One of my most successful shots of 2020 was also one of the easiest I made during that year. Living by the sea on the south coast of Spain is very peaceful and beautiful, but being on the edge of the sea also brings tempestuous weather. Like most southern European houses, mine has roll-down steel shutters.
On the morning of November 26th I was woken up by my shutters rattling in the frame; just another day on the coast I thought. The shutters were down in the living room overlooking the sea (I had put them down due to the storm warning the previous day) so I pulled them up and was greeted by a dark sky and rolling sea only illuminated by multiple lightning strikes.
My heart jumped! Camera! Camera I need a….Oh, here it is, all setup already from the still life I was shooting the day before. (Zero effort before coffee is always a good thing in my book.)
So here I am still in my pyjamas going onto the balcony with my camera and tripod. It was still 30 minutes before blue hour, leaving astronomical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below horizon) and coming into nautical twilight (when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon).
It wasn’t easy framing with barely any light, so I mostly just filled the frame with sky and put it on a timer to take continuous shots. I set the aperture at f/6.3 for 10 seconds as a test shot. This is what I got:
This is NOT sunlight but light from the lightning!
10sec @f/6.3 ISO640
When shooting lightning you don’t want to use small apertures. Why? Because apertures control the INTENSITY of light. And you want the lightning to be intense yes? If you shoot, say at, F/16 then you get thinner, weaker looking lightning. Apertures between 2.8- 8 work best.
This image is actually f/10. But still too skinny and dull.
Once my camera was on the tripod with the 50mm I attached the remote release that I use mostly for timelapses, and set the exposure time for 13 seconds @ f/6.3. Then I went to go make coffee.
After about 3 minutes of exposing, I reviewed (chimped) the images to see what I’d caught. There were loads of good lightning strikes! I made another 2 minutes of exposures adjusting as I went along.
50mm 20sec@ f/5.6 ISO50
The 50mm was working well but as I was shooting the lightning strikes kept getting closer. I mean really close, right overhead – if I had been on the open beach I would have left, that close! But since I was safe on my balcony undercover on the side of a building, I felt secure in my now cold pyjamas… So I switched to a 17mm to achieve more coverage and distort the angle-up perspective a bit.
Now that I could see better I reframed to include the top of a tree and the horizon for added perspective. I think without the tree the size and magnitude of the lighting is lost. Now it was just a matter of luck and patience.
2.5sec @f/6.3 ISO50
At this point in time it was blue hour and the sun had just started to warm up the Eastern sky, which you can see in the final shot. I started the remote again with 2.5 second exposures. I was sipping my coffee transfixed by how awesome nature is when bang! A strike so close and so bright.
I was looking right at the space it happened and it burned itself into my retina as I heard my camera shutter go click and I thought: ” Yeah, I got that!” – followed by the instant rumble of deep thunder. Amazing I tell you!
Soon after, the storm moved away and the sunrise came up and I was done.
I reviewed the camera images again and there it was – the perfect strike right on top of me. And I hadn’t even finished my whole cup of coffee yet. A second cup of coffee later and I was sitting at my computer uploading.
A few people have asked me how I processed this image so I will start by showing you the out-of-camera file:
Doesn’t appear so colourful, in fact, it looks rather flat and dull. But don’t judge a file until you have a good look at the histogram. What do you see here?:
Low contrast, yes, to be expected by looking at the file itself. But what I want you to notice are the colour channels of yellow and blue.
That is a lot of yellow towards the darker tones and a lot of blue towards the lighter tones. What this tells me is that I can push these channels and really make the image colourful without making it seem over-processed and fake. I am taking the inherent qualities and enhancing them with saturation and contrast.
And when I do I get a histogram that looks like this:
After processing histogram
I have spread all the tones out, increasing contrast. I also upped the vibrance and saturation which you can see in the colour channels.
This is my best processing result but not my first. When I first worked on this image I was into my 2nd cup of coffee the same morning, still hadn’t eaten and was “over-excited”, and when I am “over-excited” I tend to push sliders too far to the right, especially Clarity and sometimes Dehaze (ouch!).
This is what that looks like:
For me this did not reflect my personal experience as it feels too dark and brooding when it was actually highly energetic and intense. This feeling is also mostly due to over using the Dehaze slider. It is a cool look but later I felt I wanted it to be more natural.
I could shoot lighting everyday for the rest of my life and still love it. I love zooming in at 200% and looking super close at lightning. It is awe-inspiring for me. And so, so beautiful. I did 263 frames over 45 minutes. Maybe 30 with strikes!
I now have weather apps that forewarn me of lightning in my area so next time I will be ready to go…as long as I can stay safely on my balcony drinking coffee 8).
A couple of the last strikes of the morning. It was amazing how the colour dramatically cooled at sunrise. Strange, strange weather but I live for it.
I’d love to know what you think of this, or if you have questions ask them here on my blog and I’ll answer them.
“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.” Peter Ackroyd, London
I spent almost twenty years shooting London, in particular at the dawn hours for my two books about the city. This city is for me one of the most inspiring and interesting to photograph, even (maybe especially!) because of the challenges of steely grey skies, abundant drizzly weather and the short daylight hours through the winter. Seeking out good light in London is an adventure in itself, you appreciate it so much when it comes.
The biggest challenge most photographers face when shooting London is creating interesting and unusual shots of the landscape and buildings. Most photographers who are famous for shooting London are known for their street life work. This city is hard to get a handle on.
But what’s special about London is the the landscape and the buildings. They are not just a backdrop for portraits. They can be the subject. And what will help you capture this aspect of the city is being up at dawn – shooting these incredible buildings and cityscapes when no-one one is around. You’ll catch a purer experience of the city.
Here is what I what I want to cover in this post:
Outline the basics of how to technically capture dawn
Give you ideas on some of my favourite places to shoot in the city (the city is way to big for me to tell you all in one post)
Tell you how I captured some of my favourite shots of London
What is fundamentally interesting about shooting London at dawn is that contrast of the urban environment, the overwhelming imprint of human beings on its streets and the ethereal, floating, piercing beauty of mother nature’s light at dawn.
Even the most busy tourist sites, where hundreds and thousands of people swarm to see the stunning views, are empty at dawn. And dawn is time away from distraction when you are connecting with your subject, alone.
Incidentally, Monet believed that most people are blind to their environment. They don’t notice what lies before them, so habitually are we locked into the habit of our minds. But he believed that the light of dawn and sunset actually coloured reality, making it easier for people to see the wonder of the world around them. And that was why he spent so much time painting in the twilight hours. So if Monet believed in the power of dawn, then so can you 🙂
Dawn can be wondrous at any time of the year, but spring, summer and early autumn are my favourites. The transience of the light makes dawn special. And you know that within an hour or two that it will be gone and the feeling of life returning to normal will have invaded the landscape.
“Just before dawn I have the world all to myself.” Terri Guillemets
Note – from here, I have chosen photos of details of London that are interesting to me. I haven’t got any more sweeping views because, quite frankly, they aren’t that difficult to take. Instead I want to look at how you can tell the story of a city by picking out details and smaller scenes.
And I love London’s abundant oddities, like the law that says it’s illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster. I mean how crazy is that?
So here are some ideas, tips and techniques on shooting this great city.
The sheer joy of it
I don’t know why being up when the sun rises is so powerful – but it is. It feels like you are at the beginning of something really special. It is a truly magical feeling seeing the rebirth of the day. As I wander through empty streets I feel I could be wandering through a forest, or a vast expanse of green, or even along the sea shore. There is that sense of freedom for myself – away from the distractions of people.
“Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth. And more than anything it can spur you to action. Have a burning day.” Vera Nazarian
Now for the technical bit….
Every photo that I have taken for my dawn books, before sunrise, was exposed at -1.5 stops. As the sun rises this exposure gets closer to 0 as the light increases. Why, you may ask? Well, I will give you a quick lesson on the camera meter. The camera meter is an averaging system. It looks at all the tones in an image frame and averages it all to a middle grey. From now on and forever think of the 0 exposure as a bland middle grey.
For example, say you had a black wall that filled your frame. If you were to expose that wall at the meter’s 0 setting – like the image below – your black wall image would not be black but middle grey. Same for a white wall. If you made the exposure at the 0 setting your white wall image would come out middle grey. You would have two photos looking exactly the same. Your meter is telling you that the black wall is way too dark and the white wall is way too bright, so here is the proper exposure. Stupid thing doesn’t know anything. You have to know and interpret the information.
The correct exposure for the black wall is at -2 stops (darker) and for the white wall +2 stops (brighter). Dawn being darker than a middle grey needs to be underexposed to retain the deep shadows and rich colours that are inherent for that specific time. NOTE: This is something about auto-modes that people need to understand. If you are on an auto-mode (shutter or aperture priority, etc) your base exposure will ALWAYS be on the 0 exposure, unless you move it with exposure compensation.
I can go into much more detail about this in another post. Just remember, if your tones are predominantly dark your exposure will most likely need to be darker. Inversely, if your tones are mostly bright, or at least brighter than middle grey your exposure will need to be brighter. Counterintuitive, yes? Essential, absolutely!
For most shooting situations that 0 exposure is going to work fine. But not for dawn!
I think crowds and busyness make people act a bit un-human, and so when there are less people around, people are definitely friendlier (and often they’ve been up all night and still on that all-night high of happiness). There is a sense of camaraderie.
When you do happen upon people at dawn it’s much easier to really see them. What they are occupied with? Who they are? They can be very interested in what you are doing photographing at such a crazy hour. Often they want to be a part of it (I’ve had loads of people want to be in my photos over the years. I think that may be a great blog post!) Here are a few of the people I have seen:
What do you think this guy is feeling? I sense tiredness and resignation. Other people have seen humour, that his face is turned in the direction of the gorilla’s behind. I like that people see different things in this photo. And I love the little pops of colour of blue, yellow and red in the sea of grey and brown. There is a lot of muted colour (and grey!) in London. So looking out for strong colours is a great way to provide interest points and contrast.
When I first came to London my good friend Nick, who was a black cab driver, drove me around. One fantastic thing I discovered through him were various all-night places to buy tea, like the Blackheath Tea Hut below (someone even made a documentary about it) and Cabman’s shelters – cafes in little green huts dotted around the London streets for cabbies.
I love this photo of the tea hut, situated in the middle of a vast stretch of green, Blackheath, and edging the A2. An odd place for an all-night cafe, but it was always busy with workers, late-night partiers and other random night folk when I visited.
But apart from the memory, I love the colours. Even though the heath looked scrawny and dusty, I managed to position the red and green colours of the hut against the deep blue of the morning sky. I love simple bold colours and contrast! It doesn’t even matter that the people aren’t all in focus, which is sort of unusual for me. It’s the feeling you get when you look at the people that makes it.
When in doubt, wander
The photo below was the very first one that I took in London for my book. I was walking around at 5am, fresh off the boat from LA and I was freaking out. I didn’t know London at all. My only previous visit had been for two weeks over Christmas with Diana, which was mainly spent in pubs and at parties.
I had been commissioned to do a book about London and once I had actually arrived it seemed like the most daunting task in the world. How could I do this (unknown-to-me) city justice? What I have learnt over the years, though, is I always freak out at the beginning of a project – my wife says she can predict it down to the minute. The first step is to just get my ass out of bed and wander.
So I was walking around feeling excited about new discoveries and suddenly I turned a corner and saw this scene in front of me and I thought, wow. Yes that’s it, I can do this. This is so London to me. Pubs! History! A jumble of mismatched low buildings.
I then walked up to St Paul’s and took this one, below, which is almost the same view but in the opposite direction (always remember – don’t just take the photo of the iconic view or building, look behind you, go inside, look for a different angle).
I love this photo even though it doesn’t have great light; you can feel the grimness of the city, and in spite of the greyness of the scene the scene works. (Can I just repeat – I know this repetition is probably deafening – but can I encourage you to always, always, always consider the light before you take your photo. You don’t have to have great light, as this photo shows, but you do need to be completely in tune with the light and you want to try and respond to what the light is doing, and if necessary adjust accordingly).
This photo would not have worked without the little orange lights. So, again, when you have an abundance of grey or quite similar colours, look for some pops of colour or light that will allow the scene to be what it is but adds some depth or points of interest.
I love photographing at the Thames Barrier. It’s an otherworldly spot in the very far east of London. It’s a wonderful view way down the river and I think it’s the only place in London I’ve seen the sun rise just as it comes up on to the horizon.
Tip – I use the Photographer’s Ephemeris app to tell me where the sun will rise so I can get in position in time. The light changes very quickly and so I want to be exactly in the right spot.
The photo below is of the canal in Hackney. (You can walk for six miles along these canals.) Those houses are very London – all squashed together (or that’s how they seem to me; I’m from the land of ranch styles homes). It’s this closeness that struck me and the blandness of the light that said to me I’m no longer home! Very English. Very London.
The Square Mile as ‘the city’ is nicknamed is fantastic for the mix of old and new buildings – and represents that constant changing nature of the city. This is probably one of my favourite shots as it mixes shiny, reflective new buildings (love those to photograph) and an old house and church. And then a lush tree at the top.
This photo may not be my most well composed or technically amazing, but it does something that photos should do – which is to capture and communicate the essence of my subject. It tells a story about London, and that’s what I’m here for.
There is also many stories of the area on the blog Spitalfields Life, which also has a small publishing arm. I loved Bob Mizer’s book of photographs of London in the 70’s and 80’s. Very different look to the city then.
Along the Southbank there’s a lot of Brutalist architecture (which has become a bit of a fetish I think for some photographers. It looks to me like big slabs of concrete, one-colour Lego put together by a symmetry obsessed child. Here are some interesting buildings in the Brutalist style). Below is my image of the now demolished Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle.
Here you can see that I have some very muted colours to play with but then some rich sunlight appeared, and because beautiful light makes everything look interesting, you can see that it makes these subtle browns, yellows and greens look sumptuous.
This photo below personifies that urban/dawn contrast very well. We have beautiful light penetrating and illuminating the dense London graffiti (which is Leake Street by the way, a legal graffiti tunnel started by Banksy and a place I like to go pretty often. Mostly the graffiti is your standard words and tags, but sometimes some really cool pieces of art pop up.)
“London is a roost for every bird.” Benjamin Disraeli
Walking along the Southbank from Waterloo to Tower Bridge is a favourite, but usually I veer off into the side streets. Just one or two blocks south of the river you’ve got a hodgepodge of buildings and architecture that create all kinds of interesting opportunities for light to bounce, reflect and refract from.
Just north of the river is this hidden view of the Shard. I love this photo because it’s a view that very few people spot. I was walking along Upper Ground and caught this through a gap in the buildings. You would miss it if you were in a car and maybe even a bicycle. It’s a very small gap.
London will always keep you on your toes. Its views aren’t organised in the way that those in Paris are; nothing feels ordered about London. It’s almost like a treasure hunt where you are walking miles and miles to spot things in little gaps, down side streets or on top of buildings.
Battersea Power station is a great structure; shame it’s surrounded by some pretty boring landscape. The photo below uses natural framing. It’s a fairly simple technique where you use an internal frame within the photo – either something natural or manmade – which works nicely when you have a strong subject that you want to draw the eye to. It also creates a pleasing layer and additional element. Make sure what you choose as your natural frame is distinct and doesn’t blend in with the subject or background.
A touch of the west and the north
If I’m honest, south and east London are my favourite places to shoot. There is tonnes of history in both areas, and many more contrasting buildings than in the west. Although West London suffers from ‘same-ness’ (sorry), I do live there because it’s a fabulous place to bring up kids, very green and the river is awesome.
The photo above is of Richmond. If you head directly up Richmond Hill from here there is such an awesome view stretching across the river and out to the west, one that Turner painted. Then you can head into Richmond Park, a great little stretch of wildness (well, manicured in my opinion, but wild for a city.)
Other good green spots
My preference is for shooting places like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park in winter or autumn when the leaves are not so thick and allow for a bit more depth to the photo.
Can you see in this photo the leading line that is taking the viewer on a journey through the photo? I love leading lines, they are one of the few compositional techniques that I still avidly use.
Now, photographing dawn is a challenge
It’s a big challenge to get up before dawn, I ain’t gonna lie! Sometimes I am awake at 3 or 4am to start out. And it can be cold – even on a hot day. And it’s dark, and hard to get around. There are so many things that make it inconvenient when you sit down and analyse it. But didn’t Nietzsche say that the hardest things in life are often the most satisfying?
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi
But…it is exhilarating. And not many people do it. So go for it!
So that’s it for me. I would love to know how you would photograph London. Please comment on my blog below -I love hearing from you.
Have an amazing week. I’m heading off to the Redwoods now!
Today I’m sharing some interesting ideas that I think will help you leap into a good photo practice if you are stuck in a rut or struggling to get inspired.
1. Photography should always bring you joy
A few days ago, we were having lunch with some friends and one of them mentioned how his photography education had been quite a joyless experience. There was such a focus on what wasn’t working with the students’ work, and what needed to work better, that it sucked all the enjoyment out of taking photos.
I can see that too in some of the emails we get – people worried about their lack of skill or experience, worried they haven’t got far enough or berating themselves for not using their camera more.
To all of this I want to say – Stop. Just stop.
Photography – and the act of creating anything – should not a be negative or endlessly difficult experience. No way. If we are weaving this beautiful practice into our lives, don’t we want it to be fun?
Of course, there is challenge and difficulty in any creative practice, and there are hurdles to overcome. There are the forces of boredom, the procrastination to deal with. Naturally, there is the need to put in effort and learn things you find difficult.
But ultimately, it should bring something wonderful into your life.
2. Find your good photos – and hang them on your wall
When you want to get good at something, it’s important to build positive momentum. Which means you have to recognise your progress and all the good photos you are taking – not just those which need to be improved.
Photos should be living, breathing things – adorning your house, given as gifts, made into books, posters, prints – whatever you desire for them. Don’t let the images that you work so hard to take languish on your memory cards or hard drives.
We love the joy and fun of Self Publish, Be Happy – the photo organisation dedicated to you taking control of your work and putting it out there.
Why not enter your best photos into the Sony World Photo Awards. It’s one of the few comps you can enter free – so risk-free. Just go!
3. Look for people whose ideas and work fascinate you
I was reading about Tina Modotti recently, admiring her famous photo of a worker’s hands.I love to explore the lives of artists who are lesser known or whose work has fallen out of fashion.
In reading about her, I then came to Edward Weston, from whom Modotti learnt much of her craft. Modotti was actually only one of two female photographers who were very significant in Weston’s life.
Edward Weston is considered one of the masters of twentieth century photography. He made his still lives of cabbage leaves, peppers and shells incredibly emotive and sensual.
Margrethe Mather, was once the most famous female photographer in America but appears to have been almost forgotten. She played an important role in Weston’s life, teaching him and developing his interest in photographing still lives of shells, flowers and everyday objects.
After Mather, Modotti came into Weston’s life, and he taught her much of the craft of photography. They moved to Mexico together in the 1920’s and she became increasingly interested in documenting the social and political world of Mexico City.
Her short career (she died aged 45) was prolific. In her work she was innovative, and she mixed her fine art sensibilities with her strong social conscience. Tina Modotti Photos
Ideas & resources:
I loved this incredible collection of images Of Love & War from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, where the stories of unbearable human tragedy are weaved interchangeably through images of resilience of the human spirit.
I am rarely a fan of contemporary street photography. The abundance of comedic images often feel empty. To me, photos need to give me something more substantive – a little idea about being human, a glimpse of a story, a feeling. But I do love cities, and I love to explore them. So to expand my awareness of the possibilities of this genre, I have ordered the updated edition of Bystander – A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, a collection of some of the most interesting street photography going back to the 19th century.
4. Commit to your progress
I remember when Anthony bought his first digital camera and started to practise using it alongside his film cameras. I was shocked by the results – they were dreadful.
Possibly it was the new world of digital cameras as they weren’t as good as now – but it was also that it was a whole new system for him to learn. I admired that he jumped in head first and spent hours and hours learning and perfecting.
Even now I often find him watching YouTube videos or reading articles about different techniques. I remember when he started really getting into HDR he’d be reading and practising, unswayed by his initial mediocre results.
While it’s obviously necessary to keep up with technology as a professional photographer, one thing that I have learnt from Anthony that I try to remember in my own work is to not get impatient with the learning journey.
Anthony starts learning something and keeps going. He starts out with no skill, keeps practising over time, is never in a great rush, and eventually gets to the proficiency he seeks.
He accomplished exactly this when learning about editing for our new video course, and he did it with time lapses and little videos that he wanted to make of his travels.
He is patient with himself – and this is what I’d like to share with you. So many people get frustrated with their progress, expecting to make massive leaps immediately. I do. Always. I am impatient, I am in a rush.
But learning is an every day, every year, lifetime experience.
Take pleasure in the learning journey. Recognise that you will get to where you want to go. Consistent incremental progress will get you everywhere.
“Leisure, is not the same as the absence of activity… or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness.” Josef Pieper
If I were to have a goal right now, it would be to bring more space and silence into my life. Because I know when I am not working or distracted or doing, then I will naturally turn to the act of creating.
You have to create the environment around you that will help you do the things you love to do.
For me, it’s – turn off my phone, log off my laptop and be alone. That’s all I need.
For Anthony, it’s often having enough energy and time to get up before dawn and go out. So exercising, and early nights.
It is different for everyone – the point is to know about what environment you need to create to take photos, and to make sure you have that in your life on a regular basis.
Everything that is within us comes out in our photography, or writing, or creative practice.
When we are in deep creative flow, we are untethered from what others think of us: lying on the ground taking that shot, or asking that stranger for a portrait, or spending months photographing beautiful feathers because they are just so interesting to us.
But when we are showing people our images, all that is unique about ourselves can suddenly feel vulnerable. And let’s be honest, for all the yes, that’s great, we are so much more sensitive to criticism.
I have developed more of a thick skin over the years, but what made me filter criticism more vigorously was when Brene Brown said she won’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t putting themselves out there and doing something themselves.
It’s easy to just sit there and critique. But to say – this is who I am and this is what I’ve made is actually pretty brave. Even if it’s just putting your photos on social media or getting them printed to show to friends, it’s a brave act to reveal your work.
If you want to truly be creative, you have to unhook yourself from the judgements of others – and commit to that.
Ideas & resources:
A recent favourite photo project of Anthony’s was The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen. Anthony saw the exhibition during our Arles workshop in the summer, and brought home the book. It’s an in-depth exploration into the lives of men who think they are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
The photography is stunning, but made much more poignant accompanied by the men’s stories and teachings. Bendiksen’s approach is very respectful – as this could have turned into a giant comedy project. Instead, he gained the trust of his subjects and brought their lives and worlds vividly to life.
7. Drop the self criticism
Strangely, though, it’s often not what others think that is so destructive to our creativity. It is our own personal inner voice that scuppers our work.
“Were we to meet this figure socially, as it were, this accusatory character, this internal critic, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him. That he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout of some catastrophe. And we would be right.”
“Nothing makes us more critical, more confounded — more suspicious, or appalled, or even mildly amused — than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism; that we should be less impressed by it. Or at least that self-criticism should cease to have the hold over us that it does.”
How about doing something radical in 2019 and just completely and totally dropping the self-criticism? Instead of beration – think celebration. Instead of worrying about where you need to go, celebrate where you are at.
Print the photos. Enjoy your photography. Let it take you places you had no idea you wanted to go.
8. The power of surrendering to the world
Let’s be honest, so much of our lives are lived on the surface. It’s looking at things in the same way, doing the same things – not questioning the status quo. Our own personal status quo, our families or our cultures, how we work and what we do with our free time.
Travelling has given me a new perspective on habit and routine. I see now, truly see, that the maxim ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is 100% true.
So travel won’t take you out of habits, out of your routines of thinking and doing, and help you experience the world anew unless you allow it to.
If your thoughts are – things should be like this and like that, which I most certainly suffer from, you will have a similar experience whether you travel or stay at home.
You have to surrender that certainty and those thoughts about who you are and how things should be.
Nothing is certain, nothing is 100%. You have to allow travel and new experiences to change you. You have to unhook your habit and see what emerges.
Surrender to the new experience – allowing all of the new sensations to be alive in your body, even if this involves fear. Especially if it involves fear.
Trying to hold on to habits or preformed ideas you have about yourself and the world because you feel fear will block the potential for so many new enlivening experiences that could be dancing around in your life.
As Anthony and I are in mid-life, we are attempting to buck the trend – to consciously go in the opposite direction to where we are expected to be, in order to open up more possibilities.
It takes a lot of effort and overcoming of fears to become more of who we can be. But it’s an exhilarating experience of what life can become – and when you do it can elevate your creativity beyond your wildest imagination.
9. Find ways to be amazingly inspired on a regular basis
There is a sensation that I feel when I know I am deep in a creative flow state. I realise that somehow my worries or things I have been going over and over in my mind – although still there – seem to have shrunk.
I also notice that there is a beautiful, light feeling within me.
This is not an everyday state for me – yet. But it is a state that I’m trying to bring more into my life. One way I do this is meditating regularly which helps to ‘declutter’ my busy mind from excessive thoughts – and that’s the best way I can describe the benefits.
Meditating gives me space to be more thoughtful and creative, rather than obsessing over how we are getting to the airport tomorrow or wondering if Anthony called the accountant like I asked him to.
Another way is to fill my life with things that are deeply inspiring.
When I was in London I would take regular trips to the woods near us on the outer edges of West London. It’s scientifically proven that seeing trees every day (I think seeing at least 14 trees is the magic number) improves your mental health.
I can attest that whenever I found life too stressful, spending time in the woods would alleviate so much anxiety.
It’s what the Japanese call forest bathing – or Shinrin-yoku.
(And did you know that trees have feelings, families and communities that they communicate with? The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book proposing this new understanding of tree life.)
Anthony and I have found being by the sea intensely inspiring this year.
The vast expanse of it is so hypnotic. Some days it’s beautifully calm and still, translucent so you can see the sea floor. And then it’s wild and angry. Deep green with big waves, telling us all to keep away.
As Lord Byron said “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Incidentally, trees and the sea are both subjects Anthony has done photo projects on. A decade ago it was his project on trees, Arboreal Dreams, and this year his ongoing work on the sea where we live, which has the working title of Meditations.
10. Give up what binds your creativity
I am addicted to Facebook. There I said it. I admitted it to the world. Why do I need to say this out loud? Because it angers me that it almost seems like an unconscious act that, having put my daughter to bed, I fire up Facebook and suddenly realise an hour has disappeared from my life.
If I came off Facebook full of joy and ideas and inspiration then, hey, it’d be an hour well spent. But really, no-one expects to say that it makes me happy, right?
I don’t want to get into should’s though. I should be doing something else, I should be being productive, I should be better in every way. That to me just leads to the above point of intense self-criticism.
I would, however, like to give myself the time to potentially pick up my pen, to commit to what I love to do, to make progress on another book I have been writing for over a year now. That would be awesome.
So I am going to become Facebook-free.
I am going to remove just one thing from my life as the new year gets under way, and that’s the thing that binds me the most, and keeps me away from creating.
We all have things that impinge on taking photos or being creative. What is yours?
I hope you have enjoyed those ideas and they ignite something within you that will help your photography. Let us know in the comments below.
Read more of our articles …
One of my favourite articles was about Ara Guler. He was a phenomenal photographer – as you can see in the documentary about him – The Eye of Istanbul. I also deeply, deeply love Istanbul. It might be my favourite city in the world. Or how about these:
I love looking in detail at another photographer’s work, because to immerse yourself in the space of someone else’s creativity and seeing what their ideas spark in you, what excites you, what makes you sit up and think – wow, that’s really cool – that’s all great fuel for your own photography.
My subject today is Henri Cartier-Bresson. Born in 1908 he was initially drawn to painting before discovering photography at the age of 24 (and the Leica camera!). After a spectacular career he started to move away from photography at the age of 60 and spent the rest of his long life focused more on drawing and painting.
Although I can’t ever imagine giving up on photography I really admire it when people take big leaps in their creativity like this. I mean he was a world famous photographer, he could have coasted on that for the next thirty years, but instead he was drawn back to his first love.
I aim to be that fearless with my decisions in life. To just go for what moves me, and not what makes most practical sense.
What I love about Cartier-Bresson’s photography is his steadied and almost scientific approach to composition – he had a great feel for shape and form and putting that together into compelling compositions.
In this article I am using my own photos that I think draw from is style and influence.
He is very much known for his street photography which, as a genre, I often find comes across in a cold, slightly sterile feeling. But I think Cartier-Bresson’s photographs, and his street photography, have a real warmth combined with a concern for humanity.
So here are some things Henri Cartier-Bresson can teach you about photography.
You know what all good photographers have? Patience. You know what almost every person who comes on my workshops needs more of? Patience.
You have to accept that if you want to be a great photographer (or even almost-great. Or anywhere above average) you need the ability to not rush the moment.
You need to enter into the moment that you are in, be totally present and to let it just run as it sees fit. To observe the world around you with no expectation, to drift through the place you are in, and to completely resist the temptation to keep moving on.
“One minute of patience, ten years of peace.” Greek proverb
If there is one thing I would like you to take away from this post that will make your photography instantly better, it is to take twice the amount of time looking than you usually do.
To fight your mind and your body in the urge to keep moving on.
When you find a scene that interests you, stay put.
Explore it, probe it, wait for things to happen. And in general, walk twice as slowly, stay out taking photos for twice as long.
But as Joyce Meyer says – “Patience is not just about waiting for something… it’s about how you wait, or your attitude while waiting.”
Be patient in your patience 🙂
2) Find the perfect expression of your subject
Cartier-Bresson is most famous for coming up with the term the decisive moment. The term actually came from the English title of his book. The book opens with the quote from Cardinal de Retz, who wrote in the 17th century:
“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”
“The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself.”
When they talk about the decisive moment it could come across as being that you wait for that perfect moment, then you take a photo, then you move on.
But actually Cartier-Bresson worked the scene like most of the rest of us, taking lots of photos. And from this he would pick a photo that most accurately captured the essence of the situation – that gave the viewer the most information and feeling about the subject.
3) Use your intuition
“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” Cartier-Bresson
This to me again speaks of shutting off your chatty, worky, to-do mind and trying to just enter into the moment. There is a lot that we intuit that we probably don’t acknowledge, so occupied are we at listening to our endless thoughts.
I feel like it’s like you need to get out of your mind and into your body – and see what it is noticing about where you are at, ignoring that busy mind of yours.
“Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you won’t get it. First you must lose yourself. Then it happens.” Cartier-Bresson
I like that, you must lose yourself. It’s exactly what I feel when I am in the ‘zone’ or the ‘creative flow state’. I am losing track of space and time, and just completely immersed in my subject. It doesn’t happen every time I shoot, but I know that when it happens I am getting something very special.
4) The beauty of shape and form
Cartier-Bresson was very into lines, shapes, organising and balancing the geometry of the world.
“In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry– it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.” Cartier-Bresson
5) Take the time to reveal your subject
“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” Cartier-Bresson
This for me perfectly captures what you need to be doing when taking someone’s photo. And this isn’t easy! Taking a portrait for me is about your subject revealing something about themselves or their experience.
It could be through their movement, the expression within their eyes or face – but it has to tell you something about the person or the situation they are in.
Almost everyone (with the exception of young children) have a veneer that they present to the world, and this veneer will harden when you put a camera up in front of them.
People are programmed to want to project a certain image – but that image is boring to photograph most of the time.
So what this comes down to again is time. Spending time with your subject or watching your subject so that they start to relax and reveal something about themselves.
You want them to go from feeling consciously looked at, to feeling unconsciously looked at. Because that veneer is hard to maintain, and people will forget about a camera after a while.
So, in order to get to that point where people are losing their guard and starting to reveal something interesting about themselves you need to push through the discomfort you are likely to experience whilst waiting.
It’s weirdly self conscious pointing a camera at someone you aren’t acquainted with for long periods of time. So again, be patient with yourself and move through the discomfort.
It could be that you are just clicking away, having the subject get used to you. Gradually they will.
Or talk to them – or watch them if you are shooting them unawares. Wait for those fluttering changes in their face, their eyes. See what they do with their hands, where their eyes turn when their preoccupations come back to occupy their minds.
But then sometimes it’s more interesting to see not what I think of people, or my view – but what they think of themselves and of the world.
6) Don’t be nostalgic about your photos
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” Cartier-Bresson
I think a lot of us photographers worry that we aren’t ever going to take a truly original photo. When I visit to new cities I certainly worry about that. I mean there are photographers everywhere! (This writer worked out that “Every two minutes, humans take more photos than ever existed in total 150 years ago.”)
I think there is a little bit of nostalgia in wanting to take photos. Life is such a flowing, never stopping act, that to take a photo and halt that process of always changing, always moving on, is to gain a small window of time to stop and reflect. To have an opportunity to stop and breathe.
Photography is a weird dichotomy of being completely present and living in a very rich connected way, and this constant reflecting back on the past. On past moments that you have captured.
But Cartier-Bresson was someone who constantly pushed forward and gave very little thought to his earlier photos.
“The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.”
I hope you are inspired to explore his work more. A good place to start is the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, set up with his wife Martine Franck (a great photographer in her own right), and his daughter. And as he was one of the co-founders of Magnum.
And, as always, we love hearing what you think, so if you’ve got some thoughts on Cartier-Bresson please comment below. And please share with anyone who you think would enjoy this post, it means a lot, thanks!
I look at many people’s photographs and I’ve noticed that how people take photos is in direct correlation to how they live their day to day lives. This may not sound like a startlingly profound fact but, put simply: your personality can create the biggest barrier to achieving interesting and unique photographs.
It’s not your kit, it’s not your ability to capture perfect focus. It’s who you are and how you live that you need to examine.
Let me delve a bit deeper and explain.
For example, let’s take me. One thing that I do profoundly well is live in the moment. I am very present and that is stunningly useful when I want to connect to the world around me and take photos. It’s also super cool when you are around kids, because kids are just so totally present. Even my uber-dreamy son doesn’t understand later – he wants to share his discovery about slugs with me right now, because it’s just so exciting.
So presence is a very awesome attribute to have as a photographer. But guess what – there is an aspect to it that makes my photography more challenging, that I’ve had to work on getting over, so that I can be a better photographer.
I realised a while back that neither the past nor the future seem to occupy my mind much, so it made creating long term projects and stories very hard. I have always found it easy to take singular wonderful images.
But the part that I have had to really work on and push myself out of my comfort zone with – is creating these stories and projects.
Now here are some stereotypes…
Are you a busy, task-oriented person? Your photos are more than likely going to be rushed and you are going to struggle to be present, truly in the moment and to take photos that are meaningful and well composed. They may make you feel like you’ve achieved something, but really you haven’t. Taking 500 photos is not an accomplishment, taking 2 or 3 well composed, meaningful photos is.
Are you a very practical, handy person? Can you read a manual for a washing machine and understand it? The issues you are likely to have are excellent technical skills in your photography, but ones that don’t capture mood, feeling or experience well.
Are you a very creative, dreamy, ideas person? You are likely to have the opposite problem. Your photos will probably full of mood and emotion.
You’ll be able to recognise in the world around you wonderful moments of human expression, or evocative moods in the changing weather. But technically? You’ll likely struggle as you try and kick that bit of your brain that is underutilised into action.
Now I ask you: what do you see in your personality that is reflected in your photos? Both the strengths and the weaknesses. And if you recognise it, you can discover the key of what you need to learn and it is that that will radically improve your photography.
Photography is a very personal journey and everyone needs to learn different aspects at different times. I work with beginner photographers all the time and no two beginners are the same, we are all on our separate path.
We all learn at different rates – and more importantly we absorb information differently. Some people find things like learning manual a breeze, while others struggle for years. And the same goes for composition, capturing emotion etc.
Learning is a hugely personal thing that is most effective when it meets us where we are.
When I looked recently at the portfolios of images that my students give me, it is obvious that everyone’s challenges are distinctive. And it basically comes down to their personalities.
But what exactly is the problem?
Now, we could just accept who we are, carry on and just try improving over time, right? We could just focus on our strengths and keep going – which is what I find many of my students do.
The super-techy ones just keep learning more and more about tech things, the creatives keep reacting to the tech stuff with horror and working harder on capturing mood and emotion.
Developing a skill, though, is not just about increasing your strengths, but working on your weaknesses. This will help you create balance within your imagery.
You don’t have to make your weaknesses as strong as your strengths, or be totally in harmony – but by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will surprise yourself, you will generate new ideas, you’ll even start lighting up different parts of that big ole brain of yours. Clear the dust out I say!
Photography is an inner process. It’s not an outer process. It’s about you, your experience, your passions, your mood etc. So by looking clearly and objectively at yourself you can more easily identify where you should be improving.
And you know what’s so funny about this? When I tell people where I think they are weak, they always know deep down. They see immediately what I am saying because when I demonstrate the weakness in their creative output, their photography, they see that weakness in their personality.
Now how do you we identify our weaknesses and improve?
Ask your nearest and dearest! Ask them not just about what your weaknesses are (because after all by living with or close to other humans we are often helpfully reminded by them what our weakness are :)) but also our strengths.
We usually think we know our strengths, but you can also get super surprised about other people’s opinions of your strengths.
And often our perceptions of ourselves are outdated. What we were told as children we were good at is often what we carry as a permanent vision of ourselves – and that gets outdated! You need a fresh vision of yourself as an older person 🙂
I know you aren’t all trying to be the world’s greatest photographers. But if you want this photographic journey to keep reaping its beautiful benefits on your life, then it’s worthwhile examining what might be limiting you, or stopping you from developing.
I want to encourage everyone whom I teach to think about photography not as an endpoint or an output – how can I get the very best focal length etc.
I mean of course that all has a place, a very good place, and a function – but as a sense that your photography is on the same journey as you. It’s intertwined with your life. For me, taking photos is how I make sense of, remember, enjoy and connect with what’s around me.
Photography is not always easy or effortless for me either, it does kick my butt at times – but it keeps me thinking, keeps me fresh and most of all it keeps me awake to this amazing world.
I’d love to know what you think. What do you think that is in your personality that is holding your photography back? Please comment below.
And as always, get in touch if you have any thoughts, questions etc. about anything to do with photography at all.
Keep on keeping on!
Anthony and Diana
Capturing the Beauty, History And Culture Of Andalucia
Di and I have lived in Andalusia for over a year now and it has completely and totally captured our imaginations.
Little did we know that when we set off on our travels almost two years ago we would end up finding a base in southern Spain, and falling in love with the wild and beautiful landscape, the culture and history of the area – and, of course, the incredible light.
Andalucia is probably the most exotic and renowned region of Spain. Lying in the very south, just a few hundred miles from Africa, it weaves together influences from its Moorish rule (8th – 15th centuries) with a deeply traditional Spanish culture.
The warm climate produces an abundance of food that you see in the little traditional farms, as you journey through orange-scented walks, almond and olive groves along the undulating hills.
Now when I travel it is to Spain I yearn to return, and it is where we are building a home.
One of the reasons that this area has captivated me so completely is the diversity of its landscape and its intensely beautiful nature.
I have spent months photographing the sea, wandering through the hills and the tiny white-washed villages. I have photographed the vistas of spring blossoms, the tinge of autumnal colours and the vividly coloured sunrises.
Of course, anything that inspires me so much I want to share in both my photography and on our workshops – and so Di and I have spent several months crafting the latest addition to our workshop collection.
The workshop brings in my favourite parts of the region, those I know and love.
On our workshop we will journey from the vibrant old town of Malaga to deep into Las Alpujarras which are a collection of villages in the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
We will photograph my favourite spots on the rugged coast and the deliciously coloured sea. And a trip to this region would not be complete without capturing the Moorish architecture and the majestic palace of the Alhambra in Granada, which for me is best captured at twilight.
This will be a diverse trip, capturing some of the many facets of life here – all within an hour or two’s drive of each other.
Di and I have handpicked some wonderful accommodation for you to stay in, where you will get a warm welcome and enjoy a fantastic stay.
Of course we will also be eating some of the best local food around, catching some of the local music in our favourite bars, eating delicious tapas in the lively street market in Malaga and enjoying the famous wines of the region.
We will have a driver to take us to the array of places I want to show you, and Diana will be joining us for some of the key parts of the workshop too.
A lot of people ask me – how do I know if my photos are any good? And will I ever get any better?
Before I started teaching my workshops, I would have said no, probably not.
I honestly wondered whether amateur photographers could get any better.
I was carrying around this idea that the ability to ‘see’ interesting photos was a natural ability, a natural inclination almost, and if you didn’t have it, you couldn’t be taught it.
If you can’t ‘see’ good images, then you’ll never get anywhere.
I talked to my wife about it and she responded:“Can’t you just teach people how to see then? You taught me how to see.”
And that stopped me in my tracks.
You see, Ihadtaught my wife to ‘see’. When we met she was the most intensely dreamy person who lived totally in her head.
But now, after spending time together, she’ll often point out interesting light to me! She notices her surroundings, colours and textures in a really compelling way.
She also edits my work, my books and projects, pulling selections together for press, for this blog and to send to our print buyers.
She has developed an amazing eye, by being inadvertently taught by me.
“You’re right”,I joked.“If you can do it, anyone can!”
After which she threw a pillow at my head.
I realised then that as a teacher my job was not only to show you how to see, but to demonstrate techniques so you can develop these skills of ‘seeing’ great photos – for yourself.
I don’t want to replicate my photo style in hundreds of people.
I want you to find out what is unique and special about you, your passions – to help you develop what is unique and special about your photography.
That is what is exciting to me, revealing the artist that is innately within you, that is within all of us.
And when it comes directly from you, the culmination of your experience, your life and passions, your unique way of seeing the world – that is artistry.
Which is why everything about my workshops is about showing you how you can be the very best photographer you can be.
Not by copying my style – but with us working together and finding the most effective way to express who you are.
Of course I have all the technical knowledge to pass on, to make it as easy as possible for you to feel confident and at ease with your camera.
Because I know you can be great. I know that everyone has inside of them the potential to be an artist, to tell stories, to be able to express themselves confidently with their camera.
And I know a lot of people have doubts about themselves. You might think you have reached the limit of your skill.
You wonder – are you even any good?
But what has drawn you to photography is the fact that you are a visual person.
That you are not prepared to let life drift past, you want to stop it, examine it, see it, capture it.
To find interesting ways to show the world what isfascinating.
We have been in Morocco for over a month now. I have been having an incredible time, I am honored to be staying in this beautiful town and sharing the daily life of the community.
Getting to know the local shopkeepers, going out each morning to buy Moroccan pancakes and churros from a couple who make them in their tiny home shop.
Seeing the wonder and awe in my city-raised-kids’ faces when we encounter goats eating fig leaves on the streets, or wandering sheep on our walks in the hills surrounding the town.
Seeing how the local women help my wife when she’s buying food at the market, the kids on our street who have embraced my kids and the men that I talk to in bad Spanish as I wander around looking at the beautiful light falling on flower pots, clotheslines or on the wonderfully textured buildings.
This is why I love to stay in places for weeks at a time. Tofeela place, toknowit. So that I can translate that into my photos.
Exploring the backstreets of Chefchaouen at night, where the old lamplights create beautiful shadows on the blue and greenwashed walls of the old buildings, smelling the scent of woodsmoke in the fresh mountain air.
Morocco has been a mesmerising adventure.
Anthony and Diana
This was me out at dawn a few days ago. That’s the little street we are staying on. It’s so pretty.
I think there is this weird idea floating around that creativity is a young person’s game, particularly certain genres of creativity (photography and music for sure). That somehow you are at your peak creatively in your twenties and thirties, and then it’s downhill from then on. I think that’s insane.
Some of us can find the courage for creativity when we are young, and for others it takes years or decades to turn onto this path. Some find creativity but not their voice when they are young, and age brings a settling into themselves and an ability to reveal something unique.
For me as a photographer, I could certainly say that I had a good eye when I was young, that came quite naturally. But it took me many years to find my voice and my style. And longer still to find a place for that in the world.
I would like to say with certainty that the ability to be creative increases as we become older and wiser. It should, given the experiences we build up, but it’s not automatic.
Age can actually bring about the reverse effect, and make us more fearful and less creative. More aware of the passing of time, more aware of what we haven’t achieved (that we thought we should have), more aware of the things we do badly.
“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
I think sometimes it takes effort and focus not to grow ‘too careful’. To remind ourselves that at any point we can create new ideas, new skills, new ways of living and creating.
Age is never something to hold us back. If you don’t do it now, then when? When you are younger? We are all able to bring something new to this world, that will create bursts of recognition and connection with someone else.
Let age bring us the ability to be free instead.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.
Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths.
We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” Henry Miller
It just takes courage, even if that courage comes and goes, as it does with most of us. I suppose it’s a little bit like a wave that you ride.
There are many great artists and writers who came to their practise later in life, and still had stunning success. And we can use that to spur us on. But recognition from others shouldn’t be the driver. That’s not the true gift of creativity.
Louise Bourgeois made her greatest work after the age of 80. When she was 84, and an interviewer asked whether she could have made one of her recent works earlier in her career, she replied, “Absolutely not.” When he asked why, she explained, “I was not sophisticated enough.”‘- from The Huffinton Post.
Creativity doesn’t have to have any purpose. It doesn’t have to go anywhere. Of course, if you want it to there is so much to do – the opportunities available to us artists are, I believe, the 21st century’s best gift. (I will write more about that another day)
Creativity is a release from all that ties us to a life that’s lived in habit. It’s a reminder to pay attention to what matters most.
It’s like bursts of interestingness, jolting us awake and out of our ‘to-do list’ and our crazy minds that push us into the future instead of allowing us to live in the present.
And it’s not just about giving yourself something to do when you retire or as a replacement for your job, it’s about weaving into your life a sense of exploration, a way to enhance your life every day. It doesn’t matter what age you come to it (15, 45, 85) because at each point in life you have something to reveal, something to explore.
Creativity is a way to discover who you are underneath of all of the layers that you’ve built up in the noise and distraction of your everyday life.
Creativity is about finding a freedom within your life that is unrelated to achievement or productivity. It’s your mind being released from daily patterns to wander over the vast plains and mystery of life, in way that is completely unique to you. It is about enriching your life, bringing you a deep sense of joy.
But it’s not a freedom whose path comes in a blissful and easy way; it’s not a straightforward process. It can feel uncomfortable, painful even. It can confront you with what you’re hopeless at or ill at ease with.
It can involve vast swathes of boredom, and it certainly isn’t always a joyful thing for me. But it has added a deep, rich layer to my life that makes it feel more fulfilling. It’s the place I go to often to work things out.
“What’s thrilling to me about what’s called technique, I hate to call it that because it sounds like something up your sleeve, but what moves me about it is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices that somebody has made, that take a long time, and keep haunting them.” Diane Arbus
Your creativity is waiting to be revealed right now, and that’s what I want you to remind you of.
“…Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” Anne Lamott
In my younger years I was really caught up with the prestige of commercial photography – getting cool, flashy clients – until I realised that I wasn’t a flashy commercial photographer.
My personality just isn’t suited to that hustling vibe. I like going off and wandering around on my own. I am drawn to my own little adventures and making my own projects, that’s how my creativity works best and that’s how I’ve created my life around.
With age we can release the addictive powers of expectation (if we chose to). You can unmoor yourself from the ferocity of expectation. You can free yourself from how you perceive your life should be, and instead find what is fascinating in what your life actually is.
It takes bravery to step out of the manner in which most of us live and try to look at things in a different way. To look at the morning sunshine and ponder it. To be reminded of the fleeting nature of life and to still look, search, explore and do what makes you truly excited and truly happy. Being creative takes bravery, for sure, but the rewards are beyond measure. It’s never too late.
Couple of interesting other things, age related:
This amazing photo project on older people who’ve taken up things like ballet when they were 80 and now at 94 dance professionally is really cool.
I like this theory that your creativity actually starts to decline from the age of five because you don’t get to use your creative skills so much when you start school: “The scary coda to this story is that by the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives.” So if that’s true then we should be at the same creative level at 20 that we are at at 95! Awesome!
Photographer André Kertész found recognition late in life, but I love that he continued throughout his life to work at what he truly believed in, what interested him and thrilled him. He stayed true to the craft and I love his work, his was amazing a composition.
I would love to hear about what you think. Are you getting more creative? Please let me comment here, or send me an email – I read and love to read them all!
And thanks to Diana, for her extensive help and writing on this week’s blog.
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.
I was really interested to read people’s ideas and philosophies on how they choose to shoot and why.
I, of course, have my passionate opinion, that manual is a essential to gain full creative control – but I also think you should shoot the exact way you feel comfortable and happy with. It doesn’t matter what and how you do it – as long as you do it!
As that was a popular post, I thought I’d share the latest two articles we’ve written for Digital Photography School:
Di and I are also going to share a couple of other things we have been enjoying this week, all fuel for our photography and creative practices, but not necessarily related to photography:
1. Iranian photographer Abbas died recently. Famous for photographing the Iranian revolution, he was a Magnum photographer, who spent much of his career documenting conflicts between religion and politics around the world. Gallery of his photos.
4. Meditative photos and videos from free diver Ocean Ramsey who dives with sharks.
5. The Defiant Ones: I love music and being a musician was something I was considering before I took the road into photography. I loved the recent Netflix series The Defiant Ones, documenting the careers of musician/producer Dr Dre and producer/record label owned Jimmy Iovine. Really fascinating to get into the minds of people who have achieved remarkable things with their creativity.
That’s it for today. Have a stupendous day.
And remember to take that camera out – don’t let it gather dust! It needs you to bring interesting ideas into the world.
Anthony and Diana
That’s me shooting in Venice a few years ago.
All the shots in today’s article are from my Venice at Dawn photo project. I love this city! I run a photo workshop there most years, check out my workshop pages for details.
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.
“Through this photographic eye you will be able to look out on a new light-world, a world for the most part uncharted and unexplored, a world that lies waiting to be discovered and revealed.” Edward Weston
Yesterday in Spain
Last weekend we arrived in southern Spain. We have settled in a little town on the beach for a while. Travelling with my family has turned out to be nothing like what I thought it would be.
I thought that at this point we’d be running through the jungles of Costa Rica or something like that. But my kids have strongly requested that we stay in Europe to be with some other travelling families – and this little area is a total hub for families who are travelling and worldschooling as we are doing.
Apparently I am not totally in charge 🙂 Maybe I’m not in charge at all.
(Worldschooling sounds pretty cool, but it’s just the term for educating your kids while you travel.)
And you’ll probably relate to this: if the kids are happy (and my wife) then I’m happy.
It’s nice to have sunshine and sea air, and I’m looking forward to exploring the beautiful mountain towns and photographing the sea, and whatever cool wonders I can find.
Today I have some good tips and a challenge focused on one of my favourite things to photograph – reflections!
Reflections are everywhere – in bodies of water, on shiny surfaces, in windows. Once you cast your eyes around, they will be everywhere.
Reflections are intriguing to me – they can bring all kinds of interesting feelings and elements into your images; like abstraction, intrigue, mystery and beautiful patterns. Let’s get to it!
Reflections on water
“I love to watch the movement of light on water, and I love to play in rivers and lakes, swimming or canoeing. I am fascinated by people who work with water – fishermen, boatmen – and by a way of life that is dominated by water.” Berlie Doherty
Water changes everything that’s reflected in it and it influences everything that it comes into contact with. And to be surrounded by mist and sea air when taking photos is reviving.
Sometimes reflections can be very straight forward. Still water will be like a mirror and reflect back what is around you in detail.
Tip: I like to find to good clear patch with minimum amounts of things floating in the water in order to enhance the mirror effect. If there is algae or just bits bobbing on the water it can distract attention and that is not what I want. I want all eyes on what I see!
When using compositional tools and techniques like this you have to make them your own. They are a starting point. Then you add your own elements, play around with them, see what else you can do with them.
Here’s one of my ‘morning in the city’ reflections, in Paris.
This is a common type of shot for me, because most major cities – old ones at least – have a river or are set by the ocean. So you’ll see such city scenes reappearing in my work.
Tip: Take advantage of low ambient and use artificial lighting to create depth in your reflections.
What’s wonderful is that at dawn on many rivers you get the opportunity to shoot the water in its stillness, and consequently you get very clear, very sharp reflections.
Now this shot in Venice, below, is a more subtle reflection – the light of pre-dawn and the lovely atmospheric street lamps in this gorgeous city. But to give it a little more dimension, a little more intrigue, look at the reflections. They create a wonderful symmetry.
Can you see how that very still water is like a mirror? How the small reflections give dimension and depth to the image?
I think the very still water immediately gives a sense of quiet and the peace at dawn.
Of course it doesn’t just have to be rivers or sea; rain on roads and surfaces is also very cool.
I also like to use water in a more abstract sense, using its movement and the elements around it to appear more playful.
What does this photo below look like to you? (Lots of bit and bobs on the water on this one!) For me, the water has given this steely, immovable structure a very fun sense of movement. Only water could do that!
The elements here are simple. The colour of the tower is so cold, but in the water it looks joyful almost, surrounded by that deep ocean of blue. It’s a dancing smoke stack!
Now, one of my favourite things to do with calmly rippling water is to use it to capture reflected light off colourful surroundings. It’s become an ongoing project for me – not an original idea but I feel I’m doing some very beautiful stuff. It will be a stunning printed portfolio eventually.
Here are some of my recent favourites:
It’s all about using the water ripples to play with the surrounding colours and create its own shapes and textures.
Have what you want reflected to be 180 degrees from where you will be taking the shot. This puts the colours on the water.
Try different levels and angles.
The fun part for me is just looking and looking while moving around until an image strikes me. Boom!
These types of photos usually end up looking like abstract paintings which, I feel, is a true compliment for a photo.
Tip: Use your post-processing skills to play with saturation and contrast to really give them some punch. A bit of clarity is nice too.
Now in this one below, I have used the strong block colours of a nearby building:
You’ll notice the droplets too – I timed the water drop ripples, which was a really great idea. It adds a lot to the photo by breaking up the greater pattern.
In the photograph below we can see light reflected water in a more straightforward way by making it part of a scene:
Can you see here how the pink light really reveals the textures of the water? It’s incredible to see that.
How else would the character and feeling of the water be revealed if not in the reflection?
Remember water is always acting as a dynamic mirror and is in touch with everything around it. It is like it is visually conscious or something. It’s alive!
Now let’s jump over to some other types of reflections.
Reflections in glass
This is a pretty standard reflection. What do you think?
Better with the person?
That adds a little humour to the image, I think. I camped out for 30 minutes waiting for and timing shots, ending up with around 20 interesting ones.
Walking around cities you will find plenty of opportunities to spy some potential shots in panes of glass.
I think they are most interesting when they are at eye level and not up above me, but maybe you feel differently??
Then we have some really clean reflections:
The above photo has very simple, clean elements. A near perfect mirror effect with the added bonus of wavy lines. Woop!
Another one that is all about reflections and shapes. This kind of shot works much better with loads of stormy clouds and dynamic weather. Blue sky just kills this image.
Now for some more abstraction:
I grabbed this shot one morning. It’s a shop window with some kind of window dressing (always makes me think of Mars) and I caught a portrait.
Tip: I had to quickly use manual focus because I didn’t trust my camera not to focus on the window instead of my subject. I really like it due to its abstract nature and that it was not an easy shot to notice.
“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” Picasso
This shot above seems so eerie to me. You aren’t quite sure what it is, until you look much closer.
These abstract images don’t need to make sense, but the elements are somehow working together. There should be some sense, some clarity, to what you are photographing. You don’t want it to be a giant mess.
Reflections to create symmetry
This shot above – a very, very old one of mine – is a typical reflection shot, one where you are shooting the subject straight on and therefore the reflection makes a symmetrical pattern in the water.
Above is a very classic reflection shot. Using water on the street ,would you believe.
The water creates a symmetry with a building that is already dense with patterns. Now, if that band of colourful chairs wasn’t there – and how convenient that they laid them out in first yellow, then purple – this would be a very boring shot.
Don’t you think?
Symmetry and patterns are awesome – but I often like it when there is another element within the images that brings some imperfection, something else, into the image. Makes it all the more human!
And I think we humans like a little imperfection in our world 🙂
Below I am using a very strong, singular element that already has some cool repetitive elements – the lights, the arches – and using the reflection to add more repetition, and therefore more patterns.
I came at this shot above at an angle, not shooting it straight on. I picked my position carefully, usually trying out a few different angles, but this was pretty awesome because it gives a strong line, some pleasing patterns – and it’s not an obvious shot.
Reflections of Light
Light can be reflected onto all kinds of different surfaces. Look at these two – both lights reflected onto a wet pavement. Great effect.
So even when you don’t have a super reflective surface you can still find reflections. In this case – reflected light…and it’s full of colour!
I have featured some of my favourite ways to photograph reflections, but there are many other ways we can use reflections in our images – and I’d love to see yours.
So I am setting another photo challenge for this! And it was awesome seeing so many people’s images in the last challenge. (Plus there is a cool prize for my favourite image.)
At the end of the challenge period I am going to be doing a live webinar all about my favourite images that you submit – plus giving a whole bunch of tips and techniques.
It’s been a fine day here in the mountains of Morocco. The sun is so warm during the day, and then the sun sets and an intense chill pervades.
Standing on our terrace and looking up over the mountains at the clear, clear sky to watch the stars is a magical experience.
There is always the smell of woodsmoke here in the evenings. As you walk through the streets, the low lights create beautiful shadows on the colourful walls. I feel like I am miles away from everything and everyone.
We’ll be heading on to our next stop in about 10 days, so will be enjoying the walks in the hills, good food and excellent photography while we can.
We have promised the children a Christmassy location and the possibility of a Father Christmas visit. These are small compromises, we know, for the sacrifice of taking them away from their beloved grandmother and extended family at their favourite time of year.
Today I want to ask you one important question.
What one thing could I help you with in your photography?
What are you grappling to get to grips with? What knowledge do you need that would make a big difference in your photography right now?
Di and I are planning our next set of articles and posts and we would love to help you with your photo issues.
We want to be insanely useful – so please, offload your photo difficulties and struggles onto us and we will try to help you with them!
Just hit reply and let us know.
Have a great day,
Anthony and Diana
10 Lessons On Photography & Art From Richard Avedon And James Baldwin
My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph. Richard Avedon
I hope life is good. We are settling into the lovely town of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains of Morocco. We’ll be here for a few weeks as we love it so much. The colours, the light, the pretty town and the mountain views.
It’s easy to work here and I am doing a lot of great photography. We are all basking in the peace and calm of such a magnificent place.
Today I’ve been reading about the book – Nothing Personal – which I hadn’t heard of before. It is a collaboration between photographer Richard Avedon and writer James Baldwin. These are two men I really admire and whose work I delight in. I had no idea they collaborated in the 1960’s on a project about America.
Nothing Personal is being exhibited in New York and the book was just republished by Taschen. (Here is a blogger showcasing the previous edition on Youtube. Highly recommend it, it shows you the progression of the book – fascinating.)
Avedon was an amazing photographer, known for his fashion and portrait work. Baldwin wrote one of my favourite novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain, but was also an essayist, and political activist.
(I like to remind myself of these wise words of Baldwin when I think about my kids: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” James Baldwin)
How many photos that I take of my wife does she actually like? Possibly only 1%, I am sorry to say. I can love a photo of her, and she hates it. But this is just par for the course of photography.
People will always have sensitivity about their own image. Let’s face it, we all have a vision in our head of how we’d like to look, and when photos don’t match up to that vision then we dislike them. Nothing us photographers can do about that! Except really, to not take it personally.
Do the best that you can, and accept that if you photograph people you’ll find a lot of them disliking the resulting photo.
Jeffrey Brown: Not everyone is always happy with the results. Avedon took this portrait of the renowned literary critic Harold Bloom.
Richard Avedon: And he said, “I hate that picture. It doesn’t look like me.” Well, for a very smart man to think that a picture is supposed to look like him… would you go to Modigliani and say, “I want it to look like me?”
You have to remember when you look at his photographs that Avedon will have had time with his subjects, will have shot many different photos – and most importantly chosen each image on purpose – to match his vision.
There will always be a range of expressions and poses, and part of the genius of photography is the edit, is the photos you actually choose.
Avedon took some stunning photographs of his father, which he wrote about beautifully. He said:
His [Avedon’s father] allegiance was to the way he wanted to be seen; mine was to the way I saw him, which had to do not only with my feelings about my father, but with my feelings about what it is to be anyone. Richard Avedon in ASX
3. Photography is not the truth – it’s an interpretation
A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth. Richard Avedon
Photographers are opinion-makers, they are forming people’s interpretation of the people around them.
4. To be an artist— to be a photographer, you need to nurture the thing that most people discard….
….You have to keep them alive in order to tap them. It’s been important my entire life not to let go of anything which most people would throw in the ashcan. I need to be in touch with my fragility, the man in me, the woman in me. The child in me. The grandfather in me. All these things, they need to be kept alive. Richard Avedon
I like this quote so much. It is showing us that nothing in life is irrelevant to our craft. Watching the metal glisten on the train tracks as we wait for our morning train. Studying the face of a client at a meeting. Watching the shapes on the window in the dark of night as we lay with our child because they had a bad dream.
All of life informs our choices as photographers. You are never not taking in visual information! You can use the time when you are doing other things, to notice, to see, to feel, to absorb, to spark ideas.
For me this is also about learning to live in a different way to others. Not gliding through life, to sometimes find the inane – fascinating; the boring -stimulating; the useless – useful. It’s those contradictions.
Sometimes I feel like I am going the opposite way to people in my life. Instead of building more security I am building less, instead of acquiring more things, I am discarding everything I don’t need.
And because “When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.” James Baldwin
Plus when you think of doing something different or difficult, it’s useful to remember that:
“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” James Baldwin
I love the angular nature of so many of Avedon’s portraits. He uses the body in such an interesting way. Slightly reminds me of Bill Brandt, who had a very different style but he also made interesting shapes with the body.
5. I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish I could just work with my eyes alone. Richard Avedon
I love this. This is going beyond the camera and its many facets. It’s going beyond the tools and being someone with a vision and passion for examining life.
6. My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues. Richard Avedon
This makes me laugh! Because it’s true and also not true. So much is revealed in people’s faces, in a moment, so much is being communicated. And yet it is just a moment. It is just a fleeting moment that has been subjectively captured by a biased individual.
Whenever I become absorbed in the beauty of a face, in the excellence of a single feature, I feel I’ve lost what’s really there…been seduced by someone else’s standard of beauty or by the sitter’s own idea of the best in him. That’s not usually the best. So each sitting becomes a contest. Richard Avedon
When you become so involved in how interesting your subject is, you aren’t looking at them objectively, but almost as an element in your scene.
Snapshots that have been taken of me working show something I was not aware of at all, that over and over again I’m holding my own body or my own hands exactly like the person I’m photographing. I never knew I did that, and obviously what I’m doing is trying to feel, actually physically feel, the way he or she feels at the moment I’m photographing them in order to deepen the sense of connection. Richard Avedon
Interesting quote. It shows us how important connecting to your subject is – and it’s not just about getting along with them. It’s about observing and connecting with their mood and energy, how they are feeling.
This is about observering and trying to allow the subject space, so they can unfold themselves.
I think I’m sort of a reader— I used to love handwriting analysis. But that’s nothing compared to reading a face. I think if I had decided to go into the fortune telling business, I would have probably been very good. What happens to me in work— I look for something in a face, and I look for contradiction, complexity. Somethings that are contradictory and yet connected. Richard Avedon
9. Fear is there, regardless of how accomplished you are
There’s nothing hard about photography. I get scared, and I’m longing for the fear to come back. I feel the fear when I have the camera in hand. I’m scared like when an athlete is scared, you’re going for the high jump. You can blow it. That’s what taking a photo is. Richard Avedon
I talk about fear a lot. I will continue. This is a reminder to me that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve done in your life, fear can always be there. And that’s OK.
I think I do photograph what I’m afraid of. Things I couldn’t deal with … My father’s death, madness, when I was young—women. I didn’t understand. It gave me a sort of control over the situation which was legitimate, because good work was being done. And by photographing what I was afraid of, or what I was interested in— I laid the ghost. It got out of my system and onto the page.Richard Avedon
I’d like to finish with a short extract from an essay by James Baldwinwhich is think is really enlightening, about the role of the creative act in the day-to-day of life:
“Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.
That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — the banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed.
Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world.
There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone.
But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself.
The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” William Arthur Ward
It’s a warm day here in Chefchaouen, an incredibly beautiful town in the mountains of Morocco. I am in photo heaven, this place is possibly the most interesting and beautiful place I’ve ever been. And that is really saying something as I spend a lot of time in ridiculously beautiful places!
Today’s photos are from our last few days here.
We were out at the market this morning, buying vegetables and fruits from local farmers, freshly baked bread from the little hole-in-the-wall bakeries and for lunch an intensely spiced roast chicken from a busy cafe.
I had set out our lunch on the terrace of our house when my son said: “This is our Thanksgiving lunch!”
And I had no idea that today was indeed Thanksgiving! Partly it’s because I am surrounded by my English family, and haven’t lived in the US for almost 20 years so I usually forget. But also it’s that we are away, in this sunshiny warm town, far from any reminders.
But I was glad to remember, because to be honest I am always trying to remember to be thankful. To actively say – thank you for this incredible life and all of the beautiful things that I have.
I know that the more thankful I am, even for the difficult stuff, the happier and more fruitful my life is.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey
And so today I want to say thank you to you. Each and every member of this photo loving community.
You probably don’t realise how incredibly amazing it is to have so many people follow and engage in my work. To see my photos, comment and shares, to come on my workshops, send me emails, ask me questions and listen to my talks.
Every time I get an email from someone, or meet a new face on a workshop or just see how many people open and read my emails – I think WOW, Tony! People like what you’re doing! You’re so super lucky, man!
It feels like a very long way from where I started, a shy, not at all confident photographer trying to find my way in a very extroverted, hustle-driven photo industry.
To be able to do what I love doing, in a way that is so natural to me, is incredible. No other way to describe it. Incredible.
I would not be able to do anything that I’m doing if it wasn’t for you all, supporting me, motivating me and cheering me (us!) on. And I hope that I am creating something interesting and valuable for you.
I’m going to leave it at that today. This evening we are off to walk into the hills to a Spanish mosque that has an incredible view across the town and valleys and I’ll photograph the sunset.
Again – thank you – and if there is anything I can help you with, please don’t hesitate to comment below.
I hope you are having a great day. We are in the mesmerising city of Fes in Morocco. Today we wandered around the ‘new city’ (established in the fourteenth century, as opposed to the ‘old city’ where we are staying which dates back to 808.)
During the day the sun is rich yellow and warm, with long shadows which are wonderful for photography. In the evening the cold creeps in, but we are still able to sit on the terrace of our riad drinking sweet mint tea and listening to the sounds of the city.
The smells of roasting meats and sweet spices waft through the cool air, a spread out with little jewel-like little lights below.
We’ve met a lot of friendly people, explored some of the maze of the thousands of streets in the Medina and eaten some incredible food (Sweetly spiced Moroccan chicken in crunchy filo pastry, soft smoky lamb and fig Tagine, sharp and sweet fresh mint lemonade.)
And of course the photography has been amazing. I have lots more photos to show you from our adventure here, keep an eye on our Facebook page, where I post most days.
As always I’d love to know what you think, comment below.
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.
I hope you are all having a great week. Today I got an email from someone that started in the same way that many many emails to me start.
“I have been so rubbish, I haven’t picked up my camera in months!”
And it really struck me because it was so self-judgemental. I should be taking photos, I haven’t, so I’m being a rubbish person.
That is no way to treat your creativity!
And to be honest – why is it so important that you take photos all the time if it’s so difficult for you? If you can only manage to fit in once every few months then so what?
Being judgemental about ourselves – in any way – actually leads us to do the things that we love even less (I believe).
If you are saying – I should take more photos – I think it creates such a bad feeling inside of us, such a sense of judgement and thoughts of I’m not good enough – that we end up doing the exact opposite and taking no photos at all.
This shows the amazing light here in Hong Kong. The sun is behind my subjects and the light is being reflected off onto a green wall. I stood here for about 20 minutes just shooting people in this amazing light.
Same light. I think I prefer this photo to the one above – what do you think?
“If we demand perfection from ourselves we are not living in the real world…The inherent problem in the relationship between the ideal & the real is that the ideal judges the real as unacceptable and brings down condemnation and wrath on the real. This sets up an adversarial relationship between the two and like all adversaries, they move further and further apart.” Henry Cloud
So instead of telling ourselves that we should take photos – why not just wait until we are inspired and feeling good? Make it a time of fun and celebration! Enjoy it as and when it fits into your life.
Di is writing a book at the moment – very very slowly. She works with me on our business, we are ‘world schooling’ our two kids and she also is writing her book. When she started out she created a ridiculous schedule for herself that was impossible to maintain without creating stress. And we definitely didn’t start this world-travelling-working adventure so she could be all stressed out!
I love this shot! The light! Amazing! What do you think?
So she decided to pull back a bit, and lower her expectations. The top priority for both of us now with our creativity is to enjoy it! To allow it to bring us the intense incredible pleasure that making things with our very own hands and minds creates.
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Neil Gaiman
Being creative makes us both feel amazing, and in total awe of this planet. Being around other creative people makes us feel amazing too. Of course we’ve got lots of work to do too, but we’ve decided not to force our creativity. We have decided to just let it flow when it feels good.
And you know what? The more allowing, the less judgemental we are about our creativity and stopping all that negativity – the more we actually create. Because it makes us feel good in all ways! It’s no longer a should.
Of course right now I am in super insane inspiration mode because Hong Kong is INCREDIBLE. As you hopefully can see from my photos from this past week .
It still feels a little raw to show my photos straight away like this – before I’ve had the chance to mull them over – but I am not giving into my fear! I am putting them out there to see what you think, to get feedback and to show you how I work putting together a project.
Now help me here solve a marital dispute. Di thinks there is nothing special about this picture below – it’s just a load of poles, and some buildings! Said she.
Whereas I think it has a deeper narrative about the relationship of progress and environmental impact.
Now who is right?! Is there a deeper narrative or not!?
I would LOVE to know what you think of this batch 🙂 Please comment below. It’s always great to hear from you.
So exciting, because Palermo is another truly photogenic city. We’ll photograph the city at first light and as the sun settles at the end of the day. We’ll photograph the people, capture the atmosphere and the city so rich in history. I will lead numerous photo walks, feedback sessions and critiquing.
Have an amazing week! Thanks for reading – and please share with anyone you know who loves photography. It’s so helpful!
Anthony and Diana
This is a real cow. I had to queue up to get my photo taken with it. Cows are just wandering around on Landau Island, and being a sacred animal here, lots of people wanted their photo with it.
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 🙂