How are you today? I hope things are good and you are doing some interesting things with your photography at the moment.
As usual I am always thinking of ways to teach and inspire you, and I am really excited about today’s article because it is jam-packed with some really useful ideas + teaching.
I decided I would love to take you ‘behind the scenes’ on a shoot I’ve been planning for some time, using a new piece of kit that I am super thrilled about (ND filters!).
I want to give you all of the tools and techniques I will be using to capture an incredible shot that although it is a little vague and foggy in my mind, feels like it will be one of my best shots of the year.
I want to share my whole process so you can get ideas of your own and start shooting with more intention and with more ideas about planning.
I want to take you through my process:
The idea Kit and tools Scouting & Planning the shot Test Shot Final shot
Because this is a lot of info, and I have good resources to share, I am going to split this into a couple of newsletters.
So let’s get started!
Where do ideas come from? Who knows! It feels sometimes like a really weird and mystical experience. And sometimes it feels very clear and logical.
But what I know is that it starts with curiosity. Something that I seek peaks my curiosity and my imagination starts to create images and ideas in my mind.
Here’s how I got the idea for this upcoming shot.
A few weeks ago some friends and I were taking a boat trip along the coast, heading towards a very beautiful waterfall where we wanted to stop and snorkel.
The snorkelling was wicked by the way, I got to play with an octopus! My free diving training came in handy as to access the very best snorkeling spot we had to swim underwater, under a 12 foot overhang. So awesome…!
So here I am having a great time, and I spotted this as we were speeding along:
It’s called Torre de la Miel as I found out later…
Now, it may not seem like much but I’ll tell you what attracted me. Can you see the old ruin on the hill? This coast is dotted with old watchtowers and ruins like this, and the shape of this one looked very cool.
But what I also really liked the look of were the big rocks just off shore. That looked super interesting, the shapes of them as they jutted out of the bluey-green water – and I wondered what it would be like to capture both the rocks and the ruin. My imagination was lit up!
I snapped the shot on my phone to capture the GPS data coordinates from it, and decided that was my next spot for a shot.
I later used the GPS info to locate the tower and find access roads on Google maps.
Kit and Tools
When I saw this location I started to think about creating a beautiful long exposure. For a while now I have wanted to buy some heavy ND filters for my camera. Like 16 stops of ND. It felt like the perfect excuse to buy the ND filters I’ve been dreaming about, and then use it straight away to capture something breathtaking (no pressure right?!)
Now you may be asking – what are the filters for and how will they help me?
These filters will allow me to go out in full sunlight and get up to minus 16 stops of exposure.
So in full sunlight I can have an exposure of around 5 minutes. Nuts!
When they arrived, I shot a quick video to share with you some more info about why they are such a cool piece of kit and what you can do with them.
Scouting & Planning the shot
Now my next step is to scout the area so I can think about what kind of shot I want and how I want to shoot it.
Photopills are my key planning tools when I want to capture specific light, where the moon or sun will be, for a specific location. It is really effective if you can scout the location beforehand and use the app to capture interesting dates to come back and shoot.
For instance, here are the positions of the Sun and Moon at very specific places at the best times for amazing light. See the images below.
I had the huge pleasure of interviewing Rafael Pons of PhotoPills about how to use their App and let it help you capture the perfect shot:
This is a super informative 20 minutes, and I really recommend you watch it if you want to get the best out of PhotoPills, or learn more about planning your shots in different light conditions.
Because I am a super experienced photographer, and because I know this area pretty well, the location I picked turns out to be magnificent. The perfect location!
When you are scouting for yourself it might take more time, you might have ideas about places that don’t turn out to be as wicked as you’d hoped, or you can’t get to it in the right light.
This still happens to me sometimes, so don’t fear! I always think of scouting and exploring as a really pleasurable, fun and essential part of getting great shots.
Regardless of if you end up with the perfect location or not – you are doing something you really love! Looking for wonderful moments in the world around us.
So be patient my friend, be patient!
After my scouting I have a good idea about when and where I want to shoot, and I am ready to start shooting some test shots.
I wonder what they will be like? Will all of this effort be worth it?
Stay tuned! My next shoot, and the final shoot are still to come…!
If you have any questions or comments about this, my process, I’d love to answer them in the comments below.
I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll see you soon with the next stage….!
“… a fine way to capture a piece of the magic of a unique city. The drama, the charm and the beauty of Hong Kong is all here-just as is its breathless energy.” Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams
A few nights ago I walked up the long trail to the top of Victoria Peak. It was hot, muggy, and the air was very thick and heavy. I was walking with my heavy camera bag because I didn’t want to wait in the long queue for the tram.
I got to the top and was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of any city I’ve ever been too. A glimmering, shimmery, colourful, buzzing city, laid out before me, bursting with intense energy and colour.
I had truly arrived in Hong Kong.
At the moment I am really getting into a lot of sunset / blue hour / night shooting here. If there was any city meant for night shooting, it’s Hong Kong.
So I want to show you some of the ideas I am playing with – and of course I’d love to hear what you think.
Showing work in progress can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable – when it’s not totally finished; when I am still mulling over photos that I am not always certain about; photos that maybe need a re-edit, or I’ll reshoot or need some more time to think over.
But I think there is so much value in seeing projects develop, and seeing the processes that people go through when they are putting a project together.
Amazing light, right!?
Hong Kong is amazing – if you haven’t been it’s everything you think it will be – times a thousand.
It’s overwhelming: gazillions of people everywhere, in very densely packed streets and blinding high rises. The air is thick and heavy and hot.
The colours are just WOW! I love it.
I am in a photographer’s paradise – if you like shooting cities of course. Di saw my first photos and said – this is so you’re kind of city!
Hong Kong is currently undergoing massive construction on the waterfront
This photo below is my favourite photo from the past week (I think…) It makes me think a little bit of that amazing film In the Mood for Love – which I suppose Hong Kong, with its tropical air and intense colours just lends itself to a cinematic feeling.
That moody dark blue sky, the shallow depth, a bit of thirds…yummy!
Blue hour here is so stunning because of the dramatic weather and how colourful the city lights are. It’s really stimulating! And as it starts to cool off my energy goes up. It’s a great combo to shoot with.
The density of artificial colour, mixed with all the rigid and repetitive shapes, is mesmerising.
I like finding little moments of quiet in cities, too.
Lots of simple contrasts….
Tropical trees & monolithic modern buildings: I’m totally obsessed with the trees here. I love anything that gives contrast to these giant monolithic buildings.
Wow, what colours! Makes me think of awesome 1980’s design.
“Give Hong Kong to an Artist. He can use it. It can be poetised.” Baris Gencel
I like this quote because even though Hong Kong is a hard city to ‘get to grips with’, I recommend you inhabit the wandering, poetic spirit because such modernity can of course be made into poetry and art.
Also, it’s too easy to get overwhelmed by big cities – and we always want to banish overwhelm in our creativity. You just have to accept that you’ll never fully capture such a changing, moving city in totality – so just inhabit the spirit of the observer, the poet and drift to what interests you and follow the light.
Every city has an edginess – and I always seem to be drawn to them.
I love to explore the gritty edges of cities. The places where things are ugly, stark, perhaps a bit brutalist. I am drawn to making something interesting with them.
I’m not driven to being super philosophical in my photography – I could say I like show the dark side of the human impact on the planet, but I leave that interpretation up to others to figure out.
So that’s it for now!
I’ve got some great street photography to share with you next time. Hong Kong is incredible for street photography!
But for now, I am going to carry on shooting and getting ready for my workshop that starts next week. I can’t wait. It’s so much fun shooting with other people in a place like this. The intensity! The colours! The buildings! The people! The exploration! (and the food). All awesome to share.
I’d love to know what you think of my photos – please comment below – its so great hearing what you think!
Have a wonderful day,
Anthony (with word-support and help from the awesome lady that is Diana)
19 Photos to Show You Why Your Camera Doesn’t Matter
Today I wanted to have a little fun and make this suggestion – your camera is nothing without you. It’s an inert machine that requires your vision, your inspiration, your excitement and energy to create interesting photos.
So to illustrate this today I want to send you some photos I took in the last few weeks with my smartphone camera.
I want to show you that:
1) It doesn’t matter what camera you have – good photos can always be created.
2) Regardless of where, and with what you are shooting, take time to pause and compose your shot! In fact taking photos in the day-to-day way with your phone camera is an awesome way to practise composition. A little practise every day will do wonders!
So let’s see what I came up with with my smartphone camera in these past few weeks….
How many of the photos in this post are about light?
Light doing interesting things is everywhere. You just need to look out for it….
What do you think? Am I right – or do you totally disagree? I’d love to know!! Let me know in the comments below. It’s amazing hearing what you think.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
PS – here is the 19th shot, taken by Di, on the subject of how difficult it is to take a nap when there is a 5 year old around 🙂
It’s a beautiful summers day here in Arles. The rich warm light is amazing in this city of pale stone, flowers cascading down buildings and narrow pretty streets.
I woke early this morning with a restless mind. There is always a lot to do when you run a business, and I often get woken at strange times by my to-do list, but also when I am starting new projects and doing new things there is also the tingle of fear.
I have learnt though the the fear is just there when I’m jumping into the unknown. And it ain’t gonna kill me. I think of something a character in my favourite Sci-Fi book, Dune, says over and over:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert
And I felt both reassured and inspired. So I got up and made coffee. I love that deep, almost heavy silence of night that is leading into dawn. I drank my coffee and then stepped out into the early morning. I was ready to explore.
I found some new ripped posters, to add to my new ‘ripped posters’ mini-project:
If you haven’t heard me talk about mini-seeing projects before – they are super useful things to do to help you develop your ability to notice more in your surroundings. I always have one or two things I am looking out for – not to build my portfolio or add to a book – but more as an exercise in developing my awareness.
I also found some ‘things at my feet’ – I am always looking for things on the floor to photograph. It’s totally fascinating to me.
Thanks for reading and for looking at my work. I super appreciate everyone who visits, comments and sends emails. It’s so awesome to have this community – and I hope that my work, my teachings and journey inspires you in some way.
As always just comment or from me an email if there is something you are struggling with photographically and would like to ask me about. It also helps me to figure out what to write about.
I love the composition technique of natural framing, and although it doesn’t crop up that much in my images, when it is the right technique for the shot I think it makes for very simple and elegant composition.
I’m not really a fan of the very obvious forms of natural framing – unlike many of the other rules of composition it is something to be use sparingly – because it will very quickly make your photos look samey. But when the situation is right, then it makes beautiful photos.
In this post I am going to explain natural framing but I am also going to give you some ideas so you can adapt and use it in more sophisticated ways.
Natural framing is when you use a natural element to ‘frame’ your subject. What this does is draw your eye into the photo and to the actual subject of the photo. Your eye doesn’t absorb the image all at once, it moves around the photo and your job as a photographer is to use the elements within the frame to direct the viewer’s eye. It also gives a photograph an added layer to add some complexity to what could end up being too flat or boring a photograph.
I think – like any technique – it has to feel like an inherent part of the image, not something you overlay as an afterthought.
You can use many things for your frame – like door frames, tunnels, tree branches, windows, caves, bodies of water, lines, fences, weather systems, light – anything that can form a frame-like shape – or a partial-frame like shape.
And very importantly to remember – it doesn’t have to be a complete frame around your image – in fact I am not really a fan of that – partial-framing on two or three sides is usually more compelling and less obvious.
This is a very straightforward use of natural farming:
I often use natural framing to frame buildings, statues or objects where there is nothing else interesting that is surrounding the subject. And I use is most often to obscure boring sky. Like in the photo above. It can also help to reduce any negative space in a photo, when it starts to detract from the image.
It’s important when you are using natural elements like tree branches, that you keep a very clear separation with your subject, otherwise it can all meld together and look messy. I like it to be ordered, but with an element of wildness.
The biggest disadvantage of natural framing is it can almost be too simple, too obvious. And like most things that are simple, it takes practise to make something simple appear compelling and interesting.
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann
One thing I really like to do in my photography is contrast very solid human-made structures with the beautiful, light parts of nature. This is a good example. So I have framed the incredible pink sky with those pretty clouds – which even though they are stunning you do need something else to contrast it to really show off their beauty. Like maybe how you can’t really appreciate the amazingness of life if you haven’t experienced the dark parts of life!
So this has the very heavy, dark grey and solemn building framing the light. This time the ‘frame’, the building, is taking up a massive amount of the photo – and that’s because it has very interesting colour, light and textures. I think if the building had been half the photo that would have looked too obvious and not as compelling. And if the building was less than half of the photo I don’t think you would have felt it’s heavy, almost oppressiveness – and therefore you wouldn’t have had the lovely feeling of the etherealness of the light.
When discussing my photos it may seem that they fall into several techniques – and really some of these photos I’ve used could fall into other composition categories – like rule of thirds, leading lines etc. But what I think is important here is that one of things that I think is the hardest part of composition for people is to break the world down that we see in 3D, into elements and to arrange them accordingly. And analysing and practising using any compositional technique is a really good way to train your eye into recognising the elements in the world around us that can be organised into interesting compositions.
You can use natural framing to create a vignette in the edges of the image. A vignette is when the corners get gradually darker, so that your eye is drawn towards the centre, or the lightest part of the frame.
This photo above was one I processed quite significantly, really creating a lot of contrast and adding a vignette in Lightroom, you can see how I did it here.
Sometimes you can even use a frame as, well, a frame! Funnily enough with this photo if you didn’t have the frame within the image it wouldn’t look like enough of a photo. It needed the structure of being pulled together by the window and door frames.
I should call this the window of life! It’s almost like you are framing the most mundane and ordinary part of life. An empty shop with bad lighting.
Now here is a very subtle use of natural framing. My subject is the three people and their physical expressions. What is framing them, and emphasising the subject is the shadow all around them. That darkness in the photo allows your eye to immediately be drawn to the contrast of the bright light and the expressive shadows of the people – which is my subject. The impact of the subject is emphaised by the rest of the photo being in shadow.
This photo was a funny one. I took it on one of my dawn wandering in Istanbul, and there was no-one around on the streets at all. Then all of a sudden I saw this shadow – what a photographers dream! And I noticed behind me, out of nowhere, someone behind me also taking this photo. I wonder if his photo is also floating around the web, albeit at a slightly different angle!
Framing can be made from two or more different elements framing your subject. This photo below isn’t a traditional use of the technique, but can you see how the Galata Tower is the main subject, and the buildings and road are leading the eye towards it? A simple straight forward shot of the Galata Tower, without anything surrounding it, wouldn’t have proved to be as interesting.
This is a nice example of how you can sometimes combine two elements that are not interesting on their own, but together they make a nice composition. And reflections are an amazing composition tool.
And how about multiple frames within an image? Is this still natural framing? Not sure but – I like ideas taking shape in all kinds of different ways – and it sure is fun!
Another cool way to use natural framing is to have the frame be out of focus – and that will help create depth.
And by using elements that aren’t very structured or clear, like trees, leaves, bushes and natural elements, you get interesting textures and depth in the photo.
So I hope I’ve given you some ideas of how to use natural framing in your photos. This compositional technique really helped me when I was starting out – and I encourage you to practise this technique and learn how to bring it into some of your images in a creative, but subtle, way.
I’d love to know what you think about natural framing – have you used this technique before? Please do comment below And of course if you know someone who likes taking photos – please share this with them.
This week we are launching a celebration of super simple ideas that will a create super-sized impact on your compositions.
One abidingly strong concept in all of my teachings is to help people get beyond the ordinary in their photos, beyond the obvious shot that everyone else is taking, and into the extra-ordinary.
Over the years I have developed several different techniques to help people and so over the next couple of days I want to explore some of these techniques in more depth. My desire is that you can walk away with some really awesome ideas to practise with straightaway (maybe even this weekend!).
And this is because – as my regular readers know – I really believe that prioritising your creative practice is something that significantly contributes to having an awesomely interesting, amazing life. Although you might regret those delicious beers you knocked back at that fun party last night, or the abundance of hours spent working last week so you missed your kids’ bedtimes – no-one regrets going out with their camera to explore, to examine the world and to let their creativity have free rein. It’s like money in the bank for a happy life.
So anything that motivates you to get out the house (even on a bitterly cold morning) is what I most want to do for you.
And now to the first of my great techniques, which I am going to explore in depth today.
Have you ever had those moments when you’re perusing the back of your camera (a.k.a. chimping) and wondered why that amazing shot that you thought was going to be, well, AMAZING, just isn’t.
Your exposure was right – check; white balance – check; aperture – check; shutter – check. Lens…hmm. Let’s see. Lens? Yes, I shot with the right lens. If you are shooting competently and things are still not working out like you would want them to, I have a great piece of advice for you.
There is a tool in your kit that people rarely use to full advantage. You may not go out with your camera some days – but you will always have this tool with you. I’m talking about your feet. At first they may not seem like critical kit but let me assure you – they are. And here’s why.
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams
If you ever had the awesome experience of watching a pro shoot, you will notice a common character trait they all share. They move, a lot. They are trying to get their movement and positioning just perfect. Now we all move and position ourselves when photographing but what a pro knows and you may not, is the exact spot to be for the best shot. (OK – so maybe we can’t all be as elegant as this guy, but you know, just keep it moving).
Knowing where to be is part of creating an attractive background, of getting a great angle in a portrait, and something of interest in a landscape foreground. These can all be fixed by your position – where you are in relation to your subject.
It can happen like this (and I see it happen on almost every workshop of mine). You spot the shot and think great, that’s a great shot, hurrah! You raise your camera and capture the moment. Then you bow your head to view your prize and …what the hell happened? That’s not what I saw in my head. What I have is, well, a dud. Boring and not quite what you literally had “in mind”.
So what went wrong? It is highly likely you were in the wrong spot. Think of it this way – for every image that you “see” there is going to be one, and just one, perfect spot to get that image. And finding that sacred spot requires you to move your feet almost every time.
Positioning mistakes and cures
1. When you see a subject at a distance
Ever done this? You’re walking along and up ahead you see a really interesting subject sitting on a crate smoking a cigar against a red wall, a beautiful cliche and you must have it (I would). You are still approaching and still haven’t passed her yet, and better still, she hasn’t seen you! What a opportunity, you think.. You take the shot before she notices. Later your chimping and thinking “eh…It’s ok” but not what I saw.
So what happened? Position happened. And this time your position was wrong due to – fear. You let your fear get the better of you and you made a panic shot. Think of the shots you would be able to take if you’d engaged her and started to chat or just smile and point at your camera. You could stand in front of her and kneel, you could get close ups of her face and expressions. The possibilities are endless if you overcame your fear and got closer.
Robert Capa said – “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you are not close enough.”
2. Zoom zoom zoom
If you constantly put your camera to your eye, then zoom, you are almost certainly not in the right spot. That’s not how to use a zoom lens in my opinion. A lot has been said about primes vs zoom lens regarding quality, weight, coating and other tech stuff, but what I find is the biggest failing of the zoom lens is they make you lazy. They don’t demand you move. It can bring your subject to you. Right? Wrong. Most of the time this is just wrong. It is one of the reasons your great shot was a dud. Seeing an image in the mind’s eye is the image you want to capture. It is. Trust me. When you zoom perspective is changed, the angle is changed, along with depth and supporting environmental elements. The list is long. I’m not saying zooms are bad, they just can make you lazy.
I own one zoom and I love it. But I probably don’t use it the same way as you do. I have a really good understanding of focal lengths. What 35mm will get me. What a 17mm is going to capture. So when I am using my lovely zoom I don’t go through the whole range of focal lengths (17-40m) when I put it to my eye. I know which one I will need and leave it there. Then you know what I do? I move my feet to the position I need to be in.
3. Not taking your time
This happens to us all, believe me. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a situation where things are static and not moving, or going to fly away, take your time and try to see things from all angles. This will make your photos much better if you are making the effort to deconstruct a scene – break down the elements, change the relationship between them using perspective or just stop and THINK about it for a moment. Figure out where you need to be, how high you should be standing and how to eliminate clutter from the background. Make it simple.
4. Just being lazy
Again, this happens a lot. I’m guilty more times then I’d like to admit (good thing I put so many hours into my photography, huh!). It happens like this. You’re tired, bored, hungry (this is the one that gets me), or whatever it is that is making you lazy. But you still want to take photos to make you feel at least you got something, even if it’s just “eh..”. So you come to a scene and you start snapping away, uninspired and restless for some food. Either you should quit for the day or just stop and think and ask yourself: “what if I went over there to see?”
Now for some examples
People spend acres and acres of time and words trying to explain what makes one picture more special than others. Maybe someone has a formula, but I don’t. To me knowing that something is special, getting to that point where you think – oh wow – that is something that a combination of your heart and soul and eyes is telling you. This is something that is just not ordinary any more.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
There is nothing mathematical or technical about that deep stirring inside you that says – yes! – when you see something beautiful or wonderful. So although you can rely on some pretty mathematical and technical concepts to help you get there – rule of thirds, fibonacci numbers, leading lines etc. – in the end it comes down to you pushing yourself to finding a photo that when you capture it on camera, makes your heart pulse that little bit stronger.
So here we are in Paris. It was a beautiful spring morning, lovely light, and I found myself behind Notre Dame Cathedral where there was an array of cherry blossom trees in bloom. Very pretty. So this was my first shot. Pretty nice. But the bench, the sandiness, somewhat lacking impact wouldn’t you agree?
It’s too dark under the tree, it’s like is a vacant hole of un-interestingness.
So here’s my next shot.
Again, perfectly lovely and pretty, but nothing wow about it. Why? There is nice light but there is too much shadow. There is good contrast there – one that I use in a lot of my photos – of contrasting materials. The pale sandy brown permanent solidity of the church against the delicate, pink, joyful impermanence of the flowers. But this contrast is sort of spoiled by the railing and the low angle which brings in too much of the dark path.
And now to the shot I liked. I decided that bringing in other elements wasn’t going to work – I just had to go full on into the prettiness of the trees. That’s where the light was (always follow good light!). And so I like this shot a lot because you have all the loveliness of the flowers contrasting with the dark, strong, old branches of the tree, stretching outwards. Of course there is also the lovely element of the light.
So these three photos are a perfect example of what to do when you’ve found a great subject but everything around it that you are trying to bring into the photo won’t play ball. And so you have to go full on into examining the main subject and see what you can make from that.
These things aren’t always obvious – not even to professional photographers – so always be thinking around your subject – think in 3D!
Let’s now head to East London. Another dawn and I come across this lovely light on this building. Isn’t it pretty? It’s all dappled over this cool looking wall.
But that wasn’t a compelling shot, the building was just not interesting enough. But I don’t like to waste nice light so I went closer.
Oooooh, I liked that much better. I love a wall with interesting textures. You’ve got the paint, the graffiti, the different shades of brick, the glass, the pipes – all these interesting things made quite touchable-looking by this lovely light. Now I could have stopped there..
But one very important thing to know about light is that if it’s doing something interesting to what you are looking at – it’s highly likely to be doing interesting things to many other things around you. Don’t get dazzled by the first bit of lovely light you see, go further and explore.
So I went around to the front of the building and immediately I got a much much better shot.
The low light that had made the back of the building so pretty was now creating a totally different sensation from the front. I love the low shadows of this shot, and there is enough light so that you have this nice cool blue thing going on at the front of the building, with this warm diffused light coming in to contrast it.
I was hanging out with these guys in Istanbul. I liked the dynamic between them, and they both had interesting faces
But I couldn’t get a shot of the two of them that worked.
I decided to focus on the younger man as he was more animated. I felt like that there was further to go with him. So I went in closer.
Almost….am liking the intensity of his eyes.
And then bang, there’s my shot.
When you get the feeling that people are really comfortable in front of the camera (and these people do exist I promise you. I am in fact married to one and my son is one), then just let them be themselves and go for it. Move through any uncomfortable feelings you may have of pointing your camera at them – and remember that most people loved being noticed. It’s a compliment.
One thing I love about London is the random craziness of very old next to very new. And that is often what I’m looking out for, especially in East London and The City. It’s really extreme there.
I was walking around and saw this particular contrast of old church and one of those new ‘temples to business’. And I thought that’s my subject – that old/new contrast. But this came out pretty boring.
And then I tried this:
Better, but still not great, and I am starting to notice that actually there is a better subject in this scene. Can you spot what it is?
Lines and shapes! The church is almost irrelevant. Not quite, but it’s not a subject at all now, but a slightly supporting element.
And you know what? I have been to this particular spot a zillion times and never noticed these cool lines leading up to the cool shapes of those tall shiny buildings.
And now a question for you – do you think the trees enhance or detract from this photo?
One wintry morning I am in Venice on the northern edge of the Island. It’s a beautiful morning, as you can witness from the sky. I am looking out at these interesting things in the water – lights and a little jetty. But so far nothing is striking enough.
I turn my camera inland and start to see more potential. Some nice looking shapes in the water. I can sort of make out that there is some pretty coloured glass in the top of that building. But everything is in shadow, so pretty dull.
I am now seeing that with more light not only would we get something interesting happening on the water, lighting everything up that’s currently in shadow, but there is also that lovely coloured glass. What I am doing here with this scene is anticipating what the light will do, once it rises a bit higher and comes out of the cloud.
About ten minutes later – wowwee, the sun changes everything!
This is a building near my office in Waterloo. I like the boring, repetitiveness of the windows. I saw this shiny piece of building near it and I thought, hmmmmmm……I wonder. But this photo, erh! Too much going on. I see immediately that the tree doesn’t fit with the other elements.
So I try it this way:
I was pretty convinced that I needed to have the criss cross of the railway line in the photo. But now that wall beneath, too much, it doesn’t add. I remove it.
Now I thinking, – no, not quite right either. Do I have to lose that lovely criss cross? It’s too heavy.
But I’m liking the blue of the sky against the little box window shapes. And so finally I arrive at this…
Simple! So you can see the process of refining and removing elements here is really important. If you find an element or two that you like – stick with it. Keep removing things from your composition, keep moving around your subject until you get to something that fits the impact that that element had on you in the first place.
I hope that’s been a helpful demonstration on the importance of always moving, always searching for that killer angle.
It should be an exciting thought for you because it shows that even when you have a great subject and you haven’t got a great photo, there is still buckets of potential to work the scene and find something special.
I would love to know what you think – and if you found this helpful – please comment on my blog below. And of course – please share with anyone who you think would find this useful. Sharing is super useful!
I’ve got another super simple but really impactual idea for you tomorrow! Until then…
Anthony (photo man and ideas) and Diana (wordsmith and Anthony’s concept explainer extraordinaire)
“A city does not mean a couple of windows and a door frame. A city means a place where people love to live, where people get a certain flavor out of living. Those are the places I love to photograph.” Ara Güler
As a photographer of cities, Istanbul has everything I could ever want. I am completely and totally in awe of this place. The incredible light, the complex history, beautiful buildings, the seas, the people, the culture, street sellers… it’s packed with incredibleness (a technical term).
In this post I wanted to pick one theme of what I like to shoot in Istanbul – with the hope that if you make your way over here it will give you some ideas on how to get a handle on this intense and bustling city. The two easiest things to photograph in Istanbul are the monumentally beautiful vistas and the people. Because Istanbul is laid out over seven (very steep) hills it’s easy to capture epic views over the city. And the people here are stunningly friendly and warm, so ditto very easy to photograph. But I will pick up those two themes later in another post.
What I want to do with this post is go a little off the beaten track. I want to bring together some of my photos of the streets of Istanbul. Some of the details, the scenes that I saw that are away from the epic and grand and impressive. My aim here is for more of the every day. I want to find some of the flavour of the city, the city that people live in and give you some ideas on how to photograph those parts. Most of these shots are from my dawn wanderings, but a few are from later in the day.
There is so much to shoot here. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the potential, and to go at shooting like a rabid bunny. Don’t shoot like that. I guarantee, my friend, if you are shooting too much, then you won’t be able to truly get into the vibe of the city – slow down and pace yourself. Shooting a city, especially this city, is not the same as feeling a city. Work with all of your senses: really look at it, smell it, listen, and look again.
It’s good to remember that interesting light can make most subjects look interesting. Boring light can make even the most compelling subject look dull and flat. A semi-interesting wall brought to life by the light and shadows:
But it doesn’t have to be intense light. Here we have some much much softer light and it works to beautifully enhance the building, just look at all of those textures!
For me the things that I am aiming for in my photos is clarity and simplicity. I am always looking to remove things from my photo, break down the elements even further so that I can create something appealing to the eye.
Now that’s my aesthetic. I am sometimes a bit too austere – we should always be pushing ourselves and developing our style – but the concept of simplicity is very useful in a place like Istanbul where the city is just so packed with complex backgrounds and interesting things to photograph.
Look for elements that interest you and build your photo from there.
The photo below was shot in Tarlabasi, where I stayed for a few weeks earlier this year. It’s a very run down area, lots of poverty and considered quite rough. It’s worth wandering through though, particularly on a Sunday when there is a great market (This is a great blog post about the market and area). The area is a mass of historical buildings and is undergoing huge, controversial redevelopment. Lots of people are battling to keep their homes, so it’s going to be changing dramatically soon.
In many neighbourhoods that I visited, next to a new building there could be one that is abandoned, windowless and rotting. That could sound depressing, but it actually makes the city feel very ancient and in constant flux.
When you want to capture depth: think in layers. The camera can’t distinguish depth in an image, like the human eye can, and if there are too many things going on within the image it will look flat and messy. A good way to think of it is in layers. Each layer should be distinct from the previous layer, and therefore allows the eye to mentally build up the depth. This photo below has several distinct layers, but it feels very simple doesn’t it? At the front it’s the green, then the building, then more green, then the clouds and finally a wash of blue sky.
The elements that make the photo below work are the mixture of natural and artificial lighting; the contrasting colours and shapes of the buildings. Between the green building and the ones behind it there is a subtle layer created by the tungsten lights of the shops. It’s not a great feature of the shot, it’s just something that adds another layer and a feeling of depth so that it doesn’t all blend into each other. And of course the last element is that it’s bathed in the soft blue light of early morning.
The photo below has more layers. First I’d like to say that if the photo didn’t have the man on the balcony it wouldn’t have the great sense of scale that it has. The buildings would look quite flat. The man is almost the first layer, then you have the buildings, then the sea, the boat and the far shore. A mixture of people and landscape/buildings are really effective if used simply and purposefully to create depth.
I wasn’t sure about this photo below but my wife loved it. Much of the city is filled with tall buildings and apartment blocks where the dawn light only barely enters, and so there is not much dramatic morning light (which I love photographing). But this photo has a suggestion of it, as well as some artificial light which adds really nicely to the photo.
Here is another shot that could have been too busy and therefore looked flat (isn’t it funny that when a scene becomes too busy it looks flat rather than chaotic). The three significant elements I focused on were the mural on the broken building (amazing!), the man’s head below (great expression!) and the contrast of the modern and colourful buildings behind.
Istanbul is great for contrasts, and it’s worth looking for contrasting details when you are wandering around. Again – both of these photos below focusing on artificial lights’ are about simplicity in the face of busyness.
Remember to strip out the elements that aren’t enhancing your photo.
In this photo the area around the street vendor was busy, but for me the crowds were too distracting, so I waited until there was a lull before taking this shot.
A few more things:
Where to shoot: I will put together a list of my favourite spots but in the meantime I really like this. It’s recommendations from seven famous photographers from Istanbul and where they like to shoot in the city.
Ara Güler: I’ve mentioned Istanbul’s most famous photographer before (his book of black and white photos of old Istanbul is great), but I just bought a lesser known book of his colour work of the city called Vanished Colours, which is amazing. These photos remind me a lot of Ernst Haas’s feel for colour. Beautiful book. You can check out Ara Güler’s site for his work. He also owns a cafe, Kafe Ara, here in Istanbul, and I hear he’s often there hanging out. Generally I prefer colour photography because it’s more real, there is more feeling to me and it’s actually harder to capture something interesting.
Yildiz Moran: I was also happy to come across Yildiz Moran, an underrated but interesting photographer, one of the first famous female Turkish photographers.
Rule of Thirds: I just wrote a post for Digital Photography School on the Rule of Thirds – which you might like to check out. It was great fun to write, I love that rule! And it has over 4,000 shares already 🙂
I’d love to know what you think of this week’s post – what do you love to photograph in Istanbul? Comment here or drop me an email – I love hearing from you.
Greetings from Istanbul. I am here with my family working on my next book, and continuing to explore this enchanting city. Highly highly recommended. And now for something I was nervous to reveal…
Last year CNN asked to publish some photos from my project on the Homeless World Cup. It’s an amazing feeling to have someone call you up and not just pay you to do some work, but pay you to publish your personal work. It feels so validating.But…
CNN wanted to see everything I had taken, so I sent it all to them. Of course I had already done a mental edit, I had a pretty good idea of the images they would pick. Why? Because I had worked so hard on this project, going to Mexico City and Poznan to photograph the games over two years. I knew the project, and my photos, inside and out.
But when CNN replied, they asked for fourteen almost completely different images from the ones I had in my head. What the heck was going on?
But you know what, once I had time to go back and look, and look again, and the images they had chosen, I was able to see beauty of these other photos. They weren’t my favourites, but together they told an impressive story.
And it made me realise something extremely valuable – I am often not the best person to edit my work. In fact very few photographers are. I am constantly coming across stories about famous photographers who ignored images on their contact sheets for months, years even, before realising that they had an amazing image on their hands. Trent Parke ignored one of his most iconic images for a decade! Jonas Bendiksen for many months. You know why photographers can’t always be trusted to recognise their best images?
Because we are too emotionally involved with our photos (and ourselves). We see our work through the ever-changing filter of how we are feeling – about our images, ourselves, our lives, what was going on the day we took that shot. Sometimes we look at our images and feel a surge of excitement, and at other times we plunge into the depths and think – my photos are awful!
And that’s OK. Every photographer, every artist, every person who is creating, is in the throes of the mysteries of creativity and isn’t always able to be objective about their work. Get a fresh eye to look through your work – to give feedback, provide ideas, suggest new ways of developing, to prod you sometimes out of your comfort zone and into new ways to thinking and seeing. These are essential if you want to keep improving your photography. And unfortunately it can’t just be your other half or your mum who does this (hearing ‘that’s so great! I love your photos’, isn’t objective feedback :)). It has to be someone who loves photography and who can see your photos for what they are.
For me photography is only a solitary pursuit part of the time. And the more I continue on this journey the more I see how integral other people’s feedback, ideas, suggestions and comments are to one’s growth as a photographer. Even to this day, after twenty years, I rely on other people. I have a small team that I consult with. They help me edit, help me discover images I’d left out or discourage me from images I have an attachment to but don’t quite work and who I talk through new project ideas with. They help me keep the flow of inspiration fresh and my eyes clear.
A few years ago I decided to create a group that would help all of the amazing photographers that I was meeting through my workshops in the same way. And so I created the Light Monkey’s Photo Collective. Each year I offer a group of passionate amateur photographers the chance to be part of a group that meets regularly for walks, talks, feedback sessions and hosts online challenges. The group is there to motivate, inspire and inform.
“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” — Albert Einstein
It’s for people who want to connect with others who love photography – and in the process be encouraged, inspired and motivated by the group and having regular events to attend. It’s not a formal education program, but you will learn a ton.
The group has been an absolutely incredible, surpassing my ideas of what it could be. We’ve been on evening walks through Little Venice, explored the docks at dawn and had fantastic sessions looking at each other’s work in my studio in Waterloo.
Maybe you are looking for a trigger of inspiration, you are stuck in a creative or technical rut; you are looking for ways to be more motivated; you want to know what people think of your images (and maybe where to go next), you want to find new ways to bring a regular photo practice into your life; being part of a group excites you; you just love photography and want to share it – ideas like this? Then Light Monkeys is for you.
And I am really excited that I am now opening up a limited number of new places for the 2016 group.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard
How will this help my photography?
We are all busy people. We all have a lot on our plate. Even professional photographers like me find it hard to carve out time for working on personal work. Life, family, work – always gets in the way. But I know that if I don’t carve out time to dedicate to my photography, to wander and imagine, to explore and adventure, toplay – then my life doesn’t feel as full or as deeply connected.
Photography not only makes me feel more alive, it makes the rest of my life a more heightened, interesting and rich experience.
Life is, after all, an amazing adventure. And every day I make sure I do something that acknowledges that.
Membership is designed to be flexible.
You don’t have to come to every meeting. The idea is that every month there is always something happening so that if time allows you have something to get involved in.
We have photo walks, studio meet ups or review sessions. We get together to take photos, explore technical issues, look at programs like Lightroom plus we’ll review and critique each other’s work.
This is one of the most exciting, interesting and fun groups I have ever been involved in. The people are great, the sessions are fun and next year’s program is going to be the best yet.
The year long membership includes:
Monthly photo walk or in-studio sessions
Three dawn walks just for Light Monkeys
A one-to-one session with me to discuss your images, any issues or developments you want to make or a project you are working on
Opportunity to attend any one of my London workshops throughout the year for free (and in addition where there is a last minute space, I will offer these spaces to Light Monkeys, also for free)
Monthly online photo challenge, set by one of the members
Online community for support – to share your images, ask questions and share knowledge
Who is this for?
This group is for people who have attended one of my workshops and want to do something more. This is for anyone who is passionate about photography, regardless of their skills and abilities. We’ve got people who have just graduated from camera phones to a DSLR and people who have been photographing for years. The thing that unites us all is we love taking photos and we love sharing our experiences with other photographers.
There is a very limited number of new places available. We are offering an early-bird price of £345 until Oct 31st for the year long membership program. If there are spaces still available, the price will then become the regular price of £445. Full details and schedule here.
Imagine a year from now how much you could have done with your photography. Imagine, the photos taken, the feeling of accomplishment and nourished creativity. Imagine the connections you’ll have made and the adventures you’ll have been on. There is no way you will not love this experience.
“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” Ken Robinson
Of course you can do all this yourself, set up a group with some photo loving friends. But what I am doing with Light Monkeys is taking all of the organisational headache out of it. I am bringing together a group of super motivated passionate people, so you don’t have people drifting off after a few months. I am creating events and situations where you will be abundantly inspired. And to be honest – there is me! A seasoned professional, who lives and breathes photography, to help you. I am on hand to answer your questions and give you insights into photography. I want to make this as easy for you as possible to create an abundance of fun, adventure and photography in your life. All you need to do is show up, with your camera.
Questions / queries….?
Get in touch. I am working in Istanbul at the moment on my new book but I am on email and checking in every day.
Not in or near London?
For those of you who want to get more involved in your photography but can’t come to my group – or want something shorter or more focused – I have just launched a limited series of Private Skype Sessions. I will have one to two sessions available per month and these can be used to review your images, get detailed feedback from me, and for personalised help with the development of your photos. I can also answer tech questions! See here for more details.
As always – please send feedback, questions or thoughts to me. I read every email and I’ll respond! Or comment on my blog.
This week I’m exploring that really cool concept of ‘indirect inspiration’ that I quoted in my post about Ernst Haas. To be honest, it’s not something I’d thought about much until I was writing about Ernst Haas and came across this quote. Haas warned against seeking too much direct inspiration as it “leads too quickly to repetitions of what inspired you,” and instead recommends you to “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
I thought how indirect inspiration isn’t just about going to look at one piece of artwork or listening to one piece of breathtaking music. It’s about filling your life with things that not only make life interesting and fun, but also create this constant mood of feeding your imagination so that when you are taking photos you are already inspired and excited. You are not starting from zero. The music you listen to, what you look at, books you read, things you talk about, discuss, these all provoke thoughts and ideas and questions in your mind. The more you feed your mind with inspirational subjects when you are not taking photos, the more ready you will be, almost primed, when you start taking photos.
So I thought it would be really awesome to look at what I get inspired by in my day to day life to give you some ideas on how you can look for what inspires you (so you can do more of it). It’s definitely made me realise how much more I could be doing to get the creative juices flowing on a day to day basis. It’s like background music, I suppose, or a way to weave creativity into your day to day.
I grew up in a small town southern California and nature was a big part of my life until I moved to LA and then to London in my late twenties. I miss the truly wild open spaces of my home state where you can venture into the world and feel like you are completely surrounded and lost in nature. No people, no cut grass – just enormous trees, miles of dense forest, scorching desert, mountain ranges and vast national parks.
A few years back my wife and I took a trip far north to the state line of California and started in the Redwood National Park. It was incredible, big skies, bears – I suppose I like the sensation of knowing how vast this world is – in space, in history, in time. I like to see the epic grandness of it all, that life isn’t as small as my little life, my local coffee shop, my train trip to the office. Not just the vastness of this world but the worlds beyond this one. Which leads into another source of inspiration for me, and huge suck of my time when I like to mess around online, NASA and space missions…
Sebastian Salgado is a photographer whom I love. I know this is about indirect inspiration but I enjoyed this short blog post culled from his amazing Ted talk on why we must rebuild our forests.
These are my trees! The sequoias of California, just epic in size. Imagine the history they’ve lived through…phew.
My dad worked in the air force in communications. He was very quiet, gentlemanly, very organised and sensible who loved science, new technologies and the space program. I haven’t quite picked up his sensible life traits unfortunately (being an artist is generally not what one would call a reliable profession :)), but I love science and that was our greatest mutual interest; watching a real time broadcast of a space shuttle getting ready to launch and discussing the solar systems beyond ours.
“What moves me about…what’s called technique…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 somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.” – Diane Arbus
I suppose this connects to why I love to go out on my own exploring forests that have been untouched by humanity’s relentless pursuit of dominance for thousands of years. For me life isn’t just about the small dramas happening in your life or your street or your city. It’s about connecting to this vastness. It’s about looking up and knowing that beyond the bright blue summer sky there are billions of ancient stars, thousands of planets as yet unexplored, suns and moons orbiting planets just like ours and someday we might go there. It’s mindblowing to me and deeply, deeply inspiring. It’s about reminding me perhaps that life continues beyond our small obsessions.
Maybe that’s why I am drawn to photographing space within cities?
Plus...For those of you who love space too I was so excited to see the new photos of Pluto that have just come back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. (I was sort of expecting it to be blue though being so cold, right? False colour I bet).
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” John Lubbock
I love an interesting sky, and that’s the purpose of clouds. Not for rain, but to make the sky interesting to look at and interesting to photograph. A few years ago my son got really into clouds and so we spent a long time reading about the different types (how much less I would know if I hadn’t had kids!) I can now say my favourite type of cloud is a Cumulonimbus,the ones that seem to bubble up into space. Unfortunately for me they are very rare in the morning as they are formed by the heat of the day.They add depth and texture into an otherwise uneventful sky.
Plus…This is an interesting article about the scientist who classified clouds and how he inspired the great German writer Goethe from the incredible website that is Brainpickings.
When I was in my early twenties it was a choice between being a photographer or a musician. I’m glad I picked photography, but I like to keep music in my daily life. What I’ve noticed though is we all listen to music in different ways. I don’t even notice the lyrics, I have to really stop and pay attention to them if I want to know what’s being said. For me it’s all about the overall sound, how it hits my ear drums and makes my body feel. I didn’t know any Led Zeppelin lyrics for years; it was all about the guitar and later the drums then the lyrics!
Plus...Nick Drake is on my playlist a lot recently. A crazy genius of an Englishman who died when he was 26. He produced hauntingly good music- I suppose you would call it quite folksy but don’t let that put you off. Check him out on YouTube but as a fellow artist I would encourage you to buy his music if you like it rather than just listen for free online (we artists have to stick together :))
Today I’d love to encourage you to think of a few things that you do in your life that are not about work, or pure pleasure (beer cannot be classified as inspiring) or responsibilities. But things that are just for feeding your mind and your spirit, if you like. What moves you, makes you happy, makes you look at the world differently, provokes ideas and questions? Whatever they are bring them more into your life. Even if it’s just for some added colour and fun. It will, though, help to increase your creativity and provide brilliant fuel for that creative fire.
And I’d love to hear from you – what inspires your photography? Post on here or email me on email@example.com.
I arrived at my hotel last week in the dark. It was late and I didn’t see much in the cab ride. All I knew as I stared out over the Sea of Marmara from my third floor balcony was that the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia were just 200 meters behind me. Waiting for me.
When you are this excited about a place and getting it through the lens, a 5am alarm is like sweet music. Really.
I remember coming upon the Eiffel Tower for the first time in a gorgeous indigo twilight. I was enraptured, just captivated, and feeling that this was somehow a very special moment in my life.
It happened again here in Istanbul. Just, wow. An indigo twilight with the last of the evening stars, the moon sinking into the sea, cloud cover just perfect – the colours soon to come to the Blue Mosque before me. I felt total awe, it was wonderful. And I was ready.
There is a lot of juggling, a lot of hustling and a lot of unreliability in the life of a photographer (or any artist/freelance creative). It’s intense. But at moments like this, I feel so completely alive, feeling new experiences run electricity lines through my life. I feel so lucky, as though this city were here just for me to explore.
I had a birthday recently. After so many I am pretty sure I am a grown-up. But that is not how I feel when I’m in awe of something. I feel like a child. A child completely oblivious to tasks, responsibility, habits,etc. I just want to wiggle and say woohoo! I like it. I like it! Luckily I also have discipline and the skills to be effective at what I do and still be in awe. It kind of reminds me of meditation: a free state of thinking and being. Letting go and going with the flow. This is my juice. This is my creative state. I shoot as a child sees.
Istanbul is a huge city. More like London than Paris. I must have walked close to 30 kilometers already (a lot of it to and from the kebab shop). I have found the iconic places and discovered quiet corners laced with mystery. The condition of the buildings varies from sparkling gold towers to dilapidated wooden ruins, all occupied. Definitely a city of contrasts.
The locals in Sultanahmet where I stayed for the first week are very joyful and glad to help with directions or to offer you tea. They do spend day in and day out with tourists, after all.
I am now in Beyoglu outside of the main tourist area and life is quite different Recently while reading Orhan Pamuk’s lovely book Istanbul: Memories of a City I came across the concept of huzun, which I found really intriguing:
“To feel this huzun is to see the scenes, evoke the memories, in which the city itself becomes the very illustration, the very essence of huzun. I am speaking of the evenings when the sun sets early; of fathers under streetlamps in the back streets returning home carrying plastic bags; of the old Bosphorus ferries moored to deserted stations in the middle of winter; of the children who play ball between the cars on cobblestoned streets; of teahouses packed to the rafters with unemployed men; of ship horns booming through the fog; of crowds rushing to catch ferries on winter evenings; of the city walls, ruins since the end of the Byzantine Empire; of the markets that empty in evenings;
“…of the seagulls perched on rusty barges caked with moss and mussels, unflinching under pelting rain; of crowds of men fishing on the sides of the Galata Bridge; of the busses packed with passengers; of the little children in the streets who try to sell the same packet of tissues to every passerby; of the underpasses in the most crowded intersections; of the overpasses in which every step is broken in a different way; of beautiful covered women timidly bargaining in street markets; of the view of the Golden Horn, looking towards Eyüp from the Galata Bridge; of the simit vendors on the pier who gaze at the view as they wait for customers; of everything being broken, worn out, past its prime; I speak of them all.” Orhan Pamuk
I like how Pamuk is painting a picture of the city with his words and I am seeing it in photograph after photograph. I feel I know what he is talking about now. He goes on to say that all happy cities resemble each other, where melancholic cities each have their own type of melancholy. Exploration isn’t just looking at the architecture and the people, it’s exploring the feeling and sense of a place. Being a photographer and someone who is always trying to find gems under the surface, I feel this concept very alluring. I think in my own way I am searching for this huzun in the people and the places here, I haven’t captured it to my liking yet but I don’t want to go too fast. I have time. I want to see it, and feel it, all.
I know I am in an exotic local so seeing interesting things feels a little easier, but I would still like to encourage you find something interesting to photograph in your life today. Sometimes I like to ask myself –
What will I see today that I’ve never noticed before?
I’d love to know what you think of my photos and what your experiences of Istanbul are. Send me an email or comment here. I love hearing from you guys!
PS: I really love this photo book on Istanbul by the photographer Ara Guler. His photos of the daily life in the city were taken from 1940’s to 1980’s and are an incredibly evocative and intriguing exploration. The photos are accompanied by commentaries by Orhan Pamuk, both of which are a great inspiration for me to push myself further with my work.
“The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize you are not photographing a subject but are photographing light is when you have control over the medium.” Daryl Benson
A couple of weeks ago I was talking about ‘Making Light Your Subject’. Light is obviously a vast subject for us and I wanted to add some more ideas to inspire you, and to encourage you to keep up your photography over the holidays. The first, of pre-visualisation, is not so much related to light but is an essential practise that you should all be getting into, as it will help you maximise the creative opportunities that light brings.
Pre-visualise the final photo
One of my favourite photographers, Ray Metzker, died this past October. Metzker’s work is not abstract or hard to digest. His photographs look simple and beautiful, but that does not reflect the vision and skill it took accomplish such loveliness. Metzker was a master at pre-visualizing the final image.
The above image is a great example of what can be accomplished with some good pre-viz (as I will now call it). Picture yourself standing where Metzker was when he created his image. Would the shadows be so dark and textureless (no detail)? Would the whites be so bright? That contrast is not natural. The contrast was something that Metzer wanted to reproduce because that is how he wanted the final image to look like and so he created that in the darkroom. If you can understand this concept of pre-viz then you are on the way to better photography. By understanding how Metzkerinterpreted the light and how he wanted it to be represented in his photographs, you are shown how a master “sees”.
Wait for the perfect light
Patience is an essential skill in photography. I am an advocate of the shoot less, shoot slowly school of photography. Waiting for all of the elements to be in place, really feeling and seeing your composition before you press the shutter requires commitment and focus. Work hard on developing it. I think landscape photographer Charlie Waite personifies this concept. I love his work. In particular I love how he will find an interesting landscape and will wait for the perfect light to appear, before taking the photo. Sometimes even the landscape isn’t that interesting, but the light is special and that is what makes the photo mesmerising.
I often think of that rare fulfilling joy, when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events. Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it. Charlie Waite
Maybe you find a landscape or scene you want to photograph but the light isn’t right that day, or even the next. Persevere – go in the morning, go in the evening, wait until the rich colour of autumnal light arrives – whatever it takes. I like to keep a list (mostly in my head, I am not that organised) of places I am waiting to photograph. And there are places I photograph again and again throughout the year. Creating an epic photo is worth the wait (by the way Ansel Adams thought that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” I would even say 2 or 3 and you are doing incredibly well). Think quality not quantity.
Become intimate with your light
I recently came across this interview with Magnum photographer Trent Parke. I intensely encourage you all to look at this as it’s probably the most inspiring interview about photography I have seen in years. He talks about how his work is focused on his home city of Adelaide, how he has worked over years and years to become familiar and intimate with the light in the city. He knows which part of the city to shoot at which time of day because of this knowledge he has created of the city – and he has used the city and its hard light as inspiration for his incredible work. I love how he is using what is on his doorstep to create this kind of amazing work.
I hope you all have a great holiday season. I am looking forward to a good break with my family, and being in London whilst it quietens down. I’ll be going on many walks with my son, who has become a pretty awesome little photographer recently, through the empty streets and looking for something special. Apart from the fact that he’s a little trigger-happy, my son is great at getting into that zone of really looking – because in fact all children can see the world for what it is. As Picasso said ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’
“Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”
– George Eastman
If I could give you all one tip – and only one tip ever again – it would be to commit yourself to noticing light. Why? Because light is photography’s most interesting, engaging and diverse subject. It can bring texture to a boring flat landscape; it can bring humour and humility to a photo; it can make our heart sing when it illuminates a tree with golden light on an otherwise grey day. Learn to notice light, then learn to capture it and you are leaps and bounds ahead of most photographers (and I include many professionals there too.)
I believe that creating singular goals for yourself in photography really helps to train your eye. In college we had to do things like go out and photograph blue balls. They were exacting and difficult tasks, but they elevated my ability to see in an extraordinary way. And it’s those types exercises I’d like to encourage you to do to help you train your eye and help you take more interesting photos.
In all of my photo workshops I am try to get everyone to slow down. Many people I meet approach taking photos as they do other parts of their lives – in a sort of ‘getting things done’ sort of mode. Which, as I bang on incessantly about, is the opposite mind-state to how you need to be when taking photos (perhaps with the exception of war or event photography :))
Light is a huge subject when it comes to talking about photography. There is a lot of technical teaching that you can learn in order to capture the light the way you want it, but what I wanted to do here was provoke your thoughts and give you a few ideas on the different types of light you can look for.
Look at the colour of the light
I am not much of a black and white photographer. I’ve done a little in my earlier life but colour is what really excites me. Probably my favourite photographer is Ernst Haas, someone who I think should be a lot more famous than he is. His work, particularly his colour work, is incredible: he looked at the colour of light, and worked to capture that in his work. So not just the beautiful shafts of light, or the sky, but he used its colour as part of his composition. When you can see the colour of the light it seems to add another dimension so you can also get a sense of its texture. It gives you a feeling of being ‘there’ in the photo.
So as well as looking for light sources and for beautiful light, try to think how the colour of that light can assist the composition.
I think this photo of mine, below, shows the colour of light idea well too. Without the warm yellow colour of the light this photo would be semi- dull. Nice clouds – sure! But the yellow light really makes the photo pop.
One benefit to having such short days (yes, there are benefits!) is the more opportunities you have to see the interplay between the natural light and the artificial at twilight. When 4.30/5 pm hits, you have some brilliant opportunities to capture the fading blue light of the day and the arrival of artificial light. There is a huge amount to play with – go out and take a look.
Of course there will be a lot of competition for your eye: the glowing lights of shop windows, the luminous glow of buses, street lamps, the twinkerly, over-the-top Christmas lights – but that will be part of the fun. Look for the contrasts between natural light and artificial, and ask yourself some questions: what’s interesting here about these contrasts and interplay? What story are you telling? What feelings are you creating in this photo?
Along with lines and reflections, I think shadows are one of photographers favourite things. There is so much to play with when it comes to shadows, so many emotions we can create.
They can create a powerful opportunity to show a lack of light, to show contrast, and often to show humour too. Noticing where there is a lack of light can be just as significant as where there is good light.
I will talk in my next post about the importance of pre-visualising your final photo when you are shooting, and one photographer I would like to talk about is Ray Metzker. Much of his work’s power was the created in the dark room, but it was no accident. He will have pre-visualised his photos as he was composing and capturing the shot. Metzer used shadows to incredible effect in his work.
You also couldn’t talk about shadows without mentioning Bill Brandt – master of the shadow that looks so simple, so easy, so opulent almost and yet is the result of some incredible planning, focus and vision. Very inspiring.
(There are some rather funny/silly colour shadow photos too here)
I am going to carry on with this subject next week as I have more ideas for you. I really hope you enjoy my thoughts – and I would love to hear your thoughts/feedback/ideas. What do you love to do with light in your photography? Please do comment below.
“I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.” Ernst Haas
Over the past few months I’ve been interviewing a number of people who’ve come on my workshops to find out how I can keep making them better and better. One thing that has really struck me is how so many people said that photography has improved their enjoyment of their lives because it helps them see and experience the world in a deeper and richer way. It’s what many photographers call ‘The art of seeing’ or what I like to call ‘The way of seeing’.
One very kind gent (thanks Dan!) pointed me to the Dorethea Lange quote “A camera teaches you how to see without a camera” (which I have stupidly missed my whole life) but that sums up my whole philosophy – and so many of yours too – of photography.
Learning how to ‘see’ this world as it really is – to notice that beautiful light breaking through the clouds on a grey day, the deep opulence of a autumnal tree, the intensely muted colours of a broken building in decay – has not only helped me take better photos but it helps me enjoy the world around me and be more connected to this incredible place we live in. And so I was delighted to connect with so many of you and see how enriching it is for you too.
But like everything worth having (a healthy body, a calm state of mind, a happy marriage…) to keep reaping the benefits you have to keep to stay committed to keeping it in you life.. The ‘way of seeing’ is something you have to inhabit on a regular basis – that curious, mindful, watchful almost meditative state in order to connect with your surroundings. And the more you do it, the more you get to ‘see’ those incredible photos. No-one is going to be capturing incredible photos as they rush to catch a train, or full up in thinking about their to-do list.
I know it’s really hard in this world that we live in – rushing too and fro. It’s at odds for sure with how we live our lives and our crazy, high tech stressy world.
One thing that I also learnt from my interviews is how many of you felt like workshops acted as a reminder to keep developing your way of seeing, to pick up your camera, to continue on your creative journey, to remember this very special thing that you’ve chosen to do that makes you feel so happy and …so alive. And I wondered if there was another way I could help…
So what I’d like to do is pick up on these themes with my blog posts – and over the next few months I’d like them to act as a catalyst – to perhaps remind you to pick up your camera; offer my tips on continuing to develop the way of seeing and tell you some stories about things that I’ve seen, photos I’ve taken that have served as massive injections of inspiration for me. I hope with these ideas you can pick up some tips and ideas that will help your photography. I would really like to find ways to encourage you to keep taking photos, keep pushing yourself to see more and reap the incredible benefits that a creative practise like photography will bring to your life.
Would love to know what you think.
All the best,
There are many elements that are basic to a good photograph; composition, timing, colour, blah blah blah(googleit). But mostly it’s about nice light – especially when its fleeting, a moment gone, never to return, never quite the same again.
I was shooting at Tower Hill yesterday at dawn, not a great morning, but lots of potential (wisewords: patience is a quality and attribute for all photographers). I stood there looking across the river at the Shard (hard to look at anything else really, it makes South London look like a toy landscape) rubbing sleep of my face when, bingo, the pre-dawn twilight illumed the southern sky with rainbow pinks and reds and blues (is pink in the rainbow, googleit!) that lasted two minutes then back to basic grey. Worth the wait.
Anyway, that’s not the photo I’m posting today. Todays photo is of a book in my bedroom…, the light on the book reflected off a mirror from the light streaming through nebulous curtains from a setting sun…it only lasted twenty seconds.