Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Getting the Message Across

I started blogging at the end of last year because I had started a new business and I thought it would be a good way to promote it, talking about the things in photography that I feel are important. What I have found though is that the writing has become a fundamental part of what I now do, it has helped me to identify some of the things that excite me photographically in a way that I had not expected and it has given me a new direction (all be it only a slight diversion).

I do not claim to be a great photographer, I know what I like though and I do have the skill to capture it most of the time. The skill came from a variety of different sources, foremost being my dad who was both patient and encouraging when I took my first pictures back in the mid seventies. He told me where I was going wrong and praised the occasional decent picture I took and for the most part I ignored him and did what I wanted. Much of what he said though forms the basis of my photographic thinking now. I learned most of the technical stuff 'on the hoof' while I worked in a pro retailer in the eighties - but I always checked to make sure I had it right and I made a point of learning the underlying theories because if I understood them the application of the theories was a piece of cake. The third element in my photographic education is that I like to look at pictures and we live in a time when I can do that almost anywhere.

I have realized that the things that have gelled into my personal preferences are predominantly things that photography can do better than other forms of visual expression and that in fact we, as human beings, cannot do easily ourselves:
  • Manipulating focus - choosing what will be in focus, how deep the focus will be and how soft everything else should be.
  • Manipulating exposure - letting things be burned out if it works visually, making a choice about how light or dark a print should be, allowing a subject to float in otherwise very dark surroundings.
  • Manipulating perspective - either using movements on the camera or selecting lenses to deliberately distort perspective making it wider or flatter.
  • Showing (or not showing) movement - choosing to freeze the action or to allow it to blur, panning or even moving the camera to make a static object 'move'
  • Selecting contrast levels - to change the look of the picture.
  • Selecting colour intensity (including black and white) - muted or vibrant, warm or cool or monochrome.
None of these things is in itself going to make a good picture, nor is it a substitute for having a good subject. What these things are is the language of photography, the things that we can use to express ourselves and to interpret the subject in the way we want to.

If you want to write a story you use all the linguistic skills at your disposal to make the story interesting, entertaining or shocking - you do whatever you need to to communicate your meaning. Photography is just the same, to say what you want to in a photograph you need to use the language eloquently if you want to get your message across.

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