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 ‘Top Tips’

My single, simple tip for improving your work  – Ignore the ’10 tips towards better photographs’ type article. 
For me all this internet advice ‘chaff’ stuff leads us further away from taking photographs we believe in, take something from or that have something to say. Dynamic, inspiring images come from within, not a set series of rules. This is a lonesome pursuit after all, there’s no performance, no bleeding fingers, what makes your photographs work, for you, is your attention, your time, your patience and practice. Something will click within you given enough time. Be guided, of course, learn what technical bits of the camera you need, discard the rest, be inspired but most importantly spend time with your subjects and with making your images sing.
Try to remove yourself from the point and click and ask why that subject caught your eye, stick like glue to that and work from there. And I mean work. Good photographs come from time spent and like any meaningful art, failure is an important part of the process, far better than instant success or blind luck. Some images might take years to finally capture, we chase light after all. Some subjects, studio or outside, will need experimenting on, in different light conditions, with varying compositions until something finally takes hold and you begin to settle into image making that you know works well, for you. Challenge a little, ask yourself whether that image works as you look through the viewfinder not afterwards and most importantly, make up your own rules. 

Literal V Created

The more photographers I meet, the more photographs I see I become convinced that we fall into two broad types, although I must also admit to not particularly enjoying categorising anyone. The 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year gives us great examples of this I think, where photographs can be roughly divided between those that have been gifted to someone and those that have been taken beyond that ‘gift’ and created in a way to evoke and stimulate an entirely and in my opinion more positive and rewarding response. My examples of this, are the first place winner in the Animal Portraits Class, a Green Vine snake from a morning stroll in an Indian rainforest (photo – Varun Aditya), the other, the honourably mentioned, Puffin tucked in against a squall on Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire (Photo – Mario Suarez Porras). I take nothing away from both photographers, both images have been beautifully captured, the photographers eye here is sublime, both are technically wonderful, sharp, well exposed and evocative. What distinguishes them for me at least is the fact that the winner was ‘given’ to the photographer. That beautiful snake was there, it just needed the technically gifted photographer to line  it up and capture it. The Puffin however, falls into my ‘created’ class I believe. Yes the puffin was in the right place at the right time and yes the photographer too has taken a pin sharp image but here they have moved in and created an almost abstract view of such a familiar bird allowing us to interpret what we wish to from the frame, to imagine the weather, the roar of the waves below, even the thoughts of this beastie as it weathered another day. Don’t get me wrong, both pictures are great and both photographers deserve high praise but, for me, the image that allows me to read my own responses into it is far more successful than one that gives me everything. The danger we have with these astonishing bits of kit we carry around with us, be they phones or DSLR’s is to fall into the trap of their automatic ways, to become too literal with our image making too much of the time and to lose that creative self buried within. My message, stand back and think sometimes. Or perhaps I am just a tad jealous of both? 


Bl**dy Bluebells

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliot Erwitt

What a week. Bluebells, the woods close to home are full this year, a fog of them draped across the floor, their scent heavy in the evenings. Stunning and so difficult, for me at least, to get a picture of them I am satisfied with.

As usual I am trying to say something different, trying to think about moving away from the host of glorious images of woodland landscapes bathed in May blue.

Bluebell Lesson 1  – Light is key, learn to practice when it is poor. My first attempt was with David, a great 1:1 client, the subject at their best, the light flat and lowering. I’m not necessarily drawn to the bluebell, it’s a bit of a show off for me and a picture of a group of them can become incoherent – blue noise. So I search for another subject, a twisted hawthorn stem, a broken birch branch dissolving back into the woodland earth and let the flowers form a backdrop or pastel wash to the simpler, stronger player, but the ‘flat’ light defeats us and we slink home.

Bluebell Lesson 2 – Don’t rush – Perfect light for 45 minutes. I had a plan, I knew my locations but rushed my story, forgot what I wanted to say and came home with a few more for the trash.

Bluebell Lesson 3 – Have your mind in the right place – Perfect light, plenty of time, lesson’s 1 and 2 still present, mind elsewhere. The result, trying too hard. I forget why I am there, I forget to breathe the lovely atmosphere in, to get a sense of the place. Instead ‘the job’ takes hold and after 30 minutes or so I realise I am just not there enough. So I go back to walking the dog and spend time just taking it in.

Bluebell Lesson 4 – Give it time and luck. I come home with four images I am pleased with, ones that speak for the week in May when the bloody bluebells crowded and made me learn my lessons.


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