simon r leach

– photography – lighting – creativity – process – copyright – www.simonrleach.com

Written for the November 2016 newletter of PixelRights.com

and archived to the Pixel Rights Blog at https://blog.pixelrights.com/albums

I Love Light

In my photography I have a passion for light. It is my life: the reflection of light from a surface the creation, of form and texture, the way I see things, capture them and show them to my viewers. In using light I can control and manipulate my communication with my viewer.

As a species and through science we understand light as a fundamental of survival: without light there is no life, there is no us. As a photographer my relationship and knowledge of light is of a much more romantic nature: its beauty, its colours, its emotions. Whilst I may focus on the technical craft of ‘lighting’ a subject, I never forget that there is far more to effective light than illuminating a subject. A street photograph of the old man watching the world go by can be appealing, but with the right angle of light it becomes arresting. A landscape maybe dramatic, but a shaft of light can place us in the place, in that moment.

In these examples it may be argued that the photographer has little control of light, that they are merely capturing a moment as it appears to them. But I believe that many of the best photographs are so because the photographer observed and perhaps even revisited an image time and again to control the atmosphere and light, in some cases even recreating a moment.

In my own work it is all about control. Over time it has become instinctive, but the basic principle is that the angle light hits a surface is the same as the resultant angle it reflects at. The best way to play with this and learn it is with a piece of metallic card (available from most good art shops). Get a lamp, preferably a desk type, shine it at the card and then using your eye (instead of the camera) observe how the light reflects and flares across the surface as the relationship between the source, the subject (the card) and the camera (your eye) change. Next, cut the sheet of card so you have some smaller pieces you can attach to a larger base, preferably sticking several together to create a number of levels. Alter the angle of the card and its relationship with you and your light source and see how the structure is enhanced and diminished by the shadows getting longer/deeper or shorter and lighter. If you gain the right level of shadow depth and reflection but feel the shadow is too defined and distracting that is the time to diffuse your light source, either with a scrim (semi-transparent material) or by the addition of a soft-box.

This is a great way to start using studio lighting: get a single light source and observe the different ways in which its location and distance from your subject affect what you see. You will learn far more than by imitating a specific lighting set up. Now it is just practise….

Have fun!

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Portfolio Development

Portfolio development is, as you will know, something I consider hugely important. As a creative we have to keep our work moving forward, to develop our own style and our own way of seeing and communicating, to keep ourselves engaged and passionate about our own work. Client’s want to work with a creative that is driven and passionate about their work, someone who takes pride and interest in what they do and who will use that creativity to produce the best outcome.

Building and developing a portfolio, especially at an early career stage, is important. With the high numbers of people now interested in becoming photographers the demand for instruction and portfolio development have become big business. So how do you best develop, who is best to help you and, when it comes to clients, who will then be trusted to produce the goods?

I am not going into detail about the formal qualification route here. If you are looking at a college or university course, please see my post on questions to ask when selecting a course 1. Choose the right course and your initial portfolio will be a product of your development through that experience.

If you are already a graduate wanting to progress a portfolio or move it in a direction you didn’t feel able to whilst studying, or you are someone looking to develop a portfolio outside of taking a formal qualification then workshops and group portfolio days are an option. Leaving the workshops to come back to later, lets first consider what to look for in a group portfolio day.

The idea behind group days is that everyone wants shots and by organising a group, more than one person covers the costs (Location, Model, Make-up, possible food etc.) Financially it is much less of a burden to the individuals involved. Spending the day with the right peer group can also provide some excellent support, encouragement and learning from each other. The considerations to bear in mind include how much time you have for your shoot and how much control you have over the shoot content. Sometimes you will be allocated your own time, say an hour, and within reason be free to shot as and how you wish. This is a good start but I feel it is never enough time to light, build a rapore with your model and get the shot right. There is almost certainly not time to amend hair and make-up and outfit changes are likely to be limited as well. Group portfolio days provide you with models and crew and some also provide a standard lighting set-up and the exposure setting. Great shots perhaps, but not really yours as such! These factors are almost certainly true if you are working with a group of photographers at the same time. Someone sets-up possibly teaching you what they are doing as they do it, but then its a bit of a ‘rugby-scrum’ to get shots before things move on. The other problem with group days is that you are very often learning specific set-ups. These can be great in getting you started but sooner or later you will get board and won’t necessarily have been given the knowledge to move forward effectively.

Attending workshops, on the other hand, can, with the right person, solve this predicament. Hopefully what you will be learning here are some of the basic rules. With these you should be more confident in trying different things and challenging yourself to explore your craft. Practical workshops, if small enough in terms of attendees, will provide you with the time and space to learn but also to get those all-important images to build into your portfolio. I have led a number of workshops and the most successful give you all of the above, starting with the basics and with the instructor very hands-on and gradually adding to your skill base through the day so that by the end you are producing something that is your own. Of course, this can mean the cost will be higher. Ideally you are looking for a day limited to around 6 attendees and even then ideally I like to break the group further. I find shooting in pairs the most effective.

Beyond this you will most likely move to setting your own personal shoots or tests and either covering any costs yourself or perhaps sharing with a friend or two. For example getting a larger location where you can all shoot at the same time in your own area and swap spaces at an agreed time. Working on a solo test or alongside a friend can often be cost effective and give you far more space and time to develop your own ideas and style. All of these options benefit from the addition of one-to-one mentoring 2, but especially so for those that are testing on their own. Finding the right mentor is crucial and just because a mentor is recommended does not mean they will be a perfect match for you. Having had a mentor and been one I assure you that developing a conversation and a relationship that allows you to understand and affirm what you do and who you are as a creative is immensely valuable. A one-off session can open your eyes and provide great insight, but if you find the right person take the time to invest in a process that will continue over an extended period. Remember to always seek opinion outside of that conversation because fresh eyes can always point out something you may have missed. Remember, every opinion is valid, what you are looking for is those that help reinforce what you feel instinctively.

Building a proper portfolio is not just a case of grabbing a few lucky shots, that someone else has set and lit, that have had model/props/location/styling all supplied without your input. It is about building the knowledge and ideas that allow you to create shots that a client will ask you to recreate. It is about developing themes and insights into a subject and the skills to articulate them into an image that someone will want to buy. It is also about you, the way you see things and enjoying photography.

1. https://simonrleach.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/university-roulette/

2. there are many, many options for mentoring, just a very small selection of the options are

http://www.creativeadvicenetwork.com/

http://zoewhishaw.com/

http://mercurylab.com/

http://www.lauraannnoble.com/mentoring/

Keep Calm and Carry On.

At this point it is immaterial which way I voted in the ‘Brexit’ referendum, and anyway I am not the sort of person that agrees with making such things public. I will also bet that by the time you have read this however you think I may have voted is probably wrong. I am not an EU specialist, I am not a politician and I do not consider myself a member of the media, so why have I moved away from my usual posts about light, craft and rights to look at the topic that seems to be dominating every media feed I am looking at? Well, I have been a sole trader 18 years, I have advised others and have helped guide one or two businesses and had minor dealings with government and I do advise on brand although usually from the perspective of visual assets. So, this is just one man’s opinion, take it or leave it, but perhaps take time to think about the message Britain is sending to the world.

First things first. Can we please stop wasting time on petitions and Facebook posts about a second referendum, dodging the situation or doing a U-turn? The vote has happened, to say you have to try and try again until you get a result you like is not democracy, by definition. Then there is the fact most leaders in the European Parliament do not want us now. Remember the speech Monsieur President made a week last Wednesday? He basically told us then where to go. Saying what he did the day before the vote possibly was not helpful, but he was pretty clear. At the moment you can still go and live somewhere else in the EU and I strongly suspect that situation will not change, at least in the short term. So if you really cannot live anywhere but inside an EU state, there are options. That includes, if you side with the SNP, north of the border.

Which brings me to the brand and where I personally see the whole issue with ‘Brexit’. Exit from the EU was bound to cause jitters in the markets and a reallocation of funds, particularly in the short term. I would guess, and this is completely unsubstantiated, that for a start the EU will want to stop payments to the UK before we stop paying-in, it would be logical on their part. That situation is only likely to be improved by making it in their interest to not hold back in negotiating new deals quickly. So, our brand message needs to be that we are open for business. Since that message is mainly communicated by our elected politicians it would be in all our interests if they stopped bickering, back-stabbing and generally trying to exploit the situation we are all in for petty power games.

We need leadership and we need clear and considered communication of message and brand. Yes Cameron resigning, love him or hate him, leaves a void and void is uncertainty which none of us need right now. But unfortunately that is the way the politics of this country seem to be written. Personally there are few on any side that you can truly believe have the country’s best interests listed above their own. However, in business, if you are handed a decision that you cannot agree with, something your board or shareholders agree but which you cannot back, promote or effectively communicate, then you have to step aside. So whilst it creates a void and I don’t like it, in Mr Cameron’s position I would have done the same thing. What we need those in Westminster to do now is get their house in order fast and be positive about it.

With regard to Scotland, they have a number of things to consider, not least my earlier point about retaking a vote. Second is the deal that might be negotiated to stay within the EU. Although I believe they will be welcome, any organisation, including the EU can only continue to function if all of it’s members put in more than they take out – it is a fundamental. In the meantime political power struggles, rhetoric and uncertainty will contribute further to a message of the UK brand being weak.

Okay, enough bashing of politicians. The media and social media have equally as much of a part to play. I have had enough of the finger-pointing, blaming all the leave votes on racists, the uneducated, the jobless, the rural communities and the more senior in years. You may be angry at those that voted out, but such rhetoric is sensationalist, uninformed and way too simplified. I have been appalled by a country so divided, the message of hatred from fellow citizens that profess to be the ones so accepting of other nations, cultures and opinions. Such sensationalism can only detract from real issues and proper analysis of why the country was divided on the issue. It will certainly not promote our brand as being any more accepting and open than the exit vote itself, in fact, I would go so far as to say it will damage that message more. In the end no one wants their European friends shipped out, no one wants to go to war with Europe and most probably agree with the founding principles of union. I believe that the leave vote arose from considered issues such as, economics, trade, laws, sovereignty, and balance of preference between the union and beyond it.

As a brand then, and a nation, what is our message? I believe there should be positive message, starting with that we stand by our democracy, we uphold the will of the majority and that we stand together in doing so; That we demand professionalism, transparency and clarity from our politicians, that we will not accept their childish games. They are now are on their own, elections just got more interesting! It is time for our politicians to understand there is no hiding place, no excuse of being ‘hand-tied’ by Brussels, no it’s in Europe’s interests, no ‘we tried but we were overruled’. Ladies and gentlemen of the House, you are in charge now and you alone will be held to account come re-election.

Now is the time to focus on the future. We need to realise that this is a serious challenge, not a switch to the newest, funky social media app. We are looking at a transition that will take as much as ten years. Yes we will be out of the union before that, but in terms of fully transforming our business model and being completely settled, it is going to take a while.

Sterling has always been an established currency and we are used to having to trade with exchange rates. The markets will be volatile, but they are already starting to settle. The more we promote a confident brand message, the more investors will gain in confidence and the more stable the markets will become. What we need to prove right now is that we are not running around like headless chickens, but we have direction. Our confidence breeds their confidence.

It’s going to take time and hard work, its going to take confident voices and leadership. It may not be perfect or what you‘d hoped, but we can talk about making our own rules, our own agreements and holding our own political representatives to task. Change is scary and perhaps that is our biggest fear in the end. However, where there is change there is opportunity. Those that make the most of what we have, perfect or not, will likely reap the rewards. European Union countries maybe, and I stress maybe as they have more to loose in balance of trade than us, become more difficult to deal with, but new markets will become more accessible. Perhaps our immigration will become even more diverse and cosmopolitan, one could only hope.

Let us not brand this as the zombie apocalypse and do nothing because if we do then we might find other nations looking at us with sad, sideways glances and mumbling about what might have been.

Time to rethink

The element of time seems to have appeared in a number of my blog posts, I am aware that it is very important in my own practise and, through a number of articles I have read and conversations I have had I feel I am not alone in valuing it.  

Many years ago, when I was studying photography as a mature student with industry experience, I felt that the deadlines and extended length of time given to students to complete projects was not representative of what would be expected in the profession. With the wisdom of hindsight, I realise the idea was to allow us time to explore, make mistakes and develop creatively.

Commercially, it has always been understood that you would never get 3 months to present results to a client. But have we allowed things to go to far? With the rise of digital photography, there is no requirement to pause while film is processed, no need for physical delivery when electronic will be fine, thank you very much. With a significant over supply in the industry and the immediacy of social media and digital marketing, have we allowed the desperation for delivery of images NOW to undermine all hope of pushing for a creative solution? In a world that is insecure and where every pound spent has to be justified by the number of units sold, it is difficult to promote the idea of buying more time on the grounds of exceeding creative expectation. In the end though, there are so many brands out there trying to occupy the same emotional space, trying to steal the engagement of the same customer base. Can we really afford not to give ourselves room to develop and produce something that as a result captures a little more attention.  

Talking to a portrait photographer friend of mine recently, she was describing the experience of photographing a mother and new born and how it had become a surprisingly pleasant experience because of the pace of the shoot. This was primarily because when the child needed feeding everything had to stop, she had time to breathe, to review, to think and to develop the ideas. 

That came on the back of reading a piece by Iain Tait, ECD at Wieden + Kennedy, London, in which he was speaking about a new regime, in essence giving the creative brains of one of London’s top creative agencies time off so that they had time to relax, to take in and then, when required, to be MORE creative.  

I know exactly what these people are talking about. I do not use remote control technology, or computer software, to control the light in my photographs. I cherish the time to walk from camera to light to make adjustments. I want to slow down and have time to consider. How do I increase this? As an experienced photographer, I am using tried-and-tested techniques and ideas, I know my kit, I know what I am looking for in the shot, but that doesn’t mean it is extracted from a shelf in 30 seconds. Allow me a little time and I will create a better shot. Don’t worry we are shooting enough frames, concentrate more on getting the shot right. Options are just more edit time. It will still be only the best frame that gets used. 

This sentiment is underlined in Tony Cullingham’s speech to his graduating students in which he encourages them to argue for time and produce work that other creatives would be heard to utter that sought-after recognition : ‘I wish I had done that’

Links 

Christine Bory, Artis Formae Studio

Creative brains need time off, Iain Tait

Advertising on it’s knees – what an opportunity, Tony Cunningham

Intelligent Creative

I saw a quote recently that credited the continuing economic doldrums to the “over supply of everything, facilitated by the proliferation of the Internet”1…. That got me thinking!  

At first, I didn’t take it too seriously; just another flamboyant economic statement. Then I realised that there may actually be some strength to the argument. As a photographer I have, at times, joined with peers in lamenting the oversupply within our industry, particularly since the proliferation of the digital, rather than chemical, process. With the R&D of digital technology and web-based supply having grown-up almost hand-in-hand, is it really so far fetched? Perhaps it is just common sense that oversupply might be the trigger of economic stagnation. 

There are the obvious exceptions such as property, that we are told are in short supply, but generally you can now find any product or service online with ease and immediacy. For an economy that has become so reliant on the service and retail sectors, surely this creates a problem.

As individual consumers we can be forgiven for thinking this is a great turn of events. Oversupply has produced a race to be the cheapest supplier. As a brand it is a potential disaster. Whilst you’ve been given access to markets, options for ‘free’ audience engagement and emotional space through social media and enough analytics to melt your brain, in the end there is almost always someone who will do what you do cheaper. When that happens the options for your brand become limited. Do you stay and compromise in pursuit of cheaper costs, or do you see the writing on the wall and move on? How many loss-leaders can you afford to offer in the hope of maintaining vague and fickle customer loyalty…?

Isn’t it time to stop? Rather than being the architect of your own demise as a brand, can you not use the fantastic tools at your disposal to create an emotional space for your audience on a different level? I heard another sage piece of advice a few weeks ago: “if your are going to create a brand, get the money in place first.”2 Establishing takes investment. Don’t be an advocate for a status quo that will ultimately (more than likely) produce your demise. Cheap is always cheap. Is that what your brand represents?  

Why am I talking about this as a creative? Because we need ‘intelligent creative’. We need well executed, professionally delivered visual assets that share synergy with consumer generated content and cover both current emotional engagement and drive aspirational future space. Intelligent creative gives audiences a different and unique engagement. It makes them realise they cannot get what you, your brand, offers elsewhere. It is not a price point relationship anymore.

1.  @thomaspower

2.  http://www.digitaldoughnut.com (event)

Getting the best from creative commissioning 

Having been increasingly approached for advice on pre-production, I thought it might be useful for me to highlight four things that as a commissioner you definitely don’t want to overlook. 

1. I’ll have one of those. Stop. Ask yourself: if you love what ‘X’ does why not work with them? It seems logical but if you love what a particular creative does, whether it’s a director, a stylist, a photographer or a retoucher, why not get them involved from the start of your project? You already know you’d like them to be involved in what you are planning. Having an early conversation gives you the opportunity to fully engage them with your ideas. It also allows you to benefit from their contacts as well as their expertise. What attracted you to them was probably their previous work. That work they will have produced with a wider creative team. It is more than likely they will be happy to help you source the rest of the crew. This has the added benefit of giving them (and, by extension, you) more confidence to get the maximum from your brief. Securing the most appropriate and capable creative team? That’s a big job taken care of! And, not only is it one important job done, their specialist experience may save you time and money by avoiding potential issues early. It may also help you make decisions that maximise your available budget. However, if you are still not entirely sure who you want to work with, then read on… 

2. Location or studio? Where you decide to shoot is almost as important as who you are shooting with. Studio is admittedly easier. It’s easy to book a space, you don’t have changeable weather risks, you can blast the music and there is a constant supply of coffee (at least there is on my shoots). Job done! But, a word of caution. Do you have the right space? Do you have the room you will need for all the requirements of your project? Have you allowed enough time? In a studio it is easy to try to cram too much into one day. Rushing compromises results. Going into overtime means budgets can very quickly get out of control. Shooting on location can be more exciting and give more visual interest, provide a better visual narrative and ultimately result in more audience engagement with your resulting visual assets. But be aware, you can’t just shoot anywhere. Some spaces, an increasing number in fact, look like public spaces but are actually on private land and require permission for shoots. The same goes if you have certain buildings as your backdrop. Even in fully accessible public spaces, if you have a large crew with equipment, cases, tripods, lighting stands and anything else that constitutes a potential obstacle then you are likely to need a permit. This is usually arranged through a council, but don’t forget to inform the police and highways, if it is not an integrated part of the permit application process. Be aware that making such arrangements takes time, requires specific information and proof of liabilities insurance. 

3. Insurance. Any professionally practising photographer worth his or her salt will have public liability and employer’s liability. Most also have their photographic kit insured (it is expensive stuff, after all). Depending on your brief, you may wish to request the photographer insures your products/samples (for example, via ‘good in trust’ insurance), that’s if you are not insuring them yourself. Yes, it’s really boring to have to think about such things, and I hope you will never need any of it, but have you thought about the consequences if you don’t make sure this stuff is in place? Claims for liability could come back on you, especially if you have taken responsibility for organising pre-production. Think about it. If you have booked the creative team then you are, in effect, their employer for the duration of the shoot. You are the responsible party. Claims of negligence will come back on you if you don’t take appropriate precautions. Sometimes budget restrictions make skimping on such things or working with a friend an attractive option. When you find yourself going down this road stop and think about who pays if their kit gets damaged? Who will they look to to pay for repairs? You. It was, after all, your production.  

4. Health, safety and security. Ostensibly as tedious as insurance to the young and exciting entrepreneur with heart and soul committed to a creative idea; however, it is something you must consider or the consequences may come back to bite you. Have you taken the appropriate precautions not just legally, but physically? Permits may be subject to any equipment meeting certain conditions, but overall have you ensured you are clear of any potential negligence and ensured your team is using safe equipment, in a safe manner? Equipment might be insured should it “wander” or be damaged, but your real frustration will be from the delay to, or failure of your production, if adequate precautions are not taken. Avoiding the use of insurance may seem simpler, and I am not trying to tell you that you can’t handle making the arrangements yourself. What I am saying is that whether you do it yourself or have one of your team do it, the arrangements do need to be made. In the end, most of this is just common sense, it’s not difficult to work out, but it is easier, quicker and perhaps less costly when you have it embedded in your processes so it becomes second nature. Furthermore, if you can draw on your teams’ experience, engaging with them early on, then they can help you avoid mishaps and costly delays. Do not feel bad about asking for guidance. If you have a professional team with you then they will be pleased you asked and able to help.  

Remember, you’re creating assets for your brand and you understandably want the very best. You want to jump ahead to the good stuff: the creative bit. So, get the legal requirements dealt with early to allow for the creative engagement and enthusiasm that will make your shoot a success. Encourage your team to show off their talents and passions. Allow them to enable you to achieve a result so much better than the one you would have achieved alone. By using professional and experienced individuals I hope you’ll have an enjoyable experience not a costly and time consuming nightmare. 
For more thoughts on commissioning : 

http://www.the-aop.org/information/copyright-4-clients/faqs

https://thefreelancerclub.co.uk/blog/post/Tips-When-Hiring-A-Freelancer

What’s your value? 

We all have our own value of ourselves, the trick is not to undervalue what you know, or bring to the table. It doesn’t benefit anyone.

All the arguments against working for free have been made before, most I agree with, but I want to go a step further because I think it’s important to not just talk about whether you charge, but also about the importance of making sure the fee is at a viable level to provide long term sustainability to your activity. I am more concerned that some sort of legal minimum wage is seen as sufficient payment than by the complete absence of a fee.  

Before I go any further let’s clarify, you will produce work ( images in the case of photographers ) for free. It’s called testing or personal work, it’s done to your own creative brief, with or without collaborative input from supporting creatives, but with no external client involvement. You and your collaborators are the client. To sustain a career this is vital development for you and it should only stop when you reach your end. 

In all other cases there should be clear and defined benefit to you and the expertise you bring. It’s quite simple: you have to value yourself. I know it something that’s not cool to think about when your 20, creative, doing something fun and enjoying it, but if you don’t have some thought for the future not only do you screw everyone else that’s in the creative industry, you resign yourself to having to get a “normal” job at some point in the near future. 

Let’s be honest; it’s very difficult to walk away from work if you’re not busy and there is all sorts of exposure being offered. But how much value does it really offer? You’re going to have your name in print… Well if the letter of the law is followed and you assert your moral rights, as you should, then they are legally obliged to print your credit. I know most of the time it doesn’t happen, but the odds of them remembering do not increase because you did them a favour. I am also sceptical of Magazine submission. If you were doing the shoot anyway, maybe you’ve not lost anything, but what is the readership, do they represent your market, will they see your value in being associated with that publication? Certainly don’t be tempted to compromise your vision in pursuit of a successful submission and be careful you don’t compromise the shot in terms of what it could offer you if it had not been licensed to a publication. 

So what should you charge? Well, it’s difficult to be specific because there are so many variables and value can be so subjective. Industry wide price setting is also illegal in the UK unless you’re a Trade Union. Whatever you do, don’t just think about what you need to earn to survive. Digital being cheaper is a myth. It’s harder to translate the costs, but an analogue body that is well maintained and serviced will last 20-30 years, its digital equivalent will perhaps last you 3-5 years and cost you twice as much. Computers, storage media, software are all extra costs that your client will not want to see on your invoice, but the idea of business is clients in someway pay all the costs and “a little over”: your profit! There’s also the personal development we mentioned earlier, it benefits the client eventually and it strengthens your brand for the long term. 

In short there are three ways you can be a successful photographer: earn from it, rely on some else’s income, or win the lottery. Either of the latter two will enable you to work for free, but then why are you giving away you’re good fortune as well as you creativity, passion and hard learned knowledge?

There has been lots of discussion over the years about the benefits of working without reward. Most recently, The Freelancer Club launched a campaign against the pervasive use of commissioning for free. More discussion and links here:

The freelancer club

And more on the photography business including value and charging here:

Photosmudger

Is photography still a creative medium?  

Or is it returning to its technical roots? Have we come full circle where photographers today, like the scientists that were the first photographers, need to be more in tune with the technological science than the creative process? 

It seems there has been conflict between digital photography and (a good number of) photographers since the dawn of digital. Whilst some stepped off into the unknown and never looked back, others have struggled with the growing influence of technology on photographic creativity. It is important to understand the influence of technology on the creative process if we want photographic creativity to continue. It is also important to acknowledge different creative processes. Whilst technology enables creativity for some practitioners in ways that were not previously possible, for others, including myself, personal creativity is, in part, about having the time to think and explore. Technology, quite frankly can get in the way or enable you to work too fast.

This blog is not a monologue on the virtues of returning to analogue (film); although I do shoot a little film, I love digital. But I do wander if the reported rise of photographers, particularly the young, shooting on film is a sub-conscious striving to get back in touch with the creative process through a more time-intensive process that allows time for the creative idea to be considered and developed. It is often reported that technology makes it easier for us to be creative, but personally I find it is the element of time that is critical. In a commercial environment this is not always available, but it is important not to rush unnecessarily. I have heard many great photographers speak about their photographic process and almost all mention the time they take, the slowing down, the inquisition, that enhances their results. In the end it is about achieving a balance and learning what adds to your vision and what adds distraction. 

Another consequence of digital photography is that there is so much to learn that it is almost impossible to keep up with current best practice. Combine this with the pressures and ability to shoot faster and that’s where frustration kicks in. It makes us question ourselves: why I am I struggling with this piece of software? Am I not up to the task in hand? Why do I have to keep learning and relearning, changing the way I work? 

Is creativity being stifled by the technology meant to enable it? Is the rate of change too fast?

Case in point, talking to a couple of friends recently the discussion has been about the need to use faster and faster shutter speeds. I used to select the shutter speed with very little consideration of anything other than its part in the balance of my light to the ambient light and the depth of field I wanted. And, a very long time ago when I was an apprentice, I was using cameras whose sync speed was 1/15th sec; I was not afraid to handhold at very slow shutter speeds. With technology giving us greater resolutions and the ‘glass’ we use significantly different, it is now these factors that dictate shutter speed, and more importantly for me, that even with flash to frieze movement the relatively slow sync speed means I can no longer hand hold. So we are at a point where the technological constraints limit the creative process. Are we in danger of our imaginations being bound by technological limitations?

The tools photographers use are increasingly developed by technical and scientific brains. Their passion to push the boundaries is driven by businesses that want to be a step ahead of their competitors. A friend whose photography I love and who is also a technical wizard tells me regularly that I need to stop thinking about the impact of technology and simply accept it as the new way of the world. Technology has moved on and there is no place for what, or how, we used to create. I challenge this perspective, creative thought and imagination is fundamental to what we create and the communication we achieve, we do not all follow the same creative process. There is something more to imagination and vision than a pure ease and ability create a picture. We all need those with a true creative eye to show us things in a unique and individual way.

Photography has always included a technological element: cameras and lenses, software; but, all are merely tools. A photographer’s skill and value is in equal measure their ability to operate their tools and to give life to their vision. The creativity, that essence of an idea formed into something tangible for others to see, contemplate and be moved by, this can happen in different ways. There is a balance to be struck, a challenge for all creatives, but perhaps greater for today’s photographers: to allow for technology, but not be dominated by it. In this technological age photographers, perhaps more than ever before, must be fully committed to a creative practise, to nurturing their curiosity and imagination and to drive forward their creative development. 

A special mention for:  

 Andy Kruczek.   &.   Richard Curtis

With grateful thanks. 

Apt 29

Sorry to my readers for the delay in posts, I have taken a break to concentrate on the production of this series, as well as the usual work. But two new posts are ready and will follow shortly. 

  
I would like to thank. 

Stylist Lisa Atkinson : Hair and Make-up Charlotte Gaskell for LHA Represents : Post Production Sinisa Savic 

Models are Charlotte and Oliver, both at MOT Models : Location from Altostratus

University Roulette

It is fast approaching that time of year when tens of thousands of you will make your final choice about which university course will launch you to photographic stardom. Whilst one or perhaps two of you might achieve those dizzy heights, for the rest, perhaps, a little thought and planning might help you on the way to something approaching a sustainable career.

As would be expected, there are some courses that may offer you greater benefit than others. Whilst I have an opinion, I am not going name courses (good or bad). First, because it depends a little on what you are looking for, and second, because they have better lawyers than I can afford. Instead, what I want to suggest are a few points for consideration, perhaps a few questions to ask and setting a personal expectation.

Be aware this is a serious investment, not just in fees and living costs. You should be willing to invest in gallery visits, work experience, production costs and possibly even starting your kit purchasing. That all requires more work or less parties, probably both. If you are on a fee-paying course you will be seen by the institution as a ‘client’. In my opinion this may or may not be in your best interests. It means there is an incentive to the University that you pick their course and therefore you will be marketed to! Meaning, you have to work harder to see what you might actually gain. My first question is, I would argue, the most important; what do you want from studying?

I have spoken to many students of photography in the last few years and all but a handful are surprised at the question, most don’t have an answer, many are even surprised to be asked! So to clarify, do you need technical knowledge, do you know everything about operating your camera without any built-in program? Or, do you need the creative process, do you know about personal style, concepts, semiotics, visual communication? I suspect that the vast majority would identify some balance of both, if forced to think about it.

If you need to learn the technical craft of photography, what do you know about the facilities you are being offered. Do not let yourself be blinded with a few state of the art pieces. You need to experience as much of photography as you can. You need access to different studio set ups, different cameras, dark rooms, digi-labs, lighting, the more things you can try the better. Do you know about availability and the booking process? Will you be taught how to use everything or is it a trial an error approach? Remember photography is a scientifically based medium and it’ll cost you more money to learn after you graduate, so do it now.

How about your tutors and technicians? Are you aware what background they have? Have they practised professionally, or as an artist, themselves? Maybe you’re lucky enough that someone is still running a practise alongside their teaching. This will give you better and more current insight into the industry and your earning potential. Whether you’re not sure what you want to do in photography or you’re fairly clear but want to experience different aspects while you can, make sure the knowledge base is available for you to learn from. What ever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking art is easy because you don’t have to do the business bit. Even artists have to eat and pay the rent. Look for courses teaching on business practise as well.

Finally, ask about the grading. Photography is a practical business and whilst I rarely use the theoretical writing I learnt in my time studying, personally do see a place for academic study within photography (not the view of a good number of photographers). I see benefit to understanding the history of photography, the way we read images and culture associated with art. The craft and practise of photography is by far the biggest element, but balance that with both academic study and business practise and you’ve found a great course.

Remember, things can change with time and if you are not sure about changes to the course you have committed to, then say something. If you take this opportunity seriously, then your investment will pay off. Good luck, and one last thing, don’t forget to enjoy it!