So this year has taken me travelling with both shooting and photographic training of other photographers and I notice more than ever from this, the difference in approaches and photographic styles which come through different cultures, climates and inspirations around people. But there is no doubting the passion that photography itself has lit in so many. Some may say, the access to photography has somewhat taken the mystique from the profession, that photography as a career is now too easy. I’d like to turn this around a little – it’s something that I have seen over the past ten years as the wonders of digital has taken hold and given everyone the tools to take incredible pictures. Personally, I am thrilled that so many can now enjoy what has been my passion and vocation for the past twenty years. Yes, we perhaps don’t ‘value’ a single image, a print, placed in an album with scrawled date, location and age of child next to it – we do still have the option to do that – but mostly, once the pictures have been liked on Facebook and shared amongst your electronic community – they are stored away, and if you are anything like me, a mental note to ‘must come back and print’ ethos.
So as a professional photographer, making this our livelihood, we now are in a position where we really need to up our game, not only the technical skill base, but more importantly, our imagination and being able to marry both creative mind and technical skill. How your camera works, how to get the best from your files, post production is something that can be taught. Imagination and having that starting point of an idea, then developing that idea through an understanding of actually how to put it all together can not be taught – it has to come from you alone and is often the biggest test. I was talking to one of my mentees this morning having looked at some of her work – she is an excellent photographer and has an intrinsic natural talent. Some of the images I saw of hers today were complex in their makeup to the point of losing the essence of her natural talent and left me thinking she was trying too hard to throw everything at it rather than just making small changes to what is already very special – to remove rather than add. Sometimes just having a small nugget of an idea rather than a complete picture in your head of where you want to go with an image is often a better place to be – some photographers can just have an idea and go straight in and be specific as to where they want to go with it. Others, like me prefer to see things develop – to have a location or a whim of an idea and to allow myself to adapt during the shoot, to build on it. So often, when I am teaching I’m asked what I am hoping to achieve – well often, I don’t know until I get there, which sounds rather weak but that is how I work and changes are made through shapes that are made, an expression or a split timing of a breathtaking moment. More often than not though, it is about building an image, throwing everything at it and then removing elements, asking whether movement or symbolism has actually added anything to this picture. It’s almost like a challenge as to how much I can remove in order to make something powerful.
Last month took me to the BIPP head office in Aylesbury to run a one day workshop as part of their brilliant 4 day course covering all areas of social photography. By keeping the groups small (7 delegates) meant that although we had a range of abilities, we were able to keep the teaching to a level that benefited all. Although I prefer to use models who I have not worked with in order to keep things realistic, I was working with little Jasmine who was far too well behaved (I’m used to more challenging 3 year old boys!). Firstly, I wanted all the delegates to look at the ordinary – to be able to enter any room in any environment and to be able to see the best light for the images they are looking for. My work is predominantly location based and I am often in homes and venues which perhaps aren’t the most aesthetically beautiful, so its important to not see this as an obstacle. If any of you have been to the BIPP head office, the interior is fairly nondescript, plain walls and not the most obvious place for a portrait given there was so much outside that we could work with. But I didn’t want students to look at the obvious and so we utilised the window light available, for a very simple head study – window light can save your bacon….
Moving outside, I encouraged students to use layering – by that I mean through using textures in the foreground, ensuring the subject is lit means they can add space and other elements but that subject will still be the main part of the portrait. Not heavily themed, but just a hint of symbolism.
Always being observant to what is around, how light falls, scale, how textures and colour can be used is fundamental when working with location portraits and sometimes looking at a small part of a larger location (children are small, they fit in small places) can often be used. Also by encouraging the use of space and allowing images to breathe gives us options for cropping and incorporating a story or just impact through scale, graphic, movement or an accent of colour.
I encourage students to experiment with their own ideas on creativity – it is training days like these that allow us to push ourselves and really, anything goes. We may need to rein it in somewhat for our clients until we have found our own foundation of a style for us to market effectively. But there is fear amongst photographers to push boundaries and in order to to set yourself apart, you need to be experimental and be very sure about what moves you. If you are looking at your peers in order to develop that style, you are going to find it very difficult to make pictures which you and your own head and heart agree on. Inspiration can be found in many forms – music, dance, film, design, colour. More importantly, on a business level, you need to firstly love what you do, know what moves you in order for you to market yourself in the right direction – you have to be creatively selfish and have your own vision, not following trends and fads. Then you will find you truly love your job.
Thanks to the very patient and beautiful Jasmine and the BIPP for inviting me to be a part of this great school!