As the coronavirus (Covid-19) spreads across the planet creating health and economic havoc, destroying lives and businesses as it goes it's hard to stay positive. I know because in the last few weeks I have passed through phases of feeling disoriented and depressed (at what is happening and might happen at a personal and global level) to resignation (based on an acceptance that I have very little control over what is happening, either now or in the future) to making a determined effort to stay positive.
To help me move away from a predominant feeling of doom & gloom and to encourage a more positive outlook I have been posting on social media photos from 'My Light Entertainment' series. These images, that I have been taking for more than 30 years, are of scenes or situations that have made me smile. I have long been an admirer of Elliott Erwitt and his acute visual sense of humour (see his work on the Magnum site here) and Matt Stuart for his quirky take on the world (see his website here). They both find humour in the everyday - a skill that highlights the brighter side of life (very relevant in these times). In this blog post I am going to talk about some of my images from this series, what interested me and how I shot them. I hope, like the work of Erwitt and Stuart, they provide some light in the dark.
'Social Distancing' - this image is the most recent in the series and was taken on a visit to the local pharmacy. I was pleased to see the dogs following goverment advice on social distancing (an interesting term, not part of our daily language only a few weeks ago). A simple image to take - I arrived, saw the photo, raised my camera to my eye (yes I am sad enough to take a camera everywhere with me) and pushed the shutter before the dogs reacted to my presence.
I'm Sorry! (And I'm Back)
I have been contacted by a few people asking why I have not written any blog posts for a long time. My apologies. For the last few years my diary has been more than a little hectic (my wife tells me that's down to me as I am in complete control of my diary she says. Those of you who are self employed freelancers know that is just a myth!). Time and work pressures have combined to halt my production of blog posts - not that I am complaining as I have been to some incredible places, met some wonderful people and produced images that both please me and will act as a visual reminder of those good times. Thank you to those who have noticed my absence from these pages and for the gentle reminder to get my act into gear!
As with so many people, the coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on my business, wiping out most of my work and travel commitments for 2020 and a large chunk of income at the same time. But I'm fortunate - I'll get through this with my business and hopefully (and more importantly) my health intact. I hope that the same is true for the readers of this blog. Stay safe, well and positive.
Enforced social isolation, more time on my hands and a commitment to myself to stay positive and focussed means I will soon return to writing more regular blog posts (I know - they couldn't have been less regular than of late!) so please keep returning and email me your thoughts and comments about my writings. Thank you for sticking with me.
Grab the Moment
Instead of hoping.
Your future is waiting for you"
(Lyrics from 'Actions that Echo' by Twin Atlantic)
On New Year's eve I was talking to a friend from Olympus UK and we were discussing how we were going to celebrate the occasion. I'm always concerned about these conversations because I think New Year is a totally pointless celebration and the danger is that I come over as a grumpy, miserable, 'bah, humbug' type of person (and I don't think I am usually - but then I would say that wouldn't I?!). However it turned out that both of us had the same view.
I think the whole process of being happy about the end of another year and celebrating this passing of time is a strange thing to do. Now if someone could stop time - that would be worth cheering over! And New Year's resolutions - what are they about? I just don't get the yearly obsession with making promises you probably won't keep (e.g. exercise more, lose weight, eat more healthily, give up alcohol, increase the kids pocket money by 200%) or commiting yourself to life changing plans that you probably won't implement (e.g. work fewer hours, be nicer to the boss, travel more, become more positive about New Year).
Seriously why does it take a date in the calendar to make us change our behaviour or to do something we have always wanted to achieve? Can't (or rather, shouldn't) this occur at any time of the year? If not then opportunities are being missed, time is being wasted, life is passing us by. My view is we should grab the moment and make things happen now before it's too late.
My Three Legged Friends
I'm one of three types of tripod user that I can identify from meeting other photographers who have come on my workshops over the years - I'm in the Tripod Enthusiast camp. I use a tripod for 99% of my work and own at least 5 (they are all good for different jobs - travel, low level macro work, landscape photography in extreme conditions and so on).
The second group are the Reluctant Tripod Users - those who feel they should own and use a tripod (because they've read it in a magazine or been told by another photographer that they should) but don't really want the hassle of carrying or using one. These people buy the cheapest (and as a result usually the flimsiest) tripod they can find and then complain that it doesn't hold the camera steady, the plastic head moves even though it's supposed to be locked in position, it doesn't extend high enough etc (I'm sure you can imagine the whole range of criticisms I've heard). Essentially this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy - buy a rubbish tripod and then don't use it because it's well ..... rubbish. But at least those in this group can appease their consciences - they can say that they own a tripod.
Then there are the Stubborn Refusers - they've never or rarely used a tripod and see no reason to spend good money on a useless accessory. After all. they say, in these days of effective image stabilisation systems and cameras capable of producing wonderful quality images at high ISOs why would anyone encumber themselves with a tripod?
More Effort = Better Photo?
Last year I wrote a piece on the Phase One blog page where I talked about the 3 P's of landscape photography and posted a photograph taken at Lochan na h'Achlaise in Scotland (see my previous blog to read about the 3 P's and see the photograph in question). Someone commented that the 3rd 'P' should have been for 'parking' because the photograph I'd posted had been taken close to where I had parked my car and that the location had been much photographed before. The implication was that the photograph I'd posted had no value as a true landscape image because of these two factors.I don't normally respond to negative comments (not due to arrogance but because I believe everyone has the right to their own opinion and getting engaged in a negative dialogue helps no one). But I did respond to that post and here's why.
I am an avid collector of photographic books and a voracious reader of all things photographic (magazines, books, websites etc). I intend to write a blog post about some of my favourite books but for now I want to refer to a few quotes that have inspired me or encouraged me to reflect on the photographic process; quotes that have influenced the way I think about and approach my own photography.
The Three P's of Landscape Photography
I'm frequently asked for advice on how to achieve better landscape images. Obviously I talk about subjects like good technique (using a solid tripod, understanding how to use filters, learning how to read the histogram to achieve exposures with a full tonal range etc) and understanding how composition can be used to create more effective images. But successful images require much more than this. Good landscape photographs often require Planning, Patience and Persistence to increase our chances of success.
'I'm Not Very Creative' (Part 2)
In my last blog post I discussed whether we can all be creative or whether creativity is something that only a few gifted individuals are born with. My view is that creativity is something within us all. We need to find the appropriate outlet for us (for some it's painting, others poetry or music and others photography) and then work hard to nurture & develop our skills & talents. The creative person must be prepared to invest time and effort to maximise their creativity and this requires patience, commitment and dedication.
Over the years I have developed a range of strategies to develop, refine and sharpen my creativity and I will share these in this blog post in the hope that others will find them helpful on their own photographic journey.
'I'm Not Very Creative' (Part 1)
Would you like to be a more creative photographer? If so, then please read on. I recently gave a couple of talks at the Wilkinsons Cameras Digital Splash event in Preston, Lancashire. At the end of one of the talks a lady came up to me asking for advice and early in the conversation she declared, 'I'm not very creative' adding that's what she wanted help with. Essentially she wanted me to give her advice on how she could become more creative in her photography. Now that's not a topic that can be addressed satisfactorily in a 5 minute conversation. And unfortunately she is not alone - her 'problem' is one I hear a lot about from people who attend my talks or come on my workshops. It's a problem that begs the question 'can we all be creative or is this a talent a few select people are born with, blessed with even?'.
In a previous blog post ('Photograph With Feeling') I talked about my primary desire being to communicate mood & emotion rather than being overly concerned with technical perfection. Brooks Jensen in his book, 'Letting Go of the Camera' perfectly captures my philosophy in this quote - "not every picture needs to be tack sharp. Not every picture needs to have smooth tones. Not every picture needs to be absolutely grainless ............... in fact what is important is not detail in the image but detail in the sentiment". To be honest I find technically perfect images that lack mood both boring and sterile.
If You Always Do .............
My wife has a poster in her office that has nothing to do with photography but I refer to it a lot. It says, 'if you always do what you've always done then you'll always get what you've always got'. I pass this on as advice to participants on my workshops to encourage them to use the workshop as an opportunity to try something different, to work out of their comfort zone and experiment. And I tell them to expect failure - not all of our experiments wiil work and it would be unrealistic to think otherwise. But failure is a necessary part of the creative process - it's the grit that produces the pearl in the oyster; as long as we are prepared to learn from our mistakes. I truly believe that our failures are our best teachers - they show where there's scope for development, learning and growth.
Photograph With Feeling
My previous Blog post talked about the need to have clarity around why we are taking a particular photograph. I stressed the importance of an image being underpinned by an idea, thought, concept or emotion. And it's the latter that I want to concentrate on in this post - the aspect of communicating emotions and feelings through photographs.
When I'm taking a landscape image (for it's nature and the landscape that usually generate a strong emotional response in me) I ask myself 'what am I feeling and how can I represent that in a visual way?'.
Why Am I Taking This Photograph?
'What should I photograph?'; 'How should I photograph it?'. These are questions I frequently get asked on my workshops. The 'what' is relatively easy to deal with - we should photograph what we are interested in, the subjects that we feel passionately about, the things about which we have something to say.
Photography is a form of communication so I believe there should be a purpose behind firing the shutter. Underpinning every successful image there should be an idea, thought, concept or emotion. If not then why are we making a photograph? 'I just like it' is not sufficient justification for getting the camera out. The most important question in the photographic process and one that doesn't get asked anywhere near frequently enough is, 'why am I photographing this subject?'.
Photograph for Yourself
A favourite quote of mine is from French photographer, Jeanloup Sieff, "I take photographs for me. If anyone else likes them then that's too bad".
It's a sentiment that I share because I think it's very important that when we fire the shutter we are not weighed down by concerns about whether anyone else will like the photograph we are taking. We have no influence over how a viewer reacts to our photographs (see the example in my previous blog post) - they bring their own unique experiences, personality and current mood to their interaction with our image.
This is either a very good or a very stupid idea. It's stupid if no one reads it and no one values the content - I'd therefore appreciate your feedback (