I lived in London for almost two decades. It’s a city I love, even though it lacks the beautiful weather of where I grew up in California. And when you grow up in the sun, it’s hard to live with out it. So really it’s testament to what an incredible city London is that I managed to last so long there.
I no longer live there (we swapped it for the southern-California like climes of Andalucia) but I go there often to see family and work.
I have have done so much shooting in the city, and made three books about it. I know the city better than my London-born wife!
I have also taken hundreds of people on my workshops there at dawn, so I feel confident that I can show you the best parts to shoot.
Without a doubt East London is my favourite place to shoot in the city. For these reasons:
The mix of architecture is fascinating. You have ancient, hundreds-year old buildings sandwiched in between glistening glass towers. It’s so trippy
The history is so vivid and interesting. The little squares, old alms houses, the livery buildings, markets that have been running for hundreds of years.
The abundance of different cultures is exciting. East London has traditionally been the place where immigrants arrive first, and set up their lives. You’ll find layer upon layer of different cultures who’ve left their influence on the city. It makes it feel so vibrant and interesting.
The street art! Some of the finest street artists in the world make mesmerising images all over the east. Every time I go I see something new.
The people – all over East London there are interesting businesses running, projects evolving out of the diversity of influence, good music to listen to, festivals and fun to be had.
If you love photography, and have London in your sights, I encourage you to check out the east. Explore and see what you can find.
Hope you enjoy!
East London at Dawn: photo book
For over a decade photographer Anthony Epes has shot many of the world’s iconic cities at their most peaceful time, dawn. This month marks the publication of a collection of his photographs from one of his most explored haunts, East London.
“Creativity is a wild mind with a disciplined eye.” Dorothy Parker
Greetings from hot, sunny and super-windy Arles.
It’s a beautiful day here in the south of France. I am very grateful for the arrival of some strong winds to calm the intense heat and freshen up the air.
When I mentioned mini-seeing projects last week I got a lot of questions, so I’d thought I’d delve into why you might want to consider doing one yourself.
The main reason I do mini-seeing projects is to help me exercise my visual awareness (plus they’re fun!) Having an awareness, and an ability to ‘see’ what is around you, is not actually a given. There is this crazy fact that I have mentioned in my blogs before:
“Research shows that our eyes are exposed to more than 10 million bits of visual data every second. However, our brain only takes-in about 40 bits of that data, and consciously we only become aware of about 16 bits. So out of 10 million bits of data, we only take notice of 16 bits. This just goes to show how much of the world we are completely missing out on. It’s almost as if we’re walking blind.” Visual Thinking blog
Learning to see and notice more of what is around you is not difficult, but it takes practice. Creating more visual awareness is like exercising a muscle – the more you do it, the more you’ll see.
I like to use mini-seeing projects to help me with seeing.
How do mini-seeing projects work?
Simply put, you decide on a subject that you want to photograph over time, and you instruct yourself to look out for this subject. Think about it for a while and the idea will seat itself in your subconscious. It’s not something that you will need to actively think about.
A good example is this: Your friend buys a new car. Then you are out and about town and see this new car everywhere – but it’s not your friend’s. It’s just the same model of the car, and the same colour. The idea has been seated in your subconscious and now you can’t stop seeing it.
It can be anything that you are interested in. I have a few different mini-seeing projects always on the go. Here are some I’ve done or am still doing:
For several months I did snail trails!
For years I’ve been doing weird things I find at my feet.
I’ve just started a little mini project on torn-posters (as seen in my last email to you). I have no idea how long that will last, but just do these mini-projects for as long as you are interested in and intrigued by them.
For a couple of years now I’ve been taking photos of people taking selfies. This is a super-fun project for me as it’s so funny.
Also for a few years – reflections! I love reflections!
Now, maybe you want to photograph:
Heavily pregnant women
Coins on the street
It doesn’t matter what it is – the point is once you instruct your subconscious to look out for that subject, you’ll start to see these things much more frequently. It might even freak you out how much more!
This will physically demonstrate how much you are missing in our world – so it’s not just a fact you’ve heard, but something you have witnessed first hand. Information that you have demonstrated to be true is much more powerful than information you just understand intellectually.
And this exercise will help you develop your own ‘visual awareness muscle.’ The part of your brain controlling visual awareness will actually increase in size.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” Leonardo da Vinci
The possibilities of what to see are infinite
Because we only see a few bits of visual information, rather that the 10 million bits, doesn’t that show how we can really open up our awareness to infinite possibilities to see, to experience and to photograph?
Doesn’t it also show how we can remove ourselves so much more from the to-do list way to thinking, and into this vast ocean of the world, where we are present and connected to the world around us?
Quite possibly, the very best natural habit that has helped me as a photographer is being present. It seems to be a state I fall into quite easily – but I also work really hard to stay in that state too when other pressures enter my world.
I have also used techniques like mini-seeing projects to help with being in the now and to vastly expand my awareness.
I also like mini-seeing projects because they create less pressure to achieve amazing images.
So a mini-seeing project can help you relax, connect with the world and just enjoy yourself with your photography. So if these expectation/pressure states are ones you recognise – then mini-seeing projects are definitely for you!
Having fun with your photography will make a huge impact.
I really recommend you try this out. And I’d love to know what you think. Are you already doing a mini-seeing project? Is this something you want to try out? Let me know by hitting reply or commenting on my blog. I love hearing from you and how you go about taking photos.
A huge part of my photo practise is not taking photos. Photography is an inner game. And so I realised a few years ago that to create amazing images I need to feed myself with ideas that really inspire me and help me grow.
Today I want to write a post about some of the ideas that I have used to improve my photography practise. But also I admit that this post is aimed at reminding myself of what I know — so that I can keep inspiration high.
In four weeks we are off on a long, long work-travel expedition with our two kids.
You know there is nothing like jumping into the unknown to bring up all those fears that are obviously usually buried deep. When your life changes dramatically, fears are shaken up. So I need to keep inspiration as high as possible.
But trust me — this will be a great article for you too. Here’s a little bit of fun facts and ideas.
New experiences slow down time
There is this idea that time speeds up when we get older. I mean it feels that way, right? When you were a kid, a boring wet Sunday afternoon felt like it lasted for days on end. Whereas now time vanishes in a who knows where? kind of fashion.
But science tells us that that actually has more to do with familiarity than age. The more familiar we become with things — our environments, routines, habits etc — the less information our brain has to process, and this makes it work quicker. Interestingly when we are in new surroundings the brain has more information to process — and this makes time seem to go slower:
“When our brains receive new information, it doesn’t necessarily come in the proper order. This information needs to be reorganized and presented to us in a form we understand. When familiar information is processed, this doesn’t take much time at all. New information, however, is a bit slower and makes time feel elongated.”
I don’t know about you but that makes me want to jump out of bed and go do new things! Stretching time — wow! That’s exciting.
2. Bring something new into your life with silence
We all know how important it is to not have a life so full of work and distractions that you don’t get time for yourself for being creative. I recently came across this quote (on the very awesome blog of Austin Kleon) that puts a new dimension on why silence and having undistracted, unscheduled time can bring amazing unexpected things in your creative work and life:
“Silence is not only the space in which there’s no sound, but there’s no program. Nothing is there so that whatever is essentially unprogrammable can happen. How does anything new happen? In a world where everything is scheduled, everything is listed, everything is programmed, the first thing one needs is space… You have to be open.
It doesn’t mean something enormous will happen, but nothing can happen until you clear that space… Nobody has time to even receive anything that is actually new, including their own thoughts.” Ursula Franklin
3. Do it now. Often later becomes never
When we started to tell people about going travel-working with our kids, so many people said things like — oh, I almost did that with my kids, but we never managed it.
Hearing that breaks my heart a little. Because I know at the time the barriers to doing what you really really want often seem insurmountable. I know. It’s easy to say — later, later, later. Usually when you have more time/money/fitness etc
Here’s a thought, though — what if that magical time never comes and you get to an age when it becomes impossible. What will you think when you think back about the obstacles that are in your path right now? Will they seem that impossible from afar?
It’s rare that obstacles for doing something you love are totally insurmountable.
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” George Bernard Shaw
Which leads me nicely onto:
4. “Everything you want is on the otherside of fear.” Jack Canfield
I believe that obstacles, for the most part, are actually just fear. Fear of the unknown, of making a mistake, of messing things up, of losing something.
Yet if we think that fear is just an emotion, I like to think of it almost like a mist, that if I can accept it, and allow it — all I need to do is walk through it and then on the other side is that awesome thing I wanted!
Plus, what we often think about when we are considering taking a risk is what we have to lose, but really what we should think about is what do we have to gain? (Di taught me that one!)
5. The magic of wonder
Awe for me is the beginning of everything with photography. I need to be in awe, in some way, with my subject otherwise it’s unlikely I’ll get anything great.
It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering awe — it can be the small awe we feel when we notice a bee doing its busy work, and wondering how it has that innate knowledge to know what to do.
I like how Margaret Fuller describes that process of bringing wonder and awe to our everyday life:
“We need only look on the miracle of every day, to sate ourselves with thought and admiration every day. But how are our faculties sharpened to do it? Precisely by apprehending the infinite results of every day.
Who sees the meaning of the flower uprooted in the ploughed field? The ploughman who does not look beyond its boundaries and does not raise his eyes from the ground? No — but the poet who sees that field in its relations with the universe, and looks oftener to the sky than on the ground. Only the dreamer shall understand realities, though, in truth, his dreaming must not be out of proportion to his waking!”
Look around with intense curiosity and you will always find subjects that will bring forth wonder and awe in you.
6. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” Pablo Picasso
I love this quote, because to me it doesn’t matter how many techniques you have up your sleeve, how awesome your camera is and how well you know how to use it — you need to get out there regularly if you want to improve.
Don’t wait for perfect circumstances or light — which is one of my weaknesses. I’ll tell you, though, that I have got so many awesome shots on days I didn’t expect to and had literally shoved myself out the door.
“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Thomas Jefferson
Another thing I heard recently was someone talking about comfort zones and how:
7. You only need to inch a little out of your comfort zone every day, in order for it to quickly double in size.
(I have paraphrased her words as I can’t remember who it was!) I did discover this which was awesome though:
To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves. Peter McWilliams
These points are all super-relevant for me right now — and I hope it’s given you something interesting to chew over.
That’s it for today. I hope you are all having an amazing day. I would love to know if there are things holding you back in your photography. Maybe I can help?
Today is one of those days that I often really struggle with in London. It’s grey, the light is flat, there is some of that very sprinkly rain that doesn’t totally warrant the whole rain gear outfit but is none the less an inconvenience.
Di went for a walk down by the river this morning and told me how many people were out jogging and rowing. I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, crazy people!
You know what, though? (And this would have made me splutter with surprise when I first got off the boat from California all those years ago) – English weather ain’t that bad for taking photos of London. And this is because this city is so incredible, so interesting and diverse and amazing, it almost taunts me by saying I don’t need blazing sunshine and spectacular light to show off what a fascinating city I am. Explore me and you will discover incredible things.
My favourite part of the city to photograph is – hands down – East London. If you don’t know this city and you come here, I urge you to go east and explore.
I think it’s mostly to do with the contrasting architecture – you’ll be walking down some ancient street, where you can literally smell the history, and suddenly a sparkly new building will appear, like it’s grown from the ground like a weed, shooting up in its shimmering glass and steel.
You’ll then turn into another street to suddenly be sucked into the riot and colour and noise of a street market, before feeling like you’ve moved into a totally different city with the delicious smells from a row of Indian restaurants.
It’s the constant juxtaposition of architecture, cultures and communities that is so awesome to photograph.
But what stands out for me is the street art. I’m sad to say there ain’t much street art in my quaint environs of West London. It’s all a bit samey this side of the city, but there you’ve got incredible artists displaying their breathtaking talents on all kinds of amazing textures, walls and buildings.
What makes me think they are even more super-awesome is how temporary it all is. Like, I am just going to put this beautiful picture out there, let it go into the world and not worry if it lasts just a day or 2 years.
There is an energy to this part of London that I don’t feel in other parts. Yes, it can be a very intense energy of struggle, being the part of the city in which so many new communities land, working crushingly hard to get a foot into a new life. But there is also the energy of possibility – it’s the place where many artists live and work, where entrepreneurs are often found starting their businesses with big ideas. It’s the home of artisan food shops and the birthplace of many cultural trends that then sweep across the city.
So you can totally imagine my absolute sheer joy when I was asked to do a book about this very area of London that I love. A limited edition photo book of 1,000, no less, commissioned by a very cool new aparthotel that has just landed in the East End.
I brought together my favourite images of the area, and then went out and shot some more.
I took my son to explore the early morning street markets and we shot together. I went out on one cold and flat morning and shot the Balfron Tower – and it didn’t matter that there was no spectacular sunrise that morning. That’s what I mean about this city – even when it’s dull, it’s incredible to photograph.
I went into the ‘edgelands’ that are so much part of East London, places that are neither city or country, that are filled with desolate-looking industrial estates that feel devoid of life, but are in fact teeming with industry.
The upshot being that I photographed a tremendous part of the city, and I loved every minute of it.
This project is now coming to fruition and the book is being launched at the end of the month. Now, it’s only and exclusively available for purchase at the Leman Locke, the amazing design-led aparthotel that commissioned the book.
I have got 50 of these beautiful books for sale, yeh! These are signed by me and will be have an edition number inside. I have chosen to go for a slightly different look to my last books: I’m using a beautiful thick matt paper that I think really works with the project – this is, after all, one of the most intensely urban parts of London.
(And by the way, you are the first to hear about this, because we love you guys!)
As I only have fifty books, I am expecting them to sell super quickly (for my last book I sold 100 books on the first day I announced it! Which was so exciting.)
It’s a cloth bound, A4 hardback with 80 pages capturing my vision of East London at dawn, really quite beautiful if I say so myself.
Di has written some beautiful words and collected some great quotes for the project. It’s a really special collection, and we are both very proud of the book.
If you’ve ever wanted to own a little piece of my art, this is a good time to do it! And what a great present! You can say you know the artist 🙂
If you would like to get one of these limited edition books, you can purchase them here. Remember, I only have 50 – so if this looks like something you’d like you know what to do. Here they are!
And thank you! It really is the most tremendous thing that all of you stick around and read our writing about photography and creativity. The life of a photographer is often a very solitary one; to have this worldwide group that gives me so much feedback and inspiration is incredible. I hope you all know how much it means to me to know you’re out there and how many of you send me emails and comments – it’s just beautiful!
BBC London did a feature on the project – see here. (BBC World a few years back did an amazing feature on my dawn projects too, including of Paris and Venice)
I’ve again been a bit absent from the blogging. My new book, East London at Dawn, is at the designer as we speak, getting its last finishing touches and in a couple of days will hit the press. It’s all go and all super exciting. So now I can turn my mind to sharing some new lessons and ideas for your photography.
Wow! I got so much great feedback on my last post (another deep dive into what the barriers to improving your photography probably are; read it here if you missed it.) Thank you~! It was so useful to hear from so many of you about what you are looking to learn about – if you didn’t get a chance to contact me about what you’d like me to write about, just hit reply and email me.
One request was for a post with more information about the process I go through when I’m out looking for shots. What are the shots I take before the great shot? How do I hone in on a scene and find something interesting?
This sort of chimes in with what Di was talking about when we were selecting images for my book.
“Wouldn’t it be great to do a post about all the terrible photos you take? I mean, you take so many!”
“No it wouldn’t,” I said. “That sounds horrible.”
“It’s just that people would probably be surprised how many boring shots professionals take before they get something really good.”
My wife clearly still hasn’t grasped the fragility of the artist’s ego 🙂 I still hadn’t warmed to this idea, but then I got this request from Chris (thanks Chris!) about looking more into the process of how I work a scene and find the shot. So today I am going to go through some of the images from my recent book, and look at the ones I took of a scene, how I worked it, and got something I liked.
And in the interests of sharing, I am also going to share photos in which, try as I might, I couldn’t get anything working. Because Di assures me that that’s interesting. She said the process that I go through as a photographer is useful – both for what works and what doesn’t.
You, dear reader ,can decide if that’s valid.
Let’s get started! So I saw this:
And thought – interesting light! Light always makes me stop and pay attention. I also saw some potential in the scene because you have lots of great simple shapes here – the strong repetitive pattern of the bricks, the black lines of the traffic light poles, the lines of the railings.
The simplicity of these things matches the simplicity of the subject – light and shadow on a wall. So a lot to play with. But how do I pull it into something interesting?
Well, this photo below is a slight improvement. I had changed position – and I had focused in on what to me were the most interesting elements. But still not a great shot:
Now I clean it up by taking out the top of the wall because that’s distracting. Can you feel I am getting closer to something here? It’s not totally right but there is a refining of the scene happening here:
I then decide that I need to cut out the messy foreground and get closer, and that I want very clean shadows. That is what is going to create the strongest impact.
I am always thinking to myself – what can I take out of the shot to make it cleaner, and to make sure that every single element that is in frame is relevant and says something that adds to the story of the photo?
And I end up with this:
It’s super simple, much cleaner, and every thing has a reason to be there. Could I have taken out that little traffic cone in the left hand corner? Possibly, but maybe that would make it too clean (I hear that is possible, lol! Sometimes I can be a little over enthusiastic with my simple/clean aesthetic. It’s something I watch out for.)
Now this scene below is the only one I’ve used in this post that isn’t from my East London at Dawn project. This is in King’s Cross, and was just something I took while coming back from a meeting (always be looking!)
I love photographing places that are in the midst of change. This is where you have lots of new and old things jumbled together – and probably why I love East London so much.
In this scene I was attracted by the three layers of contrasting elements in the foreground, midground and background. The lines of the barrier, the interesting black and white photos and then these lovely semi-circles in the background.
So I hung out there for a little while taking photos of people walking past. So far, nothing interesting. I was waiting for something to happen. I didn’t know what but it’s important to remember this:
“What I most like about photography is the moment that you can’t anticipate: you have to be constantly watching for it, ready to welcome the unexpected.” Martine Franck
That’s why it’s useful to always be looking for interesting backgrounds, great collections of elements, interesting views. It’s not always people that you are looking for to brings a scene together – it could be a change in light, in weather or that after looking at a scene for a long time you notice something you hadn’t seen before that is unexpected and super interesting.
So I am here looking at this scene for a while and then, all of a sudden, this girl appears on her scooter and gives me this look. Awesome! Now see I have lost that structure of the three elements as I pulled back to capture her. I wonder if I had kept it, would it have been a stronger photo? If I had a been a bit lower, maybe?
This is when you need your lightning reflexes on red alert!
“Only photography has been able to divide human life into a series of moments, each of them has the value of a complete existence.” Eadweard Muybridge
Now here’s an example of a scene I saw that looked like something, so I thought I’ll stay here and work this:
I really liked the natural framing element of the bush to the left, I thought that could be consequential. Then you have this cool church in the background. So I waited, thinking – something is going to happen, someone is going to walk around the corner, doing something interesting and it will somehow work really well.
What I wasn’t happy about though, was the bell in the bottom right hand corner, if you saw all of the photos I took of this scene you’ll see me moving around like I was super itchy or something and trying to get it out the frame, but I couldn’t do it.
The other unsatisfactory thing about the scene is all the busy-ness next to the church of the poles and the crane. Instead of creating depth in the photo, all of the elements are too mixed together and look flat and messy.
But I waited and took about 20 photos, some with people walking around the corner, some like this, and nothing happened. No cool ‘human moment’. So I moved on. You can’t win em all!
On to Brick Lane Market… this photo below exemplifies almost every problem I see with street photos that don’t work – I wasn’t close enough and I wasn’t at the right angle. There isn’t a strong connection with the subject because of the height that I’m at and the fact that I’m too far away.
Now I recognised what I needed to do, so there was only one more shot and it was all I required:
Can you see how getting closer brings you so much more connection with the subject? You can see his paper, you can feel the relaxation in his posture, his absorption in what he’s reading. You are with him in that moment.
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Robert Capa
For me on a composition point, I think the faint mistiness works really nicely, and I think if the light had been brighter it wouldn’t have worked so well. The mistiness sort of softens the background, so that we don’t get drawn into it, and so our focus is concentrated on the subject. The soft background helps to both isolate and project him.
I was at East India DLR Station and it had been raining. I don’t usually photograph rain; I think I am too much of a precision, clean type of photographer. Or maybe it’s because I don’t like cold rain! But in the right circumstances it produces a beautiful effect. (Venice, rain and sunlight, for example, can be breathtaking.)
A couple of tips for shooting in rain – always carry a plastic bag in your camera bag in case it starts to rain. You can buy little raincoats for your camera but I have always found a good quality thick plastic bag will keep it nice and dry.
Look to backlight your rain, so have some light – whether natural or artificial – shining through the rain drops. This concentrates the light and creates a beautiful effect.
Lastly – look for reflections! Reflections are one of my favourite things to play with photographically.
I mainly tried to get this shot below because Di loves rain. Four things interested me in the scene. (I always want to have a minimum of two interesting things making up a scene, but preferably more. It’s rarely only one element that I am trying to capture.)
The compelling things for me were: the clear plastic barricade that I photographed through, because I could see all the raindrops individually making a beautiful pattern over the scene.
Secondly, that range of colours of the lights: reds, blues, whites, yellows – awesome! Then all the contrasting shapes and lines of the buildings, bridge and road. Lastly, of course, the blue, pre-dawn sky. That deep blue twilight is awesome with all the artificial lights – and that goes for sunrise or sunset.
First photo – not interesting. I had thought that if I lined up all the lines of the road, the lamp in the middle and bridge to the left it would be a good shot, but it didn’t thrill me.
Then I went a little lighter, thinking that would help to define the elements. But no, still a bland shot.
I messed around a bit more and then I moved, and straight away it’s better and I know I’ve got the shot:
What I believe makes it interesting is that I use leading lines here in a less obvious way than in the previous shots. These strong lines – the one of the bridge going through the middle of the photo, and the line of the road almost hitting one of the thirds creates a strong structure for all of the other elements in the photo to connect to. It’s almost like the skeleton of the photo. You’ve got the sense of movement and journeying created by the red lights and cars, and then the lines look as if they are travelling off to meet the city buildings at the end.
What I think works better about this image is you’ve got two places within the frame where you have space, and this creates some balance within the photo and contrasts with the busy elements of the rest of the photo. You have the space under the bridge – which brings out the warm droplets of the yellow lights, and then the lovely cloudy blue sky. A little bit of negative space here I’d say. (If you don’t know what negative space is, I’ll explain in a future post. It’s one of my favourite compositional tools).
Like everything in life, and photography is no different, balance is key – having both light and dark, space and activity, soft and hard. And balance is super important when you have a very busy scene like this. It’s very hard for the camera to take a photo of a busy scene like this without it looking flat. What your eye can see in real life is what you have to manually recreate with your camera, by placing elements carefully in your scene. So:
Look for contrasting elements that will highlight each other
Look for strong elements that will create structure
Don’t forget to inject some space!
So I hope this was helpful. I’d love it if you left me feedback by commenting below. I’ll do another one of these posts later down the line, and it’s just generally fantastic to hear from you.
Now, I’ll leave you with a great quote/idea from Albert Einstein:
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
So how about let’s all try to make a bunch of mistakes and not-great-photos this week? Let’s all lunge forward and get some serious mistake-making done, so we can get to that magical place where we are creating something new, and the chance to create that singularly awesome shot.
Knowing that we have lots of room to make mistakes means we don’t put quite so much pressure on ourselves to get it right first (or even second, third or fiftieth) time. We are all taking tonnes of mediocre photos – even us professionals – it’s part of the journey towards those great shots. Just keep at it until you feel that special buzz.
All the best,
Anthony and the ‘word wizardess, super helper in getting these posts out of my head and onto the page’ Diana
When I think about why I take photos, and what it does for me, this is what I come up with.
It’s about not living on the surface, skating over the rich and beautiful experiences that life has to offer. It’s about diving in and connecting with the mesmerising qualities of light, the stark melancholy of dark thunderous clouds, the rich beauty of the deep shades of greens and opulent colour of a summer garden, the intriguingness of graffiti on a crumbling ancient wall or a face that feels un-watched and so reveals the mind’s emotions.
Photography pulls you out of your busy mind filled with to-do lists, emails that need sending, shopping that needs to be done, chairs that need to be fixed. It pulls you away from all of that and it plants you right here and firmly in this world.
When I am teaching people how to see like a photographer, they think I am teaching them how to see like a photographer.
But I am not.
It’s something way deeper, way bigger and way more impactful than that.
It’s like how people think when I am teaching them how to use a camera, people think I am teaching them how to use a camera.
What I am doing is giving people the tools (and the key) to unlock their creativity. And what that brings is an incredible freedom.
It’s about going from feeling like being just a cog that’s turning in the machine, and instead becoming an explorer of the deep mysteries of this incredibly, complicated, messy and mesmerising world.
Photography is a gateway to enjoying the richness and beauty of the world. It’s an excuse to take yourself off to explore, to examine and to dwell in places you find breathtaking; it’s a licence to talk to strangers and photograph everything that’s weird and wonderful about them; it’s a reason to get up at 3am and watch the life-affirming beauty of a sunrise.
It’s capturing that feeling of watching dusk fall over a wild deep blue ocean or in the chair lift as it slowly rises above the epic vastness of the Alps.
It’s a gift to experience life in a deeper and richer way.
That’s what photography brings to my life.
The tools I bring to teach photography come from my 20 year career as a photographer, an explorer and a creator. I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire always to make my images better, more interesting and most of all to have connect more with the viewer.
“When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” Robert Frank
“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun”
Yesterday I talked about the importance of sharing and showing your work. It gives your work a new dimension when other people engage with it. And I love to know that I am creating photos that make a connection with my viewer. I don’t want my photos to just be glanced at, then forgotten.
If you want your photos to be meaningful for people then – what becomes such an essential part of photography then – or any act of creating, painting, music – is imbuing your photos with feeling. Even if you have everything else perfect – great composition, beautiful light, perfect exposure, there will be *something missing* if the photo isn’t imbued with feeling. It will be looked at and forgotten.
And this starts with you. As Don McCullin says:
“If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
So my challenge to you today is: decide on an emotion you want to communicate, find it and photograph it! Now, why decide before you go out and take the photo? Because I want this to be a decisive act. I want you to see how you can train your awareness by making a choice to seek out and find one particular emotion. And after all – what you concentrate on expands, right? (that’s new brain science there for you!)
Or you could think about it this way. You always notice things more when they come into your life – so when your wife is pregnant there seem to be pregnant women everywhere. Or your friend buys a yellow car, and then as if from nowhere, yellow cars appear everywhere. (This isn’t a trick, it’s just the fact that your mind blocks out most things in the outside world because there is too much stimuli, it’s too tiring to go around noticing everything, so your brain helpfully blocks most information.)
Now the obvious way to communicate feeling is through human beings. But I don’t want you to photograph people’s faces. I want you to seek out that emotion and capture it in the world around you – in everything but faces.
I want you to look for the feelings that you experience when looking at light, the ocean, a puddle on a rainy day – or a door, a set of deck chairs, a pavement filled with children’s chalk drawings.
There are so many emotions to choose from, how lucky! How about sadness? Joy? Love? Fear? Excitement? Anticipation? Disgust? Here are some popular emotions – but don’t confine yourself to just these. Play around and find something you are really interested in.
Last rule – you can use people figuratively – but not as the main subject.
*Tip: it really helps if you are in the mood that you are trying to capture. It’s like your feelings flow out of you and into the camera. But it is still possible to recreate that feeling if you are mindful enough.
Here are some examples from me of emotions and feelings I’ve created in my images.
The chilly feeling of foreboding….
Hmm…what’s the feeling here? I think the yellows and the greys communicate something quite distinctly….
Advertisers are always trying to communicate feelings with their images, so they must be powerful 🙂
And I would love to see what you come up with. Let me know what you think, and post your photos, in the comments below.
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” Henry Miller
Hope you are all doing really well this week and you are getting in some good photography.
I’m doing something a little different this week for you. Firstly, I get such awesome feedback about the links to photo-creativity-inspired articles I feature – so I’ve got ten awesome interesting things for you to explore below. Secondly, I’ve also got two super amazing deals for you this week.
Dawn photo walks for £20!
I’ve been asked by the Find Your London festival to run some dawn photo walks for them in March, and I’d love all you Londoners (or close to Londoners) to join me. The best part for you is that they are been co-funded by the festival and so are the uber good price of £20 each! It’s going to be a maximum of 20 people per day. I’ll be running them with another photographer and will run from 5.30am-9am.
Get my London & Paris at Dawn Photo books for only £15!
I’m doing a super special bundle deal on my London at Dawn and Paris at Dawn photo books. These big, beautiful photo books full of my best dawn photos of these cities are usually £20 each, but I’m offering for the next 7 days both of these books for £15 – Plus free UK shipping!
1. Photo project: Gordon ParksI love reading about interesting people who through sheer force of will and desire overcome social pressures and prejudice to do just awesome things with their lives. Gordon Parks was an African-American photographer, musician and filmmaker, who just seemed to run at life and thrive regardless of the roadblocks placed in his way. This project was shot, but never published, for Life Magazine in the early 1950’s and only recently discovered documents his return to his home town where he discovers that all of his fellow classmates in the all-black school he attended had left the town in search of better opportunities and to escape prejudices. He tracked down all of his classmates and photographed them for this piece.
2. Interviewwith photographer Sally Mann, who famously photographed her children when they were growing up and gained widespread condemnation, as well as praise, for her frank and open approach to documenting their lives. Here she talks intimacy and ethics.
“It’s a deeply ethically complex situation when you’re photographing someone because you as the photographer hold all the cards. You always do.” Sally Mann
3. I love photojournalist Yunghi Kim’s work, excellent interview with her here featuring one of my favourite shots of hers ‘Mourning Freddie Gray’ – a really emotive and powerful image. My favourite quote from which was:
“For me photojournalism is more than just taking pretty pictures or creating newsworthy moments. It is about studying people and their situations and making an image in the most human way possible.” Yunghi Kim
4. Photo project – British lifeboat crew fighting the awesome power of the ocean. Lovely colours and composition that really capture the feeling of the sea and it’s strength.
5. This short film made by Diane Arbus’s daughter, Doon, is amazing. Beautiful history of her short life as well as lots of good advice about photography. I’ve also listed some other excellent interviews with great photographers here, including one by Don Mccullin, where he talks about wanting to be remembered as a landscape painter, not a war photographer.
8. My essential quick tips for photographing strangers – on The Guardian.
Not to do with photography, but interesting for creativity
9. I loved George Lois’s book on creativity, Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!) – how to unleash your creative potential. He’s a bolshy character, with short intense and super smart pieces of advice. And he’s Greek like me (well I am half Greek :)) Awesomely funny and motivating book.
And last but not least, to one of the greatest artists of all time..
“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” Nathaniel Hawthorne
My son once said to me – “One day you’re going to love autumn as much as I do.” And I think, after many years, that time has arrived. Loving an autumn in London didn’t come naturally to me.There can be endless days of steely grey skies, cold thrashing weather, permanent dampness of person and quite a lot of feelings of grimness. But when nature turns on its beauty at this time of year, it can at times be more incredible and more special that at any other time of the year..
I think those bad days are just there to keep us photographers on our toes. Nature is saying, wait for it, wait….wait….patience, bam! There you go. Incredible, incredible beauty. And because it’s not happening every day we become hungrier for the beauty.
I love autumn too because, unlike summer or spring when everything is just pretty and opulent, beauty in autumn reminds us of how fleeting and temporary life is. We can’t take the moments of fantastic light, or a tree on fire with colour, for granted. We have to be opportunistic – see it and capture before it quickly escapes us. (That momentary opportunity of autumn is explained really nicely by Charlie Waite here in describing one of his photos.)
Last Sunday I headed up to Hampstead Heath with my Light Monkey’s photo group for a dawn walk filled with SPECTACULAR beauty. Mist weaving through a golden sunrise, light falling onto trees as their leaves fell, and a dewy, moist ground. It was one of those mornings when you know you are taking wonderful photos, because what the world has laid out for you is so inspiring your skin feels tingly.
These moments, and days, are just the result of putting the time in. Of pushing yourself out the door on a cold morning to see the sunrise, or away from that delicious glass of wine because you’ve noticed some interesting light outside. If you keep showing up then you’ll find the magical, the truly inspiring – and your photography will make you feel so gratified that you made the effort.
The photos in this post are both by me and some of the members of my Light Monkey’s photo group (thanks to them for so generously sharing them). It’s always an extra exciting part of going out and taking photos as a group – when you share the photos afterwards and see how we can all be in the same place and yet see totally different things.
So here are some thoughts about capturing the moments of autumn:
It’s a great time for macro photography
Getting those close up shots of intense colour of the leaves, the dew drops on the spider’s web, the shapes and textures of the falling foliage. (Here’s a good introduction on how to shoot macro photography from the excellent website Cambridge in Colour.)
Playing with the shape and textures
It’s a mad time in nature, when the trees are throwing off their leaves, filling the floor at our feet with intensely colourful shapes. The trees are revealing their bending branches, wildly playing together in their air. I love looking at trees at this time, and using their amazing shapes and combining it with the texture and colours of the falling leaves.
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus
Plenty of contrast
In autumn instead of just a wash of green, nature has a mass of contrasts – lots of colour, changing textures etc. When there is lots of contrast around it makes it easier for the eye to break down the elements and place them together.
Autumn means more moisture is in the air
So now we have more dew on the grass in the morning; mist and fog make an appearance. These are all additional elements that will enhance your subject. Fog and mist usually burn off soon after sunrise, so get up early (dawn is much later at this time of year, 7am in the UK at the moment, so you really have no excuse :)) and bring your tripod. Use the extra rain to play with reflections.
If you can’t get out before dawn try sunset, when there can be extraordinary light. But it’s good to know that through the cold months the sun doesn’t rise as far so you can often get interesting photos throughout the day. (Here is another great Cambridge in Colour link, about making the most of shooting in natural light.)
Use all of your senses
I am a big fan of using your other senses – listening, smelling and touch – to connect yourself with the world around you. The more immersed you are in your environment, using all of your senses, the more you can see. And if you’re finding it hard to concentrate – thinking perhaps instead about that stupidly annoying email you received this morning – then using your other senses is an excellent way to anchor you into the here and now. It takes some of the pressure off trying to see everything.
“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.” Rainer Maria Rilke
The combination of beauty and melancholy
I like autumn too because there is a mix of beauty and melancholy. Someone once said to me that there is a loneliness to much of my work. I prefer to think of it as a sense of aloneness, because I don’t feel lonely. But I think what this means is that I am communicating a feeling, something that is familiar and touching for people to look at. I am connecting a feeling that I have with one that the viewer might also have. And for me life isn’t just all roses and starlight. It’s special because it’s both precious and fragile. It has both love and sadness.
I’ve been listening to some music that I think fits this season of beauty and melancholy, music that makes your spine tingle but also speaks to that wisdom of the soul: Blue in Green by Miles Davis; everything by Nick Drake and Beethoven’s Symphony 7 (if I’m feeling a little greedy for inspiration I just listen the ‘best bit’ here).
Exploring subtle colours
Spring and summer – that’s nature showing off. Autumn brings a need to probe the more subtle edges of what’s interesting and lovely to look at. That’s one of the reasons I love photographing Venice, nothing is loud and brash (except the sunshine sometimes and the tourists often :)) – the buildings and the colours are all very subtle. So you have to examine the qualities of the colour, the subtle contrasts, the depth of the colours, and be enchanted by that. I am not quite as excited as my wife and son by the depths of brown in the woods, but I’ll definitely take great interest in the myriad of greens and yellows, no problem.
Many artists have documented changes in their environment or favourite views over the seasons. Like Ansel Adams with his Seasons in Yosemite project and David Hockney with his study of trees in Yorkshire. It’s an excellent way to become more connected to your environment and to train your eye in noticing both the big and subtle changes of a scene.
And it’s not just nature you can document. The seasons affect every part of human life – in the look of our streets to the feelings, gestures and appearances of people within them.
And just while we are on the subject of looking at other photographers /artists I’d like to recommend:
Studying other photographer
Don McCullin talks in this interview about how he learnt about photography by studying great photographers. He started with the concept of beauty, not war, in absorbing how to compose photographs. This is an idea that I really love: that your subject doesn’t have to be pretty or beautiful, but having an appreciation of beauty in this world will make your compositions stronger, more compelling and pleasing to the eye. Look at what Sebastiao Salgado has done by finding beauty in the most difficult subjects – and thereby attracting tremendous attention to his subject.
So if I could encourage one thing of you this week – it would be to find some nature (Hampstead Heath in London – perfect!) and go have some fun. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere – keep this post for six months 🙂 Or somewhere that doesn’t have many seasons (hello my old friends in LA) – travel.
Be an explorer. Get up and push yourself out of the door because you’ve seen some interesting light. Leave your bed or your good book for later. Venturing out for exploration will always be rewarding. Don’t let the cold weather keep you inside; shake up your body and your mind and go and find something extraordinary.
I would love to know – what inspires you to photograph autumn? Do you love the light, the colours, the grey, even? Comment on my blog here or reply to my email.
“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.
Yesterday I was watching my three year old daughter at her art table working on a picture. She had a shaker of glitter in each hand plus one in her mouth. She was shaking her little arms and nodding her head furiously in an effort, I suppose, to get as much glitter onto her page all at once.
Afterwards, when I was clearing up, I noticed that there were sheets of tissue paper methodically scrunched up and placed into the glue bowl and a little pile of fabric roses covered in glue and glitter that she had carefully arranged, on the table. Neither had been used in her picture.
For my daughter the joy of making pictures is mostly about the process and about feeling – the sensations of looking and playing with the materials, seeing what happens when you shake glitter into the air and watch it fall gently onto the carpet. The feeling of scrunching up tissue paper and pouring glue on little roses – even more wonderful.
“Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realise that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art.” Maya Angelou
This story is really a little reminder to all of us (including me), underneath our incessant doing and planning, to just take a moment to remember that this joyful, creative force is still alive in us, even if it gets buried in emails and to do lists more often than not. Let’s remember that the doing of the work is just as exciting as seeing the results.
So – a few weeks ago I sent out a challenge to you all to take 50 photos a day for 15 days. I heard from a lot of you that you were taking it up. Awesomeness. (For those of you who emailed me about the challenge, I will be setting up an invitation for a public edit of your work in the next few weeks)
The reason I set this challenge was because I am often told by people (who love photography) how they forget to take photos. However enthused and inspired they are about photography, it is all too easy to get distracted by life. This is true for me too.
And yet, we have a deep urge to create. Why? I like what Brene Brown says:
“We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration – it is how we fold our experiences into our being.”
(Small aside, Brown’s little RSA video about empathy was amazing, really blew me away when I saw it.)
I also like what Jason Silva says – that we all have this urge to create, it’s like a knot in your stomach. And when you do finally make something, when you do finally output, then that knot, that anxiety goes and you feel a rush of feeling that is euphoric and connects you suddenly with the universe. You go from being alone in your bubble to being totally connected. Beautiful.
So we want to create, we know it makes us feel amazing (or makes us feel something more than what we are feeling right now). How can we keep this thing that feels amazing in our every day (or even every week) life?
Creativity is about balance, it’s the ever-important concept of discipline and excitement and joy in the process. Let’s conjure up the ying and yang symbol as an explanation? Both are the drivers here.
So – what do you want to do now?
Regardless of if you’ve taken the challenge and have lapsed, completed the challenge or not done it at all. I thought it would be helpful to suggest that you think about the idea of committing to your photography in some formal way, keeping discipline in the back of your mind. Especially as we head into the autumn, a time that is usually very busy and distracting.
Take my 50/15 challenge, details here, or do something smaller or more long term – have one day per week, or a couple of days per month that are your photo days.
Some questions (for you)
And how about asking yourself a couple of questions to get yourself on track so you can make your photography and creativity really significant in your life over the next few months:
· What does photography give me?
· How do I want to be creative in my every day?
· Which of my photos or projects am I really proud of?
I ask these kinds of questions because we all know how to make rules for ourselves, rules that generally don’t work or frustrate us or make us feel crappy for not following them. But when you think about the benefits of what a photographic practise brings to your life, you are more likely to stay motivated and on track with this thing that brings you so much joy. (I know my daughter will stay fully committed to using up all of her glitter in the ten glitter pots that my wife bought over the next few weeks). Finding what is as motivating for you as glitter is to my daughter is the key to keeping up a fulfilling creative practise.
But what if you find it hard to get started? Or create enough momentum to keep you going? I think what holds some people back is a little bit of fear of being, well, rubbish. Producing work that is mediocre. We all want to be great, don’t we? But the vision of greatness, that tendency we have to lean into perfectionism is a trap; it’s a dark hole that we can fall into and struggle to emerge from.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.” Anne Lamott
So you know what – just start small:
“You may never know exactly what you need to do, or exactly where you’re going. But if you are willing to start taking tiny steps, and keep going, the dots will connect over time to create something beautiful and fulfilling.” Lori Deschene
And let’s remember this:
“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
(Another aside – I love Sir Ken, whose Ted Talk ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’ inspired my wife and I to totally transform our kids’ education. It is completely amazing if you haven’t already seen it.)
So let us commit to our creativity.
Now something else to motivate you…
I see so many wonderful photos and projects every day from the work we do in our workshops, my Light Monkey’s Photo Collective and from people who share their images with me. I have been thinking for a while now what a shame that it’s just me, or a few other people from a workshop, who get to see the photos that you take.
And so I’d like to curate an online collection of images of some of the best photos that you are taking. And we’ve love you to submit your work, whether it’s from doing the challenge or from another time. I would like to send me your very best 5 images from 2015 (and only 2015 I’m afraid, we are not resting on the laurels of past success. It’s all about the now, right now). Deadline is November 30th, so get thinking and snapping, you’ve got time.
Last words from me….
Is there anything that you would like to see me cover in our blog? Any burning questions, pressing interests, subjects you’d like to see me explore?
I really really want to know what would be helpful or useful for you.
It would be great to receive suggestions for posts. I will look at them all and see if I can bring an interesting investigation to the subject.
I really appreciate you reading my blog – please comment with any feedback on my site – and send to any friends or people you like/love if you feel the urge. That would be super helpful.
Anthony & Diana
The above photo of me was taken by the very wonderful Monica Fritz, who is a photographer based in Istanbul. She ran a great photo walk for our group on my last workshop in the city.
All the of the photos in this post are of Istanbul.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 morning after I sent out a blog post earlier this month about reviewing your work I woke up in a cold sweat. Something was deeply, deeply wrong….
I crept downstairs and turned on my computer. In a few seconds (my laptop opens at lightening fast speed, something I am very proud of) I realised my fear was valid. I looked through the photos I had picked for my ‘best of year’ selection and they were all random shots, devoid of a theme, a subject, a purpose, a mission.
They were just a…. bunch of images. And it struck me that I didn’t come anywhere close to completing a project last year, and that was completely frightening.
In this age of camera phones and photography obsession it is no longer enough to produce a few lovely images and then think – OK I’m done, I’m a great photographer! One of my favourite contemporary photographers, Jonas Bendiksen, who produced the incredible photo book Satellites, said that the future of photography will lie not in the beautiful individual photos (I mean who doesn’t have a bunch of those) but in the stories that photographs can tell.
And this applies to both amateurs and professionals. Think about your audience, what do they want to see? A few unrelated but lovely shots of a beach or some great street photography, or do they want to be drawn in by you and a story that you have seen and are telling with your work? Think too about what you want to see when it comes to photography. A selection of images, or a story?
And it is in that that I failed last year. OK – to give myself some credit I have been working on my Venice at Dawnbook – but not enough! Life, business, my funny children – they distracted me!
Over this past week my mind has become a hot bed of intense thinking and just a little anxiety (which isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to being creative. Here’s Kierkegaard on why anxiety powers creativity rather than hinders it, from the beautiful beautiful website Brainpickings.)
My question to myself has been – what story do I want to tell this year with my photography? And….. I think I’ve come up with something….It’s too soon to share my subject, but I wanted to share the process I went through with the hope that it might help you think about what story you want to tell with your photography this year.
I love taking photos of cities, and people in cities. I do have some other subjects. A few years ago I exhibited my project on trees, called Arboreal Dreams. So the first question I always ask is:
What do you want to photography – people or things? Instantly I thought of people. I have done a hell of a lot of cities of late. Even though I do love to photograph the people I find awake in cities at dawn, they are few and far between.
I also decided on people because my last portrait project, The Homeless World Cup, was incredibly fun to do and when I exhibited it last year I got tonnes of great feedback (not that I am taking photos just for the praise mind you :))
What subjects/news items/themes in life are obsessing you at the moment? Well, the subject I have chosen is nothing to do with photography, but everything to do with some techy subject I love. Perhaps you wouldn’t know to look at me, but I am a total tech nerd (my wife likes to say I look way cooler than I actually am. I completely disagree).
Be passionate It’s incredibly important to be passionate about the project you are shooting – otherwise you risk getting distracted, losing interest, having a complete crisis of confidence mid way through the project and you won’t finish it. EVERY project I do I have a crisis of confidence midway through.
Every, single, one. Heck I even had a crisis of confidence before I started my Paris at Dawn book – how can I photograph the most visited city in the world, and therefore the most photographed, in an original, inspiring way? Was the the big anxiety I faced. Turns out Paris at Dawn is now my favourite of the dawn projects.
Passion for your subject will keep you going when you think – my work is terrible! I hate my photos! Why have I spent so much time on this rubbish! Passion will help you get to the end so that you can settle, look back over the work and think – oh, this is quite good actually.
Is it easy to photograph? One of the downsides of photographing Cities at Dawn is the mere fact that they are so far away (now that I’ve done two books on London!) Hence my limited progress on my Venice book this year. I will keep going on that, and my other city books, but I realised I need something closer to home to work on when I can’t travel – because that keeps the creative juices flowing.
That doesn’t mean your project can’t be abroad – just make sure you are able to commit the time you need to it, and maybe have some smaller projects that are closer to home to keep you motivated throughout the year.
I have used this quote already on a blog of late but it seems negligent not to bring it up again at such an apt time – “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou
And let’s be realistic – will I have the time to shoot this?
One of my favourite of my recent projects has been The Belly Project:
Talk about subjects being everywhere!
What are you hoping to achieve with this project? Fame, glory, world-wide recognition? (OK, maybe that’s just me?) Is this part of a wider life goal, or is this a story you just want to share with the world? Is this solely for my family and friends, or myself? It’s good to clarify.
If it’s a story you want to share with the world – the good news is there are so many ways now to get your photos out there. Yes it’s a crowded space, but never before has a photographer not affiliated with a news magazine, publisher or gallery been able to have the possibility to show their work to the millions.
This is in itself a massive subject – and if people are interested in what we have done to get my work out there then let me know. I would be more than happy to put together a post on websites, news media etc. if that’s something you want to know about.
How many final images? This sounds like a strange question to ask yourself before you’ve even started but it helps to give you some structure to the project. It’s not set in stone either – even if you think 30 images and come out with 10, you should regularly assess where you are at, have you told the story already? Perhaps you’re taking too many photos and not managing to distil the story into a smaller amount and that should help you focus your work.
For my Homeless World Cup project I have about 20 images I am really happy with that, a great amount for that kind of project. For my books – 90 images is around preferable, but that is a 1-2 year intense project, so I would suggest you focus on between 10-20.
Get started The world is littered with unrealised ideas! Don’t let yours add to the heap! Even if you don’t feel ready, or inspired I always think (or my wife does and she tells me so when I am dithering hopelessly) better just to get started and change things if it’s not right than wait for perfect conditions.
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” — Edward de Bono
Things may change This is normal! Allow for your project to develop as you get to know your subject better and the way you are responding. Have plenty of time to let the work ‘settle’ so you can reassess, evaluate and respond to changes.
On a new page on our site of inspiring interviews with iconic photographers, Annie Leibovitz talks in detail about her book ‘Women’. It’s a really interesting to hear how she overcame her initial fear of the project and how it developed as she started to shoot the project.
Some other questions to ask yourself:
How would you like it to be viewed – prints, online, a book, something more abstract?
What technical abilities will I need?
Is my gear enough?
Who will help me edit?
Now once you’ve done all that thinking, planning, assessing…forget it! You’ve laid the foundations, you’ve done the sensible part, now is the time to get going, and as Picasso said:
“To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”
I’d love to hear about your photo projects for the year and how you’ve created them. Please do comment, I love hearing from you all!