This is a photo from my workshop last week. The busyness of a city like Hong Kong gives you so many opportunities to play with long exposures.
Good day to you,
I hope life is really super good, and that you are happy, nourished, enjoying life in all the many places that you live.
Today’s post is inspired a little by Vangelis, the composer who scored films such as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. He composes quite spacey, evocative music – melodies that seem to often grab you by the emotions (see Conquest of Paradise, although I love his more sedate, laid-back music like Blade Runner Blues).
I read an interview with Vangelis in which he was asked:
Many of your fans might have expected a synthetic, ‘Beaubourg’-style score for Blade Runner, rather than the rich and emotional tapestry of themes that you came up with. How concerned were you with disassociating the Blade Runner score from the bombast of Star Wars and the ‘artificial’ style of many previous sci-fi themes?
Vangelis – In order to answer your question I need a special talent that some people have to talk about their work endlessly, something I find very difficult and boring to do. So, I will just say that I did what I felt like doing at the moment I did it.
Awesomely funny! But as well as making me laugh – it made me think that really this last point is the essence of creating and photography.
Creating anything happens in a moment by moment basis – and it is dominated by the choices you make and how you feel.
Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field – Peter Adams
What is happening in the moment that you take the photo?
You may think by that I mean what’s happening outside of you. But what I really mean is what is happening inside of you?
Now – the biggest problem I’ve seen for most photographers is actually – they are not in the present moment.
Most photographers are being distracted by the place they are in, the thoughts running through their head about things in the future, thoughts about their camera and things like ‘am I doing this right?’
But what we need to be aiming for is being totally and fully present in the moment. Totally there in the place, totally connected to what we are doing. Almost pretending there is no past or future, because, actually, is there? All we have for sure is now.
So when you have anchored yourself in this magical present moment you want to figure out how you feel.
How do you feel about this place that you are in? Alone? Excited? Exhilerated? Nervous? Unsure?
Because all of those feelings will translate into your photos.
A very common emotion in photography is nerves, especially when photographing people and street photography.
Nerves lead to people ‘holding back’ and not truly jumping in and embracing the moment.
And I can see when people are holding themselves back, I can see it in their photos. When they are not giving the experience everything they want to give.
To fully embrace the experience, the moment you are in. Surrendering to what is happening now, and pulling yourself away from anything else that will distract you.
You will see in my photos of Hong Kong how I felt about the city. What my dominating emotions were.
Life is fleeting. We get obsessed with the little things – the day to day when we are running around so don’t forget to fully embrace the times when you get to do all of this wonderful creating. Don’t forget to fully embrace the moment.
So those are some thoughts about photography and the essentialness of being ‘in the moment’. I hope you enjoyed them (as well as some of my new photos of Hong Kong).
That’s it for now. Any thoughts, questions or queries – just comment below.
“… a fine way to capture a piece of the magic of a unique city. The drama, the charm and the beauty of Hong Kong is all here-just as is its breathless energy.” Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams
A few nights ago I walked up the long trail to the top of Victoria Peak. It was hot, muggy, and the air was very thick and heavy. I was walking with my heavy camera bag because I didn’t want to wait in the long queue for the tram.
I got to the top and was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of any city I’ve ever been too. A glimmering, shimmery, colourful, buzzing city, laid out before me, bursting with intense energy and colour.
I had truly arrived in Hong Kong.
At the moment I am really getting into a lot of sunset / blue hour / night shooting here. If there was any city meant for night shooting, it’s Hong Kong.
So I want to show you some of the ideas I am playing with – and of course I’d love to hear what you think.
Showing work in progress can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable – when it’s not totally finished; when I am still mulling over photos that I am not always certain about; photos that maybe need a re-edit, or I’ll reshoot or need some more time to think over.
But I think there is so much value in seeing projects develop, and seeing the processes that people go through when they are putting a project together.
Amazing light, right!?
Hong Kong is amazing – if you haven’t been it’s everything you think it will be – times a thousand.
It’s overwhelming: gazillions of people everywhere, in very densely packed streets and blinding high rises. The air is thick and heavy and hot.
The colours are just WOW! I love it.
I am in a photographer’s paradise – if you like shooting cities of course. Di saw my first photos and said – this is so you’re kind of city!
Hong Kong is currently undergoing massive construction on the waterfront
This photo below is my favourite photo from the past week (I think…) It makes me think a little bit of that amazing film In the Mood for Love – which I suppose Hong Kong, with its tropical air and intense colours just lends itself to a cinematic feeling.
That moody dark blue sky, the shallow depth, a bit of thirds…yummy!
Blue hour here is so stunning because of the dramatic weather and how colourful the city lights are. It’s really stimulating! And as it starts to cool off my energy goes up. It’s a great combo to shoot with.
The density of artificial colour, mixed with all the rigid and repetitive shapes, is mesmerising.
I like finding little moments of quiet in cities, too.
Lots of simple contrasts….
Tropical trees & monolithic modern buildings: I’m totally obsessed with the trees here. I love anything that gives contrast to these giant monolithic buildings.
Wow, what colours! Makes me think of awesome 1980’s design.
“Give Hong Kong to an Artist. He can use it. It can be poetised.” Baris Gencel
I like this quote because even though Hong Kong is a hard city to ‘get to grips with’, I recommend you inhabit the wandering, poetic spirit because such modernity can of course be made into poetry and art.
Also, it’s too easy to get overwhelmed by big cities – and we always want to banish overwhelm in our creativity. You just have to accept that you’ll never fully capture such a changing, moving city in totality – so just inhabit the spirit of the observer, the poet and drift to what interests you and follow the light.
Every city has an edginess – and I always seem to be drawn to them.
I love to explore the gritty edges of cities. The places where things are ugly, stark, perhaps a bit brutalist. I am drawn to making something interesting with them.
I’m not driven to being super philosophical in my photography – I could say I like show the dark side of the human impact on the planet, but I leave that interpretation up to others to figure out.
So that’s it for now!
I’ve got some great street photography to share with you next time. Hong Kong is incredible for street photography!
But for now, I am going to carry on shooting and getting ready for my workshop that starts next week. I can’t wait. It’s so much fun shooting with other people in a place like this. The intensity! The colours! The buildings! The people! The exploration! (and the food). All awesome to share.
I’d love to know what you think of my photos – please comment below – its so great hearing what you think!
Have a wonderful day,
Anthony (with word-support and help from the awesome lady that is Diana)
19 Photos to Show You Why Your Camera Doesn’t Matter
Today I wanted to have a little fun and make this suggestion – your camera is nothing without you. It’s an inert machine that requires your vision, your inspiration, your excitement and energy to create interesting photos.
So to illustrate this today I want to send you some photos I took in the last few weeks with my smartphone camera.
I want to show you that:
1) It doesn’t matter what camera you have – good photos can always be created.
2) Regardless of where, and with what you are shooting, take time to pause and compose your shot! In fact taking photos in the day-to-day way with your phone camera is an awesome way to practise composition. A little practise every day will do wonders!
So let’s see what I came up with with my smartphone camera in these past few weeks….
How many of the photos in this post are about light?
Light doing interesting things is everywhere. You just need to look out for it….
What do you think? Am I right – or do you totally disagree? I’d love to know!! Let me know in the comments below. It’s amazing hearing what you think.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
PS – here is the 19th shot, taken by Di, on the subject of how difficult it is to take a nap when there is a 5 year old around 🙂
‘Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.’ Imogen Cunningham
To me there is nothing more electrifying than walking the predawn streets of cities whose culture and landscape I love.
I love that feeling of breathing in the fresh, often cold, morning air. Watching the sky turn from inky black into deep blue and then gradually bringing the wild colours of sunrise – pinks and oranges, yellows and bright blues – to light the magnificent, empty city.
I have found a subject that I follow all over the world – dawn – that makes me feel incredible to be alive. That makes me want to roll out of my warm bed (and oh, how I love my warm bed :)) and go explore.
Today I want to share with you some simple, but powerful ideas to help you create stunning and unique travel photos.
I also want to help you ignite that incredible joy you can get in finding a subject that is mesmerising to you as dawn is to me.
If you are new to travel photography I will to arm you with knowledge that will empower you to follow your curiosity and get great images.
If you already do a lot of travel photography, I want to offer inspiration and ideas that will help you develop your photographs so they have more depth. To help you say more about what it is like to stand in that place, to feel the energy and the atmosphere and to translate all of that wondrous unique spirit to your images.
This travel photography guide is divided into sections:
Mindset – how you see, what you’re thinking about, in fact the state your entire being is in – are all the things that define you as a photographer. How you travel, what you see and the energy you bring to the place defines the photos you take.
Subject & composition – here I discuss the approach you take in new places, along with some simple techniques.
Your kit – some simple tips for gear. Plus links and resources provided here for more in-depth teachings.
Exploration – once you have your vision established, your gear packed and you are away, this last section will look at some ideas about exploring and finding subjects.
A lot to cover – so let’s get started!
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Anonymous
First, a question:
I want to ask you this: why do you want to travel? What are you yearning to see, to feel and to experience? What is it about travelling that excites and moves you? What do you want to learn?
Many of us might think: well, it’s to see things, beautiful and interesting things. But I will counter that by saying: no, it’s not just things we want to see – it’s experiences that we want to have.
So often we are on our hedonic treadmill – going about our lives and living the way we do. But then we also want to get off that treadmill – we want to feel something different.
I believe that most of what we need to develop as creative people – as photographers – is already inside of us. We just need to find ways to reveal it. Travel is an amazing way to do that.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” Seneca
Travel brings new ways of seeing and thinking into our lives, but we all have different reasons for wanting to do it. I like to get a feeling, some ideas, about what I am looking for when I travel (because it changes all the time.)
Sometimes for me it’s about overcoming a fear of the new, or pushing myself outside my comfort zone; sometimes it’s about connecting with the beauty of the world to refresh my frazzled brain; sometimes I want to meet people and hear stories of new places, or it could be I just need some thrill of the new in my life.
“I lay in one of those protracted moments of rapture which scatter this journey like asterisks. A little more, I felt, and I would have gone up like a rocket.” Patrick Leigh Fermor (wonderful travel writer)
Right now I am sitting in a darkened bedroom in the south of France, looking out onto the faint lights below in the garden of a little hotel. Behind me my children are sleeping, I can hear their soft in and out breaths. The world around me is quiet, but the air feels heavy with expectation.
It feels exciting because I am in a new place, the air feels different, the world around me looks different – but in fact it’s not the newness of it. It’s the fact that I am totally present, totally fascinated by looking out this window in twilight onto a garden I have never seen before.
I can’t help but be present when everything is new to my eyes – when I am seeing it for the first time. It’s electrifying.
I am feeling totally open and aware of this experience. Not wanting to move or do anything but simply witness what is before me.
It’s sitting round a table on a rooftop in a new city at sunset, talking to new people, drinking a different kind of wine, eating new foods, as the night settles onto you.
We yearn for the new, we yearn for adventure, we yearn to have something new come into our lives and shake that sleeping person awake.
So I ask you again – what is it that you want to see, to feel, to experience in travel? What adventures are you looking to have?
Subject & composition
Look to shoot the iconic in a different way…..
I am always trying to go for a different approach when I shoot. I want my photos to have a unique feeling and quality about them. I don’t want people to look at my work and think it’s indistinguishable from everyone else’s.
Now to do that you have to be looking, always looking, around you to get a feel of what you could be adding to your photo about the place that you are in that could be different.
It could be shooting a famous building (here, the ‘Shard’) from a different angle (here through the gap in another building:
Or getting in the ambience of around the famous building (here, St Paul’s) and not making it a focal point of the image:
Or just being so patient by going back and back and back to a place until you get the perfect light:
Or it’s getting a great angle by going up onto a rooftop – like my shot of the Blue Mosque:
Always look out for unique elements at the location – and play with them. Like the graffiti in Paris, the flat grey skies of London, the deep blues and greys of Istanbul. Make them an asset in your photos.
People are hospitable and want to engage
I’ve written about this in-depth in my article ‘How to Photograph Strangers’. The essence of the article is that people are in general hospitable and kind, and most don’t mind having their photo taken.
I want you to assume that the world is your oyster and if you take the time to connect with people almost anyone can be your subject.
But I also want to point out something very significant, that I am coming across increasingly as I travel to more countries with intense poverty that attract lots of tourists….
Don’t just take (photos) – give something
In this world where we all have cameras on our phones, let alone actual cameras, it’s important to remember that in places that have lots of tourists there are people who are going to be photographed every single day by the constant flood of foreigners.
Photographer Lauren Pond said in an interview about her project about serpent handlers, “That’s another weird thing about photography, I think it tends to mentally sort of remove you from the situation.”
So I think we have to be aware of that.
For example – in many hot countries people are out and about on the streets and have no choice but to be there. Perhaps they work out on the street, or their apartments are hot and stuffy and to be out on their doorsteps is cooler and more refreshing, or perhaps life is just lived more outside.
Be aware of this: that people are just living their lives and don’t owe you a photo. They aren’t there to be photographed by endless strangers.
Think to yourself – if I am taking this image, if I am taking this from someone, what am I going to do with this image? And, what am I prepared to give?
When I think of giving I think of the place I am in, and the way I am travelling. Am I using local businesses rather than big multinational chains? Am I spending locally? Am I working with local people?
Am I being culturally sensitive? Am I giving my full attention to the people I am photographing – offering respect, gratitude and kindness – can I send them a photo or something else when I get home?
It’s wise to think: I wonder how it feels to be photographed constantly? Are we turning people into tourist attractions? Are we interacting with them or are we just looking at them as objects that we have a ‘right’ to photograph.
This opinion isn’t supposed to make you more self conscious about taking photos, it’s meant to get you to think more deeply about your purpose in taking photos.
If you are chatting, connecting and being open to the people around you, if you are coming with the attitude of giving and being grateful – you will get more complex, more in-depth photos.
You could be buying something in a market or shop, starting a conversation with someone, asking about their house, the history of the area, their religion, the food they are preparing – taking a genuine interest in people’s lives is so important when you travel. It is the connection that is often like the ‘payment’.
When you connect with people that’s also when magical things happen, like when I was in Venice. I ended up talking to a random guy who then invited my workshop group into an ancient clock tower that a specialist clock fixer who comes to Venice once a year, was fixing. It was utterly amazing to be in this secret place, and it happened just because I had my camera out and was wandering around talking to people.
Or the time it was early morning in Istanbul and I ended up being invited up onto the roof of a building where I got one of my best shots of the city – 45 minutes after having left my hotel for the first time ever!
I truly believe it’s my feeling of openness and gratitude that brings me cool photo experiences like that.
Take a look at this incredible photo project by Greg Girardabout the now-gone walled city of Kowloon in Hong Kong. A former Chinese-run enclave when the island was run by the British, it became a lawless state because the Chinese government couldn’t access it. Girard photographed Kowloon shortly before it was demolished. One of the best photo projects I’ve seen recently.
In praise of slow travel
There are places in this world that astound me, inspire me and make me almost shake with excitement – Havana is one of those places. At first it was an intimidating and difficult place to be. I found the poverty, pollution and tourist traps to be overwhelming. I felt like I had been planted in a different world that I just didn’t understand.
But after a few days of quiet observation, of wandering around and just looking, catching my breath, settling into myself and my new surroundings – I started to feel the rhythm of the city and get a feeling for how it worked.
Every place has a rhythm, has its own logic and energy that you want to connect with.
This is why I advocate ‘slow travel’. This is what works for me. I would rather spend a week or two (or a month or more if I can!) in one place than go to ten different spots. I don’t want to ‘see everything’ – but I do want to give myself plenty of time to really absorb and notice and wander and drift to the things that interest me.
I know it’s tempting to try and see a lot – go here, go there, fit it all in! But I think that leads to a rushing mentality, almost like you’re marking things off of a checklist.
When you get to know somewhere things happen, like perhaps you become friendly with the your local cafe owner where you go for breakfast, or get to know the cats on your street, or you see the weather and the light change over several days, or weeks.
Having time to notice, to absorb and feel a place is an incredible way to connect to its atmosphere.
It’s no coincidence that in the 18 years I have lived in London my photos of the city (even the same places in the city) get better and better. More ideas, more complexity, more atmosphere developed as I got to know the streets and areas, the personalities of the places over the years.
Of course you don’t need years to capture a great photo – but you can see what I’m saying, right? There is an advantage to developing a relationship with your subject that isn’t just a quick photo here, then move on, and that’s especially relevant with travel photography.
If you feel deeply inspired by a place, stay longer or go back. I’ve travelled a lot and for me there are places that I have enjoyed photographing – and places that I have loved photographing.
I try to always pick the latter for my projects: Venice, Havana, Istanbul. These are all cities that make me feel excited and incredibly alive. I want to keep discovering new facets of them – and I doubt I’ll ever be done.
Key take away:
A collection of images that tells a story about a person, a place, an event is much more interesting and powerful than vast collections of unrelated images. Less is more is usually my advice (unless you struggle to actually get your camera out and take photos, and then I’ll say, just to start, more is more 🙂
Trente Parkes’ projects of Australia. Couldn’t agree more when he says “I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical. ”
So many boring photos suffer from these two highly significant issues…
Not moving your feet!
Literally the number one issue I see with photographs where the subject is interesting but the photo is not, is that the photographer didn’t get the right angle. In some cases it’s because there wasn’t time, they couldn’t get to the right spot quick enough. But mostly it’s because the photographer wasn’t moving around enough and looking for the perfect angle.
They saw a cool subject and got so caught up in the subject they just started shooting, rather than taking the time to set up the perfect angle.
Preparation is everything, people!
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.” Yousuf Karsh
Lots more on finding the perfect angle in my ‘Finding the Perfect Angle’ article! Possibly the most useful article I have ever written. It’s not a sexy idea, but it’s super super impactful.
Remember what Robert Capa said: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. I don’t think you need to always be thinking close, close, close, but what you do need to be thinking is – what is the optimal range for this subject? Usually people are not getting close enough because they are scared. OR they are not moving into the optimum position because they feel self conscious.
Start to focus instead less on the world around you (so what, you’re taking photos?) and more on the subject. Start to concentrate on placing your attention on your subject – and not on yourself or your surroundings.
The optimum range can be – not very close at all! But as long as that’s intentional then that’s cool! I loved the approach Greek photographer Niko J. Kallianiotistook in his project about daily life in the rust belt of America –
“He doesn’t enter houses, diners, or stores. He prefers to imagine them from the outside. “If I do decide to enter, I most likely will not take my camera inside,” he told me. He keeps a certain distance. It seems almost superstitious—like he’s afraid of breaking something precious by getting too close.”
So each photographer – and each project – is different. No ‘one size fits all’ advice here – you set the intention.
I also liked Kallianiotis project about Greece, Motherland. I am half Greek but apart from being born there and growing up with a Greek mother, I have no real connection to the country. To me this project feels a bit more ‘real’. I suppose it says more than all the pretty picture postcards of Greece. It intrigues me…)
I also liked this recent photo essay about Notting Hill Carnival – I think it shows well how you can tell a story about an event or place. You’re not always able to make every image incredible, but to capture a story is fantastic.
I am a full on advocate for taking total creative control and shooting on manual. There is a freedom to be found when you can use your camera without feeling intimidated by it, afraid of it – or even the opposite, too overawed by its capabilities.
You can still do more amazing things on Manual than on Auto – because instead of letting a computer make a creative decision to interpret what it sees – you are making the creative decisions.
Your camera is just a tool that is helping you capture the vision that you see and bringing it to life. No more, no less.
It may strike you as silly, but the best general camera advice I can give is to read your camera manual. That will hands down give you the best technical advice you need, and it’s something I have noticed people rarely do.
“The best camera is the one you have with you”. Chase Jarvis
People ask me all the time what camera I would recommend and probably the best advice for travelling is – hold it first before you buy. Don’t get stuck with a camera that fatigues you quickly. Feel it, weigh it. Then think about price (if you have that luxury!) – and all the bells and whistles – later.
Pack light – of course it’s super tempting to really go for it on the gear front – but pack the least amount of kit you need, and that which you feel most comfortable with.
I would also encourage you to not over-use your zoom lens, because I think it can act as a barrier and encourage you not to get close to your subject (here’s my blog about Zoomlazia. Don’t do it!)
Invest in a good, tough portable hard drive – it’s obvious but don’t lose those hard earned photos when technology fails (it happens to the best of us!)
Keep your kit clean – another obvious one but not something I find all people do. Pack a couple of good cloths because they can get dirty after awhile.
Here’s a guide to shooting on manual: I love Cambridge in Colour for tech advice. It’s comprehensive and clear and I could spend hours, days even, reading the articles. Even if you dislike tech stuff you’ll still find it useful.
“The tripod of my camera served for a candle stand, and on it I hung my clothes and boots at night, out of the way of rats… With absolute security from vermin, all else can be cheerfully endured.” Isabella Bird
By the way – Isabella Bird was an amazingly inspiring woman who in the late 19th century travelled alone to China, Malaysia, Colorado and through the Middle East. If you need an injection of adventure inspiration read this great article about her here.
One of the many amazing benefits of travel for me is that I am growing so substantially as a human everytime I go away and explore. I am being fed by this experience so that I come back having learnt new things, enjoyed and experience new ideas.
Here is a little more about how I see travel as helping me grow and develop in my ‘How I travel like an Artist short film’.
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux
As I will mention below I like to scout a location before I go, but a big intention for me is to get lost. I want to get lost because the magic of creativity for me usually comes when I am not following a map, or looking for something specific, but I am just in that state of wandering and looking around.
We live in a world that is very ordered and organised. That’s awesome when you want to file your taxes or find out when the bus is coming – but less so when you want to see something unusual, interesting or new.
So I make it my mission to frequently get lost so I can lose that ordered part of myself (which let’s be honest isn’t that massive, I really think my artist personality dominates in this regard). And this could be relevant for you.
Scout locations and research before you go
I always explore a new location using Google Earth – it’s so intensely helpful to help me get my bearings.
Because I also love to look for inspiration in many places, it was interesting to read about how travelling to Hawaii was a great inspiration for Georgia O’Keefe and moving to Arles likewise was for Van Gogh (before the breakdown of course)
Travel can be tough – it brings out new facets of yourself
I don’t think of travelling as always an easy, blissful thing. Sometimes it is, and it can be a wildly exciting escape from the drudgery of day to day life. But it can also be tough, and it’s usually asking you to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. I would even say that if you’re not feeling a little uncomfortable at times you’re not doing it right.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Andre Gide
Prepare your mind (see mindset again, it’s everything) with thoughts of adventure, with the intention of discovery and pushing yourself beyond what you already do and already are. Commit to discovering new things about the world, but also about yourself. Don’t settle just for some nice photos and a good time.
“Fear is only temporary. Regrets last forever.”
Commit to keep learning and opening yourself up to possibility. I always, always, always want to be learning. Learning, like getting lost or going to new places, keeps that brain matter alive and electrified.
True exploration will always reveal new things about who you are, and who you could be. Really honour that.
Remember, wonder and awe, beauty and inspiration are everywhere
There is a quote I am sure I’ve read somewhere that the whole of the journey is the destination, not the destination itself. From getting on the bus at 5am to go to the airport, to sitting in the airport lounge watching the rain and grey skies outside – everything you experience on your trip is food for your imagination.
I love to photograph mundane, the ordinary, just as much as I love to photograph the wildly exotic. Being in thrall to the world and all that it has to reveal to you, and knowing you can find incredible subjects anywhere and everywhere, is amazing as a photographer.
“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” Matt Hardy
My last idea is to say that everyone travels in a different way – attracted by different things, drawn by different forces. Remember to be led by what fascinates you, be led by who you are and how you like to travel.
What fascinates me and what fascinates you is likely to be very different. But we are united by the desire to explore – and that is what is beautiful and incredible. Let’s celebrate this world by observing it, and sharing what we discover.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
I would love to know if you have any tips or ideas or advice about travel photography. Let me know by commenting below. It’s amazing to hear from you all.
It’s a beautiful summers day here in Arles. The rich warm light is amazing in this city of pale stone, flowers cascading down buildings and narrow pretty streets.
I woke early this morning with a restless mind. There is always a lot to do when you run a business, and I often get woken at strange times by my to-do list, but also when I am starting new projects and doing new things there is also the tingle of fear.
I have learnt though the the fear is just there when I’m jumping into the unknown. And it ain’t gonna kill me. I think of something a character in my favourite Sci-Fi book, Dune, says over and over:
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert
And I felt both reassured and inspired. So I got up and made coffee. I love that deep, almost heavy silence of night that is leading into dawn. I drank my coffee and then stepped out into the early morning. I was ready to explore.
I found some new ripped posters, to add to my new ‘ripped posters’ mini-project:
If you haven’t heard me talk about mini-seeing projects before – they are super useful things to do to help you develop your ability to notice more in your surroundings. I always have one or two things I am looking out for – not to build my portfolio or add to a book – but more as an exercise in developing my awareness.
I also found some ‘things at my feet’ – I am always looking for things on the floor to photograph. It’s totally fascinating to me.
Thanks for reading and for looking at my work. I super appreciate everyone who visits, comments and sends emails. It’s so awesome to have this community – and I hope that my work, my teachings and journey inspires you in some way.
As always just comment or from me an email if there is something you are struggling with photographically and would like to ask me about. It also helps me to figure out what to write about.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
A few weeks ago I posted an article about courage and how I was considering a big change in my life. Well, not just my life – I am a married father of two children after all – but in the lives of all four of us.
After a few months of deep discussion, Di and I have decided to untether ourselves from London and we will be travelling for at least the next year.
We have made this big choice for many, many reasons.
Partly to help us develop some new workshops in places we love – Kerala, Mexico, Hong Kong and to get Di’s help on the ground is super helpful.
Partly because we both have big creative projects we are working on – I have a couple of photo books to finish and she is writing a book. A really awesome book I must say.
And we want to show our kids the world. That’s always a good education right? My son is 12 in a few weeks, and it seems that maybe the window is closing of how much longer he’ll want to hang out with us and even consider such a long trip away from his friends and the rest of our family.
But mostly I want to do this because it’s about living with the idea of possibility.
What could happen if we put ourselves in new places, exploring new ideas, doing new things and meeting new people?
“I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities.” – Whoopi Goldberg
Possibility isn’t something I think we are encouraged to believe in as we become adults in our life. Security, good jobs, stable incomes – these are all promoted. And nothing is really wrong with that – I love a stable income as much as the next guy.
But I do think we need to ask: does this near-constant search for security limit what we might do with our lives?
“Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.” Elizabeth Gilbert
Do traditional ideas of security stop us from making our lives the most useful, most interesting and most inspiring they could be? Not just for ourselves but for those around us?
This isn’t me arguing for self-indulgent lifestyles – it’s not like when a character in a wickedly funny English TV show said, ‘Why can’t I have everything I want, all the time? Isn’t that democracy?’
No – this is about bringing the gifts that we are born with and bringing them into the world, for the good of ourselves and for each other. Is our love for security stopping that?
“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s taken me more years that I care to remember to figure out what I can offer this world (my treasures :)). At first I thought it was just taking photos – but now I see that it’s so much more than that.
“I am seventy three years old and have been a professional photographer for over forty six years. The feeling of “been there done that” has begun to take over my outlook on photography and I have stopped growing and getting excited about taking pictures.
This is the way I felt before reading your article on starting and finishing a photography project. I am now brainstorming subjects that I can get into and enjoy.”
AMAZING, right? I felt so good after this comment. It has reminded me that my work of teaching photography is just as powerful as the photos I take.
If I can encourage people to create for themselves, that is an amazing gift I can give. It was a pretty startling revelation to me.
I also got an incredible email a few months ago from a man who purchased one of my prints online. I had taken a photo of a place he had lived as a child during a very challenging period within his family.
He had made a commitment as a child living in that building, that he was not only going to survive what he endured but also to thrive and be successful.
He had bought the photo to remind him of how far he had come and how much he had grown. I felt so moved by that, especially as some of his family life echoed my own.
I also knew that it wasn’t just that I had taken a photo of a building that he could have probably found else where (much cheaper!)
I had created a photo that had strong feeling imbued in it, that was impactful and evocative, that expressed my feeling about that part of London, being out at dawn, all of my life experiences too.
I have spent my life working on my craft, developing my skills as a photographer, so that I can create images that move people and evoke ideas, thoughts and emotion.
I want my images to mean things to the people who see them.
So – I want to do more and more and more of all of this. I want to help/inspire/motivate/move people in any way I can as a teacher and as a photographer.
I want to bring new teachings, new ideas and new photos to the world. And that’s what I want this period of travelling to do for me. In particularly because:
I haven’t always believed in possibility.
Truth be told I lent way towards pessimism for many years of my life. I always felt that ‘luck’ and ‘connections’ were what you needed. And I didn’t have that.
But then I learnt I could create my own luck by opening up to the world of possibility. If other people could create beautiful things in this world and have them seen and shared, so could I.
It’s not easy taking that level of responsibility for one’s life. I struggled at first thinking – I need someone to help me, I need a gallery or a rep or ‘someone proper’ to notice me.
Then Di told me that we can’t wait around to be ‘picked.’ We have to choose ourselves, and whatever that means for us, go out there and do the work anyway.
Share your ideas. Share your work. Create, and things will happen.
What I would love my trip to help you with is to help you open up your ideas about what’s possible for you.
I will obviously be sharing my photos of the places I am going – but I have also planned a lot of simple and powerful teachings that will help you dive deeper in your subject, creating more interesting and compelling images.
I want to show you that every single one of us has a creative gift to offer the world. Just the sheer process of creating something is a beautiful, inspiring gift to ourselves and those around us.
“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” Elizabeth Gilbert
One of the things that I love about this community is the connections that I have built up with so many of you. Whether we are involved in an email chat or you come on one of my workshops, we meet over Skype or on one of my online sessions.
I cannot thank you all enough for being part of this community – the emails I get, the comments you leave, the fact you open my emails at all 🙂 really validates that my purpose here and my work are creating an impact.
I also want to teach my kids about this concept of possibility. If you know that anything is possible, you can accept new ideas, news ways of thinking and you can bring out the very best of what you have to offer the world.
Who knows what amazing innovations and creations the next generation could offer up this beautiful world.
We ‘set sail’ at the beginning of August. We can’t back out now! Our beautiful little house will be taken over by another family who will hopefully love it as much as we have. We are saying goodbye to friends and family, getting our vaccinations, decluttering and putting everything in storage – where did all this stuff come from?
It’s exciting and more than a little scary – a combination that is really quite exhilarating. Stepping into the unknown.
I hope you’ll join me as I send teachings, ideas and photos from all over the world. Thank you again for being part of this small and so very awesome community.
Now an extra little note – this article was written in the most part by Di – I created all of the skeleton ideas – but she has made it the readable and interesting post that it is. Plus, she seems to be telepathic, knowing my thoughts and ideas sometimes before I say them out loud. Perhaps that is just the nature of being together for 18 years. Although it does seem to be a one-way telepathy 🙂
Have an awesome day, happy photographing – and let me know what you think in the comments below, really appreciate it!
All the best
Anthony and Diana
All the photos in this post are from my Cuba project. Hope you enjoy them.
I’ve travelled a lot in the past 12 months – going between the intensity of London, the dense richness of Istanbul and the seductive chaos of Havana. It has been amazing and wonderful but now Venice is calling me – like a refuge of peace and tranquility. The deep quiet, the car-less streets, the swoosh of slow moving boats and the sonorous peeling of church bells echoing through the city.
I’ve got something a little different for you today which I hope you’ll love – it’s a 2 minute video about the photos I’ve taken of Venice and some of my ideas about photography. I want to do more films – that capture the journey and what I feel about each of the places I choose to photograph. Venice is one of my favourite places in the world – to explore, to enjoy and of course to photograph. I hope you see that in my photos.
“If you died and in your will you asked for your ashes to be spread gently on the Grand Canal at midnight with a full moon, everyone would know this about you – you loved and understood beauty.” William Goldman, The Silent Gondoliers
Have a great rest of your day, weekend, week!
Let me know what you think of the video – and if you like it please share. Sharing is super helpful and awesome for me.
My Venice at Dawn
The Wonders of Exploring the World With Your Camera
“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller
A few evenings ago I left my office in Waterloo to head home to see my rambunctious kids and have dinner with my wife. The evening had an interesting feel to it, a misty, wintry fog hung in the air but around the edges there was a burning glow of spring light. It was an intriguing clash of seasons and so I diverted my journey to go explore the river and take some photos. I got a few nice shots but my brain was not playing ball, it felt disturbed. Running through my mind was a blog my wife and I had been working on for another website, all about the art of seeing. I kept looking at things and seeing the words clash in front of my eyes. Compositional rules started to play out in front of me, like a mad cartoon replaying over and over again on my eyeballs. It was almost too much.
I wanted to start with this because for me it’s so important to hold the ideas and suggestions that you are absorbing in your photography learning, very lightly. Too much thinking can make you, as I was, stilted and stiff. What I am always trying to encourage people to do with their photography is to loosen up, relax into themselves and their own creativity, enjoy the process. Nothing I have to offer is so weighty that it needs to be adhered to like dogma. It’s just small ideas, small prompts, small inspirations.
So, with that in mind I wanted to offer some thoughts and suggestions on finding your subject when you travel.
What are you looking for?
I am not a travel photographer or photojournalist, and so I am not looking for a comprehensive vision of a city for my dawn projects. The prep for that kind of photography is totally different. I am an artist, so I am looking to capture my vision of a place or of the city. Of course I want to photograph what makes a place iconic – there is a reason that the view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero is well photographed: it’s awe inspiring! In those places I am looking for something different. A different light, a different angle, people…something that will be just mine.
Unless you have a very specific assignment or project you are working on, here are some questions to ask:
What kind of things am I interested in about this place?
What kind of things do I want to capture?
What drew me to this place?
Is there anything I hoping to find here?
And then, allow for that but not be too confined by the answers. You are on a journey, an adventure, you want to discover new things as well as making sure you get what you came for.
One insanely important thing to me when I plan my Cities at Dawn books is that I don’t want them to have a touristy feel – that I only captured the ‘surface’ of the city. I want them to be picked up by a local who then says – yes, this is my city! For instance, like how I photographed the water that is incessantly pumped out of the gutters in the morning in Paris. It’s not something you may notice but when you see a photo of it, you are reminded: of course! This is what it is to live in Paris, seeing these thin streams of water cleaning the streets. Looking not just for what is photogenic, but what it is to be there.
How much to prepare
I am a big fan of just going off and exploring and seeing what I can find. I don’t want to limit new discoveries by a pre-organised shot list. But sometimes arriving in a new place can be overwhelming and trying to get a grip on it can just be too much. So I like to get a bit of a sense of some fall back places that I want to photograph. I use Google Earth a lot, firstly to explore and then pin a bunch of interesting places onto a map.
The picture I am trying to paint here is one of balance. You need some organisation to keep you feeling sane and focused, but you need to also have a relaxed attitude so you are open to the new experiences that travel will present.
Start taking photos before you go
I like to start a new photo project when I am in the middle of something really good elsewhere. Perhaps it’s like that salesman maxim: the best time to make a sale is when you’ve just made a sale. Or (another one from my wife): how Ernest Hemingway would try to finish his writing for the day in the middle of a really good piece of writing so it was easy for him to get started the next day. If you are trying to start fresh every day then the blank page / empty memory card can feel overwhelming intimidating. But also when we are feeling creative, when we are in the flow we are more likely to have interesting ideas.
So, if I am not already working on a project back home I like to make sure I get one started before I leave. Or at the very least have a few photo walks to new places. Gets me in the mood.
Going beyond the exotic
The challenge with photographing in a new location, particularly one that is massively different from where you are from, is you can get completely distracted by what’s new to you (but not new to the world, we are no longer living in the age of exploration), and you end up taking tons of boring photos. What will give you the ability to create unique photographs of a location is how quickly you can get into the feel of the place and see it in a fresh, true and honest light.
I really enjoyed this podcast with photographer David du Chemin, who explains this issue really well – he talks about ways to combat your excitement in being in a new place so that you don’t just take all of the standard shots (look, elephants!) He suggests getting your intrigue at the exotic things you see out of the way quickly (more elephants! men with interesting headdresses!) so that you can then start seeing what’s really there, what’s really going. When you can see the place in an objective, fresh way you will find something unique to you.
To take great photos, first you must feel
I read this is a great interview with photographer Steve McCurry by travel photographer Oden Wagen recently and I love a couple of the points that McCurry makes. First:
“A picture of a guy in the street in New Guinea, with a bone through his nose is interesting to look at. But for it to be a really good photograph; it has to communicate something about what it is like to live with a bone through your nose. It is a question of the moment to reveal something interesting and profound about the human condition.”
Ansel Adams talks a lot about the feeling behind your photographs, and I think a lot of photographers forget that. Photographer Joey L (his surname doesn’t seem to appear on this site) in his tips for travelling as a photographer talks about not being a looky-loo and just snapping away, particularly in developing countries. Spending time connecting with your subject, travelling slowly, and most of all being human is the best way to get good portraits. (Joey L also has some great other travel tips, like make your fancy, expensive camera look old to limit possibility of theft).
Follow what fascinates you
When Wagen asked McCurry the question of how you can create original work in this heavily photographed world, I thought it was a great response –
“In time, you start to develop your own way of seeing and then it’s your own personality coming through the camera. We are all unique individuals; we all have our personalities. We all have our own voice, and our own style. If you look at the photographers whose work we admire, they’ve found a particular place or a subject, dug deep into it, and carved out something that’ll become special.”
This makes me think of Irving Penn’s ethnographic studies of tribesmen and workers around the world and Sebastian Selgado’s work on the forgotten communities around the world in Genesis (great Ted talk by him here where he talks about the project.)
You know the pen in some form has been around for quite a long time and yet writers always seem to have something new to say. And think about fashion, I mean, jeez, how many different styles of trousers can you make? A lot it seems…
I particularly like the concept of ‘digging deep’. You know you don’t have to come back from a photo trip with 1,000 photos of everything. 200 photos of one or two subjects, where you have dug deep into a subject that has really caught your imagination will reap more fruit for you long term than lots of photos that you (or anyone else) are unlikely to look at again. Quality not quantity.
Go off the beaten track
In my work I have noticed that I am drawn to the juxtaposition in cities of beauty and grittiness. It was particularly obvious in Paris, such a beautiful city but with lots of stark contrasts – graffiti (which I like to photograph) and dog poo (which I do not). So I find it’s always worth while digging a little deeper into a city and finding alternative views on what you will find there. When I make it to Berlin I want to go on this night time, underground art tour. For several of my trips to Paris I stayed in the area dominated by north and west African communities in Barbes Rochechouart. It’s quite a rough area in the city that few tourists experience, let alone visit (this is an interesting perspective on the area) but I really liked exploring. It gave me a totally different perspective on the city, the country and its history (great North and West African markets, amazing food like tagine and kebabs in the cafes and restaurants). It reminded me a bit of Dalston in London (although the latter is fast being taken over by the hipsters, so it’s unlikely to stay like it is for long.)
This is where the practice of seeing is really powerful. And you need to push yourself on this one. What’s on the overpass up there? Is that an abandoned building? Where does that little alley go….? You have to work harder than the tourists, harder than the other photographers who are also wandering around, you have to be more relentless in your search. Don’t settle for a few nice shots, go for something no-one has ever seen before. And I am here to tell you that it’s possible.
Think about doing a project on people
The easiest way to get involved and to get to know a culture is to talk to people. Maybe you have an idea before you go, or you get one when you are there, but having a subject to focus on is a really awesome way to dig deep and develop your photography.
The whole journey is the trip
I think sometimes we can get a little anxious about achieving things in our grown-up lives and in our productiveness-obsessed culture. We think OK – I’m off to Rome. We pack our bags, get on a plane, get to the hotel – rush rush rush – we have breakfast, and then off we set to take our photos. But by then you’ve already missed so much. As soon as you’ve made your decision to go on a trip you’re on the journey. The thoughts of the place, the ideas you come up with on where to shoot, your investigation of the culture, that is all setting you on the path of your journey. Your vision of your world at home has already changed as you start to mentally prepare for what is coming. Today I am London, playing in the park with my kids, chatting to my neighbour, but deep in the recesses of my mind I am wandering through the streets of Istanbul listening to the voices as I get lost in the back streets. I won’t be there until the end of the month but I have already started my journey. And so I must always have my camera with me.
Every experience you have, everything you see becomes another filter on your camera. That’s how you change as a photographer.
Don’t take crazy amounts of photos
I know the temptation to always have camera in hand, or even to spend more time looking through your viewfinder than being in a place, or being in the moment, as they say. But that really limits your potential for great photos. Firstly, it’s like a barrier between you and the place, it’s much harder to fall into conversation with people, to notice things when your camera is out, right there. Have your camera available but not always stuck in front of your face.
Secondly, you can’t absorb the culture when you are just thinking of it as a series of photos, and having an understanding and a feeling for the place will be communicated through your photos. That will be what creates the power of the image and evokes feelings with the viewer. As Maya Angelou said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Thirdly, and this is shocker: life isn’t just about photography! Enjoying yourself, relaxing, having a good time also need to be part of the trip (and if you really need an excuse then think the more relaxed you are, the better your mood, the better the photos.)
The photos in this blog post are from my Venice at Dawn project. I chose this selection because I like how they show the more unusual views of the city. The abandoned building I found whilst wandering along the eastern edge of the island, the brilliant little gas stations that appear on the shoreline, the main tourist drag eerily empty of people.
So there we go, some of my thoughts to get you in the mood for travelling with your photography. I have a bunch of photo workshops coming up that you are always welcome to join, in Istanbul,Rome,Venice, Paris and of course my wonderful home city of London.
If you have any questions about them, myself or Diana are always happy to answer.
And if you need any advice please do email me . I love hearing from you. Or comment on my blog 🙂
My five favourite unusual spots to photograph Paris
When I was picking my next city to shoot at dawn after London I was super resistant to Paris. I had been to Paris on a few weekends with my wife since I arrived in London from LA in 2000. To me it was a pretty, dinky little city that was good for eating but not for a photo book. Not like the sprawling, ever changing, diverse city of London that I had fallen in love. After all Paris all looks the same, right? The architecture is so uniform, the prettiness so precise – what could I find there that was would help me create something unique? Well it turns out that I was wrong that it was all made up of chocolate box type views. There is plenty of edge to Paris, you just have to wander off the beaten track. Here are some of my favourite finds:
I discover a city by wandering. Getting totally lost and looking around. I might check out a place on google maps before I leave, but once I am on the road I don’t want to miss anything by staring at my phone, I want to really see what’s there. That’s how I came across this awesome disused railway line hanging over the streets of eastern Paris. Over grown with fruit trees and bushes it was an amazing find. Apart from the lingering memory of taking a bunch of mini-plums home to my family and my 6 month old daughter swallowing one whole (she was fine, only her parents were traumatised, especially me as I had to investigate her expulsions for the next several months searching for the plum stone) . Apart from that – I love the photos I got there.
I am a total sucker for reflections. Reflections and lines and interesting shape formations. So you can imagine my joy at discovering this insanely mirrored, glassed construction on the western edge of Paris.
I know graffiti isn’t a place, but I wanted to add it because – firstly it’s everywhere, and secondly it’s a reminder to me that you can shoot the same view, the same building, the same sunrise as millions of others – but if you can find a different angle, if you can see the view in a different way you have the chance to capture something unique. I also love how you can hold the two very different sides of Paris together in the same photo – the beauty and grit. Paris has an amazing street art cultureand given it’s constantly changing it’s also a great way to capture something unique and ‘off the moment’.
My love of reflections rears itself again here and it’s because of the canals that runs through Paris. This is a great, new-ish hip area of Paris – nice bars, galleries, trendy young folk hanging out on the banks of the canal – so it’s worth an evening visit. At dawn it’s got some great glassy, still water and interestingly shaped bridges. I particularly love this reflection shot.
My family and I stayed in Barbès-Rochechouart for several months whilst I was shooting Paris at Dawn. It’s an intense, densely packed area, rough around the edges with great north and west africans shops and markets – as well as few dodgy characters hanging around the street corners. What was interesting to me about this was how the architecture was the same here as every other part of Paris; dainty, impractical balconies, pretty uniform buildings, but instead of gourmet cheese shops & charcuteries it was shops selling big boxes of fresh mint & coriander (a wonderful place to walk past in the morning) or tiny shops stuffed with harissa and saffron. It was not like the manicured Paris I had seen so often on my touristy trips here.
And a few unusual foodie tips…..
My family and I love to walk around the back of Gare du Nord to ‘Little Sri-Lanka’ for some amazing cheap curries & melt in your mouth parathas. This was our favourite place . We were also blown away by the shouldn’t-work-in-a-million-years-but do crazy pizzas at Pink Flamingo. Chicken Tagine, Paella, Cuban pork with fried plantain are some of the most amazing pizza sensations I’ve ever had – and I LOVE pizza.
Lastly the really awesome Le Comptoir Généralis a social entreprise, super hip spot that has good drinks, great atmosphere and African street food plus hosts events like a weekly farmers markets, African fashion fairs, kids story-telling & disco sessions and blues nights. Social entreprise is a pretty new and unusual concept in France so it’s well worth taking a look.
What are your favourite places to photography Paris? I’d love to know 🙂