What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume One

Camera information:  Fujifilm X100F | f/8 | 1/640th | ISO 200

I recently re-read one of my favourite photography quotes from Ansel Adams:

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it”

This statement is absolutely true.  To quote David Hobby, we should all strive to become thinking photographers.  I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work.  Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.

Speaking for myself:  I may occasionally want to know something about the technical aspect of an amazing photograph, but far more often what I really want to know is the photographer’s thought process as they made the image:  What drew their eye in the first place?  What did they see in their mind?  What was their process for the creation of the image?  How did they go about achieving success?

With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them.  The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well.  My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.  Let’s get started by discussing the image above.

This photo was taken in Paris last year, while I was in the city teaching my street photography workshop.  My students were all out on assignment and I was sitting for a few minutes, just watching people on the streets and planning my next lesson.  Practicing observation without a camera in your hand is something I highly recommend; it can be done anywhere, at anytime, and it makes you sharper for when you are out shooting.

While people watching I saw this gentleman turn the corner and walked toward me, perhaps a block away.  I was immediately struck by two things: 

1) how distinguished he looked with his hat and newspaper tucked under his arm.  And,

2) how beautiful the late afternoon light looked falling on his face, especially the way the light was spilling through his hat.

I knew this gentleman would make a wonderful photo subject, but a great subject alone is rarely enough to make a compelling image.  When I shoot, I am always looking for subject, moment, light and background.  I want to create a cohesive image, one that ties as many of these elements together as possible.  I had the right subject for sure, and he was already in perfect light, so it was really just a matter of looking for the right background and waiting for the right moment.

I quickly scanned the buildings across the street and knew I had the potential for a decent image when I saw the poster on the wall of the bearded gentleman with a hat on.  This would look great juxtaposed against my subject, which is a technique I use often in my photography.

I shifted my position a few feet to get the right composition and then turned my attention to the camera.  When I am out and about I leave my Fujifilm cameras in Aperture Priority Mode, usually around f/8 if the light is good, and I use Auto-ISO to ensure I achieve a decent shutter speed (to freeze the motion of a moving subject).  I may change these settings in specific shooting scenarios, but I always return to them when I start walking again.  The only thing left to do was to quickly adjust my focus (manually focusing), bring the camera up to my eye, and time the shot correctly.

For all of the times we miss images, this was one, I knew, that I had timed correctly as soon as I took the shot.  A few seconds later, the subject turned another corner and the moment was gone.

Post production on the shot was minimal:  I applied Acros+R in Lightroom as this image was captured as a RAW file.  I made a few small exposure adjustments, added a little clarity and sharpening and, finally, used a square crop to remove distracting elements from the frame that pulled focus away from the subject and the juxtaposed background element. 

This last step was very important to the final image.  Somebody once said to me that photography is the art of exclusion, that we should remove distracting elements from the frame until we are left with the essence of the photograph.  This is something that we should always try to do before we click the shutter of course, but sometimes that isn’t possible and we have to rely on a little post production to take the image where it needs to go.  In this case, the final crop met this goal.

I am happy with this image, both because I saw it in the first place and with the final edit.  I had missed two great shots earlier in the day (poor timing), so it felt great to see the finished image in my mind and then to be able to quickly bring all of the important elements together to make it happen.

I hope you enjoyed this first article.  If you would like to see a write up about a specific image I have made please let me know in the comments below (if it is from my Instagram, just leave a link to the photo in the comments below). 

I look forward to many more conversations about the process of photography!

Cheers,

Ian

Upcoming Workshops:

 

Renewed Focus | A New Year

I spent New Year’s Eve photographing the wedding of a wonderful couple, people whom I admire tremendously.  I am no stranger to working on December 31st of course, having done so countless times in the past as a paramedic and as a musician, but this time it felt different to me.  At the end of the night I was exhausted from shooting for ten hours but I left the wedding feeling inspired, both by their love for each other and by the opportunities that they now share together.

And now, as I settle into 2019, I find myself reflecting on the last year and giving careful thought to where I want to take my work this year.  It is clear to me that 2018 was the most successful year I have had:  I worked with wonderful clients, taught amazing students, delivered photography presentations for a wide variety of clients and traveled the world.  I am so thankful for these opportunities that paid the bills, kept the lights on, put presents under the tree and allowed me to spend another year working on this crazy thing called photography.

On reflection, however, I don’t feel like I always pursued my long term artistic and business goals with intention in 2018.  While I always approach every job, every workshop, every presentation and every client with the utmost sense of professionalism, I can’t escape the feeling that much of the year happened despite my efforts, rather than because of them.  When I look back, it feels a bit like 2018 was a fast moving river that just carried me downstream from January to December.

Running a full time business is a lot of work, especially when you are balancing it with caring for a family and all of the day to day tasks that occupy our time.  Being a photographer can look glamorous from the outside, but the reality is very different:  There are websites to update, files to shoot / edit / process / backup / deliver, social media sites to run, book keeping to do, taxes to pay, insurance to renew, personal education to complete, etc.  It is very easy to feel busy when you are running from one small task to the next, but busy does not always mean productive.  If you aren’t moving the big rocks, if you aren’t completing the projects that move the ball further down the field, then you’re really just treading water and maintaining the status quo.

Do you ever feel this way?  Like the seemingly endless day to day tasks of working and living consume you to the point where you don’t get the really important things done?

I have huge photography related projects that I want to accomplish in 2019.  Projects that will help people, projects that my students will benefit from, projects that will be of value to my clients, and projects that will bring me artistic joy.  My goal in 2019 is to attack these projects with intention, with purpose, and to no longer allow “busy work” to interfere with the completion of these goals.  Yes, the day to day tasks of running the business will still need to get done, but I will no longer allow them to be a barrier.

Do you have a photography related goal that you’ve been putting off?  If so, I encourage you to make 2019 the year that it gets done.  Hell, I’ll even help if I can, but let’s make this the year that we do the things that have been sitting relentlessly in the back of our minds.  And, to all of the clients and students who I am going to be working with this year:  We are going to have an amazing time, make wonderful photographs, and approach photography with a renewed sense of purpose and wonder.

I’m pretty damned excited.

Cheers,

Ian