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Things I Wish They’d Told Me #3: My Favourite Photo

Photograph of an Australian Shepherd Dog on Stafford Common

 

Photograph of an Australian Shepherd Dog on Stafford Common
Skip the Australian Shepherd enjoying a snowy walk on Stafford Common.

“Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” – Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976)

A big part of my life as a semi-freelancer these days seems to be social media. There’s no escape from Facewitter or Linkstergram or any number of new and exciting flavour-of-the-month social websites. As a photographer it’s no surprise that a lot of what I see online is photography related chit-chat. One of the age old discussions that goes round again and again is this: what is the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer?

I don’t like to get involved in online arguments about photography – I’d much rather be out making pictures, but I’ve seen this one so many times that I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

To me the only way I define the difference between a professional photographer and a non-professional photographer is this: A professional photographer takes photographs for financial reward. That’s it. There’s nothing to say that professionals are better photographers than hobbyists. In fact there are a great many hobbyists who produce really excellent work. I suspect the reason behind this is quite simple: they’re free to photograph the things they’re passionate about, while free from pressures of time and budget.

Of course, not everyone shares my views, and there are a certain class of “professional photographer” out there who like to suggest that they’ve got photography mastered. This is a view that really grates on me. Quite often the work showcased by some of these people can only be described as mediocre. Of course, the opposite type exist too – the very humble pros who know that they still need to learn and develop their skills.

So back to Imogen Cunningham’s favourite photograph. Photography is a journey and not a destination. We all have to start out somewhere and work from there. The trick is to make sure we keep ourselves stimulated and challenged. It’s not always easy to stay inspired, but we have to keep looking for opportunities for tomorrow’s photograph.

When you’re lacking inspiration and your creativity seems to have dried up there are a few ways to get yourself back on track.

Impose limits on yourself: maybe take less camera equipment with you when you go out – I like to take a walk with just a camera and a prime lens (i.e. a lens without zoom).

Create projects for yourself. Projects create rules and rules give you focus. If wildlife is your thing then maybe pick a single breed of bird or mammal and produce a collection of photographs. If you’re into landscapes then maybe decide on a project photographing local historic landmarks or modern high-rise buildings in a city centre. Projects can also be more abstract. Maybepick an emotion and take photographs to represent it. Think about how you might represent love or happiness, anger or contentment.

Wherever your photographic journey takes you, as long as you look forward to tomorrow’s photograph you’ll stay on the right track.

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New Year, New Photographer?

Baby Photograph
Baby Photograph
2014 has been a particularly eventful year for Alys and I – we saw the arrival of our son Elliott back in February. This photo was taken in the studio using a roll of damask pattern background paper, around 8 feet of skirting board off-cut, a bit of oak effect lino from a car boot sale and a faux flokati rug.

 

What happened to 2014? Its really zoomed past, which can mean only one thing . . . time to make those new years resolutions!

I’m not going to suggest that we all aim to eat healthy, lose weight, save money or improve on our green credentials – those are all good things, but I’m a photographer so I’m focusing on specific ways to move forward with our photography.

Its important that we don’t try and be over ambitious – we all know that two weeks into that radical new diet we’re probably going to end up diving head first into a big bag of doughnuts. Our photographic resolutions aren’t any different. For a couple of years I tried “the one photo every day” challenge – the aim being to take and publish one photo to Flickr every day for a year. By the middle of February I’d failed. Why? Mostly because I was too busy to keep it up. I take a lot of photos over the course of a year, but taking one every day was just too much to fit into my busy life. Ironically the reason for my failure was probably down to the amount of photographic work I had on. I was too busy editing photos, designing layouts and managing customer documents.

So, where do we start on our achievable resolutions? Take some time to take stock of where you are with your photography. Look back through the past 12 months of photographs critically and identify what you perceive as your strengths and weaknesses. I’m trying to get into the habit of compiling a book of photos each year. Blurb do excellent quality hardback books for fairly reasonable prices (I always use their Proline uncoated paper which has a fantastic matt finish). The process of distilling twelve months of photos into a “greatest hits” compilation really gets me taking a long hard and critical look at my work. The finished result serves as both a record of my photographic journey as well as providing a great collection of family memories.

Start small and keep it simple. You don’t have to resolve to turn your world upside down to make a difference. Pick something small and achievable, and when you make it through the year you’ll feel good about it. Maybe decide on one area that you want to work on in your photography and make sure you actively think about that before each click of the shutter. This could be taking time to ask yourself “is this the best composition I can create here” or just taking time to look around the image as a whole and concentrating on the details more (one of the things I’ve struggled with in the past).

Resolve to take some me-time on a regular basis. I love to get out and go for a long walk in the countryside alone or with the dogs. This gives me space to collect my thoughts and I find this is when I do my best creative thinking. When I’m at home or in the office I’m surrounded by distractions – television, phone calls, Facebook, twitter, text messages and all sorts of other things. Quite often I plan concepts for photo shoots or training courses while I’m out walking – when I get back I grab my notebook and write it all down so it doesn’t get forgotten about once the distractions are back.

One of my personal goals this year is to spend more time using the equipment I already have and less time window-shopping. It’s always very exciting when the latest camera or lens turns up but I’m pretty sure that the limiting factor in my photography isn’t so much the camera as the photographer. I’m hoping I can spend some quality time getting to know my equipment better in the coming 12 months. I’ve found that almost every bit of kit requires a few thousand photos before you really start to understand it’s “personality” – whether that be compact cameras, camera bodies, lenses, filters, speed lights, studio flashes or even reflectors and light modifiers.

Although I’ve said I’m staying away from the usual new years things of diet and exercise, another way I’m looking to encourage my personal creativity in 2015 is by taking better care of myself in general. One of my biggest problems is not knowing when it’s time to step away from what I’m working on and take a break. My inner creative thrives on being fed a healthy diet and kept well rested, so although I’m not going all out on the latest fad diet or exercise plan, I am planning to try and keep myself in better shape. This is the thing I’m probably going to find the hardest to stick to!

Finally the thing I’d suggest everyone resolves to do in the coming year is this: spend time photographing the things that make you happy. Spend some time rediscovering the aspects of photography that you really love. The more you enjoy your photography the more you’ll get stuck in, and the more you get stuck in the faster you’ll improve.

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Photo Editing With PSE – Session 1

Thanks for attending our Photo Editing with Photoshop Elements Course. You can download the course notes by clicking the link below. Topics covered on this session are:

  • Getting your photos from the camera to the computer (importing)
  • The Elements Organiser
  • Creating Albums
  • Creating Tags (Keywords)
  • Searching for Photographs
  • Quick Fixes
  • Rotating Images
  • Cropping Images
  • Printing & Sharing

Downloads

pdf Course Notes
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Advanced Camera Skills – Session 4

Here you’ll find the course notes for session 4 of the Advanced Camera Skills course. Topics covered are:

Macro

  • Focusing
  • Lighting
  • Depth of field

Landscape

  • Seeing the image
  • Time of day
  • Catching the light

Urban

  • Safety and the law
  • Time of day
  • Converging verticals
  • “Gritty” images

Night photography

  • Light trails
  • Timing
  • Moon and stars
  • Fireworks

Downloads

pdf Course Notes
pdf Night photography handout
pdf Sample model release

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Advanced Camera Skills – Session 1

Thank you for joining us for our Advanced Camera Skills course. Here you can download the course notes for session 1.

In the session one notes you’ll find these topics:
Exposure and metering

  • Histograms
  • Correct exposure
  • Over/under exposure
  • Metering modes
  • Grey cards

Focusing

  • Auto focus points (auto focus area)
  • Auto Focus modes
  • Manual Focus
  • Pre-focusing
  • Focus lock

Downloads

pdf Course Notes
pdf Homework Sheet

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