Don’t you just love it when you have one of those ‘eureka’ moments? That split second when a cracking idea springs into your mind and you think, “Aha!”. I had one recently, while driving home from the supermarket, although, luckily for the world, unlike Archimedes it didn’t involve jumping out the bath and running down the street starkers!
Since I stopped putting pressure on myself to take and share a new photo every day I’ve been considering ways to give my photography more focus. Doing a 365 project (be it a single one, or ten on the trot as I did) you’re always grateful for those spontaneous shots that just appear unexpectedly. Days like that mean you don’t consciously have to seek out something to photograph and they’re always a bonus. They’re great opportunities, but they rarely result in meaningful, artistic images.
So how to stretch myself and give me more focus?
Well, I think it’s a matter of specialising.
In recent years I’ve found an unexpected interest in architecture, especially historic buildings. Since 2014 I’ve been working my way around all the churches within the Square Mile of the City of London. I’ve really enjoyed documenting them, capturing the beautiful lines and telling their history through my photos. Throw in the huge number of historic places I’ve visited with my camera since I started working for the National Trust and that adds up to a fairly sizeable architectural portfolio.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate modern architecture - it’s just that I encounter more historic buildings on my travels. I’ve recently read Tom Dyckhoff’s wonderful book The Age of Spectacle, all about iconic modern architecture and that’s got me itching to photograph more of it. Living within easy reach of London, that shouldn’t be too hard to achieve!
I’d already decided to try and develop my architectural photography, now I can take a more deliberate approach and plan my photo shoots with greater care. I spent some time before Christmas experimenting with using off-camera flash to add extra drama and illumination to a disused church near to home and I want to do more of that, as the results excited me.
Another area I’ve explored is using tilt-shift photography, to capture architecture as I want it to appear in-camera. Faced with a large building, the photographer’s first instinct is to grab a wide angle lens to fit it all in, and capture the drama. A logical choice, but one that almost always means you have to aim the camera upwards, to a greater or lesser degree. That results in vertical lines which converge, often giving the impression the building is about to fall over. It’s an interesting look, but not the impression the architect intended!
For the uninitiated, a tilt-shift lens employs a complicated mechanism of sliding and tilting elements, which allow you to line everything up in-camera. I won’t explain it in detail here - when I tried to enlighten my other half his eyes glazed over and he lost the will to live! If you have a desire to understand the physics, you can find a useful article here.
Unfortunately, the engineering in a tilt-shift lens makes them very expensive and certainly out of my budget. I hired one inexpensively over Christmas, but it was always going to be a short term love affair. Thankfully, I’ve found a less expensive solution, which allows me almost all of the performance at less than a quarter of the price - result!
OK, so that gives me lots to be working on, but I can’t just photograph buildings....
I’ve dabbled with street photography since attending a workshop with Richard Cannon in 2010. There’s nothing quite like engaging in a spot of people watching, with the added challenge of capturing what Henri Cartier-Bressan would have described as the ‘decisive moment’.
My early efforts were all about trying to catch that magic moment, or a particular expression. Since attending other workshops on the subject with Damien Demolder I’ve developed a taste for a more graphic look, using light and architecture to add drama to my images. Damien also encouraged me to get closer to the people I’m photographing, which takes nerve. It also gives me a huge thrill when I get that killer shot though!
(Click on any of the images below to see them larger)
My plan this year is to spend more time developing my street photography. I know the look I’m seeking, but it’s hard to achieve when you’re just snapping a few frames en-route to somewhere else. When the weather (strong sunshine or pouring rain are my favourites for this genre!) and time allows I intend to get out and shoot for whole days to really improve my street portfolio.
Back in January I spent a morning at Speakers’ Corner in London. This was wonderfully liberating. You’ve got lots of extrovert individuals who want to be seen and heard, and who generally don’t care whether you take their photo. Add in casual observers and the folks who actively engage with the speakers and you’ve got a heady mix for any street photographer!
How to focus my specialisms?
This was the eureka moment I had in the car, driving home from the supermarket.
I’ve been a member of our local camera club for nearly six years now, regularly participating in the many competitions. I’ve had some successes, but many failures too. Photography is such a subjective thing that one judge will love an image, and give it 20/20, while the next will hate it. Ultimately I’ve learnt that you have to enter images you enjoy and take the rough with the smooth.
Over the years I’ve entered everything in club competitions, from wildlife to motorsport, architecture to abstract. My plan for the coming year is to be more specialist, focusing on my favourite two genres - architecture and street photography. Who knows if it’ll be a successful strategy in terms of prizes, but at least it’ll enable me to get more feedback on the images I love.
Getting off to a good start
I employed my new strategy last month in our end of year exhibition competition, entering a mix of architecture and street images. Then I held my breath and hoped for the best! To my astonishment, my chosen pictures performed better than I’d expected and I won prizes with the three shown below. I doubt my luck will hold for the whole year, but I enjoyed focusing my selections in the two areas
So there’s my strategy for the coming year. Will it work? I’m hoping it will at least help me improve my skills in these two photographic genres. Creating new images every single day for ten years gave me a fantastic grounding, and taught me a lot. Now it’s time for me to hone my skills in a more deliberate way.
Well, I’m already planning a new project, which I’ll talk about in another post. I’ve also booked to attend a workshop with Astrid McGechan and Charlie Waite in Liverpool next month. The chance to learn from two photographers whose work I love, shooting architecture in a city I’ve always wanted to visit was too good an opportunity to pass up!
In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to produce ever better images and will do my best to care less about whether a competition judge likes them or not!
To follow my progress, please do subscribe to my blog, where I post new pictures regularly.