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:

 

Street Photography Workshop Update & a new bonus for participants!

The last few weeks have been full of teaching opportunities:  private workshops, photo walks, classroom presentations, etc.  After 23 years, teaching it is still the number one thing I love to do and all of these recent activities have made me so excited for this year’s street photography workshops that are coming up in just a few months.  I truly find joy in working with new students and helping them discover their creative vision, so I thought I would take a break from editing a wedding, quickly update you on the workshop enrollment, and also tell you about a new collaboration that will provide my students with a bonus this year!

enrollment: 

Each of my 20 hour street photography workshops has a maximum of 10 student spaces available.  Last year all of these workshops sold out completely, and I anticipate the same thing happening this year.  At this time, the current workshop enrolment is:

Vancouver  – June 15th to 17th:  2 spaces left

Paris – July 13th to 15th:  4 spaces left

Vancouver – August 10th to 12th:  4 spaces left

Toronto – August 17th to 19th:  3 spaces left

If you are considering one of these workshops please click on the link below for more information and to register.  I highly recommend doing this early to avoid missing out on your spot in a course!

Vancouver Street Photography Workshops

Paris Street Photography Workshop

Toronto Street Photography Workshop

New Bonus for Workshop Participants!

Photography has given me so much:  an artistic outlet, a form of expression, a sense of joy and satisfaction, the means to support my family, etc.  On top of this, it continues to bless me with new relationships.  Some of these are business related, some are people who inspire me and some are simply friends.  The common theme is that I value each and every one of these relationships.

Recently, I collaborated with my friends at Hyperion Camera Straps and I am happy to say that we will be providing each of my workshops students with one of their amazing straps… at no charge to the student!  These straps are handmade, can be customized in regard to length and colour, and are so very durable.  I am a hug fan of this company’s professionalism and of their products, use several of these straps myself and I’m so excited to be able to give one of these to all of my students this year.

If you aren’t familiar with Hyperion Camera Straps be sure to check out their page here:

https://www.hyperioncamerastraps.com

I think you’ll be impressed!

A Few Final Thoughts…

It is a gift to not only discover what you love, what feeds your soul, but to also get to do it full time.  I am very lucky in that regard and look forward to another round of workshops where I can share my love of street photography and education with like minded artists.  These workshops are a lot of fun and I always end up learning something new alongside my students.

If you have any questions about these workshops please don’t hesitate to ask.  For those who are already registered, and for those who will be soon, I look forward to working with you this year!

Until next time,

Ian

2018:  From Transition to Realization

The end of 2016, and all of 2017, were pivotal times for me.  2017 was the year that I stopped living a dual life and went all in on being a full time creative.  In this, my first post of 2018, I’d like to talk about that process.  I’d like to talk about goal setting and about what I will be creating and offering in 2018.  This will be a long post but stick with it… I am excited and think it will be worth the read.

Change is rarely easy, but it often brings new opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have.  In my case I can say that the shift to being a full time creative was not made entirely by choice.  For as long as I can remember, I have loved being a paramedic and serving my community as much as I have loved being a working creative.  Paramedicine taught me about people, which made me a better artist.  Art taught me about peace and mindfulness, which made me a better paramedic.  Strangely enough, there was an overlap and a synergy between these two careers.

Life is funny though, throwing you curve balls you don’t expect.  As much as I loved my career as a paramedic, and valued the work that I did, that same career brought me PTSD.  The process of healing from my PTSD made me realize how intense the pure joy is that I experience when working as a photographer and a writer.  Even in my darkest moments I was at peace when I held a camera in my hand, when I presented on stage, when I taught a photography workshop, when I photographed a wedding or when I wrote an article.  My work as a creative was my solace, the thing that kept me strong as I healed.

Looking back, I can see that something had been building in me since 2015, despite the fact that I had been working as a creative for most of my life (in addition to my photography, I was also a professional musician for 8 years and a web designer for several years).  What I didn’t realize though, until the PTSD forced me to stop and reflect, was just how much that side of my life had been growing.  It was all there, just waiting for me to dedicate myself fully to it.

So, almost a year ago, I started goal setting and giving careful consideration to what I wanted and what I needed my life to look like moving forward.  To live a life full of intrinsic joy and satisfaction I knew that my work must provide me with:

  • Time to create the art that I love.  I enjoy client driven work when it aligns with my own way of seeing, but the primary focus must be on my own art.
  • Time to write.  2017 was a busy year for this, but in 2018 I will be taking it to the next level as described below.
  • Opportunities to create, share and engage with others.  All too often photography is a solo endeavour, but community is beautiful thing that offers so many opportunities.
  • Time to offer, and participate in, high quality education.  I have been teaching for 22 years, went to university to study pedagogy and love all aspects of teaching.  Indeed, it has been the one common thing throughout my life.
  • Opportunities to inspire others and to help them obtain their own artistic goals.
  • Finally, projects involving collaboration with my friends at Fujifilm Canada so I can continue to promote and support this brand that I love working with.

Lofty goals, right?  The planning is the easy part though, the hard part is to actually translate those goals into a working business model, one that feeds both your family and your soul at the same time.  To meet these goals, I am happy to announce that moving forward the work that I create, and my educational and artistic offerings, will include the following:

 

New Format for the website

One of the biggest changes in 2018 will be in regard to this website.  That change will come in the form of more content, more frequently, for free!

When I started this site a few years ago it was simply a vehicle for me to post photo essays and random thoughts.  A place to share, if you will.  Over the years, however, it has morphed into a site that is viewed upwards of 60,000 times per month, that has hundreds of posts, gear reviews, etc.  I am filled with joy when I think of the great people I have met through this site, the conversations I have had, the friendships I have made.  It is awesome, but I think it can be better.

So, moving forward, you will see two new articles appear each month in addition to the usual photo essays and other posts that I put up.  One is a new monthly column entitled “Street Tips” and the other is a monthly interview series.

Street Tips

The first addition each month will be a short lesson taken from my street photography workshops and/or my upcoming books.  These lessons will be tagged with “Street Tips”, and you can use the drop down Category menu in the sidebar to find all of these tips at any time.  To get started I have gone back and tagged 7 previous articles that I wrote, and moving forward a new lesson will be added each month.

The Interview Series

The second new monthly article will come from the resurrection of my Interview Series, which was started a while back but got lost in the shuffle.  Starting at the end of January, a new interview will be published each month, introducing you to photographers who I admire and respect.  This series will begin with my friend Tomash, an Official Fuji X Photographer based out of Switzerland and the founder of the FujiLove website and magazine.  Tomash is also an amazing photographer in his own right and I can’t wait to share more of his work with you.

I look forward to building out the content on this site more.  If you have any suggestions please let me know!

 

Group Workshops & Private One on One workshops

In 2017 I launched a new series of 3 day street photography workshops, with sold out offerings held in Vancouver, Toronto and Amsterdam.  Combining my love of street photography with the sound educational principles I have learned over the last twenty years, the purpose of these workshops is to give a photographer the tools to find and develop their own vision on the streets.  Lecture is followed by skill practice, then by time spent on the streets shooting, with each student receiving one on one feedback throughout the weekend.  On the last day post production is followed by a group critique session to reinforce best practices and to celebrate successes.  These workshops are a lot of fun!

In 2018, workshops are currently scheduled for (click each link for more info):

Montreal Street Photography Workshop:  May 25-27

Vancouver Street Photography Workshop:  June 15-17

Paris Street Photography Workshop:  July 13-15

Vancouver Street Photography Workshop:  August 10-12

Toronto Street Photography Workshop:  August 17-19

These workshops are all already filling up fast, so if you are interested in taking one please register early!

Sometimes a student can’t make a group workshop, or perhaps they have specific needs that wouldn’t be served completely in a group workshop setting.   For these times I also offer private, one on one workshops here in Vancouver (these are also available in cities that I travel to).  Each private one on one workshop is 6 hours in length, allowing us to do a gap analysis and then target education to a student’s specific needs.

To learn more about these private, one on one workshops please click here:

Private One on One Workshops

 

Online Education and Workshops

Online education has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade, rightfully so.  Today’s technology has removed so many barriers and now we can access high quality education, 24 hours a day, from instructors and educators around the world.  In the past I have completed full diploma programs online, as well as instructed courses using this delivery model.  I am sold on its effectiveness and think it is truly a great time to be a student!

In 2016 I began offering customized education to photographers around the world via Skype.  These classes, which you can learn about here:

Online Mentoring

…are tailored to meet a photographer’s specific needs and usually consist of portfolio reviews, technical help, or education targeted to a specific need.

In 2017, I had many students who were unable to attend one of my face to face street photography workshops ask if it was possible to deliver the same content online.  This led to the creation of a Virtual Street Photography Workshop.

In this multi session course, I review a student’s current work to get an understanding of where they are at with their street photography.  From there, I deliver the same presentations that my students receive in class, have the students go out multiple times to shoot assignments, reconnect and review the student’s work, discuss and teach post processing via screen sharing, and help the student edit their work down to have a new portfolio of street photography that they developed during the course.  It is amazing to see the huge strides my students have made through this process.  Plus, it is a lot of fun to connect and work with people around the world!

To learn more about these online street photography workshops please click this link:

Virtual Street Photography Workshop

 

Books

This is the big one for me, something that I have been working on for a long time now!

One of the best things to come out of this website has been my love of writing.  150 blog posts, 4 magazine articles, 270 Instagram posts…I find it to be an incredibly peaceful and joyful way of creating.  Throughout the process I have long considered writing 3 different books:  one educational, one that is an artistic collection of my work and one that is inspirational.  I have other ideas beyond these but baby steps, right?

I am so excited to say that the first of these books, pictured above, will be launching as an eBook at the end of March.  I have worked with countless educational resources over the years and I have been pouring all of my experience as an educator into this one.  I am proud of this book and know it will be of value to many photographers.

This first offering will be followed in early summer by my second book and in the fall by my third.  Keep an eye on the site for more details coming very soon!

 

Prints

I am all in on the digital world.  Hell, I do 99% of my work on an iPad, so it really hit me years ago when I heard somebody say that “a photograph isn’t real until you can hold it in your hands”.  Then, I started printing my images.  Now, when I look up on the wall and see one of my photos printed large, framed and hung in just the right spot, I know exactly what that person was talking about.

I recently spent a few days photographing Paris after teaching a workshop in Amsterdam and during the trip I visited the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, where I had the opportunity to view the photos on display.  The gallery is small, just a few exhibits, but there were photos there that I simply got lost in.  There is magic in a beautiful photograph and we should all experience the joy of a printed image.

I have sold a few images over the years as prints, but always ad hoc in between my regular client work.  Starting in the spring of 2018, however, I will now have a small curated gallery of approximately 50 images available for sale online.

Stay tuned for more details!

 

Presentations

I have always loved presenting and performing.  When I was a musician, my favourite feeling was that moment just before I went on stage, full of excitement and anticipation.  It wasn’t just the performing though, it was the joy of being on stage with other artists who all shared the same vision.  Teaching new paramedics has the same feeling for me.

In late 2015, I began to present in the photography world and, since then, I have conducted dozens of photography presentations in different venues: representing Fujifilm Canada at photography events, teaching for camera clubs, presenting at the Vancouver International Photo Festival, etc.  It is such a great feeling to talk about something I love so much with like minded artists and I look forward to many more presentations in 2018.

If you have an event or organization that would like to host me, please get in touch.  I have presentations on Street Photography and Travel Photography that I can delivery anytime, and I also enjoy creating custom presentations to meet specific needs.

 

Client work and weddings

This was perhaps the hardest part of my business plan to finalize.  Over the years I have shot many paid assignments:  head shots, family portraits, musical performances, athletes (both portraits and while they were performing), product photography, etc.  I have worked in studio, with lighting, with hair and make up artists, etc.

The truth is that, despite the amazing people I worked with on a regular basis, I never felt completely fulfilled creating much of that work in comparison to the images I create when I am shooting my first love:  street photography.  It was when I realized that my love actually laid in observational, candid, documentary style photography that it all came together for me in the form of candid wedding photography.  I love the thrill of working hard during a wedding and reacting to that split second when the moment, the subjects, the light and the background all come together.  This is where I now focus my client driven photographic efforts.  And, I love it.

Click here to learn more about my wedding photography.

 

A final note…

Making a profound life change is not easy, especially in the face of adversity, but if done with purpose and intent it is so rewarding.  This entire post can really be summed up by saying that my goals for 2018 are simply to:

  • Create the work that I love through writing and photography.
  • Share my work with others through blogging, writing, teaching and presenting.
  • Encourage, assist and inspire others to do the same thing… however I can.

It is January 1st, 2018 as I write this and I am so looking forward to a year spent creating art, writing, teaching, traveling and working with my clients and other artists.  It is going to be amazing.

I encourage you to also purposefully follow your own path.  Ignore the noise and don’t pay attention to what others are doing if it leads to comparison and self doubt.  Instead, just put your head down, make your own plans (be them big or small) and get to work.  Make 2018 the year that you achieve at least one of your own long term goals.  If I can help, just let me know.

Best wishes,

Ian