Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Times Are Good For Photographers

The economy may be going to hell, but photographers have never had it better. Virtually any current DSLR will take fabulous images and will outperform most photographers. Colour management, if not exactly simple, is getting more straight forward (the Luminous Landscape video Camera To Print really helps). Inkjet prints on some of the new baryta papers are producing wonderful prints. No, they still don't look like silver prints but different isn't the same as worse - they are beautiful in their own right. Not only that, we can share our work with others via the web and it's easier to become known that at any previous time in history - despite a huge amount of competition.

Control over images has never been as good, with Photoshop and Lightroom and all. Sure backup is a pain, but no worse really than sorting your negatives and being consistent about your contact sheets and negative filing system.

Now, if we could just figure out where to point the camera.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How Important Is The Subject Matter

It is common for photographers to agonize over their next project. We want something original, fresh, interesting, challenging, publishable, yet accessible. There's no point in dreaming of a project on Hawaiian rain forests if you are in Pittsburgh and your travel budget can only get you to Ohio.

It might be worth considering just how important subject matter really is to our photography. If it's really important, then perhaps there are ways of approaching the choice of subject which are better or faster or more reliable or whatever, and if it turns out it isn't all that important, then why are we agonizing over it.

Let's start of with some basic facts.

1) there are no new subjects

2) there are no new approaches

3) there are no new techniques

Yes, I know, these are pretty bold statements but let me explain. With millions of serious photographers in the world the odds of you or I coming up with something new in any of the above categories is slim. Often we come across writings from more than 100 years ago agonizing over the same issues we struggle with today - and no matter how original someone is on subject matter, someone else is likely to have done it first.

You might be inclined to ask (quite reasonably), 'well, if that's the case, what's the point of even trying to photograph?"

There are a limited number of subjects or at least categories that we can photograph - people, landscape, machinery, buildings, nudes, still life, etc. On the other hand, there are an infinite number of ways of seeing something. When you look at an object, you don't see the same object that I do. You see it through eyes and with a brain which has completely different experiences, attitudes, feelings and values and each of these subtly and sometimes vastly affects how we photograph the subject.

If the only photographer you admire and collect is Ansel Adams, then it's natural to emulate him but even there, Adams isn't you and your images will be different. This can be a problem since you can easily get frustrated when your images don't turn out like Adam's. Sure, sometimes that's for technical reasons and just plain skill, but not always.

I have a number of images from my youth which even today are strong and hold up and yet I didn't give myself credit for them at the time.

As we learn about the work of many photographers, we can't help being influenced by all this other work. There could never be another Ansel Adams because the times have changed, there are too many newer photographers who influence us.

So, picking a subject because it's new isn't going to work and fortunately we will bring ourselves into our images of these "old" subjects.

On the other hand, surely some subjects work better than others? Sure, for the individual photographer. I like photographing old industrial sites, someone else might find it nigh impossible to come up with a decent image at the sites where I revel in it.

Clearly some subjects and more particularly, locations, provide more opportunity to make images than others. They have more parts that are interesting, a better selection of viewpoints that are good, better and clearer line of sight, greater textures, more interesting shapes, shadows, lines and whatnot.

Some setups have one fatal flaw, which cannot be changed or outwaited and you simply have to move on.

Of course, the amount of available material is pretty much independent of choice of subject category and a lot to do with the specific subject or location. When photographing architecture it's a lot easier to work with a building with interesting shapes, surfaces that reflect light in interesting ways, and which is accessible - ie. not jambed up tight to parking garages on either side and immediately across the road.

You might decide to photograph glassware.It's going to be a lot easier if the glassware is interesting - in shape, tone, reflections, colour etc. Location will be important - whether it's in your kitchen cupboard or against a mirror or next to a window.

The trick then isn't in selecting glassware, it's in finding the right glassware in the best location.

This would suggest that just about any subject would do, if you have at least a passing interest in it. Where you have to spend the time and use your initiative is in selecting the right example of that subject in the correct location and under the best circumstances.

This may seem pretty obvious, but I suspect that many photographers spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over the first part and paying little attention to the next two - to the detriment of their images.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Future Of My Cameras

I was reading Luminous Landscape on medium format cameras and the new Leica S2. That got me to thinking about what I need in a camera,

Photographing landscapes, industrial, or if you shoot nudes, still life, architectural and I dare say even portraits do you really need a view finder at all? Live view with a good sized screen (esp. a tilting one) would be all that's needed.

I'm amused to read of photographers discovering Live View and starting to use a dark cloth to better see the LCD in sunlight - shades of view cameras - but without the hassle of loading film, with far better ability to focus, no need for magnifying glasses and a lot of the time not even the dark cloth.

Without the viewfinder you don't need a mirror so lenses are easier to design so really great lenses should be the norm. Shutter - not really needed - after all in live view, the start of the exposure is electronic, and the closing of the shutter after is just tidying things up - not really needed.

Of course hand holding would be difficult, but we're talking serious photographers here who could easily have a regular slr for sports and such - and even this future camera without shutter and mirror and viewfinder could work nicely on a monopod, or in a pinch, hand held.

There would be no need for fancy electronic connections between camera and back- the camera wouldn't do much - oh, I suppose you might want auto f stop control - but that's about it - and I could certainly live without that - hell, a cable release could easily be made to stop the lens down before the exposure is made.

I don't suppose it would be cheap - though when you think about it, it's a lot simpler to build than a dSLR.

It is amazing that medium format backs have small poor LCD screens - a tilting, rotating large screen is such an obvious advantage. I guess that's what happens when there isn't a lot of competition.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Second Attempt at Knuckle

This is a print I have on the wall of my office. It's been rather fun to see if anyone can guess what the image is. I prefer this to the previously posted image with borders around the coupler, more abstract, fewer clues. One of the best I have done in a while, which considering how little shooting I have been doing lately is quite reassuring.

From The Archives II

Shot in about 1982 in Kentucky - Laurel Lake Spillway, shot on 4X5, scanned on Epson 4870.