My Sunsets are Worthless

October 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

In the art world, the value of a work to outsiders is just as much of a currency as a dollar is. Supply and demand works just the same as it does in business. Art is a commodity just as anything else. It is this way of thinking that sets apart many a photographer. The ones that shoot for the moment, and those striving to leave a legacy. That's where I found myself, waiting for that perfect moment at sunset where I would capture a moment never to be repeated.

 

Except it had been, and will be again a billion times. There was a time when I thought of people as just bothersome things that kept walking into my landscape shots, but now my shots feel empty without them. That man on the Vespa riding by with his hipster beard, and wool hat is unique to this day and age. The sunset, now behind me, will look roughly the same in ten thousand years. How many people will shoot it, I cannot estimate without going into exponents, which really don't belong in a photography blog.

 

When we think of shooting history, we often think of ruins, battle sites, rusted machinery, and decaying buildings. I like shooting such things, but what I'm really shooting with them is the how they exist in the present. The real paradox is that if I really want to shoot some history, I need to shoot life in the present. Every single historical photograph was shot at that moment in time, as physics demands. Few if any of them were sunsets. I'm certain that many sunsets were photographed throughout history, but as they have changed little since the dawn of photography, there's not an awful lot of demand for them in the history books.

 

Lovely sunset, but without the girls, and the tractor it's nothing. It's only 1/125th of a second of their lives, but one that will be remembered. ©2014 Troy More

 

Cameras have been ubiquitous for nearly a century now, but in hindsight I think we may have misused them by wasting so much film on smiles, and uncomfortable dress clothes. My own family is a perfect example. How many photos do I have of us standing around birthday cakes with forced smiles? Boxes full, and I treasure every one of them. How many do I have of us all covered in dust and grease while we ate dinner on a fold out table in the wheat stubble while taking a break from a 16hr work day? None. Did I capture the lineup of trucks waiting at the grain elevator in Regent Mb (Pop. 3) while my Dad and the rest sat in the grass chatting, having a coffee, and a smoke? Nope. These aren't just moments gone from my life, they are moments lost to history, because these little rural grain elevators are long gone.

 

Photos of historic events rarely tell us very much about actual history. Not of the everyday lives of the people who lived there. Real history are the shots of people eating in a restaurant, where everyone is smoking. The police call boxes that remind us of life before 911 brought instant help. The fashions, the ethnicity, and the habits of a crowd of everyday people on a sidewalk going about their business. That is real history, and in time it will be what people yearn for when they explore the past, not my sunsets.

 

Those whimsical moments that you think nothing of may be gone before you know it. The cafes and cinemas of today may be tomorrow's drive-in restaurants and movies, and they'll be gone so gradually that you won't notice until it's too late.

 

Sunsets come every 24hrs. New flowers bloom every spring. The Great Wall will likely still be there in two thousand years, and you will have a lifetime of opportunities to shoot them all, unlike the time your kid decided to try really hard and wound up falling asleep at the table studying. Those moments don't come around again, and they are the ones you will truly treasure.

 

Don't take this as a dig on landscape photography. It's not. Just don't let the sunsets distract you from history. Shoot real life as it happens, because it only happens once. That 1/125th of a second of the past is what people in the future will want to see.

 

Old Victoria BC Facebook Group

 

 

 

 


The Other Photographers You Meet at Weddings

June 29, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

There is nothing quite so stress-free as photographing a wedding. No pressure, no deadlines, and all the time in the world to get it right.

If only the above were true.

Now, in the real world, there is nothing outside of Combat Camera that is more high pressure than a wedding. You are surrounded by people wound tighter than coil springs and you only have one shot to get everything perfect, or at least a reasonable facsimile of perfect. The last thing you need when dealing with an excited bride, nervous groom, high-strung bride's mother, or any other wedding stereotype, are these people who seem to be at every wedding or event.

 

Instagram Sam

 

Poor Samantha never got over not being in the wedding party. It could be because the bride has a lot of sisters, or her mother insisted that cousin Ethel be in there. In all likelihood though, it's probably because Sam has a real talent for trying to make every situation all about her.

 

The problem: Sam will want to get her iPhone shots in on every pose you set up with the wedding party, throwing everything into confusion.

The Solution: Nip this one in the bud. Explain firmly to her that you are shooting photos for the bride and groom, and there will be time for others to take photos afterwards. Once you let one person in, they all want in, and you've lost control. Be firm. If you've ever seen a wedding photo where the wedding party are not all looking in the same direction, it's probably because there's more than one photographer vying for attention.

 

Uncle Nikon

Make no bones about it, Uncle Nikon is pissed. Not just because of the rye and cokes, but because even though he dropped a thousand and one hints, he wasn't asked to shoot the wedding, even though he's a pro. Yes, Uncle Nikon is a pro at buying photography gear. He has the best cameras, the best lenses, and tons of accessories, all stored in a gargantuan photo vest with seventeen pockets that he wears all the time so that everyone knows that he is a photographer. Camera stores love him. He has the extended warranty on everything, including his lens caps. And of course he shoots everything with his settings on full auto because if you spend five grand on a camera it goddamn well better do the thinking.

The Problem: Uncle Nikon is hell bent on showing everyone that they were wrong not to let him shoot the event. While he lacks the talent to show you up professionally, he will become a general nuisance. Like Instagram Sam, he will try to steal your poses, but he will also try to pull people aside and set up his own, and those gigantic flashes of his will be overexposing your carefully lit portraits as he lines up beside you to shoot. He will also talk to you incessantly and point out every bit of equipment he has that has better specs than yours.

The Solution: If you were smart you arranged to have a trusted friend or family member of the bride act as a liaison between you and the family. This person needs to be forceful enough to herd all the right people over to you when it's their time to pose with the bride and the groom. They should also be confident enough to shove another rye into Uncle Nikon's hand and tell him to bugger off. If all else fails, appeal to Uncle Nikon's ego. Tell him how glad you are to have another professional around to help out. Shove a reflector into his hand with a "I'm sure you know what to do" and work around the result.

 

Everybody with a F***ing iPad!

 

It was the moment the whole occasion was building up to. The vows had been taken, the rings exchanged, and all eyes were transfixed as you shot the screen of Bob and Mildred Nobody's iPad as they stuck it up in the air to get a low resolution shot of the first kiss. Normal church protocol frowns upon you cursing up a storm as you grab the iPad from their hands and send it flying up into the baptismal font. Even whispering vague threats into their ears while maintaining a fake smile is considered poor form in these days of political correctness. Besides, you'd be overwhelmed in no time. These people are everywhere now.

 

The Problem: Everyone wants to stick their electronic devices in the air to capture the big moment. They not only get in the way, but they can mess up your readings. Also, they show up like flashlights.

 

The Solution: If you can arrange a "No Photography" rule ahead of time, that's the best solution, because it gives you the greatest freedom of movement. Keep in mind that there may be an unexpected intrusion on your shot from someone who doesn't know, or care about the rule. Barring that, you just have to plan out your shots expecting these sort of obstructions and shoot around them. If that means getting in Bob and Mildred's way, so be it. Remember who you are there for.

 

Oh, and if you are using an iPad for a camera, you look like a dork. Just a public service message from me.

 

Being polite and well mannered is essential whenever you are in a social situation, and is always good business. However, don't let it get in the way of getting the job done for your client. They will brush off Uncle Nikon's bruised ego, Sam's hurt feelings, and Bob Nobody's missed shot long before they forget that you missed their first kiss.

 

Credits:

Instagram Sam** - World of Payne https://www.flickr.com/photos/noproblemnigel/

Uncle Nikon* - Kris Krug https://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/

Woman with iPad* - Wesley Fryer https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/

 

*Used under Creative Commons share alike license.

**Used under Creative Commons Attribition-Non-commercial-No Derivatives 2.0

 

Text ©Troy More - all rights reserved

 

 

 


My inspirations #1: John Bulmer - Making the mundane extraordinary

February 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

A man walks through a demolished neighbourhood. Only the local pub has been spared. From Bulmer's Manchester collection. © John Bulmer

 

I'm not good at stark reality. Probably one of the reasons I never tried going back into news photography. News photos are very blunt instruments. Their job is to grab the attention of someone casually leafing through a newspaper, and tell enough of the story to get him hooked, before he gets sidetracked by a $3 off pizza coupon. Too much pressure for me. My favourite photos are when I'm able to capture a mood, and draw the reader away from their own reality and into the world that exists in my photo.

 


Not a lot of subtlety here. The photo won Eddie Adams a Pulitzer prize, but it didn't actually tell the real story. © Associated Press

 

Facebook, and Instagram, and above all, search engine image searches have pretty much put the nail in the coffin of regular photographers being instruments of discovery for the masses reading travel supplements in the weekend newspapers. We now know through the cellphones of millions, what all the most famous places in the world look like with people sporting goofy smiles at arms length from the camera.

 

So what need is there for documentary photographers nowadays? Plenty. Photography is awash in the rubbish of selfies, ugly Instagrams, and forgetable moments. More than ever there is a need for those who can rise to the top of this sea of mediocrity and tell a story beyond "Look at me. I'm here, and I have a camera". These are the photographers who hopefully will inspire some of those people to turn their cameras away from their faces and realize that a photograph can be so much more than another insignificant moment to store on Facebook.

 

Long before cellphones or the internet itself became an issue, newspapers and magazines spent enormous amounts of money sending photographers around the world to bring back images to their readers that most of them would only ever see in the weekend supplements. Now, most of these articles use stock images, largely devoid of life, as a replacement. But if you go back to the 1960s, when photojournalism was being revolutionized by colour, you would find John Bulmer leading the way. Not only was he travelling the world to bring images of exotic locales, he was wandering the streets and industrial estates of northern England, a place that was as foreign to many readers in London, and the south, as were many of the foreign destinations he photographed.

 

Moonrise in Yemen (1965) from Bulmer's World Assignments collection. ©John Bulmer

Yemen (1965) from Bulmer's World Assignments collection. ©John Bulmer

 

None of his subjects are doing anything extraordinary so far as they are concerned, yet within these images of people going about the rituals of ordinary life are subtle clues that tell you much more about the way these people lived. The photos stripped away much of the superficial differences of language (Those of you who haven't been duped by Microsoft into thinking "UK English" was a universal thing in Britain will understand this), and looked into the homes, shops, and workplaces of the Midlands, and northern England. Reactions probably depended much on the demographic of the reader. Many in London's east end, not the target market for The Times, had roots going back to the north, or to Wales, or Ireland, and would likely have felt a kinship with the subjects, or perhaps a bit of nostalgia for "home". To the bulk of the readership of The Times however, the lives of these foreigners probably seemed as alien as that of the Romainian farmers photographed by Bulmer on one of his world assignments.

 

Sun silhouettes mining town. From Bulmer's North UK collection © John Bulmer

 

What I love about Bulmer's work, is his ability to make visually striking images of ordinary people, in ordinary places, and make the viewer want to learn more. From many of the images in his northern collection I've seen skies darkened by fog and soot, and buildings still showing clean red brick. This speaks of a resilient population unwilling to surrender their pride of place to a less than hospitable environment. A man walking through a demolished neighbourhood in Manchester with the local pub still standing in the background spoke of the power of the state over people's lives at the time, with the pub being the last vestige of a community stuck in limbo between destruction and renewal. A teenage girl in a tattered home working to get her make-up perfect shows a much different outlook on life from the tired looking woman behind her.

 

Regardless of where he was, be it the north of England, France, the Middle East, or elsewhere, he revealed the simple beauty of normal life, and normal people. One of the reasons why, when I need to inspire myself to move my work in the direction I feel is the right one, I find myself studying his work over and over again.

 

It's also a reminder to all photographers, that in years to come it won't be your spectacular sunset, or harbour images that people will be seeking out. It will be ones that tell stories of life as it is now, because aside from being artists, we are documenting the past for people of the future, and they will want to look back at our lives, not our sunsets.

 

Mai Zetterling (1971), from Bulmer's People collection. © John Bulmer

 

Images shown here are low resolution images used in accordance with fair trade guidelines for critique and review. To review full resolution images we strongly encourage you to visit John Bulmer's website.

 

 

 


Everything is "Photoshopped"!

January 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Read any newspaper or other media outlet's social media page and look for posts where they show off a great photo. Then count on one hand the number of replies before some loudmouth blurts out "Photoshop!".  (He thinks everything is Photoshop. He doesn't know any alternatives.)

 

Of course it's "photoshopped" dumbass. Everything is. A digital camera converts light to digital data, and then into it's interpretation of what it saw. An artist paints a scene based on what her eyes, which are slightly different than everybody else's eyes saw. Even the negatives from that $4.99 throwaway plastic camera that loudmouth used at Universal Studios last year was fixed in the lab in order to avoid it becoming a complete plastic lens with fat, sticky fingerprints catastrophe.

 

Canon .raw code snippet

Part of a photo of a horse before it was "photoshopped".

 

Those wanting "pure" photos have to understand that there is no such thing as the exact interpretation of a scene. That's why there has never been a single "true" film, or digital setting on a camera. The chemical composition of film reacts differently depending on the conditions at the time the shutter clicked. Digital camera settings attempt to do the same thing chemical formulations in film did. Photo editing software can now change these settings after the fact, often making the image more true to what the photographer saw than what the camera rendered. In this case, which is the true image.... the one the camera took, or the one made to look like the the original scene by photo editing software?

 

Few if any photographers make any bones about digitally editing their photos. All they are doing is creating art, just like the masters that inspired them did. In fact there are few people in history who were better manipulators of negatives than the oft cited Ansel Adams. Nobody screams "Photoshop!" when they look at one of his images, yet he manipulated negatives in a darkroom much the same way today's photographers do on a computer.

 

Of course there are photographers out there that overdo it. They load a photo into Lightroom, push all the sliders to the right and produce images dripping with ugly, oversaturated colour. Not my cup of tea, as I find it ruins a lot of otherwise good images, but it works for them. I'm the same way with garlic when I'm cooking.

 

The one legitimate time that someone can be called out for editing an image is if they alter a news photo's composition. It's one thing to adjust exposure or to correct colour temperatures to show a more accurate rendering of the scene, but adding or removing anything is completely off limits, as some well known press photographers have learned the hard way recently.

 

Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer Fired by AP

 

So don't expect too many plaudits for your "pure" images. As much as I think it's important to get the image as right as possible in the camera, the act of developing and editing is just as much a part of the process, and no less legitimate than act of composing, and clicking the shutter.

 

And for the loudmouths out there who use the term "Photoshop" derisively, we know exactly what you mean when you say it in an accusing tone.....

 

"Why can't I take photos like that?"

 

 


It's Good. It sucks. Everyone's a critic, but few are good at it.

February 26, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

We've hit a point where feedback is too easy. We see our work judged by likes and retweets, and are inclined to accept it because it doesn't challenge us to look at our work with the kind of critical eye it needs.

 

I don't like my work being savaged. Nobody does, but we can't let that dissuade us from seeking out real critics. That's why I'll never go to Facebook expecting any useful feedback on my work. Your friends and family want to encourage and support you, which is their job. Others like to honour the old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!". Strangers on the internet love to vent all their frustrations about their own inadequacies by telling others that they suck. Neither of these groups, one well intentioned, the other just sad, are actually very helpful to any artist.

 

Enthusiastic as some feedback can be, it can lull you into a sense of complacency. Keep in mind that there are people out there who are enthusiastic about Lucky Lager, Kraft Dinner, and paintings of dogs playing poker. Is that really the standard we want to set for our work?

 

If you are worried about your work being savaged, it's probably your inner critic telling you there's something wrong. In most cases you will have a hunch about what's wrong, and more often than not, it's correct. Yes, the composition is superb, and the subject compelling, but is the fact that it took you hours to get the right light dissuading you from accepting that it just isn't very sharp and accepting that you should have weighted the tripod? At the same time, is it worth it to spend days of planning, hours of preparation, and several attempts to get the shot you want, only to get "It's good." for your efforts?

 

Sunset over the OlympicsOlympic Sunset

I love this photo, but I should have removed those two blades of grass, or better yet, moved them before shooting.

 

We owe it to ourselves to face both our own criticism, and that of others if we ever want to grow as artists. Criticism has to be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve our work. As hard as it is to hear sometimes, we need to seek it out and engage it. In the process we not only grow a thicker skin, but we gradually learn to avoid the mistakes that have been holding us back, and allow ourselves to reach a new level of mistakes that only we would never have discovered previously if our work had remained stagnant.

 

The other side of criticism is that receiving positive feedback from those who you trust to give negative feedback when it's warranted is far more satisfying than a bunch of "likes" under a Facebook post. Criticism can give you the encouragement you need when you realize you have met the challenge of impressing those whose opinion you value.

 

How do you find a good critic? You probably know a few at least. They are the ones you have always thought about showing your work to, but found excuses to avoid doing so. Your online options are vast, but require a little research. If the feedback you see in online groups consists of little more than verbal pats on the back, then it's just going to be a waste of time. Same goes for places where a lot of derogatory and snide remarks are allowed. Flippancy is not your friend. Look for places with detailed, and straightforward commentary are the norm. Join clubs, and/or photo walks where you can meet other photographers. You'll soon be able to sort out the gearheads, and the ego-strokers, and those whom you can develop an honest and respectful working relationship with.

 

On Taking Pictures photo community on Google+

 

We can't be slaves to our critics. We all have (or should have) some sort of artistic vision of our own to stay true to. But just like a light metre, a flash, or a tripod, we need to recognize our critics as helpful tools (sorry) that are necessary to our work.

 

 

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