We live in an age where information is in abundance – and that includes photography.
But the more information flying around your head, the more you can find yourself obsessing over the details and losing sight of the bigger picture. Or should I say, the bigger photograph.
So here are five alternative (and I hope, refreshing) things they don’t usually tell you about photography.
1. You don’t need any more gear
Now is the time. If you’ve only got your granddad’s hand-me-down camera, go out and take the best pictures you can with that, right now. Upgrade when you can, and if you want to. But keep pushing yourself and your current camera to its limits and surprise yourself. It’s about you, not your gear. A good photographer with a low-end camera will still take better photographs than Uncle Bob who doesn’t know what he’s doing with his top-of-the-range DSLR.
This photographic collage was made with cheap equipment: an old 6.1mp Nikon D50 digital camera, and a 50mm f1.8 Nikon prime lens. That gear is yours via eBay for around £100. (Oh, and pound-for-pound it’s far and away the best lens I’ve ever used).
2. Break the rules
Rule of thirds? Break it, if the result looks better.
It should be called the suggestion of thirds. In the heat of the moment, we shouldn’t be thinking about rules – but rather, instinctively knowing what looks good.
Trust your intuition, and rely on your instinct. These are the most valuable assets we have with us at any time. This is what makes our photographs unique and personal, instead of formulaic. It allows creativity to flow. Throughout history, the best artists have thought differently and I strongly believe that photography is, above all else, art. Let’s keep the art and our own unique intuition alive, undiluted by other peoples’ rules. I mean, suggestions.
If we’re taking the rule of thirds as an example, here’s an image in point. From a ‘thirds’ point of view, the photograph makes little sense. The subject is right up in the top corner, and nearly all of the image is taken up by a grey concrete wall. However, I think it’s the extremity of the girl’s location and the calculated, smaller glimpse of the bright colours that add to this image. Indeed, there may even be another type of “rule” or “technique” used to describe what I’ve done here – but I don’t know what it’s called. I just did what I thought looked right at the time – and that neatly leads me on to my next point.
3. Don’t think too much
There’s so much great advice out there about compositional considerations, camera settings and styling techniques. But again, what’s most important is our own instinctive judgment and intuition – don’t let information overload stand in the way.
We can consider f-stops and clever framing strategies all we like, but this is no good if the subject moves off and and that elusive moment’s gone. Just trust your split second judgment, and take the shot.
It’s all about getting the balance right – we should work how we genuinely and instinctively want to work, as well as applying what we do learn. But doing what we want to do is more important than what other people say we should do (myself included). That helps us on the path to an individual style that will, hopefully, set us out from the crowd.
This shot doesn’t exist. The person moved away before I’d finished re-composing the shot and considering my dynamic range adjustments.
4. Photograph boring places
The Taj Mahal. The Eiffel Tower. That big window in the Tate Modern. There are probably two certainties at these places. One: You’ll get some great shots. Two: Thousands of others will have done the same.
Photography is first and foremost about looking. I don’t believe there is a truly boring place to photograph – just places where we may need to look harder for that image, or differently, or with greater patience than in others. Overlooked streets and places are crying out to be discovered worldwide. Lose yourself in one of these ‘boring’ places – and see how it makes you push yourself, and what details it rewards you with. Best of all, when you find that elusive photograph, you may well be the only person who’s ever captured it.
This photograph was taken whilst waiting to cross the road at an intersection. It’s just pavement, car and shadow. For such a mundane moment, I could so easily have left my camera in the bag. Instead I stumbled upon this photograph, which is actually quite different from what I usually choose to capture and worth recording, I think.
5. Photographers are not cool
Some of the things I’ve been mistaken for: A traffic warden, the paparazzi, a tourist, “Mr Snaps”, the press, a minor security risk and a general loiterer. (Well, maybe that last one is true).
At first I found it difficult to get over the self-consciousness of photographing unfamiliar places and unknown people on the street. I felt uncomfortable pointing my camera at strangers, and spending minutes on end with my lens facing a shop window until someone walked past in exactly the right place. But the more you get over this, the more it’s like a release into a whole new world of shots you’d never have taken before.
In a nutshell, I’m sure I don’t look particularly cool, or indeed normal, when I’m photographing the streets. So if you feel the same way I do, then just remember we’re in it together and that it’s cool images that really matter, not a cool photographer.
I had to wait for about half an hour outside a restaurant to take this shot. I was cold. The people inside probably wondered what I was doing. The passers by probably wondered why I was photographing them. Eventually, this runner passed by in just the right place and I got the shot I was after.