It might sound strange to suggest that painters can teach us anything about photography.
I believe, though, that any creative pursuit springs from the same space within us – whether it’s photography, writing, painting or even making exquisitely beautiful cakes.
Creativity comes from a desire to express ourselves, to verbalize our experiences, thoughts, ideas and what fascinates us about the world.
The ways we express ourselves are merely our personal preferences, but the fact that we choose to create, that is a universal desire and, what I would argue, is also a need.
In keeping myself motivated as a photographer I love to look for inspiration from all across the creative spectrum.
I like to take the advice of my favourite photographer Ernst Haas in this, when he recommended to:
“refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
Not only do I love Van Gogh’s paintings, but I love how he talks about being an artist. I feel he expresses that desire to see the world in a new way so uniquely.
I liked too how he wrote very simply of the life-giving qualities of being creative.
Today I wanted to indulge in his brilliance and see what we can draw from his life to help us with our photography.
1. We are all deeply creative
“Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” Van Gogh
I have met too many people who say they aren’t creative types or arty types. And yet they have a huge desire to create, to be people who make things.
That desire is enough. That fire within is enough to take you to where you need to go with your photography.
2. The strange magic of creation
“What is drawing? How does one get there? It’s working one’s way through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How can one get through that wall? — since hammering on it doesn’t help at all. In my view, one must undermine the wall and grind through it slowly and patiently.” Van Gogh
I love this quote. It shows some of that strange magic that is involved in the act of creativity, but also the grind of just doing the work.
Sometimes I don’t know where my images come from. I just know my role is to show up, push through discomfort when it arises and keep going.
3. Paying attention to your subject changes what it is
“It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper meaning.” Van Gogh
When you look deeply at a subject it starts to transform into other things.
Perhaps it becomes intertwined with your imagination, your memories, and thoughts. Your imagination transforming it from one thing to another.
Perhaps it changes because as you look, really look at something, you notice its many facets, its individual details, its many elements. It becomes less a part of a whole, and more a whole world in itself.
4. We all need to be courageous
“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? Van Gogh
I need this stapled to my forehead sometimes. I feel that my life requires a lot of courage, often. I’ve chosen a different path to others, so I see what this would be. When I overcome fear and feel courageous, wow, it’s an amazing feeling. When I succumb to fear and am not courageous, then, yes, it doesn’t feel great. But the mere act of attempting courageous acts induces a lot of creative energy within me.
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore” Van Gogh
5. Taking photos is the most important thing I can do
I wonder if it’s my age, but my desire to create photographs feels in some ways more urgent than when I was younger. Maybe urgent is the wrong word. It feels more essential than it ever has.
When I was younger taking photos was a deep pleasure, it was fun, it was adventurous! I have loved all of my work and projects and learning.
But there is something about getting older when you see with starker and starker clarity what is essential to your life and what is unnecessary filler.
I want to only fill my life now with things that are essential to my being. That makes me proud, that push me to be a better person, that help me grow and learn and help me experience the world in beautiful new dimensions.
6. Kill self-doubt with action
This connects to my last post about how we all need creative pursuits in our lives. I love this quote of Van Gogh’s:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Self-doubt is the enemy of creativity, and it’s one we all face. But self-doubt only controls us if we let it. If we plough on regardless, self-doubt is eradicated by taking action.
7. When we are seeking to do what we love, life is complete
“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.” Van Gogh
This is the true test for me of a good life – are we in it with all of our hearts? I like to think I am in mine, and like family, photography is a natural conduit to living in a wholehearted, connected way.
So I hope these are some nice thoughts for you, giving you some inspiration for your photo practice.
I’d like to leave with one last quote from the great man, one I have quoted several times before on my blog, but is always a good reminder for me:
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” Van Gogh
So there is no reason not to do things. The time to do things is now, regardless of where you are and what you don’t know (yet.)
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I’m from California, but I now live in Andalucia, Spain with my beautiful family. I came to Europe to shoot London twenty years ago for my first book, London at Dawn, and stayed to create a series of books and exhibitions on Cities at Dawn. I run my business with my wife Diana who is a writer and marketing genius. My projects and work have been featured on The Guardian, BBC World, French Photo Magazine, The Economist, CNN, Atlas Obscura and Digital Photographer. As well as sharing my knowledge and passion for photography in regular articles + videos I also run photo workshops around the world and inspiring live online classes.
Today I’m sharing some interesting ideas that I think will help you leap into a good photo practice if you are stuck in a rut or struggling to get inspired.
1. Photography should always bring you joy
A few days ago, we were having lunch with some friends and one of them mentioned how his photography education had been quite a joyless experience. There was such a focus on what wasn’t working with the students’ work, and what needed to work better, that it sucked all the enjoyment out of taking photos.
I can see that too in some of the emails we get – people worried about their lack of skill or experience, worried they haven’t got far enough or berating themselves for not using their camera more.
To all of this I want to say – Stop. Just stop.
Photography – and the act of creating anything – should not a be negative or endlessly difficult experience. No way. If we are weaving this beautiful practice into our lives, don’t we want it to be fun?
Of course, there is challenge and difficulty in any creative practice, and there are hurdles to overcome. There are the forces of boredom, the procrastination to deal with. Naturally, there is the need to put in effort and learn things you find difficult.
But ultimately, it should bring something wonderful into your life.
2. Find your good photos – and hang them on your wall
When you want to get good at something, it’s important to build positive momentum. Which means you have to recognise your progress and all the good photos you are taking – not just those which need to be improved.
Photos should be living, breathing things – adorning your house, given as gifts, made into books, posters, prints – whatever you desire for them. Don’t let the images that you work so hard to take languish on your memory cards or hard drives.
We love the joy and fun of Self Publish, Be Happy – the photo organisation dedicated to you taking control of your work and putting it out there.
Why not enter your best photos into the Sony World Photo Awards. It’s one of the few comps you can enter free – so risk-free. Just go!
3. Look for people whose ideas and work fascinate you
I was reading about Tina Modotti recently, admiring her famous photo of a worker’s hands.I love to explore the lives of artists who are lesser known or whose work has fallen out of fashion.
In reading about her, I then came to Edward Weston, from whom Modotti learnt much of her craft. Modotti was actually only one of two female photographers who were very significant in Weston’s life.
Edward Weston is considered one of the masters of twentieth century photography. He made his still lives of cabbage leaves, peppers and shells incredibly emotive and sensual.
Margrethe Mather, was once the most famous female photographer in America but appears to have been almost forgotten. She played an important role in Weston’s life, teaching him and developing his interest in photographing still lives of shells, flowers and everyday objects.
After Mather, Modotti came into Weston’s life, and he taught her much of the craft of photography. They moved to Mexico together in the 1920’s and she became increasingly interested in documenting the social and political world of Mexico City.
Her short career (she died aged 45) was prolific. In her work she was innovative, and she mixed her fine art sensibilities with her strong social conscience. Tina Modotti Photos
Ideas & resources:
I loved this incredible collection of images Of Love & War from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, where the stories of unbearable human tragedy are weaved interchangeably through images of resilience of the human spirit.
I am rarely a fan of contemporary street photography. The abundance of comedic images often feel empty. To me, photos need to give me something more substantive – a little idea about being human, a glimpse of a story, a feeling. But I do love cities, and I love to explore them. So to expand my awareness of the possibilities of this genre, I have ordered the updated edition of Bystander – A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, a collection of some of the most interesting street photography going back to the 19th century.
4. Commit to your progress
I remember when Anthony bought his first digital camera and started to practise using it alongside his film cameras. I was shocked by the results – they were dreadful.
Possibly it was the new world of digital cameras as they weren’t as good as now – but it was also that it was a whole new system for him to learn. I admired that he jumped in head first and spent hours and hours learning and perfecting.
Even now I often find him watching YouTube videos or reading articles about different techniques. I remember when he started really getting into HDR he’d be reading and practising, unswayed by his initial mediocre results.
While it’s obviously necessary to keep up with technology as a professional photographer, one thing that I have learnt from Anthony that I try to remember in my own work is to not get impatient with the learning journey.
Anthony starts learning something and keeps going. He starts out with no skill, keeps practising over time, is never in a great rush, and eventually gets to the proficiency he seeks.
He accomplished exactly this when learning about editing for our new video course, and he did it with time lapses and little videos that he wanted to make of his travels.
He is patient with himself – and this is what I’d like to share with you. So many people get frustrated with their progress, expecting to make massive leaps immediately. I do. Always. I am impatient, I am in a rush.
But learning is an every day, every year, lifetime experience.
Take pleasure in the learning journey. Recognise that you will get to where you want to go. Consistent incremental progress will get you everywhere.
“Leisure, is not the same as the absence of activity… or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness.” Josef Pieper
If I were to have a goal right now, it would be to bring more space and silence into my life. Because I know when I am not working or distracted or doing, then I will naturally turn to the act of creating.
You have to create the environment around you that will help you do the things you love to do.
For me, it’s – turn off my phone, log off my laptop and be alone. That’s all I need.
For Anthony, it’s often having enough energy and time to get up before dawn and go out. So exercising, and early nights.
It is different for everyone – the point is to know about what environment you need to create to take photos, and to make sure you have that in your life on a regular basis.
Everything that is within us comes out in our photography, or writing, or creative practice.
When we are in deep creative flow, we are untethered from what others think of us: lying on the ground taking that shot, or asking that stranger for a portrait, or spending months photographing beautiful feathers because they are just so interesting to us.
But when we are showing people our images, all that is unique about ourselves can suddenly feel vulnerable. And let’s be honest, for all the yes, that’s great, we are so much more sensitive to criticism.
I have developed more of a thick skin over the years, but what made me filter criticism more vigorously was when Brene Brown said she won’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t putting themselves out there and doing something themselves.
It’s easy to just sit there and critique. But to say – this is who I am and this is what I’ve made is actually pretty brave. Even if it’s just putting your photos on social media or getting them printed to show to friends, it’s a brave act to reveal your work.
If you want to truly be creative, you have to unhook yourself from the judgements of others – and commit to that.
Ideas & resources:
A recent favourite photo project of Anthony’s was The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen. Anthony saw the exhibition during our Arles workshop in the summer, and brought home the book. It’s an in-depth exploration into the lives of men who think they are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
The photography is stunning, but made much more poignant accompanied by the men’s stories and teachings. Bendiksen’s approach is very respectful – as this could have turned into a giant comedy project. Instead, he gained the trust of his subjects and brought their lives and worlds vividly to life.
7. Drop the self criticism
Strangely, though, it’s often not what others think that is so destructive to our creativity. It is our own personal inner voice that scuppers our work.
“Were we to meet this figure socially, as it were, this accusatory character, this internal critic, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him. That he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout of some catastrophe. And we would be right.”
“Nothing makes us more critical, more confounded — more suspicious, or appalled, or even mildly amused — than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism; that we should be less impressed by it. Or at least that self-criticism should cease to have the hold over us that it does.”
How about doing something radical in 2019 and just completely and totally dropping the self-criticism? Instead of beration – think celebration. Instead of worrying about where you need to go, celebrate where you are at.
Print the photos. Enjoy your photography. Let it take you places you had no idea you wanted to go.
8. The power of surrendering to the world
Let’s be honest, so much of our lives are lived on the surface. It’s looking at things in the same way, doing the same things – not questioning the status quo. Our own personal status quo, our families or our cultures, how we work and what we do with our free time.
Travelling has given me a new perspective on habit and routine. I see now, truly see, that the maxim ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is 100% true.
So travel won’t take you out of habits, out of your routines of thinking and doing, and help you experience the world anew unless you allow it to.
If your thoughts are – things should be like this and like that, which I most certainly suffer from, you will have a similar experience whether you travel or stay at home.
You have to surrender that certainty and those thoughts about who you are and how things should be.
Nothing is certain, nothing is 100%. You have to allow travel and new experiences to change you. You have to unhook your habit and see what emerges.
Surrender to the new experience – allowing all of the new sensations to be alive in your body, even if this involves fear. Especially if it involves fear.
Trying to hold on to habits or preformed ideas you have about yourself and the world because you feel fear will block the potential for so many new enlivening experiences that could be dancing around in your life.
As Anthony and I are in mid-life, we are attempting to buck the trend – to consciously go in the opposite direction to where we are expected to be, in order to open up more possibilities.
It takes a lot of effort and overcoming of fears to become more of who we can be. But it’s an exhilarating experience of what life can become – and when you do it can elevate your creativity beyond your wildest imagination.
9. Find ways to be amazingly inspired on a regular basis
There is a sensation that I feel when I know I am deep in a creative flow state. I realise that somehow my worries or things I have been going over and over in my mind – although still there – seem to have shrunk.
I also notice that there is a beautiful, light feeling within me.
This is not an everyday state for me – yet. But it is a state that I’m trying to bring more into my life. One way I do this is meditating regularly which helps to ‘declutter’ my busy mind from excessive thoughts – and that’s the best way I can describe the benefits.
Meditating gives me space to be more thoughtful and creative, rather than obsessing over how we are getting to the airport tomorrow or wondering if Anthony called the accountant like I asked him to.
Another way is to fill my life with things that are deeply inspiring.
When I was in London I would take regular trips to the woods near us on the outer edges of West London. It’s scientifically proven that seeing trees every day (I think seeing at least 14 trees is the magic number) improves your mental health.
I can attest that whenever I found life too stressful, spending time in the woods would alleviate so much anxiety.
It’s what the Japanese call forest bathing – or Shinrin-yoku.
(And did you know that trees have feelings, families and communities that they communicate with? The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book proposing this new understanding of tree life.)
Anthony and I have found being by the sea intensely inspiring this year.
The vast expanse of it is so hypnotic. Some days it’s beautifully calm and still, translucent so you can see the sea floor. And then it’s wild and angry. Deep green with big waves, telling us all to keep away.
As Lord Byron said “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Incidentally, trees and the sea are both subjects Anthony has done photo projects on. A decade ago it was his project on trees, Arboreal Dreams, and this year his ongoing work on the sea where we live, which has the working title of Meditations.
10. Give up what binds your creativity
I am addicted to Facebook. There I said it. I admitted it to the world. Why do I need to say this out loud? Because it angers me that it almost seems like an unconscious act that, having put my daughter to bed, I fire up Facebook and suddenly realise an hour has disappeared from my life.
If I came off Facebook full of joy and ideas and inspiration then, hey, it’d be an hour well spent. But really, no-one expects to say that it makes me happy, right?
I don’t want to get into should’s though. I should be doing something else, I should be being productive, I should be better in every way. That to me just leads to the above point of intense self-criticism.
I would, however, like to give myself the time to potentially pick up my pen, to commit to what I love to do, to make progress on another book I have been writing for over a year now. That would be awesome.
So I am going to become Facebook-free.
I am going to remove just one thing from my life as the new year gets under way, and that’s the thing that binds me the most, and keeps me away from creating.
We all have things that impinge on taking photos or being creative. What is yours?
I hope you have enjoyed those ideas and they ignite something within you that will help your photography. Let us know in the comments below.
Read more of our articles …
One of my favourite articles was about Ara Guler. He was a phenomenal photographer – as you can see in the documentary about him – The Eye of Istanbul. I also deeply, deeply love Istanbul. It might be my favourite city in the world. Or how about these:
“Ask yourself what is really important. Have the wisdom and the courage to build your life around your answer.” Lee Jampolsky
Today I want to share some of my thoughts as well as some cool quotes I’ve collected that capture why Havana and the country of Cuba is one of my favourite places to photograph.
For me Cuba ignites one of the principles that guides me so much now, especially as I get older and move away from accumulating things.
I work instead to have experiences that will deepen my connection to life. That will speak to my soul, and make me feel more alive.
The energy of Havana, the beauty of the country, help me drink in all that life has to offer us. To live in the moment, to celebrate what life is. And that makes me want to create!
As soon as you land in Havana you find incredible things to photograph. The colours of the buildings, the architecture, the light – which in January is beautiful all day – combined with the friendliness of the people, mean you’ll probably be snapping photos in the taxi from the airport.
So here are 19 reasons why I think Cuba will blow your creative mind. Some are thoughts from others who know and love Cuba, and some are my thoughts.
“Don’t come here with a long list of questions. Just arrive with an open mind and prepare for a long, slow seduction.” Lonely Planet
“In Cuba and specifically in Havana there’s a sort of energy that turns every situation into something unexpected.” Fernando Perez
“Havana still looks like you want it to look. Or maybe just how I want it to look. What was once one of the wealthiest cities in Latin America, left to the elements, left to collapse, was frozen gloriously in time. In fits and starts Cuba is changing.” Anthony Bourdain
“No one could have invented Havana. It’s too audacious, too contradictory, and – despite 50 years of withering neglect – too damned beautiful.” Lonely Planet
“However you feel about the government, however you feel about the last 55 years, there aren’t any places in the world that look like this. I mean, it’s utterly enchanting.” Anthony Bourdain
I love the fantastic, inventive street art that you might find on a crumbling colonial building, in a square filled with football-playing kids or outside a bar that is vibrating with the unmistakable beat of Cuban music.
“As an American, Cuba is one of those places that’s forbidden…and magical.” Rebecca Whistle
“Havana seduces the visitor with her good looks, her steamy weather, chrome-festooned American cars, zesty cocktails, pretty buildings, heart-stopping Afro-Cuban beats and hip-swivelling, story-telling, garrulous locals. With her bedrock layered with Spanish empire treasure, slave-fuelled sugar wealth and a heavy top coating of communism, Havana is simply one of the world’s most exciting, confusing and compelling capitals.” Time Out
“Every day above earth is a good day.” From The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, written in Cuba
“The beautiful Cuban capital is finally coming in from the cold … a wave of optimism and creativity is unleashed.”Lydia Bell
The complexity….Cuba is not an easy place, this is definitely not Disney World! It’s not straightforward and easy to understand. It has its own logic, its own life. And part of what makes it a magical place is because you are thrown into the unknown.
Delicious fruits &veggies….I had some of the best fruit and vegetables I’ve ever eaten, in Cuba, which surprised me no end! There are daily markets where people bring the foods they grow in municipal gardens or from the local farms.
“Artists and photographers with international acclaim (stellar painters such as Roberto Diago, Yoan Capote, Kcho and Roberto Fabelo) are like rock stars in Cuba, where successful creativity is still ahead of entrepreneurship in the bank balance stakes.” The Guardian
Local Artists….I loved meeting local artists, musicians and creatives as they are changing the perceptions of their country, and produce fabulous art.
“Havana is an enchanting and captivating city, with the twists and turns of its compelling history and rich culture laid bare in the surprising diversity of its architecture and kaleidoscope of citizens.” Rough Guides
“Cubans are incredibly resourceful…they use everything until its last breath.”
The music…. is wonderful. It sounds clichéd but it’s true that there is live music and dancing everywhere, out on the streets, in the dark rum-filled bars and spilling out of clubs. The music scene is infectious.
The Paladares – the local restaurants in people’s houses. One of the best meals we had on our last workshop was a simply cooked roast chicken with an array of fresh salad that was made for us by our friend Carmen in her home. Very cool experience.
“Havana is one of the great cities of the world, sublimely tawdry yet stubbornly graceful, like tarnished chrome – a city, as a young Winston Churchill once wrote, where ‘anything might happen.’ ” Jonathan Miles
I hope those were some tantalising ideas for you.
If you’re planning a trip to Cuba, or would like to join us on a photo workshop. I want to tell you – Cuba is the photographic adventure of a lifetime!
It’s everything you’ve heard, and then some.
My next next photography adventure will be running this coming January 2020.
On this workshop I will:
Help you overcome any fear of photographing strangers (and there are tonnes of amazing street photography opportunities in Havana at all times of the day.)
Use my friends and local contacts to immediately make you feel welcome and looked after.
I help you avoid the obvious – and dive into the local, the intriguing and the most interesting and exciting places within the city.
Show you the great iconic views as well as areas off the beaten path, and into the back streets of the city.
We will shoot both the dawn and the evening blue hours. And take our shooting into the night. Havana is the best low light city I have ever been to.
Most of all I want to help you develop your personal vision of Havana – to create photos that you will be proud of.
I only take small groups so that I can give you lots of personalised teaching. I want to make sure you come back with a stunning portfolio that will be enchanting for your friends and family.
My team and I will also help you smoothly journey through the country, as Cuba can be a challenging place as a traveller.
And some of these are the same challenges the Cuban people face everyday of their lives – a lack of infrastructure, spotty public transport, bad internet (not so bad when you can find it!)
Bring your camera and your spirit to Cuba!
What I promise for this workshop is that having filled your time with such beauty, adventure and creation, you return completely refreshed and energised for your life. With new ideas and new ways of thinking. And a beautiful portfolio to boot!
Have an awesome day and, of course, any questions just let me know.
Anthony and Diana
Photographing the unique beauty of Cuba: January 20th – 27th 2020
Workshop fee: £3,567 GBP
Approximately – $4,479 US / 4,037 Euros.
Please check with your bank or your payment provider for today’s exchange rates.
Join me for a trip to the mesmerising, complex and beautiful tropical city of Havana for the photography adventure of a lifetime.
I was out walking and shooting this morning. I got up around 5.30am and after drinking coffee I headed straight out.
It was cold and dark as I closed the door — the smell of the sea air permeating the air, and I breathed in deeply. It’s a beautiful thing to experience, and I always, always feel grateful that I have got up and out the house.
The coast here is a series of bays, with big cliffs and rock formations jutting out into the sea. It’s up to those places, with their boulders of primeval rock, and looking down onto the undulating blue-green waves, that I love to walk.
Sometimes I just sit and look out across the vast velvet blanket of water, smelling the earthy pine of the trees that plant themselves precipitously close to the edges of the cliffs.
I walked through the empty beach-side streets, and walked up and up to get to the wide sweeping views, across the bays below and to the towns far, far beyond mine. I was waiting for the sunrise, for that slow melodic dawning of light, which seems to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Being in this moment, of morning, of feeling the energy of the night turning into day, I feel ready for the day. It’s something I love to do, as a daily practise almost, as I so enjoy sharing my experiences as a photography teacher and artist.
I often wonder if I should be getting up so early. It means that I sacrifice the end of my day, wilting like a flower around 9pm, and am only really good for light activities like reading.
But I know, too, that this rhythm of being here at the day’s beginning and the rhythm it forges within me of being creative is what I am really here on this earth for.
Being creative is a commitment we make to living a deeper life. It’s not just the odd hours or moments when we do photography. Being creative permeates everything we do; it makes everything more invigorating and feel more connected.
Have a wonderful day — wherever you are doing and wherever you are. Let me know what you thought of these photos in the comments, appreciate your feedback 🙂
Anthony and Diana
“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” Vincent Van Gogh
Last week I found myself once again in beautiful Venice having a wonderful time teaching fellow photographers all about the way I do photography.
The weather was good and springy, if not cold, and the light was fantastic.
February is Carnevale time and my workshop coincided with the final weekend. And boy was it busy…but busy in a good way. The city was alive with beauty and the strange. Costumed phantoms and Ladies of the court from begone days strolled the narrow streets, posed by gondolas and let everyone photograph them. And everyone did.
I have never seen so many photographers in my life. Usually, I don’t find the crunch of hundreds of other togs fun, but fun it was! Watching the pros and beginners all having such a good time (some togs were a bit too serious) wandering the city and finding the exotic everywhere to photograph.
Venice is a very special place at any time but during the Carnevale it is outstanding.
Want to join me in Venice next year for my next photo workshop? Email Diana and she’ll let you know as soon as the list opens! Diana@anthonyepes.com
I don’t like to have complicated goals in my life. But I do like to have a vision for my life that I follow each year.
Last year I was focused on expanding my skills, starting a brand new photo project and getting more feedback on my artwork. Did I achieve that? I did mostly, but not in the way that I thought I would.
I like the unexpected elements of life, and when new opportunities for creative growth appear, I have learnt to embrace them.
My favourite selfie of the year!
I also learnt some tremendous new skills – not the ones I actually intended to learn, but ones that will massively help my journey as an artist.
Normally around New Year I like to pick out my favourite images of the year and show these. But 2018 was such an unusual year for us, with projects dominating my focus rather than singular images, that I am choosing the things, rather than the photos, that have made the biggest impact to me photographically.
Three things I am most proud of creating in 2018:
New Photo Project: Sea Meditations
I have never lived by the sea before. Something pretty profound seems to shift in me being so close to water all the time. We fall asleep at night hearing the waves – which sound sometimes gentle and calming, and at other times roaring with energy.
Full moon at night
I have loved witnessing the daily change in the sea, its changing colours, feeling, textures and energy. Of course, everything I love I want to photograph. So over the year I have been photographing the sea for a new project.
This is such a different project to ones I’ve worked on in the past couple of decades. It also reflects where I am at in my life. I am in a more reflective, meditative state of mind right now. I love connecting my energy to the natural world all around me here – and this project truly reflects that.
New Photo course: The Art of The Image
I’m not going to lie – creating this course kicked my butt! It was a steep learning journey that took me two years to work up the courage to attempt. And, of course, I wanted The Art of The Image to be magnificent.
I knew I wanted to create something that would be creatively unique – and would take people on a deeper artistic journey with their photography. I knew that it would take all of my attention, my passion and my skills.
And you know what – I think I have done a good job. Well, that’s what I am being told by the students on the course (Phew!)
I have to say I am extremely proud of this course. I rose to the challenge – even when it felt like an impossible task. And I created something that people have benefited from. Pretty grateful for that experience.
3. New home: Southern Spain
Di and I never intended to come to Spain. It wasn’t on our list of must-go-to places. But life – and our children – had other plans for us, and it involved this gorgeous little area of Spain.
This place has opened up so many avenues of inspiration for me photographically. Of course, it’s beautiful to be by the sea, and it’s super relaxing. But the area is intensely rich for photographic opportunities.
From little mountain villages that make you feel like you are back in the 1950’s, to the gorgeous seascapes, to the buzzy city and hip street art of Malaga, to the pine-scented walks through the forests and vast landscapes to capture, to the beauty of the Moorish architecture of Granada made more mesmerizing by the rich orange sunsets.
There are so many opportunities for compelling photographs, and every time I am out exploring I am blown away by the possibilities – which will lead me later into telling you about the new workshop we have created in Andalucia.
But first, a question for you:
What did you create in 2018 that you are proud of?
It could be one thing, or three like me. Or more.
It could be one solo photo or a project or something you’ve learnt or mastered.
It doesn’t matter what it is. What is important is the time to reflect on what we have done with our time (not always thinking about what we haven’t done).
Now let’s move onto this year ahead: What will you create in 2019?
This has to be my favourite photo of my daughter this year
We now have a fresh clear run where we can create whatever we want. Yes, whatever we want.
We can dream and imagine and create anything. So:
Who will you photograph?
What will you photograph?
Where will you go?
What will you learn? Perhaps you’ll start shooting on manual? Or learn more about HDR? Or work to improve your composition.
Maybe it’s time to take a class at your local college, join a photo club, buy a book, watch videos.
What will be the outcomes for your photography? Perhaps you’ll make a book of your images? You’ll start a project? You’ll take portraits of your family, or print your work for your wall. Maybe you’ll start a blog?
This is such a good time to ruminate on what your photographic vision can be for 2019.
Even if it’s just saying – once a month I’ll take an afternoon to go explore my area and take photos. Or I’ll photograph the everyday life of my dog.
Here are the things I want to create in 2019:
Finish my Sea Meditation project and have it exhibited
Last year I met two people who have become part of my art team. They are challenging my vision of my work, bringing new ideas flooding into my photography and helping me take it to exciting new places.
This year is the year then that I will bring my new work into the world. With the help of my new team I have some exciting plans – and I will commit time and energy into making it happen.
I haven’t had an exhibition in a couple of years now and I have to say I miss it. (It’s so exhilarating to see your work out there in the world, being looked at and experienced by strangers.)
Create a library of inspiring courses for people
Creating my first online recorded course, which is where most of my personal learning came in, has been thrilling. It is now my intention to focus on building a fantastic library of online courses – so that you can access my teachings easily and affordably wherever you are in the world.
Aside from getting good reviews (aren’t we all a little susceptible to praise?) one of the most joyful things for me about creating The Art of The Image is seeing the progress people are making. As the lessons go on and people post their images, I can see that they are making brilliant leaps in their photography.
That is so inspiring to see. To know that I created something that is helping people (again, love the praise!) but also for people to see the possibility of making such significant progress with their photography when they make a commitment to learn and practice.
And it’s not just me saying: take my course. You should choose the way to work that works best for you – for example, if you prefer to learn through books. (My favourite photo website for technical advice has just updated their book Understanding your Camera, which I thoroughly recommend.)
Support Di’s launch of her book – The Everyday Art of Living a Creative Life
The person I turn to when I am in need of inspiration is Di. She is like a fountain of inspiring energy – and in our circle, she is the person many people turn to seek clarity and new ideas on their work and projects. So I am going to create the environment for her to book to excel.
So much of our work – my work – is driven by or inspired by Di’s ideas. So I want to make sure that this book comes into the world and she can share her ideas on a wider scale. Because she is my wife, I can be shameless and say you’ll definitely love her book.
So again with the questions – what are you going to create in 2019?
Where will your photography take you?
I would love to know – let us below.
Now for some exciting news – Di and I have developed a brand new workshop focused around our new home.
This workshop is going to take in the best of the area of Andalusia where we live (sea, mountains, whitewashed villages, Granada, street photography in Malaga…) but it also is going to be a creative retreat where I teach you many of the advanced composition and technical skills I use every day in my photography.
We’ll be shooting lots of different locations, using many genres of photography. Every day I’ll be teaching you new skills to make the best of each location.
Some of the subjects will be quiet and meditative and beautiful (shooting the sea, walking through forests, exploring the dappled light, capturing the landscapes and mountains).
Some will be more intense and busy – capturing the street art and urban life of Malaga, creating interesting photos of the Moorish architecture of Granada, exploring mountain village life and finding portraits.
We’ll do night shooting, dawn shoots, we’ll go out at dusk for the rich, beautiful light of Southern Spain.
Each day we will be doing feedback and sharing sessions so you can see how other people approached the same subject, generating within you new ideas and ways of seeing.
At the end of the workshop, you will have an incredible portfolio of images, five of which I will have professionally printed for you and shipped to your home.
Early bird price – £1,477 (Includes tuition & transport within Andalucia) Regular price – £1,847
The aim of this workshop is to develop your personal artistic vision and style. To delve into your inner artist.
I will provide you with a multitude of subjects that will challenge you to learn and develop new skills, to see that anything can be your subject when approached with the mindset of an artist (the gas stations on the highway, the sunset on the ocean, the church in the warm sunset of Granada.)
I will be giving a very diverse selection of subjects which will challenge you.
We’ll be shooting for several hours a day, with the rest of the time spent learning new techniques, developing your creative vision for your photography and reviewing your images.
We will be photographing:
Street photography, urban architecture and the street art of Malaga
Beautiful seascapes, nature and beauty of the Costa Tropical (where I live!)
The industrial outskirts of Granada – juxtaposing the abandoned theme parks and vast architectural warehouses with the magnificence of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (the area reminds me of Ernst Haas’ New Mexico work)
Grandeur, history, windy streets and the Moorish architecture of Granada at sunset
Exploring the lost village of El Acebuchal
Capturing the pretty Spanish mountain villages around Granada
Creating compelling landscapes around of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
During the workshop, you’ll be processing your images with me giving you lessons, tips and techniques so you fully get to grips with processing and where it can take you artistically.
You will leave the workshop with at least 5 finished images which I will have printed at my favourite London printer, and shipped to you after the workshop ends (how much fun will that package be to open?)
This intensive workshop will help you dive deep into your creative self and develop a stronger, more unique photographic vision.
From beginners to experienced photographers – you can all benefit from this intensive, fun and challenging workshop where we can all share knowledge, feedback and experiences.
Some of the highlights of this workshop are:
You’ll learn how to tell stories with your images
You’ll learn how to develop a personal creative vision of your photography
I’ll fill in the gaps of your technical knowledge – giving presentations as well as plentiful demonstrations as we are out shooting
We’ll do in-depth processing so you can make your images the very best
We’ll use the multitude of subjects around us to discover new aspects to your photography
You’ll learn professional lessons on creating images in a variety of genres
You will leave with many new skills – plus a new portfolio of images
The workshop will use our village of La Herradura, which is by the sea, as our base (we are an hour east of Malaga) from which we will explore and take many trips.
We’ll be using my beachfront apartment for our teaching sessions, critiquing and processing.
There are a number of places to stay in our beach town – from great little hotels & B&B’s, to airbnb apartments. More details are on our workshop page.
It was once the world’s most dangerous walk, tiny walkways clinging to the hills with 100-metre drops, but after the renovations, it now offers stunning views across beautiful gorges and valleys. It was fun walking over the moving walkways and feeling the deep stillness of nature.
Of course, I want to record the beauty we experienced, so most of the photos today are from this walk.
Di and I are working on a post about the colour blue (coming hot on the heels of our blog about the colour purple.)
I am a great lover of colour. I talk about it all the time. Almost as much as I talk about how much I love light (and we’ve had great discussions over on our online course about colour these past few weeks.)
In our explorations around the colour blue, we’ve been reading about the artist Yves Klein.
Klein was obsessed with creating the purest blue that had ever existed, so he created his own – called ‘International Klein Blue’. This blue doesn’t absorb green or red light, and so keeps an intensity of blue that he felt hadn’t existed before.
Talking about blue – this was our beach this morning after a storm last night. It was beautiful.
It’s a super fascinating story – and there have been many other artists and people who have wanted to bring the purest colour into fruition in the world.
People get very passionate about colour.
Anish Kapoor, for example, received a lot of flack for buying the exclusive rights to the technology of the ‘blackest black’ called Vantablack. A fellow artist retaliated by producing Pinkest Pink, which he said anyone could buy, except Anish Kapoor.
I discovered the art-fight issue and Yves Klein’s obsession in a very interesting essay by Simon Schama, which includes the story of the Forbes Pigment Collection. I had no idea that there was such obsessiveness about pursuing the potential of colour.
So while we were reading these cool, interesting stories on our journey to learn more about the colour blue, Di came across this quote from Yves Klein:
“May all that emerges from me be beautiful.”
She said – That sounds like something you would say.
And I thought it is. Beauty for me seems to be my primary motivation in taking photos.
We all have a vision of what we want to do with our photography. I have always, always simply wanted to show the world the beautiful things I see.
Of course, beauty for me is my perception of beauty. Other people will have a totally different perception.
It got me thinking about how we when we write about other photographers – Richard Avedon or Ernst Haas, for example – they have seemed to have an overriding purpose to express something quite specific. There seems to be a singular vision that weaves its way into all of their work.
We all see ourselves and our journeys differently as photographers.
This is one of the things we love about writing about other photographers. So I wanted to pick out some of my favourite photographers and tell you what they themselves said was their motivation for taking photos.
Let’s start withAra Güler, whom we wrote about recently: “They call me a photographer, imagine that! Son, I am a historian. I record history.”
And then, for me, Ernst Haasshows how photographers can be poets:
“Bored with obvious reality, I find my fascination in transforming it into a subjective point of view.
Without touching my subject I want to come to the moment when, through pure concentration of seeing, the composed picture becomes more made than taken.
Without a descriptive caption to justify its existence, it will speak for itself – less descriptive, more creative; less informative, more suggestive; less prose, more poetry.”
If I am to align myself to any one vision – it would be that of Haas. Because, for me, the world is so much about light, colour, shape, motion, feeling and texture. That is what I experience when I step out into the world.
With Elliott Erwitt it becomes about noticing the strange and wonderful things we humans do…
“You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.” Elliott Erwitt
Even though he is famous for being a war photographer, Don McCullin wants now to be remembered as a landscape photographer. What I like is his philosophy that:
“Every day to me is an opportunity is to discover something new, not just about myself but about the planet that I live on.” Don McCullin
The power of remembering, that we can all be explorers, discovering things even if it’s in our own backyard.
Gordon Parks captured powerful images that carry messages about social justice and humanity. I think photography can often be a more impactful medium than writing in many ways:
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” Gordon Parks
We can also use photography as a way to bring life into complete focus:
“Does not the very word ‘creative’ mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act – rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective? Living photography is positive in its approach, it sings a song of life – not death.”Berenice Abbott
Or to tell stories….
Sebastião Salgado said: “I’m not an artist. An artist makes an object. Me, it’s not an object, I work in history, I’m a storyteller.”
Or to comment or express what we are seeing in the world, and reformulate it with our own ideas…
“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” Cindy Sherman
Personally, I feel I am an artist. That is the ‘label’ I identify with the most. I think because it feels then like I have more licence to just create with my imagination. To not be confined. But really, labels are not significant. It’s your passion that counts.
I can find beauty in nature, in people, in buildings but also in the trash on the street or in broken and peeling walls – I often find it in grafetti.
I don’t see beauty everywhere – but there is the possibility to see it in anything.
I want to ask you now: what do you want to speak about in your photography? What is motivating and inspiring you?
I’d love to know if you’ve thought about what moves you. What gets you excited to take photos?
Is it something you are conscious of?
I’d love to know – tell us below.
We’ll be back in a few days with our exploration into the colour blue.
Now – I’ll leave you with one last quote, which made us quite happy:
“Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” Gordon Parks
I spend a lot of time shooting at dawn. I have created several projects around the cities at dawn theme. I love the light, the emptiness and the serenity of the hours around sunrise.
People often say to me about my dawn escapades – Oh I could never do that. I’m too much of a night owl! Or I really really need my sleep. I could never get up before dawn!
What I know about myself is that I am both of these things – a night owl who intensely dislikes going to bed. And a cat-like person who relishes sleep like, well, a cat.
But what I also know is that all of this, and most of what I am, is habit. And habit can be broken if you want something enough.
“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge” Henry van Dyke
Did you know that something like 70-80% of the thoughts you will have today you also had yesterday? How crazy is that? And that 95% of who you are – your habits, beliefs, personality etc. is set by the age of 35 (unless you make an effort to change). That’s even crazier than crazy. That’s plain scary.
And this is a big but. Science has discovered recently that actually your mind has the ability to totally reinvent itself – if you so desire.
And the reason I LOVE this idea is that we find out how it can affect us creatively. So I thought it would be cool to tell you some of the ideas that have totally blown my mind and inspired me (and none of them are about photography directly. But you can find inspiration anywhere.)
Remember – we don’t have to buy into our ideas about ourselves which limit our creativity.
So here are some ideas that are all about unleashing the creativity that’s deep inside us:
1. Life is long (if you know how to use it)
“The part of life we really live is small. For all the rest of existence is not life, but merely time.”
Seneca’s essay ‘On the Shortness of Life: Life is Long if You Know How to Use it’ is fascinating.
The concept is in the title, but you can also read the text which offers up more wisdom. Tim Ferriss has the full text on his website, and very helpfully he has also bolded out certain bits of the text if you only have a few minutes and want a quick read.
2. Curate your own life
There is nothing like one of Jason’s Silva’s shot in the arm two-minute videos to electrify you with inspiration. This talk I particularly love because he talks about how you don’t have to let life happen to you – you can instead curate your own life exactly how you want it to be.
3. Your mind is made of playdoh (well, almost)
When I grew up, the prevailing scientific thought was that our brain was fixed at a certain age and brains couldn’t be repaired or changed. That theory has now been blown to pieces and the concept of neuroplasticity is now gaining widespread acceptance.
“New research shows many aspects of the brain remain changeable (or “plastic”) even into adulthood.” Wikipedia
That is an amazing thought. So instead of being hardwired and unchangeable, our brains can still develop new neural pathways, we can still change how we think and what we believe, we can still learn new things – all the way into old age.
Lucky us right?
Have a look at this article, highly interesting stuff!: Neuroplasticity: You Can Teach An Old Brain New Tricks.
4. Start from where you are
A little while ago we received a comment on our site which to me was very touching:
“I had put away my camera 2 years ago because of my own pressure to achieve great pictures. With all the technology that’s to hand now I often feel over saturated with images, and don’t think that my photos are any good.”
And it made me realise that so many people get stuck (including me) because we get overwhelmed and our expectations of ourselves are not high enough to overcome them (or we get stuck in perfectionism, which if it has you in its embrace is a crushing vice to creativity).
To counter this, as well as to help you jet-fuel your search for your own passion, I fully advocate the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, who is a very funny, brilliant guy and his talks about education are awe-inspiring (and changed the trajectory of my family’s life). He has a brilliant talk about passion aimed at all ages.
“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” – Jack Gilbert quoted in Big Magic a great book about ‘creative living beyond fear’.
5. What fear does to your life when you avoid doing what you want
Ok, I am slightly going to step into the morbid here, only to inspire you though, promise! This article about the book – The Five Top Regrets of the Dying – is incredibly moving. But it also clarifies how much we need to pay attention to the time we have on this earth – relishing, enjoying and experiencing as much as we can. Carpe Diem! When I’m getting weighed down with irritation about stupid, irrelevant stuff I read this.
On a lighter note, this article about John Gardner’s book ‘Self-Renewal’, on the chronically interesting site Brainpickings about What Children Can Teach Us About Risk, Failure, and Personal Growth – is super inspiring. We could all learn a lot from kids about being brave with our creativity (as I do daily with my kids).
6. We are all creative geniuses
For a long time most cultures (and some still do believe this) believed that creativity and genius came not from you but some other source (god, your subconscious, your higher self, the universe etc.) I like this theory because it takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?
So the theory works like this – all you need to do is get out of the way and allow this force that’s within you to do the creating. Awesome huh? Elizabeth Gilbert did a cool Ted talk on this.
7. And I will leave you with something both funny and beautiful
This is not directly related to creativity, but it is a wonderful, funny and powerful short film. Anything that can spread joy and put you in a good mood is always good for your creative juices right!?
It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen all year. Please watch it, it’s only 7 minutes long: Merci.
So – the guy in the video is a bodhisattva and he uses the power that is within all of us to affect everyone around him. It wasn’t magic, he realised his innate power, a power that everyone has, and brought joy to people’s lives.
I will leave you there. I hope those are some cool ideas for you. I would LOVE to know what you think – and if you have some mind-blowing inspiring ideas of your own.
Let us know below.
Anthony & Diana
Lessons from legendary photographer Ara Güler ‘The Eye of Istanbul’
”Art is something important, but the history of humanity is more important, and that is what press photographers record. We are the eyes of the world. We see on behalf of other people.
We collect the visual history of today’s earth. To me, visual history is more important than art. The function of photography is to leave documentation for coming centuries.” Ara Güler
Last night I watched a documentary about the Turkish photographer Ara Güler, called The Eye of Istanbul. He died recently at the age of 90 and I wanted to reflect a little on his life today, as he had much to teach us about photography and living life with passion and purpose.
I truly admire Güler’swork, particularly of Istanbul in the 1950’s and 60’s. He has a particular style of capturing the feeling and atmosphere of a place that I find exciting and compelling.
When I was in Istanbul a few years ago I bought Vanished Colours, a beautiful book of his early colour photography, again all photographed around Istanbul (the documentary is called after his nickname, as he spent so much of his life photographing the city.)
I also love to share the work of people who have lived lives that have followed a deep and meaningful passion. Of people who have chosen a different path in life, and worked hard to make it successful.
As the only child of a pharmacy owner, Ara Güler could have stayed safe and taken over the family business. But he chose to follow an interest for theatre, into film and then finally photography.
He makes me want to work harder and go deeper with my photography. I feel encouraged when I see the range of his work, as he travelled all over the world, photographing everything from ancient ruins, film stars to war zones. But I love that he had this constant subject: the changing city around him.
I admit Istanbul is one of my favourite cities on earth. I find the place endlessly fascinating and could spend many more months of my life exploring it.
As someone who also photographs cities Güler is an obvious person for me to explore, although his approach is very different to mine, as his interest is people within the city, and the city is the backdrop. So much so that he said:
“A picture of a landscape is not a photograph. A photograph is not the capturing of a beautiful sunset or the like. When I look at a photograph I should be able to see what it is telling me. Does it have a story? That’s it. A photograph starts from there.”
His interest is the human condition, the lives that people are living. You can sense the ease with which he was able to be with people, make them feel comfortable, his patience and ability to engage people so he captures authentic emotion.
Professor of Photography, Mehmet Bayhan, describe Güler as:
“Looking for social layers and traces as much as any sociologist.”
I like that he uses the city in his photograph as part of the story. He is photographing people, but within the context of their location, to tell us more about who these people are and their experiences of life.
A famous quote of Güler’s is:
“When I’m taking a picture of Aya Sofia, what counts is the person passing by who stands for life.”
The fishermen in their tiny boat contrasting against the monumental mosque behind. The grandeur of the mosque, and the epic sunlight are not significant when you have fish to catch.
Gülertalks about when he is standing at a big monument or mosque he will be looking for signs of human life – the person selling the flowers, the man cleaning the steps.
It is how the people are living that is important to him.
Bring sincerity to your photos of people
“Sincerity is perhaps the most basic concept that brings Magnum and Ara Güler together. People-focused, but also entailing sincere emotions when approaching people.” Kimar Firat, Mimar Sinan University
I really like this point – that the incessant curiosity he brought to his photographs of people was coming from a place of sincere interest. Not voyeurism or superiority. But a desire to connect with his subjects and show a moment of truth about their lives.
In a world that feels sometimes so intensely divided, it feels imperative for us photographers to use the power of our medium to connect people – rather than separate them. To tell the unique stories of people’s lives, which are really universal stories for us all. We are not all that different.
“We could say that photography is the only language in the world that everyone can understand. You look at a picture and you get the message. Ara is one of those photographers who connected the whole world to his photographs.” Photographer Bruno Barbey
There is something very beautiful about the look of old colour film
The colours are different to what we see in film now. Combined with the subject of a city that has so dramatically changed, it gives such a wonderful quality of feeling to the images.
“Since we are men of the heart we are looking for something else in life.” Güler
To me I feel to step away from the ‘normal life tasks’, even if it’s only for an evening or a few days, is to release yourself from the things that seem to propel us into living life on autopilot.
I have been thinking about this recently. I had a conversation with a friend who told me that weeks of his life seem to run endlessly into others, to be so similar that time seems to pass without being noticed.
That made me feel sad. I know that I have had such times in my life, but to succumb completely to routine and habit is to dull the senses so much that you could argue you are barely living.
Moving beyond what feels easy and normal will awaken your mind and spirit, it will put your brain on high alert to the new situations, and that slows down time. When you are really, deeply, truly concentrating on something – life seems to come into sharp focus, so that you are totally present, totally aware of the task or new place you are in.
What brings you deep satisfaction? And how can you do it more?
Güler describes in the documentary an imagined scenario of when he once saw two chairs on the bank of a river, which happened to be facing over the water in opposite directions.
He imagines a story of lost love, of lovers being separated, of ships sailing past taking people away. It was fascinating because the photo is simply of two chairs, not facing each other. But there is another sense, another feeling about this photo that makes it more than just a photo of chairs.
That is because, I believe, of the feelings that Güler had whilst taking the photo. They are somehow imbued in the photo itself.
Güler said of the photo: “This is my most romantic shot.” And that after imagining this sad, romantic story, that yes, “you can photograph sorrow.”
This all about engaging our imaginations in our photos. It’s not just photographing things at face value. It’s allowing your imagination free reign to create scenarios and ideas so that your photos have other dimensions that are maybe not obvious to the viewer, but create a deep feeling within the photo.
When I talk about my photos I often say things like: It looked to me like a post-apocalyptic world and so I shot it with those ideas in mind or It reminded me of the light I would watch when laying on my parents’ bed as a child.
The resulting photos are then imbued with some of the feelings I had – maybe of wonder, nostalgia, fear – about the stories I had created of what I had seen.
“AraGüler is one of the philosophers of our era. We can see this in his images that have a poetic quality.” Actor, Şener Şen
Photography can be a form of visual poetry. It can take us to magical, faraway places. It can provoke day dreams and ideas, it can take us back in time to the feeling of somewhere we knew well…or not at all.
Photography is an incredible medium, because regardless of if you agree with my or Güler’s ideas about photography – you can always create something of your very own with it.
I have been photographing Istanbul four years. I exhibited some of my work of the city a few years back in London, but I am continuing to build my story of the city. It will soon become a book, and at the moment I am also making a short film about my impressions Istanbul, as I continue to go back year after year to explore and see more of this mesmerising city.
You can read about my experiences over the past few years:
Each year I run a photography workshop for a small group of people in Istanbul, the next one coming up this April. I love to take people to all of my favourite spots to shoot – to explore hidden neighbourhoods, to watch the sunrise over the city, capturing the majestic mosques and views at dawn.
I love to take people wandering through the narrow streets, meeting people as we go and photographing the busy, bustling city that has layer upon layer of history embedded in this magical place.
I love to show people the amazing hospitality and food of the Istanbulites, the friendliness and welcome of the locals. Its a workshop full of long walks through diverse neighbourhoods, a lot of fun, beautiful food and of course incredible photography.
Journeying up the Bosphourous, capturing the sunset on the Asian side of the city and standing in awe at the majesty of the Blue Mosque at dawn. Come join me for an adventure for all the senses.
We will be there during the Tulip Festival in spring when 30 million bulbs are planted all over the city, and the vibrant colours and displays fill Istanbul with incredible colours.
This workshop is now 6 days, so we can see even more. Limited to 6 people. You can find out more and reserve one of the last spots on this workshop here.
From my last workshop – exploring, photographing and critiquing our images.
That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into old Istanbul. Let me know what you think below. It’s always fantastic to hear from you.
I hope you are doing well and having a great week. I recently got back from Morocco. I ran our first workshop there and it was pretty stunning. The group, the locations, the atmosphere and, of course, the photography.
My favourite place in Morocco so far is Chefchaouen, the little blue-wash town, high up in the Rif mountains.
It’s an intensely peaceful place – the air is fresh, the light is beautiful and the feeling of being cut off from the world in the stunning mountains is so creatively enriching.
I am now back in southern Spain for a few weeks. Although I am working very long days at the moment, I am very much appreciating the views of the sea and the hills surrounding our little town.
This morning a huge storm swept into our bay – feeling a little as if it came out of nowhere. All of a sudden torrential rain was pouring from the skies, turning the usually calm blue sea fierce green.
The sky was filled with wild, thick grey and white clouds, layering and swirling and towering over the mountains that stretch up from the sea and our little town beneath it.
It was pretty special to watch. Nature displaying her strength and beauty.
So let’s kick off with today’s subject. I want to talk about how giving and receiving feedback on your images can radically improve your photography – and how to go about it.
This post has been inspired by the new photo-feedback site ARS launched by photographer Eric Kim and his team that I recently read about and tested out for myself.
Once you have registered you are invited to rate a series of anonymous, randomly selected images.
You can add a written critique, or not. But you have to decide to ‘Keep’ or ‘Ditch’ every image you see. By rating images, you then build up the credit to have your own rated. This is a feature which I like, as so many people are happy to hear about their work, but not necessarily to repay the favour.
I’ve been reading Eric Kim’s blog for a while now. I admire his generosity in sharing his knowledge about photography, living a creative life and building a photo-based business.
I feel ‘creatively fed’ when I read his articles, and they inspire Di and I to push ourselves more to talk about what we most believe in. Some good posts of Kim’s:
There are many skills that we need to have as photographers and creative people, that go beyond just taking that photo.
Developing stories and projects
Developing the mindset of a photographer by being present and ‘seeing’ more of the world around us
Learning the technical aspects of our cameras – to the level we feel comfortable with
Staying motivated so that we can get out of our warm beds on a beautiful winter’s morning – or helping us overcome our fears so we take a photo of that intriguing person walking past us
Being inspired and finding subjects that deeply move us
Learning about processing! Digital or film take your pick. So that your photos don’t languish on a memory card or film roll
Learning to analyse your photos, which develops your ability to ‘see’ better shots
Analysing your photos, and other people’s, is one of the key ways to radically improve your photos, and all professional photographers do it.
Joel Meyerowitz talks about the intense analysis he would do every day of his images when he started taking photos.
“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.”
It’s a simple formula, right? Take the photos, analyse them for what works and doesn’t, then repeat and gradually over time you refine your abilities to see and capture better and better images.
Why we all need feedback
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” Frank A. Clark
We are too emotionally involved with our images
A tense moment in our household is often when we are going through my images from a trip. Di and I will go through my images and she will say – no, no, no, no, maybe, yes.
And even though I know intellectually she has to not like some of my images, and we aren’t always going to like the same ones, it can be a very unpleasant experience hearing what she really thinks of my photographs.
Our photographs are an expression of ourselves, of what we love, what we have noticed, what we find interesting, who we are. So we get attached to the photos we take. It’s natural.
But just because we love certain images – does that mean the world will too?
Usually, it is the job of people who love us to say they love everything we do.
In a way I am lucky that Di doesn’t just say – oh, these are lovely darling – and not be super critical – because otherwise I would be left with a huge pile of mediocre photos and not refine them down to my very best.
And that’s what we want – to get to our very best, and to become our very best. Getting better doesn’t mean being amazing all the way along. Getting better means failing a lot, taking terrible photos, and gradually over time learning to take better ones.
It’s hard to see how to improve our images
“A very subtle difference can make the picture or not.” Annie Leibovitz
When I am critiquing my students’ work I might say: I think if you had got closer the shot would have been better, or if you had waited for the light to change you would have created a more interesting atmosphere.
Sometimes it can be very simple things that, because you were too immersed in the situation, you hadn’t thought of.
By continuously reaching out and hearing feedback, you will start to notice patterns in what is not working in your images. For example, a frequent mistake in photographing strangers is not getting close enough – letting fear hold you back.
Or, for one of my students, it was not paying attention to the quality of light – so she was shooting a lot in hard, midday sunlight which created very hard shadows on the faces of her subjects. Not the best.
The more feedback you get, the more you can see patterns in what people say about your images. You can then choose to act on these – or not. Because, just because someone says something, doesn’t mean they’re right….
Filter the feedback
It doesn’t matter who is giving the feedback – the owner of an art gallery, your best friend, or an anonymous person online – you have to remember that people are 100% subjective in their opinions of photographs.
That’s not a reason to be belligerent and ignore what people say, but it’s just to be aware and not take everything super personally.
Contemplate the feedback, see if you can pick up patterns, then choose if the ideas that people are saying seem right to you.
When I put this photo on ARS, an image that has been featured in an exhibition and tonnes of press, the most common piece of feedback was that it was too dark.
That could be many people’s opinions, but I personally love it as is, so will leave it.
There were photos of mine that I posted on ARS that were low-rated (the cover of my London book for example. I shot I love) but there were my two favourite photos from last year that were high rated, which I was stoked about. These were images I thought would have an impact as stand-alone photos.
You have to accept all critiques gracefully and gratefully – and see what you can find that is helpful for you in your journey.
Filter what you hear through your experience, knowledge and desires for your work. But listen first with an open mind, and don’t cut people off because they disagree with you.
There will always be people who don’t like your photos. Nothing you can do about that. And that’s totally cool.
I’ve had photos that have made me thousands of pounds through print sales and image licencing that I have received bad feedback on from all kinds of sources (editors, gallerists, friends and Di!)
The important thing here, though, is that you are learning about how to receive feedback, how to hear and pick out the ideas that will help you improve and develop a personal vision of your photography.
Getting feedback (and choosing what to follow and what to discard) is a huge part of developing your own skills and style.
“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Elbert Hubbard
“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” Ansel Adams
The next part of the feedback is giving feedback. And to me this is a skill that most people neglect. It’s so much more fun, right, to hear what people have to say about you?
Here I want to talk you through why it’s important, what you can learn and how to go about giving constructive feedback.
Giving feedback is an excellent way to improve your photos!
I have seriously developed my analytical skills over the past 7 years by working with hundreds of photographers on their images, on my workshops. That, in turn, has given me a whole new set of skills that has elevated my photography.
It has helped me become more aware of what I love to photograph, and it helps me make more of my time when I am taking photos. I always knew what I loved to photograph, but it was a more subconscious feeling that drove me.
Now I feel more aware of not just what I love, but where I want to go on my journey as a photographer.
It’s knowing, too, that sometimes the photos you love evoke nothing for other people, and that’s OK. It’s about developing your own understanding about what photography means to you.
Giving feedback exercises your imagination
When faced with a boring photo which you have to comment on – you really need to engage all of your knowledge and experience. To produce ideas about what could have been for that photo, you have to turn on your brain and create!
When faced with a photo that could have worked but doesn’t – your imagination and visualisation skills kick in, so try to imagine and articulate what the photographer could have done better.
I encourage you to use ARS to develop your analytical skills in this way. Don’t just do the ‘Keep’ or ‘Ditch’ button; really look at the photo and think in detail of how it could be improved or why you like the image.
You will learn a tremendous amount about what drives and inspires you as a photographer by looking at other people’s work. You will also see your prejudices and foibles too.
For example, I have no great love for macro photography, but when faced with it I need to see beyond my preconceived ideas and look at what the inherent qualities of the photo are.
It’s not just photos you don’t like you need to examine – but photos you do! Picking apart a photo you don’t like, and reimaging it better, is one skill. To examine photos you love brings in other skills – why did you love it, what is it about the photo that has made you think/feel/imagine/desire/awaken/shocked you?
Looking at other photographer’s work will feed your creative mind
When I look at photographers I love, I might see elements that I could be inspired to bring into my photography, however subtle.
Use of light or colour, ambience, mood, a particular subject. To surround yourself with creative things that pique your interest is intensely fruitful for your photography.
Giving feedback is just as important to the process – maybe even more so – that getting feedback
You learn more about your own style by examining how other people’s approach and how they see the world, and consequently you yourself will learn to see more openly.
Giving feedback solidifies your own learning about photography – one of the best ways to remember something is to teach it to someone else. Repetition leads to remembering.
You are put in the position of identifying how you would have approached a subject, which could potentially open up new ideas about what you want to photograph.
Challenge yourself to find something in every photo to comment on. When you are faced with a photo that you really don’t like, you have to dig deep into your knowledge and imagination in order to provide constructive criticism.
Be aware that there is no wrong interpretation of a photograph – we are human beings. We have our experiences and interests and likes.
Believing in our personal vision is important if we are to develop as photographers. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how you feel about a photograph.
Ideas for giving feedback
I like to start by taking in the photo as a whole
It’s not just about technical examination and it not just about feeling – it’s about how all of the elements in a photograph work together.
So what do you think and feel on the first look? That immediate first impression will make up most of your analysis.
Trust your instincts when you are looking at images. What does your gut tell you? What is the photo saying to you.
When giving feedback speak about the impact the photo makes on you, what thoughts or ideas it sparks. It’s amazing to hear what your work makes people think of.
It’s fascinating to see your photo from another person’s perspective.
2) Then break down the photo. Ask yourself:
What is the subject? Is there more than one? Where is the subject placed?
How is it composed? What is interesting/uninteresting about the composition?
What is the photograph trying to express? What are the ideas it means to convey
3) How could this photo be improved?
What are the technical skills that you would use to improve the photo?
What are the compositional skills?
What are the seeing / feeling skills?
How would you have approached this subject?
What about the photographer’s position or angle?
For example, if you see a photo that feels lifeless and boring, you might get the sense that the photographer is not excited by the subject. So the advice might be – get in front of a subject that excites you!
4) What do you like about this photo?
Highlight the things that are successful in the shot if you can
All forms of creativity are subjective
I read some time ago that the famous writer Doris Lessing submitted a novel anonymously to her publisher with whom she had already had several books published. The book was rejected and caused a bit of a scandal about subjectivity in the book world.
It just shows that a famous name clearly carries a lot weight, but also that we are all subjective creatures. What floats my boat may not float yours.
It’s why writers are repeatedly rejected and then hit upon one publisher who turns their novels into best sellers.
I hope this has given you some ideas about giving and getting feedback. I like to think that when we build our skills in the thing we love to do – we enhance all aspects of our lives.
I found the process of giving and getting feedback on ARS exciting. I’d love to know if you use this site, or other sites to get feedback on your work.
How has giving and receiving feedback helped (or hindered?) your photography?
Let us know by commenting below.
Have a great week and happy photographing,
Anthony and Diana
Cats on my camera bag in Istanbul!
You are an artist (even if you don’t think you are)
A lot of people ask me – how do I know if my photos are any good? And will I ever get any better?
Before I started teaching my workshops, I would have said no, probably not.
I honestly wondered whether amateur photographers could get any better.
I was carrying around this idea that the ability to ‘see’ interesting photos was a natural ability, a natural inclination almost, and if you didn’t have it, you couldn’t be taught it.
If you can’t ‘see’ good images, then you’ll never get anywhere.
I talked to my wife about it and she responded:“Can’t you just teach people how to see then? You taught me how to see.”
And that stopped me in my tracks.
You see, Ihadtaught my wife to ‘see’. When we met she was the most intensely dreamy person who lived totally in her head.
But now, after spending time together, she’ll often point out interesting light to me! She notices her surroundings, colours and textures in a really compelling way.
She also edits my work, my books and projects, pulling selections together for press, for this blog and to send to our print buyers.
She has developed an amazing eye, by being inadvertently taught by me.
“You’re right”,I joked.“If you can do it, anyone can!”
After which she threw a pillow at my head.
I realised then that as a teacher my job was not only to show you how to see, but to demonstrate techniques so you can develop these skills of ‘seeing’ great photos – for yourself.
I don’t want to replicate my photo style in hundreds of people.
I want you to find out what is unique and special about you, your passions – to help you develop what is unique and special about your photography.
That is what is exciting to me, revealing the artist that is innately within you, that is within all of us.
And when it comes directly from you, the culmination of your experience, your life and passions, your unique way of seeing the world – that is artistry.
Which is why everything about my workshops is about showing you how you can be the very best photographer you can be.
Not by copying my style – but with us working together and finding the most effective way to express who you are.
Of course I have all the technical knowledge to pass on, to make it as easy as possible for you to feel confident and at ease with your camera.
Because I know you can be great. I know that everyone has inside of them the potential to be an artist, to tell stories, to be able to express themselves confidently with their camera.
And I know a lot of people have doubts about themselves. You might think you have reached the limit of your skill.
You wonder – are you even any good?
But what has drawn you to photography is the fact that you are a visual person.
That you are not prepared to let life drift past, you want to stop it, examine it, see it, capture it.
To find interesting ways to show the world what isfascinating.
We have been in Morocco for over a month now. I have been having an incredible time, I am honored to be staying in this beautiful town and sharing the daily life of the community.
Getting to know the local shopkeepers, going out each morning to buy Moroccan pancakes and churros from a couple who make them in their tiny home shop.
Seeing the wonder and awe in my city-raised-kids’ faces when we encounter goats eating fig leaves on the streets, or wandering sheep on our walks in the hills surrounding the town.
Seeing how the local women help my wife when she’s buying food at the market, the kids on our street who have embraced my kids and the men that I talk to in bad Spanish as I wander around looking at the beautiful light falling on flower pots, clotheslines or on the wonderfully textured buildings.
This is why I love to stay in places for weeks at a time. Tofeela place, toknowit. So that I can translate that into my photos.
Exploring the backstreets of Chefchaouen at night, where the old lamplights create beautiful shadows on the blue and greenwashed walls of the old buildings, smelling the scent of woodsmoke in the fresh mountain air.
Morocco has been a mesmerising adventure.
Anthony and Diana
This was me out at dawn a few days ago. That’s the little street we are staying on. It’s so pretty.
To be a good photographer you need to live the vast spectrum of human experience
“Your days pass like rainbows, like a flash of lightning, like a star at dawn. Your life is short. How can you quarrel?” Buddha
Last night I arrived in Istanbul. I was greeted by a sultry, warm city. As we drove through the dark streets, illuminated by the many cafes and little shops, and into the ancient part of the city, Sultanahmet, I had to pinch myself. What a feeling of aliveness this city has.
Whilst I am in Istanbul my family has moved back to our little base in Spain. We have all felt the sting of displacement as we wave goodbye to my children’s sacred grandmother, and the large extended family and friends’ circle in England.
We weighed up the ups and downs of moving. Displacement is hard for children, hard too for us. But ultimately we pick Spain to be a base for us because of the incredible freedom we find here.
We know, too, that being human involves a whole spectrum of experiences – that sometimes the most incredible ones are also laced with sadness or the feeling of challenge.
In our little town by the beach, with good weather and friendly people, we find the chance to have the kind of family life we only dreamed about in London.
A life where we are in nature every day, where we can smell fresh air, where we can let the children run free. And for ourselves we are not in the thick of the dizzying pace of life of London.
We work hard wherever we are – but here it feels that we have time for life. We are not waiting for life to give us time, we have it right here.
I read an article recently on Brain Pickings about the writer Rainer Maria Rilke, that to me seemed to fit the spirit of where we are all at as a family, but also gave a wonderful insight into what we need as creative people.
He wrote that in order to be a writer (but let’s substitute photographer or any creative pursuit):
“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning.
One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one has long seen coming…
To childhood illness that so strangely began with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars — and it is not yet enough if one may think of all of this.
One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor…
But one must also have been beside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises.”
It’s perhaps obvious to say, and too simple really, that to create something, anything, you must have experienced both the good and the bad in life. The light and the darkness of life feeds our minds and creates ideas.
But it is also saying that there are many other experiences between those highs and lows. The hundreds of train journeys we’ve taken, the nights we’ve held our sleepless baby and looked out onto the street, the darkness punctuated by warm globes of light; the endless washing up and cleaning of our dwellings.
All of our experiences are nourishment for the creative spirit, because:
“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.” Rainer Maria Rilke
So to have a vast spectrum of experiences to draw from is what a rich creative life needs. Who knows what happens when it all gets mixed together in our minds, our histories and thoughts, our ideas and the places we go; what we will pick out of that unique mix, to create the things that we do.
The most important thing, of course, is that we do. We create. We say yes to our creativity.
Those are the thoughts and ideas I wanted to share with you today. I hope they provide something interesting to mull over as you contemplate what you could do with your photography today, tomorrow or in the days ahead.
I think there is this weird idea floating around that creativity is a young person’s game, particularly certain genres of creativity (photography and music for sure). That somehow you are at your peak creatively in your twenties and thirties, and then it’s downhill from then on. I think that’s insane.
Some of us can find the courage for creativity when we are young, and for others it takes years or decades to turn onto this path. Some find creativity but not their voice when they are young, and age brings a settling into themselves and an ability to reveal something unique.
For me as a photographer, I could certainly say that I had a good eye when I was young, that came quite naturally. But it took me many years to find my voice and my style. And longer still to find a place for that in the world.
I would like to say with certainty that the ability to be creative increases as we become older and wiser. It should, given the experiences we build up, but it’s not automatic.
Age can actually bring about the reverse effect, and make us more fearful and less creative. More aware of the passing of time, more aware of what we haven’t achieved (that we thought we should have), more aware of the things we do badly.
“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
I think sometimes it takes effort and focus not to grow ‘too careful’. To remind ourselves that at any point we can create new ideas, new skills, new ways of living and creating.
Age is never something to hold us back. If you don’t do it now, then when? When you are younger? We are all able to bring something new to this world, that will create bursts of recognition and connection with someone else.
Let age bring us the ability to be free instead.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.
Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.
We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” Henry Miller
It just takes courage, even if that courage comes and goes, as it does with most of us. I suppose it’s a little bit like a wave that you ride.
There are many great artists and writers who came to their practise later in life, and still had stunning success. And we can use that to spur us on. But recognition from others shouldn’t be the driver. That’s not the true gift of creativity.
Louise Bourgeois made her greatest work after the age of 80. When she was 84, and an interviewer asked whether she could have made one of her recent works earlier in her career, she replied, “Absolutely not.” When he asked why, she explained, “I was not sophisticated enough.”‘- from The Huffinton Post.
Creativity doesn’t have to have any purpose. It doesn’t have to go anywhere. Of course, if you want it to there is so much to do – the opportunities available to us artists are, I believe, the 21st century’s best gift. (I will write more about that another day)
Creativity is a release from all that ties us to a life that’s lived in habit. It’s a reminder to pay attention to what matters most.
It’s like bursts of interestingness, jolting us awake and out of our ‘to-do list’ and our crazy minds that push us into the future instead of allowing us to live in the present.
And it’s not just about giving yourself something to do when you retire or as a replacement for your job, it’s about weaving into your life a sense of exploration, a way to enhance your life every day. It doesn’t matter what age you come to it (15, 45, 85) because at each point in life you have something to reveal, something to explore.
Creativity is a way to discover who you are underneath of all of the layers that you’ve built up in the noise and distraction of your everyday life.
Creativity is about finding a freedom within your life that is unrelated to achievement or productivity. It’s your mind being released from daily patterns to wander over the vast plains and mystery of life, in way that is completely unique to you. It is about enriching your life, bringing you a deep sense of joy.
But it’s not a freedom whose path comes in a blissful and easy way; it’s not a straightforward process. It can feel uncomfortable, painful even. It can confront you with what you’re hopeless at or ill at ease with.
It can involve vast swathes of boredom, and it certainly isn’t always a joyful thing for me. But it has added a deep, rich layer to my life that makes it feel more fulfilling. It’s the place I go to often to work things out.
“What’s thrilling to me about what’s called technique, I hate to call it that because it sounds like something up your sleeve, but what moves me about it is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices that somebody has made, that take a long time, and keep haunting them.” Diane Arbus
Your creativity is waiting to be revealed right now, and that’s what I want you to remind you of.
“…Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” Anne Lamott
In my younger years I was really caught up with the prestige of commercial photography – getting cool, flashy clients – until I realised that I wasn’t a flashy commercial photographer.
My personality just isn’t suited to that hustling vibe. I like going off and wandering around on my own. I am drawn to my own little adventures and making my own projects, that’s how my creativity works best and that’s how I’ve created my life around.
With age we can release the addictive powers of expectation (if we chose to). You can unmoor yourself from the ferocity of expectation. You can free yourself from how you perceive your life should be, and instead find what is fascinating in what your life actually is.
It takes bravery to step out of the manner in which most of us live and try to look at things in a different way. To look at the morning sunshine and ponder it. To be reminded of the fleeting nature of life and to still look, search, explore and do what makes you truly excited and truly happy. Being creative takes bravery, for sure, but the rewards are beyond measure. It’s never too late.
Couple of interesting other things, age related:
This amazing photo project on older people who’ve taken up things like ballet when they were 80 and now at 94 dance professionally is really cool.
I like this theory that your creativity actually starts to decline from the age of five because you don’t get to use your creative skills so much when you start school: “The scary coda to this story is that by the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives.” So if that’s true then we should be at the same creative level at 20 that we are at at 95! Awesome!
Photographer André Kertész found recognition late in life, but I love that he continued throughout his life to work at what he truly believed in, what interested him and thrilled him. He stayed true to the craft and I love his work, his was amazing a composition.
I would love to hear about what you think. Are you getting more creative? Please let me comment here, or send me an email – I read and love to read them all!
And thanks to Diana, for her extensive help and writing on this week’s blog.
This past spring I turned 50. It was part of a momentous year for our family as Di turned 40 last winter, and last month our son became a teenager. We each entered a new era.
Of course, if that’s what you believe. My mother-in-law said: It’s only because we dictate that it is a new era. Why doesn’t a new era start when you’re 46 ½?
I do actually agree with her. And intellectually I distance myself from the idea that I am any different from last year or even ten years ago. It’s a societal concept, right?
But I can’t deny my body feels a little different, and deep down there has been a shift in how I think about life. I know there isn’t a big clock ticking my life away, but you know, it can feel a little like that sometimes.
Which is probably why I found myself jogging up steep hills at 5am and seriously amping up my workouts.
But it’s still good, right, to keep fit, even if you are being driven a little by a fear of the clock.
(Maybe I shouldn’t say that too loud, I don’t want the fear to hear. Lol!)
What has this got to do with photography might you ask? Everything! Because I think my deep down fear could drive me in two ways – it could make me feel worried and anxious about ageing. Or it can drive me into being braver with my life right now.
Being more honest, not worrying so much about little things, allowing the journey to just take me where I need to go.
And so I continue to seek new ways to live and be creative.
I’ve been watching some of Jason Silva’s videos this – and some of his ideas really stood out. They make me think that these are relevant to me as a photographer and person trying to stay on the right side of brave.
The first idea that inspired me was from a video Why are we all so unhappy? Silva talks about how some of us have more resources than we historically thought humanly possible – and yet we are at our least happy, most stressed and actually most dissatisfied with our lives. Is it because humans are innate seekers? Always looking to conquer that next mountain? Never happy with enough?
Or is it because we find it almost impossible to live in the moment? My vote is with the latter because I know in my life, if I am always living in the future or past, my experience of the world is so much more shallow. I am not in the present moment if I am thinking about next week or that time three years ago when I made a tremendous mistake that was super-embarrassing.
Di and I often question the fact that we are so busy planning and organising our business and our lives that we aren’t left with many moments where we are actually feeling like we are experiencing life as it happens.
Beautiful evening light in London this week
And I tell you – even when you’re really conscious of it, life is constantly drawing you away into other moments, other times that are not here. Now.
His second idea is: There is no point of arrival, stop trying to get somewhere. Silva makes a beautiful case for reframing your life not a series of tasks to complete – but as an incredible undulating journey. Then the joy of life is to ask the questions and go on journeys of discovery, the joy is rarely found in the finding of answers.
It begs the question – do we ever need to totally arrive? I find this a very liberating idea.
Winter light in Spain – gorgeous
The third idea is: Why do we look at the infinite ocean and feel a sense of reverence and awe? Silva says: We look at it as it beckons us into the unknown, to the mystery of living.
I think we can all use more mystery in our lives. We can all shake ourselves out of the dust settling on our lives and experiences – and step into the unknown at any point. Even right now.
The fourth idea is: We need space to create art – a protected space. Essentially the journey to create art is an inward journey and you need to have someone looking after the outside world, the practical things, so you can take that journey and explore with abandon whilst experiencing a feeling of safety.
I couldn’t agree more. You may be in some far-flung country, but you are creating from a space within. You are drawing on everything that has come before in your life – and it feels like a mystical inner well that you need to connect with. Otherwise, you just end up floating on the surface of life, and not creating anything that means much to you.
Silva’s fifth idea is that when we see the beauty of the world – in nature, in the epicness of man’s creations – it is simply a way to remind us to fully inhabit this life that we are living. To not get lost in the details all the time, to take some time out, totally and completely.
So there we are. Some philosophy. Some thoughts on ageing. Some ideas. I’d love to know what you think, comment on my blog here.
Here are the videos I took these ideas from; they are all short, 2 – 5 minutes – and they are useful for a little kick of inspiration. I don’t always agree with his pronouncements, but I love Silva’s enthusiasm for exploring and making our lives an exciting, creative journey.
Last night Di read a piece to me from a book she is reading by Brene Brown (It’s The Gifts of Imperfection, she’s loving it.)
She got excited when Brown started discussing creativity and how we are all innately creative.
Listen to this! She said to me.
When thinking about being creative Brown suggests there are common ideas that often trip people up.
“I’m not very creative.”
Is a key one. But she suggests that:
“There’s not such a thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.
Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
I love that! I couldn’t believe this more. I can see it myself, when I am not keeping creativity alive in my life and I can see it with my friends and family when they are only focusing on the never ending work of achieving.
I see it with my workshop participants when they are unsure if their photography is any good or worth anything.
Another common idea is that:
“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”
I have to say again, wholly agree. I have talked endlessly about how my moments of pure creativity are some of the most exciting and magical of my life. The work that I produce means so much to me, and it makes me proud that I have created something that comes directly from who I am (even when it’s not very good :))
Her third idea is that:
“If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cooking, write, draw, doodle, paint….. It doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning.”
Again, a beautiful idea, a wonderful reminder of what we sometimes forget to do to bring that deep feeling of purpose and meaning into our lives.
She goes on to recommend that ‘if we see creativity as a luxury or something we do when we have spare time, it will never be cultivated.’
Of course the best time to take photos is…. now! The best time to get started is… now!
And one thing she follows that with really struck me: ‘Take a class. Risk feeling vulnerable and new and imperfect and take a class.’
It struck me because I spend a lot of time teaching people, and sometimes I forget the trust and willingness and, often, bravery it takes to step out of your life and into a brand new experience.
It takes a lot sometimes to go somewhere new, with a bunch of people you don’t know and put yourself out there with your photography, your creativity and yourself.
And I am always grateful that people place that trust in me. It is a huge honor.
I love working with people, and seeing their photography, and their creative journey, flourish. It feels intensely meaningful in my own life to work with people in this way
That’s it for today.
As always I am here on the end of email if you need anything,
I hope you are doing very well today. I have a great new photo challenge for you!
It’s time to dust off those tripods sitting in the corner and slow things down by making some long exposures.
I realise it can be a pain in the neck lugging a tripod around not knowing if you will be using it that day. I’ve personally have resigned myself years ago as treating it as a crucial piece of kit. One I can’t do without.
I’ve walked hundreds a miles around the world carrying it without even taking it off my bag. (Not sure what that says about my intelligence but it does highlight my dedication to keeping my creative options open at all times.)
When the opportunity arises – I am ready.
I mention tripods today because I am going to challenge you to create images using long exposures. I want to see the cool, interesting images you can come up with.
Today I am going to give you a few examples of where I have used it in my work.
What is a long exposure? For this challenge it is a shutter speed longer than 1 second. Tripod are good for this.
You can get funky and do it hand held and that might be interesting for awhile but I think you will find yourself wanting more control over the final look, eventually. And for that to happen you will need to dust off your tripod and take it out with you.
Most cameras I’ve encountered will let you make exposures of 30 seconds without needing a remote timer. My Canon 5d mkiii is such a camera. Other cameras will be 60 seconds.
And even others will have a greater capacity for doing really long exposures without an accessory. Check your camera. Read the manual. Be curious about what your options are.
Long exposures have some very nice effects like:
Smoothing surfaces of water
Creating light streaks from auto lights, or any moving light for that matter
Blurring moving crowds
Making people vanish altogether
How much this effect becomes apparent is dependant on the shutter speed and the speed and direction of things moving within the frame.
The longest exposure I have on my laptop at the moment is 419 seconds (6.983 minutes). It was an hour before sunrise when it was still dark with a waning moon, but there was just enough light to capture at ISO 200. See the image below
419 seconds @ f/16 ISO 200 50mm 50000K
The small aperture was intentional because I was prioritizing making long exposures. I even had a 4 stop neutral density on to increase the time four fold. The effect I was going for was to have a totally smooth surface on the sea and the clouds to streak and blend together.
There was little movement in the sky so the clouds still had some form but the constant never ending movement of the sea became smooth like silk.
If you are wondering about the colouring – the blueness in the first image is due to the absolute nature of the light of the environment – blue sky, blue sea equals blue light. My final white balance on this image is 50000K. Yeah right! I feel it still needs some colour work done to it.
Below is another image taken the same morning with a time of 239 seconds. This image was made 20 minutes before the previous one.
239 seconds f/11 ISO 200 100mm 4500K
The ambient light in the image above was much darker than the first image and I opened to f/11.
There is not much evidence of this being a super long exposure, other than the clouds being a bit blurry and the calmness of the sea. I think it is much more pronounced in the first image.
To make these exposures I needed to put my camera on a tripod in bulb mode and attach a remote timer.
Remote timers are not a very sophisticated piece of kit and you can get away with getting an inexpensive one. I bought mine online for $10 and it has been working great for years.
If you have one of the cameras that max the time at 30 or 60 seconds you will need a remote to create longer times. And you will need to switch to bulb mode. There is a lot of variation in cameras now and I don’t claim to even know most of it. If in doubt read your manual.
Not all long exposures have to be in the “several minutes” category to have cool effects. Even shorter times around 1 second are good. It just depends on how fast things are moving within the frame and what your goal is with the exposure.
Take this image for example. It was shot with a shutter speed (time!) of 1 second. Lots of good movement from the traffic that created an energetic effect:
1 second @ f/11 ISO 125 50mm
In the image of the street scene below notice how you can only see the feet (shoes) of the people walking. This is because the feet are stationary the longest. Think about it.
2 seconds @ f/5.0 ISO 50
Here is one at 10 seconds:
10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 100
The gondolas were bobbing but it wasn’t a crazy amount of movement. Still, nice effect.
Sometimes we do long exposures due to the low amount of light. In these instances we are not going for effect but just trying to get a good exposure.
Here is another 10 second exposure:
10 seconds @ f/11 ISO 50
This is one of those times I was grateful for having my tripod with me. I didn’t know I would find this dark passage until I got there! It was really dark. It looks like a lot of light was there but you could stand there all day and you would never see it this bright.
13 seconds @ f/11 ISO 50
So long exposures can be used creatively or out of necessity.
Your options are completely open. Just keep in mind that you are probably not going to be able to do long exposures longer than 1 second in full daylight. I can be done but you would need ND (neutral density) filter to help greatly reduce the light onto the sensor.
So plan your shoots when the light is low like at the blue hours before and after dawn and sunset.
Are you up for the challenge of making some long exposures? I would expect you to have some technical or creative questions for me. So ask them below.
Happy shooting and good luck. I am looking forward to seeing your shots!
It’s a beautiful day here in Spain. The sun is warm, outside my window I can hear the sea rolling gently. My kids have had a fiesta-filled weekend with their new little community of friends. I am feeling inspired by some cool projects I’m working on with a new colleague. Life is good.
I head back to London soon to sort things out, do some business and run some workshops. I am also packing up and leaving my studio space that I’ve had for the past 15 years in Waterloo.
It feels a little sad to be leaving behind the most permanent space I’ve had in the city. But it also feels liberating. New adventures bring new opportunities, and so I am working to embrace them all.
One thing that has also been inspiring is writing about the technical and creative stories behind my photos. I am loving it! So I have another one for you today.
I hope you are all learning more about how I approach photography, and picking up ideas along the way.
I love nature. I forgot how much I loved it until I stayed in the hills of Tuscany for seven weeks. Living in London for 18 years, and Los Angeles before that, I really lost touch with the feeling you get of being surrounded by constant beauty – it brings me an elevated feeling of bliss.
I am not a “nature” photographer, but I am an artist. Going into the woods and trails around Castello Ristonchi left me feeling that I was out of my element even though my passion for the natural world was reawakened.
As a photographer, I didn’t know what to shoot. It was hard to simplify and isolate subjects in the complexity and deepness of nature.
But as a walked I realized that what I’d come to photograph would be there waiting for me. I didn’t need to be a “nature” photographer. I could just be myself – an artist.
Once that realization came to me I relaxed into the moment and started to really enjoy myself.
The image above is about that enjoyment and relaxed mood.
I came to the top of a hill and spotted this gloriously isolated tree. (I was hunting for something apart from all the complexity of nature). I stared at it for a while, then started to look around for elements I could add to the image I was constructing in my head.
I wanted depth. I wanted to capture the feeling of being on a hilltop. I wanted just a narrow so I was using my 50mm lens. I was not in a landscape frame of mind.
Doing landscapes is part of nature photography and I was out as an artist with vision, trying to be so.
I didn’t want to make an image that another skilled photographer could see and replicate easily. Much of landscape photography is just that. Not point and click, but obvious enough that anyone looking could see it right away and with a bit of skill capture it. Beauty is beauty after all. It’s not hard to miss.
I always seek to capture something a little different in my photos.
The top of the hill was fairly clear of clutter (i.e potential elements!) and it was refreshing coming out of the deep woods into a brightly lit meadow. I became pumped up; using all my senses. My eyes were searching for elements to build relationships with, my skin feeling the brisk air, my ears listening to the quiet, nose catching the smell of a coming storm.
Life was beautiful and the translation into my photos of those feelings was peaking.
I saw some small low branches with dried leaves of rich earth tones – the colours were captivating. I walked around them still thinking of my isolated tree. The light was truly inspiring.
I started shooting and thinking of the composition choices I was making. I was very close to the low branches and depth of field became an obstacle.
For some reason I was shooting very wide – f/2.0. I remember feeling that with the 50mm and a wide aperture I could decrease most complexity, making sharp lines into blurry gradations of tone.
I shot varying compositions but didn’t change my position much since it felt so right. It was mostly just orientation of the camera and change in focus – sometimes focused on the tree, sometimes on the branches.
I left with the feeling I got something I liked, but was not sure which image it would be. It was only a few days later after much editing and toing and froing that I decided on the image above. It had the right balance of tree and leaves and I liked the focus point.
I didn’t get encouraging feedback from Di. She didn’t like it at all…at first. I asked her yesterday if I should write a post about this image and she says “YES, I love that image!” She didn’t love it for a long time.
It makes me wonder about personal taste, and how things develop over time.
Me, l like it. But that is me, as the one who stood there on that glorious day experiencing it firsthand. We can be very partial to certain images because of emotional attachments to them.
Tread carefully and always ask others what they think.
I’d love to know what you think of this! Let me know below. What do you think of the composition?
Have a fantastic day everyone.
As always, if there is something I can help you with photo-wise let me know. Just hit reply. I love hearing from you.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
How I Created This Shot: My favourite Tuscany photo
How are you doing? I have been having a good day. I am putting together collections of images and it’s been nice reviewing and sorting my shots.
I have also really enjoying telling people the story behind some of my images – and today I have a great one!
So there I was, in a castle in Tuscany, comfortable by the fireplace poking and prodding the embers with no plans but to enjoy the heat and the ethereal glow of fire.
I had been working hard all week, and now it was time to relax.
The room was dark. I had the windows shut against the chill of the coming night.
Then I hear from the kitchen “Wow Tony are you seeing this light! It’s amazing!” I shot up, because when Di notices light and brings it to my attention I pay notice. She knows what I like!
Swinging my west facing window open I was splashed by a warm glow of atmospheric orange. It was thick and had intensity, it was like you could eat it. It was changing as I gazed out of the window; a slight drop in luminance and colour. Oh no, I thought, I’ve missed it.
Or did I?
My camera bag was prepped and ready. All I had to do was leave the Castello and get to that spot 600 meters away. I scouted this spot earlier as the best place for my sunset photo in Ristonchi.
If I ran I my just catch the last of the light.
So I did. I grabbed my bag and ran. As you can see from the photo it was a good long run and I was winded on arrival. But I made it.
My 100mm was on the camera body so that’s what I started with. I took three shots and the results were less than exciting considering how wonderful the light was being.
1/30th @f/13 ISO 100 100mm Canon 5d Mkiii
Between the tops of the hills and the clouds just above the sun, that small window of light would not last long. I wanted to capture the glory of the light at that moment. And to do that I needed to shoot wide.
My 17-40mm went on 90 seconds after I arrived.
Once the wide angle was on things started to gel. I felt a bit of pressure as I knew the light wouldn’t last much longer. Sometimes even a touch of cloud can dramatically change the colour and intensity of light.
I set up a shot at 17mm and got this shot.
1/8th@ f/5.6 ISO 100 17mm(17-40mm)
I was happy with the f/5.6 and the wide angle. Good depth. All was sharp since my closest focusing distance was a few meters away and I had my point of focus on the Castello. No need for f/11 or f/16 for depth of field.
I chimped the image and thought it was not good enough and I still had light left. It wasn’t the lens that felt wrong. It was the foreground, that seemed to me, partial, like an afterthought. I needed to shore it up and strengthen my composition.
But I was against a fence and as wide and as forward as I could go. The road I was on was about 2 and a half meters wide. I could have stepped back a few paces, but it felt too low; I knew it would make the fence too big, too prominent.
There was a short wall on the other side of the road. I wasn’t in a climbing mood, but the light was fading fast so I just tossed my bag up, folded my tripod and scaled the wall.
Being a couple meters back and higher created a better perspective and a complete fence across the frame instead of a partial bit I had and the previous shot. Position is key!
1/8th@f/5.6 ISO 100 17mm(17-40mm)
I shot two frames with this composition. It felt and looked right! I got my shot!
I was so inspired I carried on. So next I decided to I change it up a bit. I zoomed to 33mm and took this image.
Not an ugly image but not as good as the one that gave me the chills.
So here are my key takeaways from this:
Always be prepared with your kit ready to go!
Always be on the lookout for beautiful light it appears and disappears all the time
Make the effort if you see an opportunity
Go with your gut feeling; if it feels right then it probably is right.
Change lens when things are not working
Make your composition – and be sure and check the whole image
This image was shot during our time at Castello Ristonchi! If you want to create shots like this – then check out my new workshop there coming up this November.
I’d love to share some time with you at one of my new favourite places in the world (I’m beginning to have a lot of favourite places – there are so many beautiful places :))
I’d love to know what you think about this. Are you always looking for beautiful light? Are you experiencing and finding ways to capture what you find? Let me know below!
Until next time amigos – happy photographing!
Anthony and Diana
Part two: How I Created This Shot – Dissecting The Image
I hope you are all doing well on this fine day. I am feeling very energised after spending a long day at the beach on Thursday. We had some family staying for a few days, and even though I don’t hold normal 9-5 hours, it felt funny to spend a weekday lying in the sunshine and snorkeling with the kids.
But you know what – I should do it more often because I’ve woken up feeling insanely energised. It’s amazing what a lazy, fine day can do for your energy.
Let’s start with a look at the technical, shall we?
I love this shot – for the surprise and the success of execution.
Surprise because I had never been to East India station in London before and I wasn’t aware of this view. And I was thrilled with the images I was getting.
The execution because my setup and exposure were well timed and exposed. Slow shutter for effect. Sweet aperture (for that lens) and an ISO that gave me all the contrast and colour my camera is capable of.
I was concerned that the train movement was going to mess with my sharpness, but the platform was really solid and had no vibrations.
This is something to consider when shooting long exposures – you can be stable with your tripod, but what about the place you are shooting?
The f/11 gave me good depth of field from 3 feet to infinity. I focused about a third up from the bottom of the frame to make sure the close distance would be sharp.
I had a window of about 12 minutes where there was a perfect balance of both ambient and artificial light. I made about 10 shots and adjusted the shutter speed from 15 seconds to 8 seconds as the light increased. It was still too dark for a daylight white balance (5400K) so I settled for around 3200-4000K, which I why the sky is so blue.
In Lightroom I boosted the contrast quite a bit to enhance the lines and separate the colours, which I then further controlled with HSL. I put the vibrance and clarity up high to give it added punch,.
It is a high energy image; the lines taking the eye around the image and back again, bouncing off the buildings and looping around. The streaks created by the long exposure just enhance this feeling of speed and energy.
What do you think?
Now let’s look at the story that I think about this for this image
I live an odd life, I know that. One day I might be out at 4am wandering the streets of a city, then home by 11am and napping. I can also be found working past midnight processing images, writing, sending emails. I might be teaching at midday, having a meeting with a gallery or meeting my printers.
I’m not in London at the moment, but even when I was my life has never had much of a schedule or fixed routine.
And therefore my personal story of London is not really of someone who takes part in the daily rhythm of going to work in the morning and returning home in the evening.
I feel like I am mostly an observer to this life that so many people lead. I see it, but I’m not in it.
When I am out shooting in the morning, I am out way before most people are even awake. I watch the sky changing, the light appearing, feel the beautiful calm. Then a trickle of people starts to appear. One or two at first, and then speeding up.
Before long the trickle turns to a mad rush of people walking, cars, buses, trains, boats even. Everything and anything that can be used to get people to work and school – and quickly.
The energy rushing through the city is intense and feels sometimes like it wells up from nowhere. A tap has been turned on full, a button has been pushed and released.
I like this image because it shows how intense metropolitan life is. It feels both hectic and crazy busy – but ordered and organised too.
You have the rush of people, but they are lines, following the path, using the city efficiently to get to their destinations on time.
Because this shot taken when it was still early you can see those who rise first, and I feel their energy to start the day and get moving are represented in the streaks of light. These people are active and in the chase.
There is also the glow of lights from the office buildings – people who are at work already? Or who never left? Perhaps they are the people who come to clean and care for the building, coming and leaving unnoticed, like whispers in the night.
So many stories could be told from the people you know are in this image, but you can’t see.
To me, this image talks about the energy you need in the pursuit of survival. The city is big and unwieldy and hard. But with desire and focus, you can command the city to your will.
What do you think? I would love to know what you think of the photo and my analysis. Let me know below.
Shot at 1/13th @f/4.5 ISO 640 40mm(17-40mm) Canon 5D mkIII
Today I want to do something very cool and fun. I am going to dissect how I took an image from both a technical and narrative standpoint.
So you see the image above, it’s one my and Di’s favourites, taken in Hackney Wick, East London a couple of years ago.
It’s a super popular image of mine, one of my limited edition prints. One of the people who bought me this image told me a crazy story about this location. I’ve included the story below.
But first, let’s start with the technical:
Look at the image and what do you see? Honestly I think I used the wrong reciprocating exposure. I had a tripod with me which I didn’t use!
Now – what could I have done better? What would have given this image greater clarity, contrast and detail?
You guessed it – a lower ISO. ISO 640 is not bad at all with my Canon 5D mk III, but ISO 100 would have been a better choice for increased quality.
That said, this was near the first exposure I made here at Hackney Wick at 5:45 am so that is my excuse – I was practically sleepwalking!
A better exposure combination, as I look back, would have been ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture at a shutter speed of whatever worked for a -1.5EV.
I say “whatever shutter speed” because I had a tripod and time (long exposures) were not a limiting factor in making my exposure calculation.
One second or one minute makes no difference with a good tripod setup. By -1.5EV, I mean an Exposure Value of -1.5 stops from a “0” or middle exposure.
Why -1.5EV? Every exposure I make before the sun rises is at -1 to -1.5EV. I do this to embrace the ambiance of the light.
This is why it’s so important to know how a light meter works. All the tones in this image are below or near the middle zone so an underexposure keeps it looking dark and realistic instead of what a 0EV exposure would do which is wash out the mood by overexposing.
So – to create the atmosphere and ambiance of light you are seeing – you need to know how to ensure your light meter won’t over or underexpose. (More about that here)
If you have no idea what the above means and do not understand how light meters work than that is your homework for today. It is really important to viscerally grasp the exposure scale.
I think this shows, doesn’t it, that you can get things a little wrong – but still create a great image.
We don’t need to worry about being perfect, we just need to focus on showing up to take the shot. To go to places that inspire us and to give it a go!
Often in the progress to manual we miss shots or get things a little wrong. But it’s OK! If you don’t make the leap you won’t create unique images like this.
Now we’ve picked apart the technical execution – let’s look at the narrative in the image.
The first thing I think when I think of narrative is feeling. A two-dimensional image does not move or interact in any way physical with you so it must translate a feeling to be interesting. That feeling is the start of the narrative or story.
I have a story that I learned about this place, which I will share, but first, it’s the story that I created in my mind that counts. Because that is why I chose to aim my camera at this particular scene.
This image speaks to me of abandonment and serenity, of beauty and balance of coarseness and decay. These are all things I love to photograph. In my imagination, I look at this abandoned building and I think of parties in dark places and zombies.
I imagine creepy realities inside and the feeling of escape on the outside. That is just me – I love reading and watching films about dystopian futures so that is what comes to my mind. Not very deep or profound but fun for me.
I am sure your interpretation will be vastly different than mine and others and I would expect that. So what does this image speak to you of?
(It reminds a quote I used recently, that sums up our subjectivity so brilliantly, from the photographer Brassai “Everything passes through your imagination. What you produce at the end is very different from the reality you started with.”)
So here’s a true story. The building in the photo is an old pub in East London. Someone saw this photo online and sent it to his friend who used to live in the pub as a child in the 1980’s.
The friend calls me and asks if the image was for sale. He told me that his father was the last pub landlord before they were evicted and it was shut down.
He was a child of a mixed-race marriage, things were tough for his family…and mom. East London was rough for him, and his family stood out. He was bullied. Mom left. Dad descended. Things just got harder.
As a young boy, when his life was crashing down around him, in this very location, he made a promise to himself that NOTHING would ever bring him to that edge again. He is now a VP of a fortune 500 company.
To him, this picture is the visual representation of that promise. I love that he chose my photo, and not just any photo of this old building. It’s beautifully framed, hanging in his home as a reminder of where he came and as a reminder of how grateful he is for all the love he now has in his life.
To me, it shows how powerful images can be in our lives. How they provoke, remind, encourage and create all kinds of stories, fantasies and ideas in our minds.
It was amazing listening to his story, knowing just one of the stories of the people who lived in this place. The world is full of stories like this, and often as photographers, we can only guess at them, we can only see the smallest of signs about life lived all around us.
This is one of the reasons I love to photograph London, why after almost 18 continuous years of living in the city and exploring, it has never stopped inspiring me. You can feel the history, the stories, the weight of human imprint everywhere. The jumble of old against new, the beauty and the decay – it’s an incredibly unique city.
That’s it for now. I’d love to know what you think about this photo and my analysis. Did the technical breakdown make sense to you? What did the image say to you? How do you create stories in your images? Let me know below.