Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend Landscapes

DPSCane season (by Ian B-M) had a Weekend Landscape Photography Challenge this weekend. So I went for a drive this afternoon and took a few photos. Here's what I came up with.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why bother taking photos?

I asked my friend Allison a few tricky questions about her poetry, because she was looking for things to blog about. In answering my questions, Allison turned the tables and has asked me a few in turn. Let's see whether I can give suitable answers.
  • Inspiration. What inspires you to take your camera out to take a shot?
Mostly just because I see something I like, something I want to share, or something I think “would make a good photo”. Serendipitously, this sometimes even results in a beautiful image!

If I don't have my camera with me (gasp!) I'll use my new camera-phone, or plan a return trip. I have even been known to plan well ahead for some photos (weeks or even months). There's a particular picture I have in my head, or a place I've been more than once but don't feel I've yet captured the essence of, or a new technique I want to try.
  • Construction. How do you go about composing a photo as you take it? How do you get from there's-this-idea-in-my-head to ah-what-a-nice-finished-photo?
Practice, practice, practice. I've been doing still photography for so long that I no longer even think much about the mechanics. I suppose I can detail it, though. It goes something like this:
1. Visual. Look. Look again more carefully. What do I want to capture, and what is a distraction? Now put camera to eye. Do I like what I see? Adjust position and zoom until I do—or put the camera away and forget about it.
2. Technical. Is the camera in the right mode? Will the default/current settings work for the effect I want? Adjust as necessary.
3. Review. Shoot. Check preview on back of camera. Don't like it? Try again from step 1—or give up if unsuccessful more than two or three times.
4. Review again. After a break (e.g. once downloaded onto computer or developed), review the image again. Did I capture what I wanted? Does it take me straight back to where I was when I took it? Is it technically well-executed? Would Laetitia like it? If the end result is no good, plan another trip to try again. But think some more about what to try differently before then.

Notice that only step 3 has changed since I switched to digital. I used to routinely take two or three different approaches to every photo (who am I kidding? I still do—old habits die hard I guess) because I had to wait days or weeks before I could see the results. Now with digital I can reject bad ideas that much sooner.

And there's a lot of reflection in there. I grew up on film, which gets expensive. Every frame counts.
  • Editing. Do you edit as you go with digital images? Do you take a lot of photos, then edit after?
Definitely the latter. I do only minor editing as I go—specifically, deleting photos that are technically poor or don't achieve anything like what I'm after. Otherwise it's “shoot first, ask questions later”. I prefer the delay between photographing and review; it helps me lift the quality of my final published work—which incidentally is less than about a quarter of the photos I like enough to keep.
  • Style. How do you feel about particular styles of photographs - black and white, portraits, abstract (Have you tried them all?)
No way have I tried them all! But I have tried these.

Until recently I was predominantly a landscape/nature photographer. My early work shows this bias very heavily. But I've been trying to branch out.

Abstract I think I have a good handle on; it's how my brain thinks most of the time anyway. My portraits are gradually improving since I decided to work on them as a special focus. Research on Strobist and a new external flash are helping to stretch my skills. Flash photography is one of the technical areas I still have to think through very carefully—available light being the only real possibility for landscape photography, I'm not yet familiar with how to use flash well. But I'm learning.

Black & whites I think I used to do better when I used film. There's something about having a black & white film in the camera that really makes me think about what will work and what won't. With a digital camera it's too easy to think, just take colour photos and convert them later. But that doesn't work nearly as well. Same with changeable ISO settings. Having a roll of film that's hard to swap makes me more creative with how I take photos, to use what I've got to make a good image. (And remember, with film, every frame costs.)

But what else? Landscapes and a sense of place I think I'm good at. I love exploring the beauty of musical instruments—mine and everyone else's. I've been dipping into the delicious world of digital infrared. But there's still way more things to try…

Bonus funny story: Before I discovered Flickr, I thought I was somehow unusual because I occasionally liked taking odd self-portraits. I had an epiphany when I discovered the 365 Days project!
  • Why do you take photos anyway? Aren't there enough starving photographers in the world already?
Well, it's true: If I wanted to make a bazillion dollars selling my photos then I really needed to start about twenty years ago. Digital photos and online storage are now so cheap that anyone can do it—and everyone does! And the stock photography market is seriously flushed because so many photographers are quite happy to make even a handful of cents for selling an image—besides, it's impossible for me to compete with the likes of Yuri Arcurs. So, it's certainly not about the money.

I take photos because I have to. I know that sounds like a cliché, what every creative artist says. I see something I like, and I just have this urge to capture it with a camera and share it. Sometimes because it's aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes because it's a technical challenge, and I'm a born problem-solver. But always because I have to, to satisfy something deep inside. I love making still images that capture a moment, a feeling, a place, an idea. And especially if by doing so I can reflect a little of God's glory back to him. He's a fabulous artist!
  • Is there a photo you have seen that someone else has taken that has inspired you and how you take photographs?
Absolutely, all the time. My flickr buddies are a continual source of inspiration. Here's a favourite, Krissy Anne's photo on the left inspiring mine on the right:
Kristins in the Kitchen (by Krissy Anne) Ians in the front yard (by Ian B-M)

My professional reading leads me to many more ideas. Strobist and DPS keep me connected to new ideas all the time, the former on flash and portraits (my current focus—pun intended) and the latter more generally.

And finally, my wife. Laetitia learnt how to be a good photographer through my lending her a camera many years ago and telling her to practice. But her approach is not like mine at all; her mind's eye sees things differently, and sees different things. If we both enter a photo competition, she'll win every time, I think because her vision is more conventional. I tend to see odd and unusual angles, that may make people uncomfortable and certainly aren't everyone's cup of tea. I may be technically more skilful, but her photos have greater mass appeal.

Allison, thanks for asking. I hope these answers satisfy some of your curiosity!

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