I work in a big organistion and the other day one of the many newsletters went around... This one is issues by the guys in the design team. Its one of my favourite as far as the corporate messages are concerned.The design newsletter focuses on design from a business sense. Its the space that I work in professionally. The last page of the newsletter often contains a quote that they grab from somewhere, and is usually something that I dont really connect wwith. However, this month was a little different.
The quote for the month was:
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change"
This one I really like. And I think people who relate well to the genre of Street Photography will also feel the same.
I think it has applications to some of the work that is often associated with the genre of street photography. Its not the work that I intentionally set out to find, but it seems to be a growing trend. And thats finding things that are slightly out of the norm. Relying on the luck of happening upon matching colours in obscure combinations of chance. People doing things that, although they happen daily, they rarely happen in front of someone holding a camera, with the intent of posting the said photo on the net in a street photography forum.
There is also the fact, that as photographers we often hear people talk about developing your eye. That perspective one gains on the world around them when viewed through a lens. That ability to see things that others take for granted and pay little notice to. The sixth sense that the greats have, of being able to see a moment unfold before them, and to predict whats going to happen next, and be in the right place with the right setting and more often that not capture the image.
In any case. I like the quote, and I thought that I would share it with you, and I thought we might be able to take a look at how one might go about changing their perspective in relation to their photography. How can one develop that sixth sense, or if your preference for street photography is the quirky and zany, how to you search it out?
First thing first, you cant really have an understanding of what you are trying to develop until you have done some research. Right?
If you are new to this caper then read books. Look at images, good, bad, and mediocre. Be critical of others work. Providing feedback on others work is a useful process for you as an artists as well. Find out what you like. Find out what you don’t like. Then go do what you like. Sounds simple right? I don’t think so. The above is also true for experienced photographers as well, but maybe you are looking for something a little different. Maybe you have become a little stagnant or bored with what you used to love doing, and you are looking for something new… Used to shoot street, try shooting some fine art studio shots. Used to shoot landscapes, try some urban architecture for something different.
You can sift through all the information on all the blogs and web pages on the net and come across some very common names in the world of photography. And not just street photography either. These names are common for a reason, they were, or still are, great at what they do. Looking at the work of some of the masters of our art form will allow you a small insight into how that artist viewed the world around them. This insight is what you need to take away from the viewing process to start the development of your own change in perspective. There is a great book that I have called Steal Like an Artist. Its well worth a read, very easy, very funny, and very appropriate to this discussion.
So, now we have done our research and we have a solid grounding of information that we have used to base our decision on how we would like to develop ourselves as a photographer. Next steps… Equipment??
This is not where I tell you to go out and spend big dollars on new equipment that will meet your new found needs for the chosen endeavour. You can make great images with a phone, many people have proven it. What I am going to tell you is that whatever you are using, you need to make sure that you know your equipment back to front, inside out, and blindfolded with your right hand tied behind you left ear. Your camera is the tool that you are going to use to show people your perspective on the world. You are going to change the way you look at things remember, you don’t want the camera to get in the way of your vision, you want it to be an extension of yourself. The only way you can really achieve this is through practice. It is a well known fact in sports (I am a running coach) that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become a master at it. The exact same thing should be said for photography. So, when I say that Im not going to tell you to go out and buy lots of expensive kit, Im going to tell you the exact opposite. Sure, get something nice if its in your budget, but when you have got the tool that you are going to use to show others your new found vision, don’t go changing it all the time. Gear addiction is something that will hinder your development as an artist, as every time you get a new bit of kit, you will have to go through the learning and development process with it again.
One thing I will say is this. If you are shooting digital, then those funny numbers and things on the camera, like iso settings and ev compensations, they all started way before there was a digital sensor ever invented. If you want to really understand how the process of capturing an image works, and understand how you can manipulate this process, bending it to meet your needs, then you should understand this from a analogue perspective. This knowledge is transferrable to the digital process, and I am a strong believer that it will help you in the long run. And hey, we are talking about changing the way you look at things… Maybe you have been shooting digital for your whole life, these people exist these days… Maybe a simple change to film will give you that boost in perspective that you have been looking for. A old manual film camera doesn’t cost the earth.
A second advantage to shooting some film is the fact that it slows you down. When you go out with a digital camera, there is no sense of importance to an image. You can fire away at the shutter without even thinking about it, hoping that you get that one shot you are after. With film its different. Each frame costs you a little money. If you are using a older camera you even have to wind the film on. You cant just snap away at things. You then have to wait to see your results. You might even process the film yourself, there are some great do it yourself guides on JCH on how to process both black and white and colour film. This slow down in your work flow give your brain the chance it needs to assess whats going on around it, and to think about the next image. To re-engage with the process of shooting. This will also change the way you look at things.
The Face (shot on Leitz CL on HP5 Ilford Film)
So, we now have an understanding of our direction, and a understanding of our equipment… Whats next? Practice… As I said above, 10,000 hours to become an expert. That’s a lot of hours… During these 10,000 hours you wont go out and shoot the same things, you are likely to change what you are interested in during this time and find a whole new direction as well. But you will be making photos, and they will improve with time.
Whilst going through this process of learning my biggest bit of advice is experiment. There is no wrong answer in photography, as long as you are looking to learn from mistakes. Do things you haven’t done before. Have you ever shot with colour filters and black and white film? Give it a go. Have you ever used a flash on the street? Nope, try that as well. Have you ever spent some time shooting from the hip? Once you have the ability to see the way your camera sees, and you know your speed and aperture setting like they were imprinted on your brain, this should be a breeze. Change perspectives. Try and find locations where you can shoot from above or below the scene. Shoot from down low to the ground, high above your head. Be creative, this is the number one thing… You need to exercise the creative centre of your brain… Massage it, feed it with more of those lovely books. Go to art shows and exhibitions. Keep on learning, keep on developing, and keep on changing things to ensure that what you are doing in fresh and fun for your brain. This should be a passion, even if its something you do for a living, you should love every minute of it. The second you stop loving it, this will change the way you look at things for the worse, and will be clearly evident to the people viewing your work.