For the past couple of years I’ve been working on what I now realise is a bit of a project to do with black and white square portraits. This is a topic I first discussed a couple of years ago. Of course in the age of Instagram the square is all the rage and I’m convinced there is small photographic business to be created offering professional quality portraits to be displayed on Instagram for those people fed up of self portraits with an outstretched hand taken at a jaunty angle.
Here is a post on that and here is the page I am maintaining for this project. Below are a few more examples I’ve recently captured, or at least recently edited in Lightroom and Photoshop as well as Nik Silver Efex Pro 2* (using a type 12 border).
* The Nik software suite is currently still available from Google but no longer maintained by them. However in 2017 it was acquired by DxO and a new version is supposedly to be released by them in mid-2018.
She is Gone by David Harkins
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
In Memory of Mum 1925 – 2017
As I said, the second half of 2017 was a bit of a wilderness for me photographically. For 2018 I definitely need some motivation and inspiration. Here’s a quick brainstorm of 52 things to do photographically in 2018. Take a look, you might even try some yourselves.
- Take a walk and focus on taking photographs of a particular theme, e.g. red things, women in hats, people on mobile phones, reflections in shop windows.
- Pretend you have a roll of 36 exposure film, one ISO and colour or black and white (or one film emulation if your camera supports such things). Take a roll in one day.
- As for 2) above but take a ‘roll’ a day for seven days.
- Step out of your comfort zone. If you normally take portraits take some street, if you take a lot of street take some still life.
- Try this.
- Read up on your favourite photographer and then try and emulate his or her style for a week.
- Visit the Taylor Wessing Portrait Exhibition for 2017/18 at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s open until 26th February 2018.
- Choose your favourite tree in your local vicinity and take a picture of it once every month for the whole year. Not just the same image every month but different parts of the tree.
- Book a model through ModelMayhem or PurplePort, discuss a theme you want to shoot and go for it.
- Photograph someone close to you as if you are doing a portrait shoot for a newspaper. Aim to get that one image that would be used to illustrate a story about her or him.
- Photograph someone close to you every week for a year.
- If they are still with you go and photograph your mum or dad. They won’t be there forever and you may regret not having pictures of them when they are gone.
- Visit a well known tourist attraction close to you and see if you can capture something unique about it.
- Enter a photography competition in a magazine.
- Visit The Photography Show between 17th and 20th March.
- Enter a portrait into the 2018 Taylor Wessing Portrait competition.
- Review your photography gear, do you really need all that stuff? Sell what you don’t need on eBay and use the funds you generate to visit a gallery, take a course or workshop or buy a book to get you inspired.
- If you can afford it go off on your own for a few days and just take photographs.
- Buy or borrow a photographer’s biography and see what motivates them to photograph the way they did. Go out and do what they do (or did).
- Start a photography blog and/or website.
- Trawl through the images you took in 2017 and actually print some! Frame them and hang them on your wall.
- Really master your preferred photo editing software suite by aiming to learn one new thing about it every day.
- Take some photographs of where you live. A good travel photographer can create an image of anywhere and remember chances are your nearest big city or countryside is someone else’s travel destination.
- If you’ve not tried using studio lights before, hire some (or a studio that has them), get a willing model and go and play for half a day.
- Read a non-photographic book on creativity to get some inspiration. Here’s one of my favourites.
- Realise this but do something about it!
- Try photographing with intent. Really spend time analysing a scene, move around looking at different angles and the way the light falls before making your image.
- Spend a day photographing with a single camera and lens combination, sometimes constraining yourself can lead to more creative images.
- Read your cameras manual. How many times do we just pick up a new camera, think we know how to operate it and don’t need to read the manual. Modern cameras have plethora of features, chances are there are a few you don’t know of that can help you creatively.
- Pick your favourite photographic genre and google ‘modern masters of xxx photography’. Find five you really like, study their style to see what makes them masters.
- Curate your website. Chances are if your website is more than a year old it could do with a bit of a Spring clean. Be ruthless and go through it removing images that don’t represent your style or what you want to be known for.
- Repeat 30 for styles you are not known for and see how those photographers make their art, if they have blogs follow them for a month to see how they work.
- Write an artists statement to help clarify your ideas about your work.
- Create a photo book. There are many great online printers that allow you to do this and they need not cost a fortune. Make the book on a particular topic or theme and go out and shoot to that. Spend time over the year doing this and doing it well, maybe it will even make a great Christmas present or you could sell it via your website.
- Plan a calendar for 2019 and go out and shoot a every month to make it date specific.
- Try and create one image you are proud of every week and start building a summary of the year containing those images now. Publish it on 31st December 2018.
- Team up with a makeup artist and plan some regular shoots with each other throughout the year.
- If you don’t have an Instagram account, create one.
- If you do have an Instagram account then try and double your followers during the year. The more you post the more followers you’ll get. The more people you follow the more likely they are to follow you back.
- Develop a photographic style.
- If you have some equipment you really like then write a blog post about it.
- Interview a photographer.
- Photograph some art and the artists that create it.
- Write a blog post about a shoot you have done.
- Dig deep into some aspect of the equipment you use and write a blog post about it.
- Develop a photographic workflow for your image management. Here’s one to try.
- Capture your learnings in blog posts. It acts as a document for you to go back and read as well as something others can learn from.
- Design a logo for your blog/website/business cards.
- Create some business cards. I use moo.com who provide a great range of sizes and options.
- Be inspired by some photographic quotations.
- Review some of your old images. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. Maybe you’ll re-edit some of what you already processed or find some unpublished gems.
- Remember that at the end of the day photography is all about the four C’s (creativity, consistency, communication and craftsmanship).
The second half of 2017 became a nightmare of an artistic block for me photographically. A couple of disastrous shoots (which maybe I’ll talk about sometime) and some difficult times personally meant I ended up not writing about, and barely actually doing any, photography for nearly six months!
But, it’s a new year so a new beginning of sorts. Sometimes it helps not to overthink these things but just to get out there and shoot. After all as Henri Cartier-Bresson said*:
“For me it’s a physical pleasure photography, it doesn’t take much brains, it doesn’t take any brains, it takes sensitivity, a finger and two legs.”
So here are just a few, favourite recent images which hopefully are a harbinger of better (photographic) times to come.
Happy New Year.
*To be taken with a huge pinch of salt given the talent and skill of HC-B as well as his ability to predict the ‘decisive moment’.
It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth year I’ve visited the amazing Showborough House sculpture garden near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire (see 2016, 2015 and 2014). This year I was able to capture a few portraits of some of the artists with their work including Andrew Roache who lives at Showborough and organises the event every year and is an accomplished sculptor himself.
Here’s a selection of the works that were on display in and around the gardens at Showborough this year. Click on an image for a larger version.
It’s not too hard to see that the role of the professional photographer is in something of a crisis. With the cost of photography equipment falling in real terms whilst at the same time becoming so technologically advanced it is becoming very hard indeed to take a ‘bad’ picture (i.e. one that is out of focus, exposed incorrectly or suffers from camera shake) the oft quoted phrase “we’re all photographers now” would never seem to be more true. You can even get intelligent camera assistants like Arsenal that will recommend the optimum settings for your camera or have your images ‘reviewed’ by artificial intelligence software like EveryPixel to tell you how awesome (or not) your photographs are. As you can see from the rating I got in this image from EveryPixel I still have some way to go!
It’s no wonder then that everyone with a half decent camera (which applies to pretty much all cameras over a couple of hundred pounds these days) calls themselves a photographer and is quite happy to photograph your face, house, dog or even your wedding all for free or very nearly so (with maybe a slice of wedding cake and glass of prosecco thrown in as a payment)!
Photography seems to be one of the few professions that suffers from this phenomena. Most people who can put together a meal with some basic ingredients don’t call themselves a chef, people who can successfully put up a bookcase from Ikea don’t call themselves a joiner and those who can change the oil in their cars don’t call themselves a mechanic. A corollary to this is that ‘photographer’ seems to be one of the very few professions that sees the need to add the word ‘professional’ in front of it to distinguish itself, presumably, from the non-professional hordes of snappers. You rarely if ever see ‘professional chef’, ‘professional joiner’ or ‘professional mechanic’ rather it is taken as read these people are professionals*. Usually it is their good work alone that sets them apart and for which people are prepared to pay them money to allow them to devote their lives to practicing their particular craft. So why do photographers who practice their art for a living feel the need to distinguish themselves from the hordes of ‘happy snappers’ who just like to make great images, and maybe sometime sell or display their work along the way?
One argument has it that professional photographers themselves are their own worst enemies when it comes to protecting their profession. Rather than embracing the diversity that allows anyone with a smartphone to practice this art form (and instead focusing on the skills they need to differentiate themselves) they fall back on making snide remarks about these people and deriding anyone who has not come up through the ranks.
A recent example of this has been a number of posts from a blog I otherwise respect, United Nations of Photography run by commercial photographer and lecturer Grant Scott. One article poured derision over a book of photographs by Brooklyn Beckham (son of David and Victoria) saying “he’s not very good and needs help”. This about a photographer who has an Instagram following of 10 million people and a commission from the luxury fashion brand Burberry already under his belt. Another post tells us of three photobooks we don’t need to buy (the implication being they are crap) without actually naming any of them and finally a Twitter tirade again the street photographer Eric Kim (the link to which I can no longer find) basically saying his work is less than good and questioning his photographic credentials.
All of this, in my humble opinion, makes for a less than satisfactory state of affairs. Surely the photography community is large enough and diverse enough to allow all of us to operate at what ever level we wish without having to resort to sniping and making uncomplimentary remarks about people practicing the art form? If this means that those who wish to make a living out of photography have to work that little bit harder then so be it. That’s the reality of the world we live in. For goodness sake, even Ansel Adams had to supplement his income from his photographs by teaching and lecturing!
Instead of bitching and whining about the awful state of photography photographers should concentrate on being the best they can regardless of whether they do it for money, for love or anything else. Being professional, in anything, should be about more than doing whatever is needed to be paid for the job but doing whatever it takes to get people coming back for more. If you are finding yourself losing out to some upstart student with little experience and a load of Instagram followers you will just have to face up to the fact their images are preferred to yours because the client knows her images will be more successful than yours in selling their brand. That’s the way it is so you’d best get over it.
Here are the four things that really matter when it comes to being ‘professional’ in your approach to photography and that will set you aside as a photographer. I call them my ‘four C’s of being a professional’. I reckon that if you do not try and adopt these as much as you can then you will fail as a photographer.
- Creativity. Make no mistake without this you are dead. Coming up with new ideas and new ways of seeing, whether it be for a personal project or for a client, are really where it’s at and seeking out new ways to be creative is what all photographers should be trying to do all of the time. Indeed you should consider yourself a creative first and a photographer second. Creative juices not flowing? Don’t worry there is a tonne of advice out there, here are some links to a few of mine.
- Consistency. It’s not enough to have the odd creative bit of inspiration; you need to do it again and again. Being consistent for every shoot you do so that the client will know they can rely on you to deliver their brief is absolutely essential.
- Communication. One of the defining moments for me in making portraits was to realise that whilst it is important to know how to use your kit (see the next ‘C’) actually what is far, far more important is knowing how to communicate with your subject. Making them feel relaxed and at home is absolutely key if you want to capture something unique and personal.
- Craftsmanship. So all that stuff they tell you about it not being about the kit, well it’s true HOWEVER… If you are not a master of the kit you do have you will also never be a great photographer. It doesn’t matter if its a ‘simple’ iPhone or a top of the range digital SLR costing thousands, the important thing is you know how to use that camera so that it doesn’t get in the way between you and your subject.
* The only exception to this would seem to be in sport where professional tennis player, golfer or athlete are descriptions that tend to be used.
Postscript: Just as I was about to hit publish on this post this news item hit my Twitter feed. Bowens, the well-known 94-year-old lighting equipment brand has officially confirmed that it has discontinued operations. One of the main factors cited for its demise was the rise of cheaper gear by Chinese manufacturers. It seems like its not only photographers that need to learn some hard lessons of competition!