Looking at a Photograph

A few weeks back I blogged about a some of the things you can do to make your photography better. If you haven’t seen it, please read https://dougkeech.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/ten-things-to-strive-for-in-your-photography/.

Further to that post, I’d like to add a few more observations to each consideration and some of the specific factors that can influence such.

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

Influential factors: composition/balance, subject matter, light, tonality/contrast, colour

2.) Does the image shock you in some way as to keep you wanting to look?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, timing

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, timelessness

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, photographic technique, processing

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, frame, moment

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way?

Influential factors: subject matter, uniqueness, relevance to the time, descriptive ability

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

Influential factors: relevance to a certain event, descriptive ability, encompasses a story

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

Influential factors: gesture, intimacy, shared experience/memory trigger

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

Influential factors: distance, frame

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Influential factors: frame

Garry Winogrand was quoted once as saying that it’s the photographer’s problem to figure out a way to make the photograph more interesting to look at than the thing actually being photographed. And obviously there are many more criteria that go into making a photograph than the ones mentioned here. However, I have found it a good exercise to go through each of the above things to strive for in your photography and try to think of examples of images that illustrate the points as a good example and as a bad example.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

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Ten Things To Strive For In Your Photography

We are about to bring this year to a close. I’ve been busy not just taking photographs but also cleaning out my image library, archiving important images, and starting anew.

As this will most likely be most last blog post of the year, I’d like to leave you with a few things to think about. The idea for this post came about mostly because of what I’ve seen when I teach people photography. Many students I’ve had over the years have experienced difficulty editing their images. There is no doubt in my mind that editing (I’m not talking about post processing here) or weeding out your images so that you’re only left with strong ones, is a necessary skill that has to be developed just like any other skill. And for many it seems, it’s very difficult to get rid of your bad photos.

I also believe that images that are strong generally require very little in the way of post processing. I shoot mostly on film these days, so the only processing I find myself doing is dust and scratch removal, and maybe a tiny bit of dodging or burning.

All photographers have taken lousy images. And most have images that are mediocre, and some that are very strong. But I find that it’s very important to be your own critic and always be in the mindset of trying to objectively see your images from another persons standpoint.

Here are a few things I always try to ask myself when looking at photographs:

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

2.) Does the image draw you in or shock you in some way?

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way? 

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Now, you may not be able to satisfy all these criteria when taking your photographs, but trust me, it’s a good idea to always have these questions in the back of your mind when you’re editing.

Happy Shooting as always, and I wish you the best year of photography ever in 2017.

Doug

Photographers: Who Do You Really Work For?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in photography is to make sure you have a clear set of goals and you know exactly where you stand as far as your abilities go.

On a daily basis I think about the realization that it is the photographer not the camera who is the instrument. And that more than anything else, I want to continue to develop my vision. I want to produce photographs that are not only unique, but are somehow useful. They must carry some weight or possess some poetry. I have no desire to make photographs that are the same as someone else’s. I have no desire to make photographs that are useless and totally devoid of any kind of reason for existing.

I have learned that nobody including myself, cares about photographs that exist purely to demonstrate a level of skill. And nobody cares about photographs that are perfectly composed or executed.

If I can look back on my year and be proud of all the things I’ve learned and some of the images I’ve taken, then I’m ok with that. If I can be proud of having a vision that is my own, or if I’ve overcome obstacles that stood in my way, then I’ve achieved something.

Especially important is to realize that if you’re a somewhat average photographer, and by that I mean someone who perhaps lives in a small town, someone who works full time doing something other than photography, or runs a small business, or doesn’t have any corporate backing, or someone who doesn’t have people promoting them or working for them, someone who doesn’t get invitations to do presentations or guest blog posts etc. that you should know who you’re really working for.

Your real boss is you. I’ll repeat that. Your real boss is you. And the only person that really cares about your work is you. You need to measure your progress against all you’ve learned and done in the past year or two. If you’re happy that your photography and your vision is progressing, then you can and should consider yourself to be success!

Do not make the mistake of falling into the social media trap being someone who measures their worth based on Facebook or Instagram likes. They mean nothing. Many on social media who like your images do so only to get a like back for themselves. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s the way of the world.

I can upload what I consider to be the best image I’ve ever done to Facebook and be lucky if it gets 5 or 10 likes. In fact, most people simply don’t care about what you’re doing as much as they care about what’s going on in their own private worlds. It’s a fact of life. And that is completely normal. I recently self published a 132 page book of black and white images with important writings on some of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned being a photographer. Now, if I was a young photographer looking to learn something that would certainly make them better, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy of the book. It has the potential to take years off one’s uphill climb to seeing. Do you want to know the reality of the situation? Not a single copy has been sold (even at zero profit margin) to any friends, any local photographers, or any family members for that matter. Did I push the book? Other than a single blog post and about a half dozen posts to Facebook, not really. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is as interested in what you’re doing or trying to accomplish as you yourself are.

Understand that the reason you do what you do is is for you! It’s for your memories in twenty or thirty years from now. It’s for your kids. It simply doesn’t matter if you spent 2 years or 4 years putting together a project of your greatest efforts. Nobody cares unless you put an enormous amount of time and effort into promoting the product. And even then, it will likely be only about 2% of the masses that are even remotely interested in giving it a look. It’s a fact. And it’s certainly not a problem unless you expect something to be any different. That’s normal.

I strongly encourage any photographer to print their images and archive them into an album. Put your completed photo books in a library for your kids to enjoy someday. After you’re gone, your husband or wife may really enjoy looking back over all the memories and the special way you saw the world.

These should be your most important goals as a photographer.

Don’t ever fool yourself.

Do it for you. Do it for you.

Happy shooting as always. And this Christmas give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You damn well deserve it.

Doug

Nobody Writes About This Stuff

Nobody writes about this stuff…

All across the internet you’ll see an endless supply of information about the latest and greatest cameras. You’ll see all the technical stuff about megapixels and sensors. But at the same time you see next to nothing about the importance of seeing and visualizing what it is you want to do with your image.

The way it works is like this:

1.) The photographer

2.) Situation

3.) Light and atmosphere

4.) Choice of lens

5.) The camera

What does this mean?

1.) The photographer

Everything you’ve ever seen and experienced in your life contributes to the way you see the world. Your feelings about things and your interests come into play. The way you’ve been treated by others and your own little personality quirks – your sense of humour and humility influence your vision. It’s the total package. It your likes and dislikes. It’s your fears. It’s your emotional state of being. It’s the sum of who you are that has a huge influence on what you take photographs of and how you take them.

There is also all the things you’ve ever learned about photography – including good habits and bad ones, that influence not just how you compose and shoot the image, but how you process it after it’s shot. It’s a collective recollection of all the stupid mistakes you’ve ever made and all the almost invisible tiny little details you’ve learned along your road.

2.) Situation

The success of a photographer has a great deal to do with not only your personal set of circumstances, but also on your work ethic. How much are you willing to sacrifice to get a good shot? Are you willing to put up with being cold and muddy? Are you patient? Are you prepared? Do you practice your photography on a regular basis? And then, as a result of these things, your photography depends on the opportunities you create for your pictures and the situations you put yourself in to get the image you’re after.

I’ve always said that it’s important to consider the photographer’s own personal situation and take that into account. Remember that the next time you look at photographs. If someone works a demanding shift job at a steel plant in Pennsylvania, you can’t really expect them to have the world’s finest collection of Burmese Tiger photographs.

Always take into consideration the effort that the photographer may have made to achieve the image. And consider where they are in their photography evolution.

3. Light and atmosphere

There are numerous ways you can draw attention to the subject you’re photographing such as contrast, colour, light, focus, motion etc., but light and atmosphere have a enormous effect on the impact your photograph has. When you think about it that’s what you’re doing – you’re recording values of light and darkness (contrast or lack of contrast). The atmosphere determines the overall mood of the image.

4.) Choice of lens

How do you see the scene? How do you wish to render it – like your eyes see perhaps? Or, do you wish to bring out the importance of the foreground? Perhaps the background needs to be emphasized. In short, how do you wish to tell this story? Choose a focal length that helps you to achieve this.

5.) The camera

Do you notice how far down the list this is?

A camera is just a box between the film plane/sensor and the lens. It has a shutter. It’s real importance is that it is easy to use and functional. It should get the job done and it should be minimally obtrusive. What I mean is that it should not be a distraction to what’s really important – what’s going on in the world in front of you.

When you choose a camera, choose it for the right reasons. Choose it for its simplicity. Choose it for its ability to accomplish a certain task. Choose it for its convenience. Don’t choose it thinking that it’s ever going to give you better images. Because in almost all circumstances it won’t. (I’m not going to mention the specific exceptions because you probably already know what they are.)

Anyhow, put that in your pipe and smoke it for awhile…

And happy shooting always,

D.

There Is No Magic Camera

I’ve been taking photographs for a good part of my life, and I’ve gone through all the same stages of learning and seeing that most other photographers have. Over the years I’ve tried my best to keep up with trends regarding techniques and technology. I shoot both digital and film. I shoot large format, medium format, multiple 35mm film cameras, polaroid cameras, Instax lomo and twin lens reflex cameras, rangefinders, point and shoots, and of course some nice digital cameras such as the Leica 116, Fuji x100s, and a Canon 1dx.

I’ve always tried to be a diverse photographer, doing my best to understand and be reasonably proficient at photographing in the studio as well as the great outdoors, everything from portraits to documentary, to wildlife, to landscape. I’ve always taken an interest in the history of photography. I collect photography books and enjoy looking at the work of the masters. So in other words, I feel that I have a fairly good general understanding of a broad range of photography.

What I’m about to say is not profound in any way, however it may upset a few of the technical photographers out there…

There is no magic camera that will ever make your photographs better. There are only two things that will ever affect the impact your photographs have.

1.) opportunities you create for yourself and/or luck, and

2.) the way you see the world.

Now it’s true that certain types of photography demand specific qualities from a camera in order to properly carry out the task, and that certain cameras do some things better than others can do, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’ve seen many many people convince themselves that their photographs will improve if they got a better camera, only to find out that after a year of using the new camera, their images pretty much look the same as they always did.

We don’t photograph things as they are, we photograph things as we are. If you’d like your photographs to improve or change in any way, you have to do the changing. You have to spend every day of your life soul searching and learning to see a different way…to think like a photographer and to see like a lens.

Some of the most incredible images that have ever been taken, have been captured on very simple technology – technology that lets the photographer concentrate on the world before them instead of some hidden menu item or camera gimmick.

So if you’re someone who is interested in photographing the night sky, then yes, you’ll benefit from a camera with a low noise sensor. If you’re someone who loves wildlife photography, then yes, you’ll likely benefit from a camera that has a fast shooting rate. But overall, if you’re thinking that the new camera is somehow going to dramatically alter your images and transform them from something blah to something everyone will want to look at, think again.

There is no magic camera.

Do some soul searching. Take a walk. Find a mentor. Slow down. Look at things. Carry your camera always, and develop your vision.

Food for thought…

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Ten Lessons to Make You a Better Photographer

1.) Be a tough editor. Only keep images that can stand by themselves as being strong images. If you can get 5 or 10 really good ones in a year you’re doing well.

2.) Be a poet. Make your images representative of something larger than what they are on the surface. Make your images significant. Have something to say to the world.

3.) Take photographs about things, not of things.

4.) Be very careful with your processing. Badly processed images or those that are over processed clearly show the mark of an amateur.

5.) We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. If you want your photos to change in any way, you have to change the way you see the world.

6.) Always always always exercise your vision and learn to see things in a different way.

7.) Know your camera/lens skills like the back of your hand then forget about them. They should become automatic. Photography is about seeing, not about fussing with gear.

8.) Study art and the history of photography. Learn how to look at a photograph and to appreciate the work of the masters.

9.) Don’t force photographs. The best ones will be the ones that simply present themselves to you.

10.) Teach yourself to see beyond, to the essence of what it is you’re photographing. That’s where the magic is. That’s where the truth is.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

On Finding a Good Photography Mentor

One of the best photographic experiences a newbie photographer can have is to find a good teacher who is enthusiastic and cares about the craft. I find it very interesting to chat with other photographers, not so much about specifics, but about their thoughts regarding art, styles, social media etc. And over the years I’ve gained many valuable insights from friends who photograph and like to share their thoughts.

I’ve also met a different type of photographer – the ones who are very secretive and guarded. They are careful not to divulge any tidbit of information regarding their photographic process. It’s as if the world would come crashing down on them if anyone found out their ideas about photography. This always makes me chuckle because i’ve been doing this long enough to realize that somebody’s photographs are a result of the way they see…their particular vision of the world. That’s one of the things that makes the craft great – the fact that we all see differently and interpret the world differently. So in that sense there is nothing to fear. I can teach classes for weeks and the thought of being cloned doesn’t even enter my mind. My vision is unique to me and it’s constantly evolving over my life time. I have nothing to hide regarding my thoughts about art or photography, and nothing to hide regarding the techniques I use. For the most part it doesn’t matter. My experiences and opportunities are going to be different than yours.

I thoroughly enjoy looking at photographs. And even more still, I love to rejoice and cheer for friends who have taken great photographs. However, many photographers these days it seems are involved in a feeding frenzy – like a pack of cannibalistic piranhas. Oh life has to be so competitive all the time. It’s human nature to be selfish and have a personal agenda for the most part. If you can find another photographer who cares about your work just as much as they care about their own, then you’ve achieved something quite rare.

So my advice to someone wishing to learn about photography is to seek out someone with experience, someone who is a good teacher, someone who loves to share ideas, and someone who’s only agenda is to help you be a better photographer. This kind of person doesn’t fear sharing information because they realize that the true power of their photography is in their eyes and in their heart.

Call me old-fashioned, but a good photography community should be like a healthy marriage. If you are willing to share a relationship with someone and sleep with them, then you should be willing to share your phone too.

Happy Shooting,

D.