The Fan House, Big Pit Museum, 11mm Wide-angle Pin-hole lens
In This Post
What I See is What I Produce
10 Ways to Move Away from…
The Meaning of Meaning
A Readers Request
In response to my request for topics to write about Marc Newson raised these questions, Thank you, Marc.
“As ever Andy your blog is insightful and inspiring so thank you for expanding my field of vision and helping me see things differently.
On the question you posed about future blogs and in spite of what I have said I do struggle to escape from what I call a standard view of the world, which translates into producing boring photographs, in other words a standard what you see is what I produce.
What tips would you give to anyone like me who would like to take their photography in a direction away from this and make my images “mean” more, take some risks and experiment? I do hope that makes some sense to you. Carry on the excellent work.”
A Standard View of the World
I see a series of questions within your outline premise. Marc used the term “a standard view of the world” in his question.
A worldview is the fundamental orientation of an individual encompassing the whole of the individual’s knowledge and point of view. The concept of a “point of view” is highly multifunctional and ambiguous. Many things may be judged from certain personal, traditional or moral points of view (as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”). Our knowledge about reality is often relative to a certain point of view.
Here is the nub of the problem we all come complete at no extra cost with built-in baggage, education, preferences, opinions, likes and dislikes, shoulds and oughts, culture etc. All of these and more establish our point of view when selecting subject matter, taking and making a photo.
What I See is What I Produce
For me, in photography, the technical is the servant of the artistic and not the other way around.
The photographer must initially make decisions a camera can not make before taking a picture. Where the photographer is in charge of the whole process of taking a picture the correct order of decisions is taken.
“Photography has nothing to do with cameras”
Photographer input – Technical output
Examples of Photographer Input – Why – What is the attraction, What is the subject choice? Where will the picture be taken? When is the optimum timing to release the shutter? These cannot be made by the camera.
Examples of Technical output – Shutter speed, Aperture, ISO, Focus.
If a photographer only attends to the technical aspects of picture-making they are not dealing with the whole process. Please refer to page 51 of the ABC Manual of CameraWork (temporarily out of stock) for an expansion of this subject.
Ballet photographer from the TV
10 Ways to Move Away from a Standard View of the World
For photographers, a standard view of the world is a problem. One of the jobs of the photographer is to notice and record what others do not readily notice. Here are 10 practical ways to fix the way you see the world.
1 What interests you?
Think about why you became interested in photography, the reasons will be individual to each of you. If the best answer you can come up with is “I like tech” then maybe you have a problem. Anders Peterson said, “photography is not about photography”. Photography is made up of technical and artistic aspects. As a medium, it begins to work when both of these aspects are brought together in roughly equal measures.
“For me, photography has not changed except, in its technical aspects”
2 Do what suits you not anybody else
Moving on from the first point “Photography is not about photography”, take pictures of the subjects that sustain your interest however unusual they may appear to other people. You are an individual with the right to be an expressive photographer.
3 Who and what inspires your photography?
Who are your photographic influences? We all have favourites as a part of the learning process, why not try to recreate a favourite picture of theirs? This is not plagiarism when it is not purely for educational reasons. Also, try combining the styles of say three favourites into your way of working.
4 What is your intent?
The ways of taking and making a picture are on a continuum between Factual and Interpretation with a fulcrum in the middle. Each of us will have a general tendency towards the Factual or Interpretation ends for most of the time. As an example, the vast majority of what I do is interpretation with no intention to record the world as it is. A photo-journalist will try to record the world as it is with as little interpretation as possible to be truthful.
5 Perfectionism – experiment and play
A lot of photographers suffer from perfectionism. Many photographers try to get it right in-camera which is a very laudable skill. But trying to get the perfect shot without the necessary planning and training will be difficult. The perfect shot may include the choice of subject, camera viewpoint, lens choice, shutter speed, time of day, timing etc.
Another aspect of perfectionism is the lack of play and experimentation. Without giving yourself the freedom to play you will not learn. Most experiments will not necessarily work out well but you have the opportunity to tweak the process. Just to say it is necessary to view the results with the same mindset as at the taking stage.
However, you can not learn a new skill in the heat of battle when everything needs to come together perfectly. Learning a new skill needs to take at a time and space set aside for learning.
“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”
6 Contrarian photography
Another way to tackle the issue of “I take what I see” is to do what I call contrarian photography. Contrarian is a posh word for the opposite. I got the term from contrarian investors who sell near the top of the market when the crowds are piling in pushing the share price higher just before a crash. They do the opposite (contrary) to what everybody else is doing.
In photographic terms, make a list of all your preferred current ways of taking a picture such as
|Current Practice||Experimental Practice|
|Lighting||Natural||Natural with fill-in flash|
|Exposure Mode||Aperture priority||Manual|
7 Projects and themes
Briefly returning to point 2 above, some photographers find it useful to work on a theme or several projects at once. The theme or project can be anything you like as long as it sustains your interest.
Examples of a theme – skies, a colour, line
Examples of a project – An artisan at work to make a product
8 Composition – create dominance and tension
For me, making a photograph is about interpretation and a dominant subject in the frame. For decades I work based on a light subject on a darker background where possible.
How to create a dominant subject – keep it simple less is more, a single lighter-toned subject on a darker background.
How to create visual tension – place the dominant subject at the edge of the frame.
Orchestra conductor photographed from TV
9 Time of day & lighting
We all have a preferred time of day to take photos. I am a night person so the number of pictures I have dawn are very rare. The last time I was up at 5 am at Embleton Sands I nearly fainted!
For me, there are two Golden hours in a day, at dawn and dusk. Dusk is much my preferred time of day.
10 Familiarity breeds contempt?
It is not often this well known saying is questioned. The reason for quoting it is to put forward a case for revisiting familiar subject matter on multiple occasions.
In general, I am thinking about landscape photography here. Familiarity and access afford the ability to return to a location at the right time of year, season or day when the light is most effective, a certain event is happening or atmospheric condition has a good chance to occur. Who said “knowledge is power”?
“Art is not what you see,
it is what you make other people see”
The Meaning of Meaning
The attachment of meaning to a photograph is a very tricky subject. The essence of which lies in who is looking at the picture for what reason. As the reason for looking changes so does the interpretation and therefore the attachment of meaning to that individual.
If that is the case, we must only make pictures that encapsulate our artistic integrity and also satisfy ourselves and our projected meaning.