Friday, July 24, 2009

Photography and fear

What could be scary about photography? You point the camera at something, push a button and up pops a little image on the LCD screen. Couldn't be less scary if it tried.

What is scary though is being true to yourself as a photographer. The internet gives us unfettered access to billions upon billions of photographs. Good, bad and plain indifferent.

The bad stuff makes us feel like we're really good, the good stuff makes us feel like we've still got a lot to learn and the rest of it we can take or leave.

But none of it necessarily makes us wonder if we're taking the right kinds of photographs. Have you asked yourself lately if you're taking the right kinds of photographs? And what exactly are the right kind? The kind you want to take. The kind that move you. The kind that inspire you. And that can be a little bit scary.

I've been going through my images in preparation for loading up some images to Photoshelter. I've read Art Wolfe's latest article in Outdoor Photographer magazine and mostly agree with him. Licensing your own images, as long as you're prepared to put in the work, seems like a bit part of how we'll work in the future.

The problem though is you suddenly become your own editor. You decide which images you want to show. And that means thinking about the style of pictures that you like. Over the years I've experimented with lots of different styles of photography from natural light, documentary style to full on produced shoots with lots of lights etc. And you know what? None of the heavily produced stuff will see the light of day.

I've discovered that it just doesn't move me. Sure they're nice pictures and at the time the clients were really happy. But they were a fad, a blip on my photographic journey. A passing interest. So I'm sticking to what I know and love and that is scary because I have no idea of other people will like it as well.

So the next time you hear about the latest photographic style - HDR, strobist, infrared...whatever. Ask yourself if it fits you? Could you see yourself doing it and loving it? If so go for it. If not then I highly recommend taking the time to work out exactly what it is you want to photograph, what you want to say, and how you want to do it.

It's a continually evolving process this searching for a unique style and it's certainly a bit scary and confronting but in the end I hope it will make me a more passionate, and thus better photographer.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Foreground frames for more information

I've talked a little bit about foreground frames before. I have to admit it's a technique I don't tend to use that much but every so often it comes in handy, and sometimes it's absolutely vital.

The main reason I don't use them all that much is because often the frames can tend to detract from the story telling part of the image.

They don't necessarily contribute anything to the picture and are often used just because the photographer can't think of an interesting way to frame the image.

In terms of travel photography the frame needs to say something about where you are. So for example if you're in the tropics there's no point having a frame of some indiscriminate plant just for the sake of it - you need a silhouetted tropical plant to put the viewer in the right part of the globe.

Take this shot above. This is Singapore going ahead full steam. The construction of a new resort and lots of shipping containers in the background tell a story of the modern Singapore. But, like yesterday's post, it doesn't tell you where I am. Which isn't always important, but in this case really is.

You see I'm looking out through the wide open mouth of a giant statue of Singapore's symbol - the Merlion. I'm peering out through sharpened fangs to the city beyond. But you wouldn't know it from this picture.

But you would from this one.

Again you have the construction cranes and the buildings beyond (albeit a lot smaller) but you also have those gleaming fangs as a foreground frame.

For those people who don't know the Merlion on Sentosa Island their first thought is going to be - where the hell is the photographer and what are those teeth?

And that's what I'm always trying to aim for. An image that will make the viewer sit up and take notice for more than a fraction of a second and take a bit of interest in the picture before them.

Of course the first shot is a telephoto lens and the second one is a wide-angle. Both of them are of different things - one is a modern Singapore, the other the view of modern Singapore from inside the mouth of a lion. Neither is right or wrong, they're just different. And as foreground frames go these canines really contribute to that sense of where I am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wide angle lenses fit a lot in!

I guess by the name of the lens that's a pretty obvious statement. From the foreground to the background, left to right, you can get a lot in the frame when you're shooting with a wide angle lens.

But compositionally how does that help or hinder us? Take this shot here for example. I'm standing on top of my hotel in Singapore looking out over the city. You can see out over all the buildings and the street below but you don't really get a sense of where exactly it is that I'm standing.

Yes you can see from the angle of view that I'm high but that's about all you can tell. So this then becomes a photograph of the city seen from above but it isn't a photo of the view from my hotel per se because you can't see the hotel. In actual fact I'm leaning quite far out over the edge of the railing to ensure the hotel doesn't appear in the shot because my lens was so wide.

So how do we go about putting our position back into the frame? By ensuring we have a foreground of note.

Insert one co-operative little boy to do a flying leap into the spa for you and you instantly create a relationship between where you are and its relationship to the city below.

You can see in this image that you can't see as much of the city and it's a slightly different angle. But there's enough there to tell you that you're very high and looking down over a large number of buildings.

More importantly you're showing a relationship between what you can do on top of this building and putting it into a perspective looking out over the city. Both images were shot at 10mm on a crop-frame digital SLR. I had a small aperture to maximise depth of field and still managed to retain quite a fast shutter speed because it was so sunny. The trick was to get my son right in the corner of the frame and capture the peak of the action just as he was soaring through the air. Good thing for me he was happy to do it a million or so times until I was happy with the result!

So remember if you're using that wide angle lens and you want to show the relationship between where you are and what's going on out there - include an interesting foreground.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shooting from above

One of the things I always try to do is get up above the streets of a city. It allows me to look down on things and see juxtapositions that just aren't visible from street level.

The easiest way to do this is to get up on to the roof of your hotel. On this trip to Singapore I stayed in a hotel that had a pool and spa up on the roof. Needless to say my kids were in it as much as possible so I had plenty of time to photograph the street below while avoiding splashes!

My favourite lens for this kind of photography is a longer telephoto zoom - in this case a 70-200mm. It's still light enough to handhold and not so long that you get too close to everything. Having too much magnification often means that you can only see tiny details which don't give an overall sense of a place.

Anyway in this case I liked the way the washing hanging out to dry was so close to the one-way street in the background with a dirty roof in between. I took a couple of shots without a car but it just lacked that contrast I was looking for. So I just waited for a few minutes and sure enough a little car came into view.

I already had a few shots of the clean, pristine metropolis of Singapore so wanted a few shots to show that it's like any other city around the world and has it's more 'realistic' sides.

So the next time you find yourself in a high rise hotel see if you can't get up on to the roof for an overview of the city below.