful images, maybe even investing time processing to perfect their images. They then leave the images sitting there on their SD cards, hard drives, clouds etc. Don’t, I say! Bring them to life.
I presume that everyone on my list is old enough to remember that feeling of picking up your photos from the printer or pharmacy. The excitement as you go through the photos and seeing what you have. I think it’s actually more exciting than loading up your SD card, because it’s so finite and real. It feels such an achievement.
There is nothing like that tactile, beautiful feeling of a print in your hands. You’re feeling the paper, you’re examining it, you’re holding in front of you that bit longer than you might if you were just passing through hundreds of photos on your computer. You’re seeing it not as an image beamed into your eyeball by light, but from the light that is reflecting and bouncing off the print. It’s a very different ‘seeing’ quality.
It’s a bit like having a room with lots of bookshelves packed with books – you don’t need all those books, but they are wonderful to have – emitting an aura of comfort, beauty and knowledge that feels good to be around.
Prints do the same thing. Coming across a pile of old photos is a wonderful way to interrupt a day of tidying, to remind you of people, experiences, times, places. I mean – if you’d forgotten about that amazing morning fifteen years ago when you watched the sunrise with your girlfriend over a beach in California – how can you search for it on your computer?!?
There are also so many great reasons to print your work that go beyond it being a fun thing to do. Here are some of them:
You can never say for sure if your files are safe
One of the fathers of the internet, Vint Cerf, said recently that we should be printing out everything we want to keep, as it’s totally possible that the internet will go through a digital dark age where vast swathes of information will be lost. Right…
Plus there is a thing called…Bit rot. Which is:
“a slow deterioration of software performance over time or its diminishing responsiveness that will eventually lead to software becoming faulty, unusable.” Wikipedia
Which sounds awful, right? Keep that bit rot away from me and my photos!
Because life changes all the time, and so does software
File applications change all the time – how do you know you’ll be able to access your files in 20 or 30 years? Storage, cloud systems – all of that will change. Google may be ubiquitous now, but who knows what’s around the corner? For now I really like their cloud storage system. You can search your photos by visual clues. I use Dropbox for some storage and sharing, but again – who know what’s in store for any of these companies? And how about Facebook – I read their computers are in California – earthquake country!
OK, so I don’t think there is any need to panic. BUT let us just be aware that these computers aren’t infallible. And what we do know about photos printed on photo paper is that they last! We have photographs that are still around 150 years after they were printed.
Helps you view how your photography is progressing
When choosing photos for his books Elliott Erwitt lays a bunch of prints on the floor, then gets up somewhere high and looks at the flow of the photos. I’ve done this many times when I put a portfolio together, and it’s immensely satisfying. You can use it to help see if you are telling a story well, if your photo project is developing nicely, how your work is generally progressing.
And – don’t just print because there is a good outcome or purpose. Do it for the fun and joy of it.
Printing will help you with your editing, which in turn will make you a better, more aware and accurate photographer. Any process of reviewing your work is excellent training for your eye. When you have to cull a mass of images down to your very best you learn a lot about your work.
The best way to edit your images? Do it with a friend whose eye you respect. It’s essential to get feedback on your work as photographers are notorious for not spotting their best images. We’re often too close to it for true and proper objectivity.
Maybe it’s something like getting a photo book done for special collections of your work (your child’s first year, your tour of Tanzania, a project you worked on). The books don’t cost a huge amount and yet they will be a wonderful way to keep your work and to show people. And Lightroom has an export to Blurb option now.
And if you’d like some help with creating a photo project for possible book-printing, here’s a post I also wrote last January about How to Plan Your Photo Project.
Don’t worry about just printing the best
Print a selection. Print things you just love the memory of even if they’re not amazing. Get to know your work in this physical way.
An idea for you…
Ansel Adams said that: “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” So how about you go through your images from last year and pick twelve to print (or 6, the amount doesn’t matter). I think that would be an awesome way to start the year – inspire yourself with your own creativity.
Join my free How to Print Facebook Live on Weds 19th Nov. Register by emailing Diana for details firstname.lastname@example.org
How I print
I don’t know about high street places, I can’t attest to their quality. But here’s what I do:
For every-day printing, for clients and for some exhibition prints I use my inkjet.
I sometimes process my own colour film, usually when I have used a special colour process – and I do this at my studio.
I use Metro Imaging in London for most of my other film processing and printing. (Metro now have quicker kiosk option, which I haven’t used as I usually get C-Types, but I would think they would be much better than the cheaper high street options.) A couple of years ago Metro printed for me some killer, massive prints for me on vinyl for my Homeless World Cup project. They were like giant post-it notes. It was amazing, and it took on the texture of the wall behind it. Totally different from the C-Type prints I usually hang at exhibitions. They can print on almost any surface nowadays – see the fun you can have now with prints!
When I hand-print my work (from both film and digital), which I do for tricky prints or certain exhibitions, I go to Photofusion, which has a great colour and black and white darkroom. Photofusion also do art printing and it’s a bit cheaper than Metro.
Unrelated to printing, but interesting things I’ve been looking at this week:
I really loved this book about the photographer JR, who does these epic crazy street portrait projects – forcing us to ‘look at each other’. His Women are Heroes’ project photographed women who are “dealing with the effects of war, poverty, violence, and oppression”, and he then posted giants photos of their faces and eyes amongst the buildings all over the world. This photo is interesting too, a 150ft photo of a newly arrived immigrant to New York, pasted onto the floor. I like how, with imagination and fun, photography can do share super interesting and challenging ideas.
New Year’s Resolutions are useless, says me. But this list of 16 ideas to live by from some of history’s greatest minds is brilliant, and from the always awesome site that is Brain Pickings.
This is cool – Fabian Oefner’s incredible images of chemicals and colour – like a close up of marbles of oil paint suspended in water and methylated spirits.
So that’s it! I would LOVE to know if you are going to get some of your work printed. Reply to my email or comment on my blog. I LOVE hearing from you, thank you for taking the time.
And please do share my post with anyone you think might be interested in this 🙂