Shot at 1/13th @f/4.5 ISO 640 40mm(17-40mm) Canon 5D mkIII
Today I want to do something very cool and fun. I am going to dissect how I took an image from both a technical and narrative standpoint.
So you see the image above, it’s one my and Di’s favourites, taken in Hackney Wick, East London a couple of years ago.
It’s a super popular image of mine, one of my limited edition prints. One of the people who bought me this image told me a crazy story about this location. I’ve included the story below.
But first, let’s start with the technical:
Look at the image and what do you see? Honestly I think I used the wrong reciprocating exposure. I had a tripod with me which I didn’t use!
Now – what could I have done better? What would have given this image greater clarity, contrast and detail?
You guessed it – a lower ISO. ISO 640 is not bad at all with my Canon 5D mk III, but ISO 100 would have been a better choice for increased quality.
That said, this was near the first exposure I made here at Hackney Wick at 5:45 am so that is my excuse – I was practically sleepwalking!
A better exposure combination, as I look back, would have been ISO 100 with an f/11 aperture at a shutter speed of whatever worked for a -1.5EV.
I say “whatever shutter speed” because I had a tripod and time (long exposures) were not a limiting factor in making my exposure calculation.
One second or one minute makes no difference with a good tripod setup. By -1.5EV, I mean an Exposure Value of -1.5 stops from a “0” or middle exposure.
Why -1.5EV? Every exposure I make before the sun rises is at -1 to -1.5EV. I do this to embrace the ambiance of the light.
This is why it’s so important to know how a light meter works. All the tones in this image are below or near the middle zone so an underexposure keeps it looking dark and realistic instead of what a 0EV exposure would do which is wash out the mood by overexposing.
So – to create the atmosphere and ambiance of light you are seeing – you need to know how to ensure your light meter won’t over or underexpose. (More about that here)
If you have no idea what the above means and do not understand how light meters work than that is your homework for today. It is really important to viscerally grasp the exposure scale.
I think this shows, doesn’t it, that you can get things a little wrong – but still create a great image.
We don’t need to worry about being perfect, we just need to focus on showing up to take the shot. To go to places that inspire us and to give it a go!
Often in the progress to manual we miss shots or get things a little wrong. But it’s OK! If you don’t make the leap you won’t create unique images like this.
Now we’ve picked apart the technical execution – let’s look at the narrative in the image.
The first thing I think when I think of narrative is feeling. A two-dimensional image does not move or interact in any way physical with you so it must translate a feeling to be interesting. That feeling is the start of the narrative or story.
I have a story that I learned about this place, which I will share, but first, it’s the story that I created in my mind that counts. Because that is why I chose to aim my camera at this particular scene.
This image speaks to me of abandonment and serenity, of beauty and balance of coarseness and decay. These are all things I love to photograph. In my imagination, I look at this abandoned building and I think of parties in dark places and zombies.
I imagine creepy realities inside and the feeling of escape on the outside. That is just me – I love reading and watching films about dystopian futures so that is what comes to my mind. Not very deep or profound but fun for me.
I am sure your interpretation will be vastly different than mine and others and I would expect that. So what does this image speak to you of?
(It reminds a quote I used recently, that sums up our subjectivity so brilliantly, from the photographer Brassai “Everything passes through your imagination. What you produce at the end is very different from the reality you started with.”)
So here’s a true story. The building in the photo is an old pub in East London. Someone saw this photo online and sent it to his friend who used to live in the pub as a child in the 1980’s.
The friend calls me and asks if the image was for sale. He told me that his father was the last pub landlord before they were evicted and it was shut down.
He was a child of a mixed-race marriage, things were tough for his family…and mom. East London was rough for him, and his family stood out. He was bullied. Mom left. Dad descended. Things just got harder.
As a young boy, when his life was crashing down around him, in this very location, he made a promise to himself that NOTHING would ever bring him to that edge again. He is now a VP of a fortune 500 company.
To him, this picture is the visual representation of that promise. I love that he chose my photo, and not just any photo of this old building. It’s beautifully framed, hanging in his home as a reminder of where he came and as a reminder of how grateful he is for all the love he now has in his life.
To me, it shows how powerful images can be in our lives. How they provoke, remind, encourage and create all kinds of stories, fantasies and ideas in our minds.
It was amazing listening to his story, knowing just one of the stories of the people who lived in this place. The world is full of stories like this, and often as photographers, we can only guess at them, we can only see the smallest of signs about life lived all around us.
This is one of the reasons I love to photograph London, why after almost 18 continuous years of living in the city and exploring, it has never stopped inspiring me. You can feel the history, the stories, the weight of human imprint everywhere. The jumble of old against new, the beauty and the decay – it’s an incredibly unique city.
That’s it for now. I’d love to know what you think about this photo and my analysis. Did the technical breakdown make sense to you? What did the image say to you? How do you create stories in your images? Let me know below.
Have a fantastic day, and happy photographing!
Anthony and Diana
7 Things Pablo Picasso Can Teach Us About Photography
As I am always looking to improve my photography by learning, part of the process is seeking inspiration from others who create. I don’t, though, confine myself to just learning from other photographers.
I cast my net for ideas wide, and look to artists, writers, musicians – whoever it is that will inspire me with new ways of seeing and fresh ideas.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Spain lately, close to Pablo Picasso’s birthplace. After visiting museums to see his work, and reading more about his creations, I found myself pondering over some of the ideas he talked about in relation to creating art.
Some of his ideas are fantastically inspiring and I’d like to share them with you today – and show you how they can help develop your photography.
Let’s get started because, as Picasso said:
“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.”
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” Pablo Picasso
Wherever you are, you are absorbing the energy and emotions from everything around you. If you are in the right mental state, of being open and receptive, it can help generate wonderful ideas.
Being peaceful and quiet – really looking at things, not necessarily in a super-focused way, but just allowing your attention to drift – is very helpful for your creativity.
In fact, I encourage everyone to do as much of this type of ‘open awareness’ as it generates ideas for your creativity.
I read on the Siyli website about open awareness in relation to meditation (which I think also applies to photography). Open Awareness – “is your ability to maintain your presence of mind while allowing different stimuli to pass through your awareness – and it’s incredibly useful…When you cultivate open awareness, you open the doors to tremendous insight.”
This helps pull us away from our usual barrage of thoughts (and things to do) and allows us to connect to the world around us, and draw ideas from it.
I also like this from Picasso:
“A piece of space-dust falls on your head once every day… With every breath, we inhale a bit of the story of our universe, our planet’s past and future, the smells and stories of the world around us, even the seeds of life.”
So go find the stories!
“If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes.” Pablo Picasso
The mind is a busy place. It always seems to have a lot to sort out, think about and organise. But the busy mind is the worst state to be in when you are taking photos.
Learning to see is about learning to ignore that busy, analytical mind and become present, learning to observe the world around you. It’s getting in touch with the present moment.
I would also add – use your heart, your guts, to guide you. This is where our instinct lives. It’s where we get our ideas about photography without consciously knowing.
Intuition is that knowingness, in a way where you are led by ideas and interests, and not by your logical, analytical mind.
It also connects with what Picasso said:
“My hand tells me what I’m thinking.”
Your eyes, your instinct, can lead you in your photography. (Your busy mind will mostly lead you astray :))
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!” Pablo Picasso
We often think, especially as photographers, that we are photographing what we see. Of course we must ‘see’. I talk about it endlessly because the ability to see and notice things in your environment is the number one thing most people are missing in their photography.
But we are also photographing something that has generated a feeling in us. Something that has probed and provoked our interest.
We see, we feel and then we create. And what you end up creating can be anything! It can look like anything, feel like anything – the photograph, your art, is yours to make your very own.
“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” Pablo Picasso
This is the same for any creative medium. If you don’t know where to start – don’t worry! Just begin – and that’s often when ideas start to flow.
If I am busy with work and family life, it can sometimes take me a while to really get into the creative flow when I am out shooting.
Instead of waiting, though, for inspiration – as Picasso said at the beginning of this article – I just get going, and wait for the ideas to find me when I am in the perfect place to do something about them – with my camera in hand!
“The more technique you have the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is the less there is.” Pablo Picasso
This quote sums up so much for me about why learning technique makes things easier when we are out creating.
When you know your kit, you aren’t interrupted when you are in the creative flow. Instead of battling with your camera, you can get totally absorbed in that beautiful location, that interesting subject or that absorbing light – and create some incredible images.
You become so at ease with your tools that your creativity just takes over.
Even if you don’t feel like you’re particularly technical or confident with technique, I have seen hundreds of people on my workshops learn that with practice and focus, you can grasp anything.
“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Pablo Picasso
At the moment I like to think of not knowing how to do something as something to celebrate. It’s an opportunity to exercise my (always ageing) mind; it’s an opportunity to learn and see something in a different way.
Keep yourself young and your mind agile by learning new things!
“He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law.” Pablo Picasso
I totally, totally agree. I didn’t think I could be a world-travelling photographer, teaching photography online and selling my work internationally. That seemed impossible to me ten years ago. But now, here I am!
If I can do what I thought impossible, then so can you.
“In art intentions are not sufficient and, as we say in Spanish, love must be proved by deeds and not by reasons. What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.” Pablo Picasso
There is never a better time to do something than – now. Picasso said so – so get started, OK?
Enjoy this exploration into Picasso’s ideas, and I hope that it’s a little nudge to do something cool with your photography in the week ahead.
“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.
I like to use the leading lines technique because the world is just chock full of lines and so it just can’t be helped – but I also like to think it’s because it makes me feel that my photo is going to take you somewhere. Sometimes the destination is not so important, it’s the journey that counts. And don’t we all like that feeling like we are actuallygoing somewhere? So, be it a road, or a dotted line, or the sweep of an arc, a line will take you places.
A lot of photographers do reject these rules though. Ansel Adams, for example, (who I would actually argue was more of a master in printing than a master in composition) said: “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
Or how about another non-fan of the rules:
“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.” Edward Weston
I suppose the point of putting these quotes up front, apart from the fact that they make me laugh, is everyone has their own path, what they love to shoot and their way of pursuing excellence. I like to pepper all of my teaching with the idea that there is always another way of thinking and doing things.
There are always new (and old) ideas to challenge yourself with and take your photography further. So follow what feels right for you – learning photography should never be a dogmatic experience. Practising, exploring and committing to developing your photography is really what is most important.
As a slight deviation, but not really, this is a great 2 minute video from Jason Silva about Creative Flow states and how when you are in the creative zone or the creative flow state the part of your brain responsible for self-editing goes dim. That’s when pushing past rules or bending them can really pay off. Perfection is not just about control, says Silva, but also about letting go.
So now let’s get totally into those lines…
What’s exciting about leading lines is that even though I’ve been using it for twenty years, it has developed with my work over the years so that I have been able to become much more sophisticated in my use of the technique. It’s like the idea that in order to express simplicity you need to practice and practise and practise.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci
So – I don’t want to just use the most obvious examples of leading lines in this guide. Subtly using composition techniques is a great way to enhance your photos, although when you start out you’ll probably be making really obvious uses of these techniques as you get familiar with them.
Leading lines has given me some really awesome photos that I am very proud of. With rules I suggest:
Embed them into your photography by practising them madly
They will become an automatic way of seeing for you which then helps you to:
Bend and develop them into your own practise and then finally
Break them at will, when it’s right for the photo
I think Picasso sums it up really well (as usual):
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Photographs are not just a collection of elements that are flat and are easily read. Photography has a myriad of ways to tell stories, to express multiple ideas and to take you places both physically and into your imagination. It does this with as much as you include in the photo as what you leave out.
Leading lines can:
Take your eye on a journey – either through the photo or out of it completely (and with roads and paths, often to infinity)
Direct your eye to the main subject of the photo
Direct your eye in a specific order through various elements of a photo
Lines create depth in a photo – and this is a really fun idea to play with
All compositional techniques help you tell a story
Think of lines as a tool to help you tell a story in your photograph. When you find your subject, ask yourself – are there any ways that a narrative can be created by enhancing it with lines? Usually when I find something I want to shoot I will move around it looking for angles and lines and a secondary element to support it. Take time to really look and see all the elements in your composition. Make every element matter.
Where I stop to take the photo all depends on what I am trying to say. Diagonal lines, horizontal lines, vertical lines all convey different feelings.
Are great for bringing energy and movement into an image. They can express a variety of messages. These neatly stacked diagonals are juxtaposed with the energy of the trees. Perhaps the rigidity and force of man next to nature’s wild beauty? Nature has a uniformity that is totally different from man’s, perhaps?
For a sense of calm and peace. Our eyes seem to find this direction the most reassuring. This one is obvious:
But how about this one? Horizontal lines still, but a very different subject – urban, a bit grimy and messy. Still calming? I would say yes. I think the eye likes a bit of order.
Are pleasing to the eye – they can create dynamic look and convey energy. Here I think the curved lines are more subtly leading the eye through the photo. I love the strength the lines convey next the luxuriously light and ethereal sky.
Another curvy line, this time, a road!
Portray structure and strength. And power?! Both in the man made world:
And in nature (at one of the worlds greatest forests in my opinion, The Lady Bird Johnson trail in the Redwood National Park in my home state of California) :
Or how about a bit of both – horizon and vertical? This was shot at La Defense in Paris. If you love playing with reflections and the hard lines of new buildings it’s an awesome place to shoot.
Here’s another from my La Defense phase:
Some lines are just implied– but they can still be impactful. See here too how the space is what creates the impact, the story of the photo?
Some other ideas of lines…
Lines of chaos?
I’m not sure what to call this one, or even if anyone would classify it as leading lines. But I think it is, because at first you just see the chaos of the tree branches. And then your eye is lead up the tree towards the two people. (I think I invented that term lines of chaos, so can someone enter it into the great canon of photo vocabulary please? :))
Fading or incomplete lines
Lines don’t always have to be clear or complete to communicate a feeling. I like the fact here that you can’t see the end of the track; it enhances how nature has taken over. Nature will always win in the end, won’t it!
Using motion or light to create lines
Lines don’t have to be found, they can be created by using long exposures on motion and lights. This can create a sense of power and speed as it has below. And I like in this image that I have a stationary motorbike as a contrast. I love using contrast or juxtaposition with lines.
I love a nice simple, but strong background for portraits. Something that is going to say something about the person, their expression, perhaps their stance. I think this is a good combo:
Lines at your feet
I have an obsession with photographing things on the street. Like chewing gum trodden into the tar or lines and arrows doing strange things. You can call it my Ernst Haas phase. I think particularly with things on the road and street you’ve got a great opportunity to practise this technique and learn to really play with lines. Remove the lines, arrows and directions painted onto our streets from their context and they become really fun and interesting to look at.
Mix of line types for added complexity
So ask yourself – what’s the feeling the lines are provoking?
I find many photographers are more interested in composition elements than thinking about what the story or feeling the photo they are taking is communicating. OK – I don’t want to load too much onto your shoulders here, but the feeling that the photo is evoking in the viewer is extremely important. If it evokes no feeling, no interest, curiosity, nostalgia, desire, whatever it may be, no matter how well composed, then that photo will be flicked over and forgotten.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. 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.” Don McCullin.
Compositional techniques are a means to an end, not the end in itself. So think about how the lines in the photo are making you feel. In this image below, which I particularly love because when my family and I were staying in Paris for several months working on my book my son was going through his train obsession era. So I spent many, many, many hours at Parisian stations watching trains with him (and talking about them, filming them, looking them up etc.) This image is in my book and really, it’s for him. I should call it, Ode to my son, age 7.
Can you see how in this image the lines give a different sensation because they don’t start within the photo? Leading lines often don’t end within a photo, creating a feeling of endlessness or infinity, but the eye is always looking for somewhere to at least begin its journey.
And a few final thoughts / ideas / inspirations / links:
Strong subjects: If you have a strong subject there is no need to worry that lines will overpower it. Lines are strongest in a supporting role but rarely have the power to take over an image.
Arrows: your eyes will naturally follow the point of an arrow. And there is something quite interesting about arrows competing for your attention by pointing in different directions.
Opposition: Using lines to create opposition/juxtaposition is always interesting.
Angle and perspective: If you find some interesting lines but it’s not working in your composition try playing around with your angle and perspective. Get high, get low, move around. As the master Haas says: “Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha’.”
An aid to simplicity: leading lines helps you focus on simplicity – most photographers are too complex in their expectations. simplicity and strength.
“What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer. ” William Albert Allard
Last very important point In this post you’re seeing my photos, my style and how I’ve brought leading lines into my work. You’re style of shooting, what you choose to look at and shoot will mean it will look totally different in your work.
So play with it. Have fun.
I’d love to know what you think of leading lines – do you use it in your photography? Will you start now? Please post your thoughts below. I love hearing from you and it’s great to know what you think.
Do you know someone who loves taking photos? It would be amazingly awesome if you could send them my blog. Sharing is caring as I keep saying to my fierce toddler daughter 🙂 I’ve been getting amazing feedback on it so far so if you think it might benefit or inspire a friend /loved one / colleague / neighbour I’d love it if you could pass it on.
As always get in touch with me if you have any burning photo questions or you need anything at all.
This week I’m exploring that really cool concept of ‘indirect inspiration’ that I quoted in my post about Ernst Haas. To be honest, it’s not something I’d thought about much until I was writing about Ernst Haas and came across this quote. Haas warned against seeking too much direct inspiration as it “leads too quickly to repetitions of what inspired you,” and instead recommends you to “refine your senses through the great masters of music, painting, and poetry. In short, try indirect inspirations, and everything will come by itself.”
I thought how indirect inspiration isn’t just about going to look at one piece of artwork or listening to one piece of breathtaking music. It’s about filling your life with things that not only make life interesting and fun, but also create this constant mood of feeding your imagination so that when you are taking photos you are already inspired and excited. You are not starting from zero. The music you listen to, what you look at, books you read, things you talk about, discuss, these all provoke thoughts and ideas and questions in your mind. The more you feed your mind with inspirational subjects when you are not taking photos, the more ready you will be, almost primed, when you start taking photos.
So I thought it would be really awesome to look at what I get inspired by in my day to day life to give you some ideas on how you can look for what inspires you (so you can do more of it). It’s definitely made me realise how much more I could be doing to get the creative juices flowing on a day to day basis. It’s like background music, I suppose, or a way to weave creativity into your day to day.
I grew up in a small town southern California and nature was a big part of my life until I moved to LA and then to London in my late twenties. I miss the truly wild open spaces of my home state where you can venture into the world and feel like you are completely surrounded and lost in nature. No people, no cut grass – just enormous trees, miles of dense forest, scorching desert, mountain ranges and vast national parks.
A few years back my wife and I took a trip far north to the state line of California and started in the Redwood National Park. It was incredible, big skies, bears – I suppose I like the sensation of knowing how vast this world is – in space, in history, in time. I like to see the epic grandness of it all, that life isn’t as small as my little life, my local coffee shop, my train trip to the office. Not just the vastness of this world but the worlds beyond this one. Which leads into another source of inspiration for me, and huge suck of my time when I like to mess around online, NASA and space missions…
Sebastian Salgado is a photographer whom I love. I know this is about indirect inspiration but I enjoyed this short blog post culled from his amazing Ted talk on why we must rebuild our forests.
These are my trees! The sequoias of California, just epic in size. Imagine the history they’ve lived through…phew.
My dad worked in the air force in communications. He was very quiet, gentlemanly, very organised and sensible who loved science, new technologies and the space program. I haven’t quite picked up his sensible life traits unfortunately (being an artist is generally not what one would call a reliable profession :)), but I love science and that was our greatest mutual interest; watching a real time broadcast of a space shuttle getting ready to launch and discussing the solar systems beyond ours.
“What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.” – Diane Arbus
I suppose this connects to why I love to go out on my own exploring forests that have been untouched by humanity’s relentless pursuit of dominance for thousands of years. For me life isn’t just about the small dramas happening in your life or your street or your city. It’s about connecting to this vastness. It’s about looking up and knowing that beyond the bright blue summer sky there are billions of ancient stars, thousands of planets as yet unexplored, suns and moons orbiting planets just like ours and someday we might go there. It’s mindblowing to me and deeply, deeply inspiring. It’s about reminding me perhaps that life continues beyond our small obsessions.
Maybe that’s why I am drawn to photographing space within cities?
Plus...For those of you who love space too I was so excited to see the new photos of Pluto that have just come back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. (I was sort of expecting it to be blue though being so cold, right? False colour I bet).
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” John Lubbock
I love an interesting sky, and that’s the purpose of clouds. Not for rain, but to make the sky interesting to look at and interesting to photograph. A few years ago my son got really into clouds and so we spent a long time reading about the different types (how much less I would know if I hadn’t had kids!) I can now say my favourite type of cloud is a Cumulonimbus,the ones that seem to bubble up into space. Unfortunately for me they are very rare in the morning as they are formed by the heat of the day.They add depth and texture into an otherwise uneventful sky.
Plus…This is an interesting article about the scientist who classified clouds and how he inspired the great German writer Goethe from the incredible website that is Brainpickings.
When I was in my early twenties it was a choice between being a photographer or a musician. I’m glad I picked photography, but I like to keep music in my daily life. What I’ve noticed though is we all listen to music in different ways. I don’t even notice the lyrics, I have to really stop and pay attention to them if I want to know what’s being said. For me it’s all about the overall sound, how it hits my ear drums and makes my body feel. I didn’t know any Led Zeppelin lyrics for years; it was all about the guitar and later the drums then the lyrics!
Plus...Nick Drake is on my playlist a lot recently. A crazy genius of an Englishman who died when he was 26. He produced hauntingly good music- I suppose you would call it quite folksy but don’t let that put you off. Check him out on YouTube but as a fellow artist I would encourage you to buy his music if you like it rather than just listen for free online (we artists have to stick together :))
Today I’d love to encourage you to think of a few things that you do in your life that are not about work, or pure pleasure (beer cannot be classified as inspiring) or responsibilities. But things that are just for feeding your mind and your spirit, if you like. What moves you, makes you happy, makes you look at the world differently, provokes ideas and questions? Whatever they are bring them more into your life. Even if it’s just for some added colour and fun. It will, though, help to increase your creativity and provide brilliant fuel for that creative fire.
And I’d love to hear from you – what inspires your photography? Post on here or email me on email@example.com.
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 🙂
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!
Happy photographing! Anthony and Diana
How 'mini-seeing' projects can help your photography.
I was out with one of my dawn workshops a few weeks back teaching and chatting and demonstrating and I found myself alone for a moment; everyone had found something to shoot, so there I was with just my camera and the rising sun in a small park next to a church. I had been here before. Many times. A shimmer a few yards away caught my eye and disappeared as I got closer. I realized I had seen the reflected light from a snail trail. I found it again as I got closer and took a shot. Then I found another nearby. Got that one too. Then another. Twenty minutes later I look up and everyone had gone. I’m sure they were with Nick.
Finding those snail trails is what I consider to be mini-seeing project. Think of them as a little portfolio you can grow over weeks, months or years even. I’ve done peoples bellies, weeds in cracks, street arrows (a la my favourite photographer Ernst Haas). I have a colleague who likes to shoot abandoned couches and can see them around corners (must have something to do with smell.). Doors, windows, mean dogs and fluffy cats are also under his purrrview… The point is to search for them! And in searching you will learn to “See”.
One way to understand what Seeing is is to view the world around you in a way that is totally unnecessary to your survival. To use your eyes in a creative manner and not for catching the bus, not stepping off the cliff, avoiding the speeding courier or generally staying alive. And it takes practice – not the survival part(you’ve learned that already or you wouldn’t be reading this) but the “seeing” part. Mini-projects can be that practice.
When you purposefully increase your concern for something then your brain will reward you by growing that part of it that helps you to “see” creatively. Once it’s in your range of concern you will notice that it’s been all around you already, only now you’re noticing it. Ever had a friend who bought a new car and now you see that car all the time! Something like that.
So choose something. Start looking for it. Put effort into finding it…and a little more effort and compose a great shot!
When I found the group again(I knew where were headed to the bagel shop) I showed them my new mini-project of my snail trails. They thought they were pretty cool, so did I, not because they were great shots or anything, but because you could only find them in a tiny angle of reflection at a certain time of day.
I am fascinated by Leake Street, off Lower Marsh in Waterloo. You can stroll through everyday and see some new work or someone in the process of painting over another’s. I met a guy, in the midst of creating is art, from Australia who came over here to paint and a guy from France who came and was just finishing his. They were both beautiful and creative.
Lately though the artists have been far and few and mostly what is displayed now is gang tagging(definitely not art!). Makes me wonder about graffiti culture. I asked the Australian if he minded that is labours are soon defiled and gone. His answer was levelled and honest, simply “Nah”.
Hello and Happy New Year!
I hope you are all getting on well with 2012. Beginnings can be hard but remember 2012 will be 2013 in no time so lets make the most of it. As Steve Jobs said “Soon you will be dead.”
A lot has changed in photographic technology since 2002 when London at Dawn was first published. I was thinking that the new updated book should reflect those changes. Digital photography is awesome. I love the kit, the quickness and the low cost of shooting. Great stuff! I was thinking of adding images made with High Dynamic Range(HDR), like the one above, to my upcoming re-release of London at Dawn, due out in June of this year(I still shoot mostly on film). What do you think? Should I or not?
I promise more feel good photos (even cemeteries can be feel good!) to come this year, so clear those puppy pics off your desktop and make room for great London images. They will inspire you to have a good day when your out in the hustle and bustle!
Paris is such a wonderful city and regardless of what the guidebooks say July is a great time to be here. We are staying in the 15th arr. on Rue de la Convention in a brilliant flat on the 7th floor with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It’s a really nice neighbourhood with a great street market three days a week.
I’ve been up at 0430hrs every morning, almost, wandering and exploring the city and loving it. The weather hasn’t been great – there have been many grey mornings, but that is no excuse not to go out and try to get a shot. When the sky is clear you can predict exactly what the effects of the rising sun will be, but when it’s cloudy it’s a gamble, and you can never tell if something spectacular will happen, a parting in the clouds with a sudden burst of rich colour stabbing through is always worth the wait and effort and that has happened twice this week.
I’m shooting 120 film with my Hasselblad so I won’t have any posts with Paris morning shots until I do a bit with the digital. What I will do is post some non-morning photos from afternoon wanderings.
This shot has nothing to do with the dawn project. It is just cool…I think. What say you?
I’ll chalk this one up to my huge Ernst Haas influence. Look him up, awesome stuff.
There are many elements that are basic to a good photograph; composition, timing, colour, blah blah blah(googleit). But mostly it’s about nice light – especially when its fleeting, a moment gone, never to return, never quite the same again.
I was shooting at Tower Hill yesterday at dawn, not a great morning, but lots of potential (wisewords: patience is a quality and attribute for all photographers). I stood there looking across the river at the Shard (hard to look at anything else really, it makes South London look like a toy landscape) rubbing sleep of my face when, bingo, the pre-dawn twilight illumed the southern sky with rainbow pinks and reds and blues (is pink in the rainbow, googleit!) that lasted two minutes then back to basic grey. Worth the wait.
Anyway, that’s not the photo I’m posting today. Todays photo is of a book in my bedroom…, the light on the book reflected off a mirror from the light streaming through nebulous curtains from a setting sun…it only lasted twenty seconds.