Subject Is Not It

Fasade i Camden Town

With today’s sophisticated cameras it’s easier than ever to photograph. Even the simplest point-and-shoot cameras are more advanced on the inside than most professional cameras were a couple of decades ago. As a consequence in one way it is easier for anyone to make better images today than for pros 20 years ago. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this technology can lull you into thinking that if you have a decent camera and some basic instruction, all you have to do is find a good subject, point the camera at it, and you are done.

But good images aren’t about good subjects. The subject is a starting point from where the photographer transcend his or her image into something both universal for everyone who view the image and very specific with respect to the photographer’s point of view. The good photograph is not about the subject matter, but the narrative beyond the obvious elements depicted within the frame. Good photography does not simply come from capturing an image. It comes from the intention the photographed had when capturing the photo, it comes from how he or she «built» the image, whether literally building it or more intuitively working the elements and frame, it comes from the photographer’s interpretation of the subject and it comes from his or her emotional engagement.

Maybe the most important lesson for any aspiring photographer is to stop looking for subjects. Too often I see photographers focusing too hard on finding the «perfect» subject. That means looking for images their minds have at some point registered as great photos by other photographers, and then search for the same subject the saw in these photos. They have «learned» how a good photo looks like and associates it with the subject. Or they go to major locations and photograph only the big, iconic subjects. But when you start looking for subjects simply as trophies to be captured, you stop looking for the photograph. If you want to produce good images, your job as a photographer is to create compelling photographs, not simply to capture a subject. In other words; stop looking for interesting subjects – and start looking for interesting photographs.

We don’t want to make photographs to show someone what something looks like – at least not beyond registering photos for our own memories. There are already enough images of everything you can think of in the world if you need to find out what something looks like. All that is required is eyes. Photography as visual art or a visual expression needs to have meaning, emotion, power, and magic. So don’t merely show what the subject is; show what it isn’t, show what it means, show why it is, how it is, for whom it is, where it is, and/or when it is. Imagine a novel with only descriptions; without plot, motivation, depth, crisis, or crescendo, a novel would be merely a catalogue of object descriptors. It is the same with photographs.

One question all photographers should ask themselves is, «what is my photograph about?» The answer is not the subject. It goes beyond that. It relates directly to your point of view; literally how you look at the subject and more importantly how you relate to the subject and why it’s important for you to photograph it. This point of view with which you capture the image will profoundly affect how the viewer emotionally attaches to the image. Take time to scrutinize the subject, searching for the most important element for you. What is the photograph about? What is it about the subject that grabbed your attention?

When did you last ask yourself what your photograph is about? Or do you just go out looking for interesting subjects?

Posted in Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged , | 76 Comments

Best Photo Blogs – Round 12

best-photo-blogs_12Here comes another 15 blogs readers of my blog have recommended for their great photos, great insight and great inspiration. I hope you will enjoy them, and maybe even decide to return to some of these excellent blog in the future. They represent a variety of styles and approaches so even if not all of them are to your likings or feel like they cater to your particular interests, I still hope you will find for you a couple of gems in between. As usual not all have been updated in recent time, but they can still provide some significant stimulation. Whether or not that is important enough to not give any particular blog your vote is entirely up to you. And, yes. I hope you take the time to vote, too. It’s not really that I want to rank the blogs, because they stand on their on ground, but as you may know my ultimate goal is to put together a web page as a reference source with excellent blogs. The voting is a way to narrow them down to a manageable amount. So help me out, and vote on your favourites. As usual you can cast three votes among these blogs presented here.

If you haven’t already looked up the previous presented blogs you can find them here. Round 1, round 2, round 3, round 4, round 5, round 6, round 7, round 8, round 9, round 10 and round 11. And just remember you can still vote at these rounds. If you know some excellent blogs that haven’t been showcased here yet, please let me know. You can just put the link in a comment beneath.

Here are the blogs of this round:
People. Places. People-Lings.
HeatherBlog
Flower Photography gtsphotos
Mike’s Look at Life
AG World
Daily Dose of Imagery
Daniel Mayes
Little Trot – Trot with Me
Rancho Reubidoux
Photographyofnia
A´la Foto
Mumbai Daily
Travel Magic
Living. Loving. Laughing…
Etcetera Etcetera Etcetera

Once again thank you for checking out the blogs and voting. I hope you enjoy them.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , | 48 Comments

Wide Angle for People

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Nothing is quite like photographing people – for me at least. It’s such a pivotal experience on many levels. Of course it’s about finding a way to capture the essence of a person – or his or her soul, as has often been stated. But it’s also about connecting, and about the personal exchanges happening between the photographer and the individual(s) being photographed. There is the human aspect of photographing people as well as the creative aspect of the process. When the two really bond the experience can even be elevated to a spiritual level. That’s when the interaction levitates beyond the human and physical realm, when the exchange transcends into an illimitable relationship. Finally there is also something very personal and self-reflective about photographing other people. You learn about yourself in the mirror image of the other person, you widen your social skills, you discover new facets of human existence, you expand your universe and not the least you break through some of your inhibitions every time you confront another fellow human being with your camera. Anyone who has photographed on the street knows how intimidating it can be to approach a total stranger. It’s very challenging and daunting. Among other emotional strains you have to face your own fear of being turned down. But when you do break that initial inhibition the result is always an exhilarated blissfulness.

There is more to it, though. The human exchange is not only a personal incentive; it becomes a very visual part of the final image. It’s almost as if it gets ingrained in the expression of the photograph. The exchange between the photographer and the photographed will indisputably make an immense visual footprint on the emotional content of the image. That is of course if there is a human exchange in the first place. For that very reason a valuable part of photographs of people will be missed out if they are captured with a longer lens – simply because the exchange will be missing. Then it becomes more about light, forms, moment and the photographers sole vision at the moment of capture. Which of course there is nothing wrong with; it just becomes a totally different kind of image. But if we want to capture that feeling of exchange between the photographer and the person being photographed, we as photographers need to get close. That’s where the wide angle lens helps, because it forces us to get close.

This is one reason to use a wide angle lens to photograph people. Another is the wider angle itself. It places the person in its surroundings; you get a connection between the person and his or her environment, which adds depth – literally and figuratively – to the visual content. With a telephoto lens the background get squeezed out of the frame because of its narrower viewing angle. In addition; often whatever is visible of the background will be blurred because of smaller depth of field caused by photographing with a telephoto lens. This can of course be a benefit when you want to isolate the person you are photographing, but will on the other hand not reveal anything of her or his environment. It simplifies the visual language, which again can be a quality you want to utilize. But when the environment is important the wide angle lens is the right choice. A third benefit of using a wide angle lens is its manner of isolating the subject. When you move in close with a wide angle lens the person you are photographing will become the bigger visual element within the frame, while the background and whatever is in the background will become much smaller and thus relatively more insignificant. This turns the focus of the viewer to the person in front and thus isolating him or her in a more symbolic way.

When using a wide angle lens to photograph people there are a couple of things to look out for, particularly the closer you get and the wider angle you use. The wide angle lens will distort the subject in various ways. For the same reason it isolates a person against the background it will emphasize elements sticking out towards the lens. So if you photograph a person head on and very close, the nose will be much closer to the front lens than the rest of the person. The person being photographed will most likely not be very happy with the result, because the nose becomes a gigantic monolith while the rest of the face gets distorted the other way around to a narrow, stretched out head towards the background. To avoid this you will either have to back up a little of find another angle to photograph the face from. Make the person turn the face a little bit to either sides will remedy the distorted nose. Some other facial parts will still be victims of distortion of course, but that might not be visually disturbing of even very noticeable for an untrained eye. This is by the way why a telephoto lens of 80-135 millimetre (for a 35 millimetre frame) is regarded as a perfect portrait lens, since it renders the proportion of the face in the most natural way. But then of course you defy the purpose of wanting to use a wide angle lens.

Another feature to be aware of when photographing with a wide angle lens is the distortion that happens towards the edges of a frame. This is due to the projection of a three-dimensional object onto a flat image sensor and as such not a flaw of the lens itself. But it will distort a face quite obvious when it’s place towards the edge of the frame. Again the wider the lens the more distorted the subject will become. You can place a lot of different objects close to the edge without the viewer noticing the distortion, but we have a small tolerance for any abnormal alteration of human faces. It’s still possible to place human beings out towards the edges of the frame, but you have to play with angles and distances and simply move around the person and take a lot of photos to make sure the distortion doesn’t become a liability. This said, though, I have photographed people close up with a 16 millimetre lens, shot portraits of them and placed them towards the edge and been able to do so without much noticeable distortion. You just have to play and experiment.

Have you ever photographed people with a wide angle lens? I challenge you to give it a try. It will be fun – and challenging. And, yes, you will feel intimidated, but still, give it a try. If you haven’t photographed people with a wide angle lens before, I assure you that you will return with quite some different pictures than you usually do.

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Posted in Challenging Yourself, Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography, Properties of Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , | 111 Comments

Best Photo Blogs – Round 11

best-photo-blogs_10It’s time to present another round of great photo blogs. As with the previous rounds there are one or two blogs that haven’t been updated for some time, but I’ll let you my dear readers decide whether that should be counting or not. Besides that I think that once again I am able to present a handful of very good blogs. They are quite different, both when it comes to style and what kind of photography they display, which I personally always enjoy. For eventually new readers of my blog, this presentation of blogs is being put out here for you to vote over which you enjoy the most. The point is to gather the best blog in one location for a reference and information source for everybody who has some interest in photography. There is so much knowledge and inspiration shared on internet, but it’s often hard to find the best places. I hope to be able to help a little with this. So please help me narrow down the amount of blogs to a manageable size by voting for you favourites. You may cast three votes in each round.

All the blogs in this and previous rounds have been suggestion by readers of my blog. In a couple of rounds from now we will come to the end of my list of good photo blogs. If you know some excellent blogs that haven’t been showcased here yet, please let me know. You can just put the link in a comment beneath.

If you haven’t already looked up the previous presented blogs you can find them here. Round 1, round 2, round 3, round 4, round 5, round 6, round 7, round 8, round 9 and round 10. And just remember you can still vote at these round.

Here are the blogs of this round:
JSod Photography
Square Peg Pinhole
Simon Howlett Photography
Jana Obscura
Luddy’s Lens
Jared Bramblett
Urban Mosaic
Anne V. – Photoblog
Lorna Katy Joy
Peine, ombre et clarté
Confusedastherestofyou
Doriane Raiman
Bird Light Wind
Dark Pines Photo
Garden Walk Garden Talk

Once again thank you for checking out the blogs and voting. I hope you enjoy them.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , | 38 Comments

Vision Deconstructed

All slags folk slapper av i Cal Anderson Park på en godværsdag

Your vision as a photographer is what will make your photos stand out from the crowd. It’s the vision when transformed by the visual language into an image that transmits who the photographer behind that image is. A photographer’s vision is the formative link behind his or her photographic signature. Without a clearly developed vision a photographer will only be capturing images that look similar to everybody else’s.

In my post Vision is Beginning I wrote that the photographer’s vision is where the photographic process begins – or where it should begin. Too many photographers don’t pay attention to their vision; they just never get beyond the technical part of photography or beyond seeing light or composition.

A vision is not something one can consciously develop from scratch. It takes time – many years, a whole lifetime as a matter of fact – for a photographer to develop his or her vision. It comes with experience, by being conscious of why you photograph what you photograph and also being aware of the processes behind the vision. Firstly when talking about vision, it’s a good idea in order to get an understanding of what vision is, to split it into two; personal vision and photographic vision. The personal vision is our understanding of the world around us and ourselves. It’s based on experience and learning, and it changes with time as it grows more depth with ageing. Photographic vision on the other hand is the link between our personal vision and the final photograph. While personal vision is the how you see life in general, photographic vision is how you see life when the camera is put to the eye.

But what goes into and configures the photographic vision is not only your personal vision. Just as important are your observational skills, your craftsmanship and your emotional investment in the photographic process. Finally your talent is also coming into the equation, but talent has never been a limitation for any artist. As far as I see it, talent sets the parameters for your creative abilities, but hardly any artist ever hits the roof of his or her talent. The only thing that matters is to put in enough work.

That your observational skills influence your photographic vision is pretty obvious I think. The more you are able to take notice of what goes on around you, the more you will be able to discover potential images that are important for you to capture. How much technical knowledge do you need, then? It’s a classical question in all arts. The fact is the better craftsman you are; the better able you are to transform your vision into a final image that encompasses your intentions. On the other hand many brilliant photographers make do with very little technical knowledge.

As far as I am concerned the most formative element behind a photographic vision and the one that has the most impact on your photographic product – your images – is what I call the emotional investment. If you want to create pictures that others care about, that the viewers feel they can relate to and they are attracted to, you will have to be just as engaged in the subject during the shooting process yourself. If all that draws you to take a certain pictures is some beautiful lines or some delightful light; that in itself is never going to make a strong image. If you don’t feel a picture is really important to take – for your heart and yourself – then you might just as well forget about taking it – at least if your intention is to create compelling and telling images.

To sum it up, your vision as a photographer is partly built on your photographic vision, which then again is built on your personal vision, your emotional engagement, your observational skills, you craftsmanship and finally to a minor extent your talent. How much do you pay attention to develop these formative elements in your vision as a photographer? And what do you emphasize the most?

Posted in Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged , , | 59 Comments

Gifted Students

Finding Your Voice_8Me and my 12 students are well underway in the first eWorkshop of mine, «Finding Your Photographic Voice», which I launched earlier this year. It’s been a really fun process working with this concept. I have simply enjoyed looking at a whole range of excellent photos by the participants. I think it’s safe to say that photographically they are quite different and their skills are spread through all levels. But all of them have been able to show interesting and engaging work. More importantly I see a strong progression in all their work – of course more for some and a little less for some, particularly those already starting out as more accomplished photographers in the first place.

The workshop runs over eight weeks and we have already passed more than half way through it. At the moment each participant is working on her or his personal project which they will continue with until the end of the workshop. I really look forward to seeing how they will pull their projects together as coherent photo essays. As mentioned I have really taken pleasure in seeing so much good work, and I have surely spend more time that I should have in the picture critique of each participant’s work each week. But what can I say? When you enjoy doing something, why not do it? That is the fundamental in the creative process, no matter what we do. Giving constructive and useful critique is in itself of great value to me.

For me, personally, it was also very encouraging to notice that after I had launched the workshop it was fully booked within two days. On the other hand it was of course less satisfying for those who tried to apply for the workshop after it was indeed full. In the end I opened up for more participants than I had first intended, but still quite a few was left out of this first workshop. I can only reassure you with saying that more workshops will come. Having 12 students in this kind of eWorkshop turned out to be a little more than preferable, simply because I have had to allocate too much of my time needed for other work. I have used late evenings and sometimes nights to get through with the picture critique. Again when it’s fun it doesn’t really matter. But for future workshops I think I will limit them to eight participants. That seems to be an ideal number of students.

Under here I showcase examples of work from the participants of this first eWorkshop. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I have.

© Dalia Daud

© Dalia Daud

© Can Ozdemir

© Can Ozdemir

© Lynne Hayes

© Lynne Hayes

© Regine Lord

© Regine Lord

© Linda Paul

© Linda Paul

© Christopher O'Keefe

© Christopher O’Keefe

© Susan Judd

© Susan Judd

© Angeline Munoz

© Angeline Munoz

© Andrea Cochran-Pastel

© Andrea Cochran-Pastel

© Phil Vaughn

© Phil Vaughn

© Anita Otrebski

© Anita Otrebski

© Monica Engell

© Monica Engell

Posted in Photography | Tagged , , | 84 Comments

Confined to Freedom

Et gateband spiller tradisjonelle sanger midt på natten på torget

As strange as it may sound, if you really want to free your creative mind, you better set limitations for it. It’s like musicians in a band; the rhythm and the beat is limiting each member of the band, but it also creates space for each of them to improvise. By stating this, I want to continue where I left in my post Improvising in a Spontaneous Flow. In the end of the post I quoted LensWork editor Brooks Jensen saying: «It seems framework is a necessary prerequisite to improvisation and improvisation is only possible within such a framework.» As for myself I have certainly more and more come to the conclusion that restrains are good for the creative process. Instead of limiting our creativity as one would think in the first place, it actually forces our imagination to become even more playful, to be more inventive, and in a way burst through those constraints we set for ourselves.

That is why for instance working on a personal photo project is so fulfilling. By the pure act of defining your project, you set limits for yourself and your creativity. By that you are able to focus on a theme and then work the theme from all directions and angels of approach. It will set your creativity free in a way that is almost astonishing. The secret is to set a structure or framework for the project you are working on, and then let go.

Last year I went to Lisbon to cover a conference for a magazine. The conference itself was pretty boring, but still why I went to this beautiful capital of Portugal. But in addition to the days I had to spend doing my assignment, I took an additional two days off on my own, just to shoot and capture some impressions of this hilly and very picturesque city. But instead of chasing around randomly or even planning in details what I wanted to see and shoot, I decide to use the old tramlines of Lisbon as my vehicle – literally and figuratively – for the photographic process. I followed them around not always knowing where they would take me or what kind of pictures I would get. I walk along the tracks, I rode the trams and I spend time in the various neighbourhoods I ended up in, trying to capture a photo essay about those old wooden trams. In the end it didn’t only become about the trams, though, it turned into a lovely essay about Lisbon, from a very specific angle. You will find some Instagrams from this project in my post Railing through the Streets of Lisbon

By setting the framework of this street project beforehand, I had unconsciously set in motion a sequence of events that contained its own sense of momentum. My photography in the field was loose and reactive, but purposeful within the framework. Back at home, because the framework defined a specific product and deadline, it helped motivate me to do the creative work quickly and to finish it without delay. The structure didn’t squelch my creativity anymore than the beat or melody does in jazz. Just as the beat and melody provide a framework for the musician to explore, so the framework of my little project encouraged creative exploration. The two go hand in hand. The confines of the structure encourage and enhance the freedom of the creative process within it.

For that same reason, I want participants in my photographic workshops to work on a personal project during a workshop. Instead of chasing aimlessly around, they are able to focus their vision – and eventually sharpening their observation skills. They see more and better pictures so to speak. The framework of a project sets them free to work within the confinement of their own limitations. Structure really sets the creative mind free.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , , | 68 Comments