Which way is your photography taking you?

People of Loughborough I

Moving house has shown me something interesting about my photography that I might not have discovered without a change of scenery. Most of the pictures in my portfolio were taken in and around where I lived in Birmingham and I had grown used to shooting in those places. In fact, one of my favorite things to do was travel into Birmingham City center and shoot candid street photography. I knew the city very well, I was comfortable there and I could generally find something to capture my imagination.

Perhaps part of the comfort of shooting Birmingham came from the fact that I have spent most of my 34 years living there. I can certainly remember being nervous about moving to Loughborough. This was partly because of everyday changes that come from moving to a new town but it was also because I wasn’t sure how the move would effect my photography. I struggled to imagine how the small town would ever compare to the vast possibilities of Birmingham.

Whilst Birmingham and Loughborough are different in many ways the one thing they certainly have in common is their markets. Yes they are on a different scale but they still have the same ingredients of people, vibrant colour and lots of different things going on in a small area. So after the move this is one of the first places I took my camera and I was pretty happy with the results.

Loughborough Market V

The market helped me to get over my initial concerns and I soon started taking my camera with me in and around my new home town shooting all sorts of different scenes. This is where the problem arose, I started to get bored by my own images.

Just to be clear it wasn’t the act of taking the pictures that bored me or the subjects, it was the images themselves. I was processing and sharing images in my portfolio that just didn’t do anything for me. For example I took this picture of a steam locomotive not far from my house on the Great Central Railway:

Once more with feeling

To be honest I am pretty happy with this picture as it goes. I like the composition and the light that falls on the roof of the carriages having been filtered through the steam of the locomotive. I’m also happy with my post processing and how I was able to bring through the contrast in the steam itself. Sure there are things that I would change about this image if I was to take it again but that’s the same with any image that I take. My Flickr followers like it too and according to Flickr it is one of most interesting images.

So what’s wrong!? If I like it so much why do I say that it bores me!? I have thought about this question for a while now and I have come to realize that it’s because it doesn’t say anything about ‘me’. Yes I enjoyed taking the picture, yes I generally like the image and I even find the scene interesting but it doesn’t feel like there is a part of me in the image. It doesn’t feel like it is saying anything on my behalf.

At this point some of you may be saying ‘so what!?’ and that’s fine. Not everyone takes photographs for them to say something and to be honest maybe I didn’t realize that is what I wanted either. If I am being even more honest until I started to have these feelings about these images in my portfolio I wasn’t even sure what it meant for an image to say something about me. Now I think I do and I can’t seem to let it go. I even made a Flickr album to try and understand the direction my photography is taking me.

The Lunar Society XVIII

The observant of you would have noticed that I only think I know what it means for an image to say something about me. This is all pretty new for me. A new feeling about my photography and new metaphorical lens to hold up against my images. I’m not entirely sure where my photography is going to take me but I’m pretty excited to find out.

What is your Flickr stratergy?

Untitled

A little while ago I found Issuu. Issuu is a digital publishing platform which allows companies and individuals publish books and magazines for free. I have found some really great content on Issuu and the other day I came across Explore Flickr by Swiss Photographer Thomas Leuthard.

I have been using Flickr for a while now but with no real plan in mind. I chose Flickr based on the fact that I already had some friends that were using it and when I picked up a camera again it seemed like as good a place as any to share my work. Much like in the days of chemical photography an image is no good to anyone if it is left unseen. In our digital age we have swapped draws of negatives for hard drives full of digital files.

One of the questions Thomas suggests you ask yourself is “Why am I a Flickr user?”. Unlike Thomas I don’t make any money from my photography. It is a creative release for me rather than an income stream and so building up a profile with a view to generating interest from prospective clients isn’t what I want. So what was I using Flickr for? Is it OK to simply use it as a modern day photo album?

Looking back at the first pictures I shared on Flickr I can instantly see how I have grown as a photographer. Both my technical and creative ability has improved and this is a pretty good feeling. I believe that I have come to an important point in my photography and I want to continue to grow and see my work branch out and become a reflection of myself and how I see the world. So to answer the question why am I a Flickr user?; I want to build my portfolio and share my work with other photographers, to get constructive criticism and find inspiration from the work of others.

The Lunar Society I

So whilst some of the strategies and ideas given in Thomas’ book won’t help me reach my personal goal some of them seem to be a good fit. Here is a short summary of the changes I have made to the way I use Flickr:

Don’t upload straight away
I have created a new collection in Lightroom called ‘To publish’. Instead of publishing images on the day I process them I first move them to this collection and leave them there a couple of days. This gives me some time away from an imagine after I have finished working on it and helps me to see it differently when I come back to it. A few images have been edited or rejected all together because of this strategy and I think my portfolio is better for it.

Upload no more than one image a day
This helps with the first strategy but it also means that my portfolio has more regular updates which makes it more likely to get some feedback from other Flickr users.

Upload to more relevant groups
I now think more about which groups I upload my images to. I spent some time looking at the groups my favourite photographers contribute to and I searched for some new groups that I thought had interesting content. I also sought out some groups that are specific to my local area where I live and made some connections with local photographers.

Compare each newly uploaded image against similar images on Flickr
One way to critique your own work is to compare it against others. I now spend some time looking at similar images after each upload and think about what has drawn me to any given picture and how I might have changed my own work to include different ideas and viewpoints.

Leave it a couple of days before adding pictures to groups
Thomas suggests that this is a good strategy for getting your images to be selected for Flickr Explored but I like to do this to see how much interest and image gets organically before it is added to any groups. Whilst not very scientific it does give me some indication of whether or not people think it is a picture worth looking at.

Give feedback to others
If I want to get feedback on my own work then it makes sense to be more involved with the Flickr community as a whole. I find that giving feedback in groups that I contribute to or to photographers that I follow also helps me to think about what has drawn me to their image and how I might apply similar ideas to my own photography.

Follow photographers you find interesting
I have always regularly looked at the images of the photographers I follow. With the iPhone app it is easy to keep up to date with new images and if nothing else it inspires me to pick up my camera or process my next batch of RAW files. Unlike Thomas however I don’t follow somebody just because they follow me, I wan’t the pictures in my Flickr feed to inspire me and give me ideas or something to aim for.

After making these simple changes to the way that I use Flickr I honestly feel like this has helped me to improve my portfolio. I have still got a long way to go but that is all part of the fun.

Starting on the road to documentary photography

UrbanWildlife-1582.jpg

Since I picked up my camera again I have worked on a number of small projects that have helped me to improve my photography and given me something to work towards. For a while though I have wanted something bigger to get my teeth into. I have had a few ideas about what this project might be about but having recently just moved away from the city that I lived in for most of my life I wanted to use the project to find out a little more about the town that I have come to live in. I could potentially do this with a street photography project but I wanted to learn more about the people themselves and so I had the idea of starting a documentary project.

Documentary photography is a form of photography which was extremely popular in the mid 20th century and has experienced a lull more recently however a number of talented photographers have started a resurgence in the field and are producing some hugely interesting and inspiring work. Whilst I don’t feel like I have honed my skills enough to produce anything close to the work of any of these photographers I hope to learn a lot from the project both on a technical and personal level.

So where do I start on the road to documentary photography? In one of my previous posts I shared a photography project framework which I intend to follow for this project. With this in mind I went out and purchased myself a new notepad and made a start noting down my ideas. Personally having a small notepad that I carry around with me most of the time really worked. Whenever I had some time at home or in my lunch break at work I read through my notes and expanded on my idea. I also spoke to some of my friends about the project and this helped to make the project feel more real and lead me to even more ideas.

New notepad

Creating the mind map

Eventually I had quite a few notes and I was starting to feel like I wanted to move onto the next stage. Before I did that however I want to write my notes up as a mind map. I was hoping that this would help to give the lists of ideas some structure and build a picture of how a plan for the project might come together. I had previously found an online tool for creating mind maps but another search uncovered a different tool which I felt was a little easier to use: http://drichard.org/mindmaps/. You can see the mind map that I produced below and if you are interested then you can get a copy of the original JSON file here.

Documentary Photography Mind Map V1

Just as I thought I had finished putting my ideas together I found out that Huck magazines current issue was a documentary special. With this in mind I thought that this would be a great opportunity to expand my ideas further. Once I have done this I will be sure to write another post and share the updated mind map. If you have any comments or suggestions then please add the comments to this blog post.

Deconstruction of images in black and white

Out of Warranty.jpg

I only started taking black and white photographs last year but I’m already hooked. I had always admired B&W images but I had never used the technique myself for a few reasons. As a teenager when I was shooting film I think colour seemed more real to me. There was also a thought that black and white photography was a little up itself. A feeling that the shear fact that something is black and white it makes it high art. This lead me to think that somehow taking B&W pictures I was being a pretender, that I was a fraud.

The age of digital photography and post processing made it even easier to create black and white images and whilst I gave it a go I was never that impressed with the result. The ease of a one click conversion to black and white made the whole process seem even more fake. Two things happened last year which changed my mind about B&W photography. The first was that I purchased a copy of Lightroom 5. I know lots of people have used Lightroom but if you haven’t done so I recommend that you give it a try. It is a fantastic application for post processing of all types of images but for me personally it really opened up the possibilities of black and white photography.

The second thing that happened was that I was that I picked up a copy of Black + White Photography magazine from a newsagent before a train journey to London. There are so many photography magazines to choose from but few are as well edited and have such wonderful content and contributors. The magazine opened my eyes to what people are doing with black and white photography today and how you can make an image your own if you think about the image that you are creating and use post processing effectively.

Mike

This is where my journey really began and black and white photography started to teach me about the core techniques and ideas of photography in general. Partly through articles in the magazine and partly through trial and error I started to learn about dodging and burning and why it is important as part of post processing. Somehow I found this much easier to understand with a black and white image than with colour. I now tend to dodge and burn my colour images before I convert to black and white but I learnt this technique with a black and white first.

Post processing aside the  biggest gift that B&W photography has given me is an appreciation of tone and a better understanding of composition. It’s not that black and white photography magically makes you take better pictures it is just that it raises a magnifying glass to aspects of an image that you might have missed before. It is all there in black and white as it where. By ignoring the colour and focusing on the tonality I started to see how elements of an image come together to build up a composition. I also started to see geometry which I had missed at the beginning.

Once I started to see my images in this way I started to apply the same ideas when I was looking through the view finder. Visualising the image in my minds eye and building up my composition. Post processing can do a lot for an image but if the important elements of an image aren’t there to start with then they won’t be there after post processing (Not unless you do some heavy manipulation of course but that isn’t what I’m interested in personally). In essence black and white photography has helped me to de-construct the images I create which has lead me to understand how to create new images by bringing these ideas together as they are taken.

Bikes of Loughborough I

As well as Black + White Photography magazine I have also been inspired by Jim Mortram of Small Town Inertia and the fantastic photography books of Cafe Royal Books. Jim makes especially good use of the medium and has created some of the most beautiful and sometimes haunting images. Whilst Cafe Royal Books does print in colour many of the works are in black and white including Jim’s book and another of my favourites Notting Hill Sound Systems by Brian David Stevens. If you have a love of black and white photography or have been inspired by the black and white images of others then please share any links in the comments.

Ultimate people watching

Loughborough Market III

Everyone has a their own likes and dislikes and I would imagine that most photographers find certain photographic genres that they enjoy more than others. There are a few genres which stand out for me however since starting to take my photography more seriously again street photography has become one of my favourite past times. There are many reasons why street photography has captured my imagination and I hope to explore this a little further in this post and talk about the genre as a whole.

I love cities and could happily sit for hours drinking coffee and watching the world go by. I enjoy looking around at the people, architecture and general goings on of the city. Something that has fascinated me is the way in which our environment shapes our behaviour. I have carried out a small study on the subject deliberately omitting the people, more interested in the thoughts and feelings my images would evoke when they were out of context. I really enjoyed putting the project together and I intend to return to it at some point.

Typically however street photography is characterised by its focus on the people that live and work in our cities and towns, putting them in the context of the environment which they reside. Since the dawn of photography we have been drawn to photographing the human condition. Some photographic genres attempt  to place its human subjects in a staged environment however many images attributed to street photography are candid, capturing people going about their everyday lives. Even when the subjects are posing for the camera in street photography the images are trying to capture the street as much as the person in it. This can lead to interesting juxtapositions with the advertising and other imagery that is commonplace in modern towns and cities.

Smoking Companion.jpg

With the variety of  people and viewpoints that one might encounter in any urban space the possibilities are endless and you never really know what you might find. The opportunities are also often fleeting with an image being made and lost in a moment. This can lead to street photography being exciting as well as frustrating. The good thing about street photography is that you can often take a break and then find some new inspiration around the very next corner. In fact when faced with some disappointing shots I have headed towards the nearest pub and struck up a conversation with a stranger over a pint only to get back out on the street with a new vigour (hopefully derived from the conversation rather than the alcohol).

Like most genres of photography we are standing on the shoulders of giants, many great photographers have made a name for themselves by creating stunning street photography. What is striking to me is the different approaches that have been taken. For example Henri Cartier Bresson would spend vast amounts of time in a location working a scene where the backdrop created a perfect geometric composition, waiting for a person to step in and complete the image. Others like Bruce Gilden took a different approach, striding through the crowds with camera and flash filling the frame with his subjects. Personally I find the images by both of these photographers absolutely mesmerizing and there are many other approaches to being a street photographer.

All of the different definitions and approaches to street photography can lead some to question whether or not it is a genre worth pursuing as it can appear diluted with some regarding it as a scatter gun approach to imagery. For me it is this flexibility which makes the genre so appealing. If I were to imagine the most eclectic place that I could, I would probably have a city street in my minds eye. Each street photographer conjures up their own view of the city making them sinister, sultry or a celebration of what it is to be human. Depending on your technique you can draw out the harsh colours, graphic and claustrophobic press of the metropolis or wash this away and draw on the loneliness, decay and  corruption which exists in the spaces surrounded by people. If photography is about showing your view of the world then showing your personal view of the city is a worthwhile endeavour in my opinion.

Paris books

One of the other reasons why I have been drawn to street photography is that when I picked up my camera again I promised myself that I would put myself out of my comfort zone. The act of photographing the stranger in a public space is at first nerve racking. If you are trying to shoot candidly then you always have a question about how somebody might react to your pointing a lens in their direction. This feeling took me a bit of getting used to and I still sometimes feel a little self concious today. What you don’t want to do is try to look like you are hiding. Be bold with your camera instead of making yourself look a bit creepy. If you catch somebody’s eye then smile and perhaps indicate that you would like to take their photo. Now that I am more confident I quite often ask people if I can take their picture although the act of asking can dramatically change someone’s reaction to the camera and I am always concious of how this might change my image.

There are plenty of resources on street photography in books and on the internet. Eric Kim’s website alone is a treasure trove of information. You will also find plenty of groups on Flickr to use for inspiration. So what are you waiting for!? Pick up your camera and head off into town.

Repairing the light seals on my Cannon AT-1

Of Sky

I have already said a lot about how much I love my Canon AT-1 so I won’t say any more. For a while using the camera resulted in my fingers and film canisters being covered in a black gunge. It didn’t take me long to realise that the viscous material was in fact the light seals from inside the back of the camera. I chose to ignore this for as long as I possibly could but eventually the light leaking into the back of the camera started to affect the images that I was capturing. Sometimes this resulted in some pleasant surprises, like the image of the fly above where a band of light frames the insect and adds to the final image. In other cases this effect was much more dramatic and not really what I was looking for like the image from Donnington below.

Image damaged by leaky light seals

Failure of light seals in older film cameras is not uncommon and is certainly not specific to the AT-1 or other AE models. If you start to see the tell tale lighter areas in your images I would suggest that you are probably better fixing it sooner rather than waiting like I did. Yes I ended up with some nice images but I have also missed out on others which would have showed some potential if it weren’t for the dreaded light leak. When it comes to fixing the light seals you have two options, buy a kit and fix it yourself or send the camera away for servicing. The value of the camera is probably going to have an impact on your decision but the fix is fairly simple if you have the time. Personally I was keen to try and fix my camera myself and I wanted to share my experiences in this blog post.

What you will need

  • A light seal kit for your camera (Can be found on eBay)
  • A sharp knife
  • Some tissue paper or kitchen roll
  • Some wood or a surface to cut on
  • Solvent (I used lighter fluid)
  • Wooden cuticle stick
  • Tweezers
  • Cotton wool buds
  • A metal ruler
  • Some instructions
  • Time, lots of time
  • Tea (This probably goes without saying)
  • A steady hand

Out of all of those things the most  valuable item IMHO was the cuticle sticks. I picked up a pack of 6 for 50p which meant that I could throw them away and pick up a clean one when I needed to. The fact that they have one pointed end and one angled end means that you can use them for all sorts of things and they are soft enough that they won’t damage your camera. When it comes to a sharp knife I found that a Stanley knife with a brand new blade was sufficient but I did swap the blade for a fresh one part way through just to be sure.

When it comes to a kit and instructions a quick Google search should reveal something specific for your camera. Personally I picked up my kit from eBay but the instructions that came with it were pretty rubbish so I was able to find some more with another quick search:

http://www.kyphoto.com/classics/seal/Canon_AE1.pdf

You could of course just buy the foam and cut it all yourself but I couldn’t imagine doing that as the kit makes things much, much simpler. The pieces of foam you will be dealing with are pretty small and having a straight edge to work with is really useful.

The other thing worth noting is time, you need to leave yourself plenty of time to do this job as its extremely fiddly. I spent about 3 hour fixing my camera. I expect that you could do it faster but I am pretty meticulous with the way I do things and I wanted to make sure I got this just right.

Getting started

Lay all of your items out on a working space which is going to be big enough for everything you need. I used a small coffee table and this was ample. Remember that you are going to be there for a while so make sure you can sit comfortably. My other tip would be to RTFM. If you have instructions read them from start to finish. I missed a part on my instructions and as it turned out it didn’t apply to my camera but my heart stopped for a moment when I read it.

Getting ready to fix the light seals

Removing the old light seals

Despite the fact that the seals in my camera had disintegrated into nothing in places, it still took quite a while to clean what remained of the original foam that made up the light seals. Things are much easier if you can remove the film door from the back of the camera. The AE series cameras have a small catch on the door hinge that allows you to room the door easily. I also found that leaving my 35mm prime on the camera body made it easier to hold the camera and meant that I wasn’t worried about damaging the mirror on focusing plate whilst cleaning the back of the camera.

Cannon AE seriers film door catch

The catch which releases the film door of Canon AE series cameras

Ready to start

Ready to start removing the original light seals

A solvent is a must for this step but use it a small amount at a time as you don’t want to end up damaging the exposed components of your camera. I used lighter fluid as my solvent just because it is readily available. I found three techniques for applying the solvent without pouring it all over my camera:

Solvent applied with cotton bud

Cotton wool buds are good for larger areas with good access.

Solvent applied with kitchen roll

Kitchen roll soaked in solvent can be applied to local areas with difficult access.

Solvent applied with cuticle stick

Small amounts of solvent can be poured against a cuticle sticks to drop solvent into localised areas.

Work in one area at a time, apply solvent and then use the cuticle sticks to scrape away the damaged foam. Keep the cuticle sticks clean as you go so you don’t drop the gunge into the inner working of the camera and switch to a new stick once it becomes too clogged to clean.

You want your camera to be completely free of old adhesive so once you have cleaned your camera go over it again to make sure you haven’t missed anything. You want to be able to move the new seals around once you have stuck them down and this will be extremely difficult if there are bits of old glue and foam.

Almost finished film door

Mostly clean film door with some adhesive still remaining

Clean camera back

Clean camera back ready to have the new light seal foam applied

Applying the new seals

The first thing you need to do before you start applying the new seals in tidy your workspace. At this stage I had old foam, solvent soaked kitchen roll, used cotton wool buds and cuticle sticks all over the place. You are going to need all of that space for cutting the foam into shape so its a good idea to start with a clean working area.

Take note that your kit will probably come with two thicknesses of foam. My kit contained 1mm thick foam for the light seals and 2mm thick foam for the mirror damper. Make sure you check your kit before you start as you wouldn’t want to use the wrong foam.

My instructions suggested cutting all of my foam up front but I decided that I would rather cut the foam as I needed it. That way I could check the foam as I went and make adjustments for the next piece if I needed to. I started with the seals on the back of the camera body. My approach was gently press the foam into the groove and use the cuticle stick to make a mark where I should cut. The AE cameras have a catch in the top groove which moves inward when the door is shut. I made sure that I was as close to this as I could be without stopping it from moving. There is no glue on the strips which go into the top and bottom of the camera body back so this is fairly simple.

Checking the length of foam needed

Here I am checking the length of foam that is required

Cutting the foam

Cutting the top and bottom light seals is extremely easy

The next step for me was the foam at the hinge end of the camera back. My instructions has suggested sizes but I found it easier to make my own measurements as I knew this would create a better seal. Putting pressure on the foam with a metal ruler and making a single cut meant that I was able to get the shape I wanted.

One of the best tips in my instructions was to lick the adhesive on the foam before applying it. I found that licking the adhesive and the area of the camera where I was sticking it gave the best result. This meant that I could move the foam around once I had placed it. I could then hold it in place with a cuticle stick (see how useful they are) for a minute or so until it was stuck in place. For placement I used tweezers so that I didn’t touch the adhesive and so that I could see what I was doing. For moving the foam around once in place I found that it was easier to use a cuticle stick.

The other strips on the film door where fairly similar. The only thing that I found was that my camera also had felt / foam seals at the sides of the latch end of the film door. This meant I had to cut shaped pieces of foam and slide them into place. This was probably the most fiddly part of the whole fix but licking the adhesive meant that I could move the foam fairly easily.

Part way through fixing the new light seals

Part way through fixing the new light seals

New catch end door seals

New catch end door seals

New hinge end door seals

New hinge end door seals

Replacing the mirror damper

This is a good point to replace the film door on your camera and clean your working area. You don’t want to undo all your good work on the rear of the camera.

I thought that my mirror damper was still OK but when I touched it most of it came away with my finger. I then realised that some of it was stuck to the mirror. You shouldn’t use solvent to remove the damper foam as you may damage the focus plate. Instead use a fresh blade and gently cut the foam away. Once most of it is gone you can use a cuticle stick to scrape away any unwanted adhesive. Using a very small amount of solvent on a cotton wool bud I was able to clean the mirror but I would suggest you are very careful if you decide to do this too.

At this stage I cleaned up my work area one last time before cutting and applying the last piece of foam. Remember that the mirror damper is normally a thicker piece of foam than that which is used in the back of the camera. Its job is to stop the mirror hitting the inside of the camera after all.

Old mirror damper

The old mirror damper still in place

New mirror damper

The new and improved mirror damper

All done

And there you have it. You should find that your light leak problems and all fixed. This fix does take a bit of time but I think it is well worth it. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I was able to do a pretty clean job. I hope that sharing my experience has been useful to some of you or perhaps made you feel a little less apprehensive of fixing your own camera.

Fully repaierd camera

What are the ingredients for motivating you to improve your photography?

Fragments of a city: Hold me

Like many things in life you will only become a better photographer if you practice, practice, practice. Whilst your ability to practice your photography is somewhat based on opportunity you also need to have some level of motivation. Some people are able to motivate themselves to improve by simply having their camera with them but personally I need something bigger to get my teeth into. In my experience having a project to work towards is a good way of driving motivation as it helps you to set goals and monitor your own progress.

When it comes to photography projects they can be as ambitious as you want them to be but my top piece of advice with any kind of project would be to set yourself realistic goals. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t push yourself but if you currently don’t set yourself any kind of project goals then start small and build up from there. Achieving an extremely ambitious goal can give you a massive boost in your confidence and motivation but consistently missing your goals will result in the complete opposite. Its all about setting a pace that you can consistently maintain.

In order to start a project you need to have several ingredients; an idea, a plan, a goal, a deadline and time to review. If you don’t want to define all of these things for yourself there are plenty of places where you can find some or all of these things. For example Black+White Photography magazine have a monthly photography project which they print in their magazine. Their projects  include some helpful ideas and tips on how to plan your project as well as some references and photographers for you to research. For something even simpler there are many places online where you can get involved with a group projects or competitions. Personally I have entered the monthly competitions of Birmingham Photography Meetup and I am currently contributing to the 2014 A-Z Project on Flickr.

I have enjoyed some of these simpler projects but I have recently found that I want to push myself a little further and wanted the creative direction of my photography to be more about my own ideas. For me this meant thinking about my photography projects in more detail and having a clearer plan. I already have some experience of running software projects from my professional career but some research in photography projects lead me to an interesting blog post by Ian Turpin which talks about his experience A level photography projects. Using the fantastic information in Ian’s blog and some of my own ideas  I have put together a project framework for photography projects:

The planning phase

The initial idea

Come up with some words & phrases which will form the initial idea. It is useful to keep the list with you and add to it when you are waiting for the bus of making a cup of tea. Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely places.

Resources:

  • Initial ideas list
  • Project topics list

Strategies:

  • Mind map

Tools

Build on the idea

Take the idea further by looking at existing images and building a theme. Try putting together images from different places and times to see if they tell you a different story. Perhaps look at images which are different to your usual subjects or style.

Resources:

  • Mood board

Strategies:

  • Other peoples images
  • Famous photographers images
  • Images from the internet
  • Images from magazines
  • Your own images that you have previously discounted

Photographer research

Choose two or more famous or professional photographers to research. The internet can be a good resource here but don’t underestimate your local library. Photographs will always feel different in print than they will on the screen.

Resources:

  • Short essay about the photographers

Strategies:

  • Review their work
  • Critique
  • Relate their work to your theme
  • Compare the different approaches to similar themes or subjects

Statement of intent

Lay the groundwork for your project. This will be the final part of your plan where you will document exactly what you are going to do.

Resource:

  • Written statement of intent

Strategies:

  • What you plan to do
  • How you plan to do it
  • What equipment will you use or not use?
  • What techniques will you employ?
  • Which photographers will you use for reference?
  • Plan your shoots
  • Schedule your time
  • What is the deadline?
  • Will you work alone?
  • What will the final output of the project look like?

The execution phase

In this phase you should work in a cycle: Shoot – Review – Research – Shoot

Shoot

Each shoot should be an improvement on the last. Explore the idea at the beginning but try to build on the theme as you go learning from previous shoots.

Strategies:

  • 1 test shoot to explore ideas
  • 2  or more actual shoots
  • Improve on shots from previous shoots
  • Change composition, subject, viewpoint etc.
  • Limit the number of pictures you take
  • Have a separate shoot for new techniques
  • If you have used film then you should print your own work
  • You can document a shoot / technique using your camera phone
  • Use a notepad / smartphone to record your thoughts and feelings

Review

Build a portfolio of presentation worthy images. Document failure as well as success.

Resources:

  • Contact sheet

Strategies:

  • Compare the best
  • Critique the worst
  • Compare shots with famous or professional photographers
  • Aim to have 2-3 shots for a small project or 8 plus for a large project
  • If you are unsure about whether or not something worked document it and why you made your decision
  • Be prepared to be brutal, if its not up to scratch then don’t include it
  • Create an initial contact sheet and come back to it after a few days. Does the images still work together?

Research

This is where you will create / validate the plan for your next shoot

Strategies:

  • What went well?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What have you learned?
  • What is still puzzling you?
  • What will you do differently in your next shoot?
  • Which shots will you try to improve?
  • Review your statement of intent
  • Change your statement of intent if your ideas are changing but document what you changed and why
  • If you are struggling to think about new ideas then write about it

Project close phase

Review and conclude

Once you have your final images make sure that you close your project by reviewing them one last time and making some conclusions about your successes and failures.

Strategies:

  • Describe your final image selection
  • Explain your techniques
  • What went well?
  • What needs to improve?
  • What have you learned?
  • What is still puzzling you?
  • Where would you do differently if you started the project again?
  • What ideas does this project give you for future projects?

Hopefully this project framework will be useful to others. I have just started to use it myself on a upcoming project details of which I will share in future posts. As always please share any of your own techniques and ideas in the comments.

Thank you to Ian Turpin for his original blog post. Sorry to those who received a sneak preview of this blog post, its all too easy to hit publish when you meant to hit preview 🙂