Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why mastering a technique makes us masters of precisely nothing.

I've seen a few cover bands over the years. What is it about music and photography? Many of us photographers also seem to have an affinity for music - in all its wonderful forms. Anyway I'm a pretty big fan of a lot of sixties music and the only chance I will ever have to hear that music played live is to see somebody else playing it. All the greats seem to have been taken by drink, drugs and other excesses way before their time. Janis, Jimi, Jim Morrison.

But I've been able to see some pretty impressive impersonators over the years. Good enough that they really made me believe that I was seeing the real thing. Only I wasn't. And it wasn't because their technique wasn't any good. They all had the guitar licks, the drum beats, the vocals down brilliantly.

So what's the difference? The cover bands didn't write the music. They didn't get the flash of inspiration that created the intro to Foxy Lady. They didn't write 'the scream of the butterfly' after seeing a marquis for a porno movie of the same name! (The Doors in case you missed that reference.)

All the best technique in the world still makes them nothing more than pale imitations, no matter how good their technique may be. And it's the same with our photography. Buying an 85mm f1.8 and travelling overseas doesn't make you Steve McCurry. Buying 50 SB900's doesn't make you Joe McNally. And perfecting some post-processing method don't make you Chase Jarvis.

And that's a good thing. Because there's already one of all those folks in the world. We don't need any more. Just like we only needed one Jimi Hendrix, we only need one of each of us. If we want to be more than photographic cover bands we have to use our technique to create something that only we can. To inspire the world like only originals can.

So practice your off-camera flash to your heart's content. Create an image with 52 layers in Photoshop, all with some funky effect on it. And buy all the 85mm f1.8 lenses you can carry. But then do something magic with them. Wow the world. Amaze us all. And let everybody else follow us.

Oh and you're welcome to imitate this shot above but you're going to need a model as beautiful as this one!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

One of the thing I often lament about 'travel photography' put out by some tourism bodies and PR agencies is that it's often 'tourism photography'. Which is understandable I guess. Getting people to invest in spending their money on attractions and tours when they arrive in a destination helps keep the local economy alive. But I often wonder whether pictures of models pointing at fictitious birds in trees with big cheesy grins on their faces is the only aspect of a region that people want to see before they decide to visit.

Frankly I don't give two hoots about whether a pretty blonde looks good sitting on a rock on the side of a pristine rainforest stream! I'd rather see the local pub owner, toothless smile and all, as he welcomes people into his friendly watering hole.

Take this image above. I was on assignment for the Mercedes Magazine covering the southern Atherton Tablelands. I'd come to Lake Eacham looking for something interesting to photograph when I noticed this young man, with another, jumping into the lake with joyful abandon. Not only did it make me want to join him, but I knew it would make a great photo. So I went down to introduce myself and found out that he was a young man with autism who was with his carer.

They were having a day at the lake and he was more than happy to do a couple of extra jumps for me to take his photo. Up until that point he'd just been doing his regular bombs but I think the attention must have inspired him because he opened up his hands to the heavens and jumped in with this fantastic pose.

Sure he'll never make a male model but he's the real kind of character I love to discover and photograph. For me the major interest in a destination is the local people and culture, and the only real way to discover that is to get out on your own and meet them.

Whilst I can value the importance of tours and attractions to keep a local economy viable, especially one that is so reliant on it as is far north Queensland, if this is all you see of this beautiful region then you're missing out on its greatest asset.

So rent a car, a bike, get out and walk. Take the time to meet and photograph the locals. You'll come away with a far better understanding of your holiday destination, create wonderful memories and even better portrait images of the people you meet.

Oh and if you're looking for some blog posts on how to photograph strangers just do a search in the little box at the top of this page. And on my website you can find more images I photographed for that story on the southern Atherton Tablelands.