How do you make an interesting photograph, when conditions appear to be un-interesting?
A few weeks ago I wrote a sarcastic post on Facebook bemoaning the 20+ photographers I had encountered at Coogee Ocean Pool that morning. Almost all the photographers had their cameras firmly mounted on rigid tripods, all lenses were pointed in the same direction and they were all chattering about how poor the light and conditions were.
It reminded me that photography is about creativity. It is about being open and agile to what ever environment and conditions you encounter. Photography is not a functional or robotic activity. The photographer needs to ‘work the environment’, generate ideas and imagine creative solutions. Photography is about vision. Your vision! I think too many photographers expect ‘mother nature’ to do all the work.
Here is the photograph I made that morning. This may not be to every ones liking. However to my eyes, it is different and creative.
Conventional wisdom suggests, if you work hard at finding great locations and then you wait for beautiful light to happen, you should be able to make wonderful landscape photographs. It’s an obvious plan. Right?
But what would happen, if we did the opposite? Or at least, were not so focussed on finding such great locations or light. Would our photography improve, or not?
I’ve made an interesting discovery on my journey into landscape photography; the more time I spend with beautiful locations and light, the less creatively deep my photography becomes and the more slowly my creative skills develop.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but this is what has been happening to me and my photography.
Of course, “creativity” is subjective and personal. However, despite this, I think I have learnt a significant new insight (for me) into how to improve my creative vision and skills. Perhaps this might be of help to you also?
Let me explain.
I’m just back from a second visit to the sand dunes north of Sydney. After my first visit, I was pleasantly surprised at what I had achieved. Yet, at the time, I did not understand why my photography had improved. Now, after another visit, I feel I have again grown as a photographer. But this time, I understand the reason.
Is one more ‘arterly’ than the other? And how might that be so?
Should a ‘serious’ photographer choose to shoot Black and White or Colour?
Does any of this matter?
To be honest, I find such questions difficult. Almost absurd. Yet I have asked them of myself, many times.
The truth is, I love both black & white and colour photography…. and all those ‘shades’ in between. I judge each photograph on its own merits.
I do know that there are many photographers who are very passionate for one or the other. Especially so for black & white. And of course, galleries, collectors and curators have opinions, which makes the choice of black and white or colour an economic or personal expedient for some photographers.
What has prompted me to ponder these questions, is the way in which a passion for black & white is often expressed with some degree of anti-colour sentiment; that somehow colour is dismissed as either being, not as arterly, or that it is common, cheap or beneath those who seek the ‘purer essence’ of a photograph, without the complication or contamination of colour.
When I hear such thoughts, my hair bristles and I get defensive. And it’s not because I completely disagree with what is said. Often I don’t. My reaction has more to do with how it is said and how often black & white exponents completely dismiss or misunderstand colour.
Some thoughts on graphic elements within a photographic composition.
‘Interesting light’ is the most important thing I look for when making a photograph.
However, “light” is not the first thing I look for in a composition.
First, I search for lines, angles, shapes and other graphic elements. For me, these are the building blocks from which I can compose a photograph. I look for what Cartier-Bresson called, “the rhythm of surfaces“.
We are all different and we all build our photographs in different ways, from a different set of elements and with a different set of priorities to those elements.
My eye is very attuned to graphic shapes. These and interesting light is what drives much of my photography. It is probably why I am a landscape photographer and not a photojournalist.
“ For a subject to be strong enough to be worth photographing, the relationship of its forms must be rigorously established. Photography composition starts when you situate your camera in space in relation to the object. For me, photography is the exploration in reality of the rhythm of surfaces, lines, or values; the eye carves out its subject, and the camera has only to do its work. That work is simply to print the eye’s decision on film”
~ Henri Cartier-Bresson
For this blog post, I thought I would show you a range of different examples of what I mean by “lines, angles and graphic shapes” and share with you some thoughts on why they can be important elements in a photograph. Some of these examples are obvious. Others are less so. I hope these thoughts and examples help and encourage you in your own journey of photography.