I know I know, yawn .. this again? well maybe it is but this time you will get a different kind of answer.
In my experience when people begin to develop an interest in Photography the most common question is ‘What camera should I buy?’ I get asked this A LOT! so I am going to tackle this one right here.
Firstly lets settle one myth, there is no ‘best camera’, there simply are cameras. For sure you can buy magazines and read web sites that try out, review and suggest what is best but each of these are just the point of view of usually one person and their conclusions rely on so many variables, including personal preferences. Often they are sponsored in some way by the manufacturer or they may even originate from the manufacturers so with that in mind, what should you do? Truth is cameras are no different than trousers, they must fit you, be comfortable and functional and they can be used by both men and women. One key difference is however that you shouldn’t buy the camera that just looks good. Bare in mind this is Lightism, you are unlikely a working professional so you want to get into the hobby, So before you start looking make a list of criteria which may include;
Budget (how much money can you afford)
Purpose (what will you use it for)
Your present level of competence (can you use it competently)
Features (that fit your intentions)
Things NOT to consider;
What my mate uses
What that photographer I admire uses
What will make me look like I know what Im doing (trust me it wont)
The biggest one
The expensive one with the cool name
The one with the most mega pixels and the turbo, hoverboard, spoiler and cloaking device.
Now interestingly, men will often go for the ones with all the bells and whistles despite not knowing or ever getting to know how to utilise all those features. Then, if I may beg your pardon, you just wasted money. Photography is about output, what you can create, not what you look like or what you can suggest you could do. Women however seem to approach this more practically and will buy the one that does what they want/need and fits their budget. I admire these people, when you stumble across lovely work than has been accomplished with the most basic of equipment. Thats a great approach and that comment will make more sense in a minute or two. Most of us will go through the ‘gear’ phase, I sure did. Thats the phase where you just want and think you need the better, latest “pro’ named stuff that will make your photography better … though you eventually discover that it will not. Its like the puberty of the photographic journey, awkward, painful but essential to get to the point of enlightenment when you one day will pick up just about any camera and make a decent image with it, you mature and just know whats important and it isn’t the camera per se.
So no one can really advise unless you are clear on your needs and intentions. I would even be cautious of the camera store advisor as I have witnessed some awful advice before now. I recall one time where I overhear a young man in a very well known chain advising that Nikons were best for landscapes and Canon best for anything else. sigh.
So my advice, I would start with the intention. Am I into fads? meaning is this a phase, just a curiosity? if so just use your smart phone guys, or your regular compact until you know if you want to go deeper. If its a serious hobby your are moving into then you need to consider the lists above and buy accordingly. Put those criteria above brand to start with, there isn’t such a thing really as a bad camera. So here is where my strong advice comes in …
What ever you choose, choose for the long term not the short term. Don’t buy thinking you will ‘upgrade’ in a few months or whatever. Buy for the long haul that is your journey through which you will become competent to a level where you yourself will know what camera will be needed next if at all. Because the best thing you can do is to ‘get to know’ your kit intimately. You will then get the best out of it and the best images out of you both. Live with it, sleep with it, let it get dirty and make it yours. Take care of it but don’t wrap it in cotton wool in case you will sell it one day, USE IT like it was meant to be used, abuse it even because only through really getting to know it and you will improve. You will manage to do things with it you only thought you could do with a professional camera (whatever that is). Wear it out, replace it with another one, wear that one out, wash, rinse, repeat until you know that equipment so well you develop a confidence beyond anything the big brands can offer you you for any money. That way, you will improve, I promise you that you will.
Below is a snap of a collection of cameras in my home today, I mentioned in the last post I was successful in a Landscape competition so for a bit of fun, which camera do you think I used?
It was the smallest, simplest little digital mirrorless at the front centre. In fact all the images in this post were shot with similar small digital mirrorless cameras.I hope I helped?
Im happy to be able to tell you today that yours truly here had a little success and I should share it. I was very honoured to be placed as a finalist in this years UK Landscape Photographer of the Year and have an image commended by the judges. The image will appear in the book which can be found here … Landscape Photographer of the Year 8 (AA)
This is one of the few competitions I admire due to the stringent multi stage judging process and In my opinion one worth having a go at. There is also an exhibition of all of the finalists and the blurb on that follows ….“This year, our exhibition will be held on the Mezzanine level of London Waterloo. It is the first event of its type to be held here. Waterloo is the busiest station inBritain and the exhibition will be more accessible to visitors than ever before.The exhibition is free and runs from 1st December 2014 until the 31st January2015. There will be an opening night event on Monday 1st December 2014 from 6.00 until 8.00pm.”
Maybe I will see you there on the 1st December?Full list of winners here
Web site should you wish to enter for next year here.
I was going through my email this week, I get a lot of emails from the organisations that I deal with for my stock images, to whom I submit. One of those is the well known Getty Images. Usually I am not so fussy about reading these mails but this weeks gave direction to a new venture which I felt was not only interesting, but brings opportunity to many a hobby Photographer. That opportunity? what if you were aware that there is a market out there for your photographic gaffs? your mistakes? your oops messed that one right up?
Well now it seems that there is … follow this link to the Getty site for a short article. The Glitch – Getty Images
Take time to look at the sample images and also check more out here … Glitch Gallery – Getty Images
For what its worth, I don’t think all those are mistakes, some are by products of very deliberate methods, some may even be as intended.
It seems that there is often beauty and interest in what is usually regarded as a poor or bad photography and I find this fascinating because it will be seen by many as a blot on the craft we all so love. But, think again, surely if the image has appeal, then it has achieved its purpose and if it has purpose … it has a use. Now Im not saying we shouldn’t strive to learn the craft of photography and cut any corners. What I am saying is that we perhaps should all take a second look at our cutting room floor, dark room bin or PC trash and perhaps we might find the odd gem in there. I did just that for all the images I show here in this post, bad timing, a slip of the arm on composing and simple accidental hitting of the shutter button are the reasons all these exist.
Martin is a UK based Photographer, you can see more of him on the following links;
OK I think I covered the basics of how we can go about telling a story with photographs. However today in this short post I would like to go a step further now that you are all becoming that pretty well practiced and eager photographer and all. Lets look at more, say advanced ways of telling our viewer something, how else can we create a narrative other than a clear sequence of images showing an event? Well I already touched on these but I will list them here and offer a little more of an explanation. The story doesn’t always have to be obvious, often its good to leave much of it to the viewer.
We have for examples.Evidence of action; so this is what is says. An image which shows us the effect or effects of something that has already happened, this should be non ambiguous. Maybe an obvious example might be the smoking gun? Symbolism; again self explanatory really. The image uses symbolic content to tell us something or direct us to look further. Perhaps we need to illustrate tiredness or sleep? so we might make an image of a guy yawning on the end of his bed right? Be careful with symbolism however, its very easy to fall into Cliche heaven. Juxtaposition; Oh yeh we all wondered what this meant at one point didn’t we? Well in simple terms its the use of elements within the image placed together in such a way that they work as an informant to the viewer. A chainsaw next to a tree stump for example, which could also be evidence of an action… just to confuse you
I think you will be getting the picture here. Now off you go and try one of each of these, practice is what it is all about.
In this final part of my mini course we are going to discuss what we mean by using story within our Photographs or collection of Photographs. So what do we mean by story? well it isn’t actually a full tale with beginning middle and end necessarily but you images or collection of images could give the viewer something to follow or something to learn about you or the content of the image. You could have captured a significant moment or something that illustrates the cause, creation or effect of an action. Sometimes we can subtle only suggest a story and allow the viewer to decide what might be happening or has happened.
Story telling in its simplest terms can come from a posed image of just about anything where the elements within the image link together to suggest event. It could be a series of images put together as a photographic essay which illustrates a happening. Or event the documentation of a process or real event you have witnessed.
Whichever you attempt you need to think about your composition as ever, particularly your perspective so you capture subjects in settings where for example the setting may add to the story. Think about your depth of field, if you are shooting a street scene perhaps having the background in focus so it can be understood is critical to allowing the image to explain itself. Here the isolation shallow depth of field brings is rarely going to be of help, framing is also critical again to set the scene to bring in the important elements. Maybe its just family fun doing a pebble hunt on the beach?
If you are composing your own staged image really think about what you are trying to tell us and build it from there, perhaps use a story board to help pre visualise and understand exactly what you wish to achieve and how.
Exercise: Go search ‘iconic news photographs’ and study them. Understand how the photograph was framed and composed in order that we have all the information we need there to easily know whats going on.
I already talked about taking control and this is what this second phase is all about for me. I mentioned that it was important to get some control even in situations where you are mostly reacting to your environment or subject. We also of course have many situations where we have complete control.
I will split this into two areas. Organising your subject matter and composition physically, and organising/manipulating your light.
Let’s start with the physical. So here I am referring to a bit of a list really;
- Your Subject
- Your Location
- Your Position
- Your Purpose
- What’s in/what’s out
I think most of those are self explanatory. Using the right mix to achieve what you set out to achieve. Selecting and organising equipment’s and content and making sure it’s all relevant to your end goal. This will be so varied depending on what you set out to achieve its impossible for me to express any clear guidelines. Besides, you want this to be your own right? Not what someone else directs you to do.
I will however talk a little about that last point in the list. What’s in/what’s out as this applies to most situations.
By this I am going back a touch into composition. What you are allowing, or putting into your image must be relevant, it must not be a distraction or confuse the viewer. I accept, that in some cases, especially conceptual or surreal art we might introduce elements purposely to confuse, stimulate or create a tension. However, for most of those reading Lightism that probably isn’t relevant right now. So let’s carry on. Think about isolating your subject initially, then think about what in that environment could add to the image? Maybe nothing? Maybe everything. Be selective, but be strict and don’t leave us [viewers] wondering or distracted, we will quickly lose interest.
I mean, can you imagine a great painter adding a random power line to a classic landscape, or a modern car into a timeless scene or even a portraitist painting in a clothing label into a beautiful portrait, just because those things were there. Leave them out, hide them, move them or move you. Busy backgrounds and unwanted details are distracting and dubious. When making a landscape image I often have to littler pick before I shoot it. It’s that attention to detail that you are working towards, really study what you have framed through the viewfinder and ‘tidy up’
Put simply, “if it doesn’t add to the image, leave it out”
Here’s a another great article on the same subject: If God was a photographer – Advanced composition
all images copyright martin gillman 2014
Manipulating the Light
Shoot it like you’d paint it 2
Manipulating the light. The classic painters studied the light and often painted their subjects reflecting that knowledge of light. They created a duplication of realistic light fall and that made the world of difference to their works. They moved on from painting everything on what appeared to be a flat even light into developing shape, tone and form by painting with directional light and emphasizing shadow and highlights. Using light to sculpt always makes for more interesting images and so my next advice is to understand that and try to work that way.
This is not always possible but you do have more flexibility than perhaps you think. By this I mean of course using tools and modifiers to create the effect you want with both natural (often called available) and artificial light sources.
For example, if you want to make a portrait like a 17th century painted classic of a lady sat in window light, then sit her in window light. If by candle light, then use candle light. What I’m saying here is use the obvious first, craft your image by sculpting your subject with the light you have available and move the subject. If you cannot move your subject, perhaps we are landscaping again, then it’s a matter of time. Study the light direction and temperature and different times of the day and shoot then. I will often go out and if the light just isn’t right, take few or even no images because if I am just snapping then I am not creating anything other than a flat duplication of what everyone else can see.
The craft here is about getting exposure right and that’s something coming along later from me, but for now we need to be understanding what we want to achieve visually and what effects that outcome off camera. Here is teh book I used when I started out understand exposure. Understanding Exposure. Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Then we have artificial lights. Flash (often called speedlights or stobes these days), continuous lights, indoor general lighting etc. These can often be controlled more accurately, especially flash and continuous types purposefully developed for photography. Here we have much more flexibility and can arrange and adjust these light sources to mimic natural sun light or create multi directional sources of varying strength. Whatever way you go, or have to go the same applies, paint the scene with your light and then capture it with your camera.
The underlying point here is again to take control. Whether you have natural, artificial light or both you need to arrange it to get the best effects possible. Natural looking effects are always safe as the viewer can identify with it, if it looks believable we will appreciate it more.
Shoot it like you'd paint it
Shoot it like you’d paint it … Says it all really. Take control.
Here I am talking about the thought process before making the picture, trying to be involved in the organization of all the elements that come together to make a wonderful image, hence shoot it like you’d paint it. As a Painter gets to start with a clean canvass and put down exactly what he or she likes. Try to approach photography like that, sometimes you will have complete control, other times only partial but always take control.
With every photograph you make, try to make it so everything about it is how you want it to be. Lets start with what we might think of a spurious opportunity, like street or event Photography. Even in street photography you have some control, in fact a lot more control than you might think.
You may not, in that situation have much control of the light, but you can manipulate your position, your timing and where in fact you are to start with and those will all influence the outcome. Perhaps set up a photo trap, by that I mean framing your shot and allowing people to come into it and then react, as opposed to following people around waiting for a chance of something interesting to happen (the two examples here are photo traps). Take control, express yourself, create your opportunities. Interact with people, be brave, be bold and as Robert Cappa said “if your photographs aren’t good enough, you are not close enough” so get closer.
Remember these are your Photographs, not someone else’s. It is up to you to impose your creativity and design onto that sensor or film. Pose your models, induce a mood, develop your story or message with props and adapt (where possible) your light to embellish feeling onto your work.
‘Don’t snatch, create’ If you’re new to photography, take a peek at this Lightism article on how to Fill the frame
all images copyright martingillman 2014
Seeing the Light … Now, this is most important.
Do I have your full attention?
Light sculpts, that’s it. It gives the shape and form to everything we see, without the light there would be no visual form. How light falls onto, wraps around and interacts with objects depicts how we see those objects. I think therefore it goes almost without saying that we must be in tune with seeing and understanding this light in order that we develop our true way of seeing.
Light reveals and effects colour saturation. Light has a temperature that we can measure. Light travels faster than anything else. Light gives life. Light is therefore pretty darn cool right? Wrong, sometimes it’s warm We should respect it and take the time to understand it. Light is now your best friend so get to know him well.
Whatever you look at you are reacting to fall of light. This light is washing over everything and depending on the angle, diffusion and strength it will change what you see and therefore what you can record with you photograph. Now it is an appreciation for how the light falls and sculpts that you need to master because once mastered you will find it, use it, even create it in order to produce a wonderful image.
The early paint masters worked tirelessly to understand how light falls and shapes what we see, they then recreated this with their brushes. You don’t have to recreate it necessarily but you will need to be able to see it and exploit its effects.Exercise 1:
Go back to your Google searches and favorite photographs, books and walls.
Describe to yourself how the light was used, where it comes from and why it works in those images.Exercise 2:
Now go find a window, inside your home. A window with strong light coming through, preferably during the day unless you have a strong light source outside at night. Turn off any electric lights or screens that will pollute the room.
Now ask someone to sit in that fall of light and study what you see. Ask them to alter their position and observe how their form changes, how the light sculpts them.
Begin to recognize light and shadow and those bits in-between, they are your midtones. Decide what looks best, observe and understand how the light works.
If you are confident enough make a photograph and see if you can capture it exactly as you see it. Let me know how you got on.
Where were we? Ah, Ways of seeing.
In the last post we used the analogy of a Landscape image to start thinking about how we look and then decide what our image will contain. But we don’t always shoot pretty post cards. Whatever the genre the same applies regards the content of the image, it will need to make some kind of sense to the viewer.
Now this sense is open to interpretation and many Photographers of course shoot abstract art as they would call it, but, in most cases they will be able to justify the image which shows that they were concerned with its content. Always be concerned with your content ladies and gentlemen, that is non negotiable. Even if it is a simple photograph of your family on the beach, when you frame that shot really look before you press the shutter button. What is in the frame that either doesn’t belong there, is a distraction, or obscures something that does belong there. It is the subtle differences of method like that when making a photograph that separate a picture from a snap shot.
I guess part of developing ones sense of seeing is to look at most things as an opportunity to make a Photograph. This will push you to look with this new photographer eye that you are working so hard to improve. I think that most of not all accomplished Photographers would agree that this will become an obsession eventually, almost a way of being. For example, as I drive along a pretty road in my mind I am taking a hundred shots a minute. My eyes are darting and framing likely images, this is ‘auto pilot’ for many a Photographer. It is a developed sense of imagery that becomes habit without call or command and should be a goal for you if you are serious about developing your craft. It will just come one day, keep working on it, you can’t stop it.
So we are talking about awareness also. An awareness of what would work, visually. It can be a scene, a moment or a still life that has been set up for the purpose of creating an image. But the fundamentals are the same, that all those elements within need to come together to make a thing of interest and/or beauty.
Next we will talk about “seeing the light”
This weeks reading recommendation. Well, when it comes to ways of seeing I must hand you over to Monsieur Cartier Bresson … of course. Henri Cartier-Bresson: 002 (Masters of Photography)