Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Gluttony - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Mosquito - Image © 2007 David Toyne

Gluttony: does not accept the natural limits of your needs. It does not preserve any natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and the pursuit of material goods...
In photography the sin of equipment gluttony is often compounded by the other deadly sin of camera envy. The results are negative and counter productive though for different reasons.

When a case of photographic gluttony begins the sinner in question begins to labour under the delusion that if some camera equipment is good then more is even better!

Now this can be OK if said person takes the time and effort to fully learn and utilize all that equipment. However in reality they tend to do one of two things and both are bad.

Option 1: They become totally equipment obsessed. The technical brain dominates the creative brain. Their piggy eyes see only into their camera bag they never look up and see the beauty around them. Photography becomes about the obtaining of camera equipment.
Option 2: The confusion of so many creative tools available causes endless mistakes, missed opportunities and botched images. Their potential is hindered not helped by their gluttonous acquisition of photographic equipment.

I'll end on a true story. A few years ago I went to London on a course in candid street photography. I arrived with one small discrete camera on a wrist strap. It had a small prime lens mounted on the front. There was a small flash in my pocket for any abstracts I saw along the way. In short I was mobile, discrete and blended in nicely.

Another course member exploded onto the scene with around six huge white telephoto lenses, two huge professional camera bodies, an enormous backpack and a ridiculous 'photo-vest'. He was somewhat 'high key'.

Within minutes of arrival and comparison the equipment junkie proceeded to mock me and several other delegates for twenty minutes solid. It quickly became apparent he was delusionaly impressed with the size of his own equipment and had assumed this view was universal. I tried to explain my choice of light, discrete minimal kit. I felt it was more suited after all. In the end we just sat in silence as the gear glutton pontificated from the top of his camera bag.

We spent half a day on our classroom lesson then in the afternoon we went out on assignment into the city with our cameras. The gear glutton crept noisily into a small square and raised his gargantuan camera to his eye. A small teenage boy looked shocked and pointed at his lens with the exclamation, "what in hell are you doing with the Hubble telescope!?!?". Everyone immediately noticed and most people laughed aloud. His candid moment was completely blown. This or similar happened all afternoon. His photographs where predictably poor.

The moral of the story is often less is more. Stick with what you need and what's appropriate.

Lust - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

If mine eye offends thee - Image © 2007 David Toyne

LUST: Self control and self mastery prevent pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. Sex, power, or image can be used well, but without knowledge of yourself they tend to go out of control...

The photographic sin of lust is a strange sin indeed. It is often the subject of much discussion amongst photographers. It manifests in the form of an unsuccessful and un-original photographer. One who is so influenced and so enamored with a particular photographers style that they seek to emulate every aspect of it. Their lust to actually be that photographer takes over and they cease to be their own creative entity. This manifests in their endless dry and technical emulation of their idol.

Of course they will only ever manage to be a pale immitation of the person they placed on the pedestal. Worse still, as is the way with all meaningless lust, their loss of an individual visual identity damages them. Their passion for photography dies and the tiny seedling of originality withers in the ground.

To make a distinction from this erroneous path I'll add this footnote: By all means you should look at the work of many other creative individuals. You can draw great inspiration and pleasure from the experience. One can learn and grow simply by being open to a creative experience as represented by another. In fact being honest with yourself for a moment is it not a natural thing to want others to appreciate your photographs? So would it not be hypocritical to not extend that courtesy to others?

This is where it should end though. A healthy love of the work of other people tempered with a knowledge of yourself. Not a lust to be another person at the loss of your own creative identity.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Digital Workflow - (Part3) - Clones and Space Invaders

Screen Shot of Reasonable Softwares NoClone Version 4

Screenshot Of NoClone Version 4

After the last workflow article I was asked if I had experience of a program to save space by finding and removing duplicates on a hard drive. The use of a program like this this being obvious too anyone with Gigabytes of .tif photographs and .mp3's clogging their hard drive.

Now as it happens I discovered a superb program for this exact purpose some time ago and have used it for Two versions now. The software in question is a very cheap little utility called 'NoClone' which is available from Reasonable software as a download. It's at a price like their name would suggest.

Use couldn't be simpler. Pick some file paths to search for duplicates. Tell the program what duplicates you want to look for. Something like 'Exact content duplicate files'. Next tell it what kind of file. An obvious choice from the drop down box being 'Images'. Click [Search] and wait for a short time.

The program will rapidly search the folders you request and mark up what it thinks should be deleted and place it in a list next to the suspected matching duplicate file. It will pick older files or whatever other preferences you choose to set. You can check the files and delete away. Couldn't be simpler. I saved 12.9 Gb on an 80 Gb Hard Drive in 5 minutes. Well worth it's $32.90 asking price just on $'s per Megabyte it saved me along with a few hours work.

Hellen Van Meene interview goes live.

Image © Hellen Van Meene - Courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel

In late 2006 I had the great experience of interviewing renowned portrait photographer Hellen Van Meene. She was a fascinating articulate person with great thoughts and opinions about her craft. So much so that I had to do the harshest edits I've ever done in an article. That or it would have been three times as long as my editor would like it!

Hellen's work focuses on teenagers, mostly young women, who are on bordering on adulthood. The images have an almost otherworldly quality. She discusses the reasons for this and how she approaches her work in my article. I've included an excerpt of below as a taster. The full article can be found here on ePhotozine.com where I work as Professional Photographer Portfolio Editor.

Hellen felt part of her talent as a photographer was to draw something more out of her models something from within them. She felt sometimes this meant strong direction of her models which often means having to ask them how to pose or how to look. Guiding them through the process. Her description of this was dramatic referring to it as "like sculpting on a living soul" She feels a strong responsibility for her models and the look she gives them as she has chosen them in the first place for qualities they are perhaps unaware they have at this point. She adds after pausing for thought "I try to get the best things out of them. If it means I have to turn her around or anything else, it’s my responsibility and that is a big challenge every time. It’s too easy to make a photo of an insecure girl. I mean…there’s nothing in it. It’s much more of a challenge to take an insecure girl and change her into Queen Elizabeth. That’s more difficult".

I really hope you enjoy the article and as always if you have feedback, suggested photographers to interview or would like that kind of exposure yourself please drop me a mail.

Hellen's Book is available from Schirmer Mosel Publishing. I have my own copy already and am delighted with both the content and the print quality.

Previous interviews on ePhotozine.com:

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Sloth - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

If I had not got up I could not have taken this! - Image © 2007 David Toyne

SLOTH: The other sins work together to deaden the senses so we first become slow to respond then drift completely into the sleep of complacency. In short we become a lazy good for nothing photographer.

This is really simple so I'll keep it brief. If you don't have your camera with you you can't take pictures. If you don't go out looking for pictures they will not come and knock on your door begging for you to pop out and take them. If you don't make an effort to find the pictures all around you, while moaning that there is nothing to photograph, then you are guilty of the sin of photographic sloth.

The cure is simple. Get up off lazy complacent backside, put down the pie and turn off the television. Make an effort. No one took a great picture by sitting doing nothing. You'll find Ansell Adams actually walked about a bit to take pictures. In order to practice what I preach I got up at an ungodly hour on a cold and windy day to take the photo in this article. I could have stayed in bed but I personally think it was worth the trip.

NOTE: The sin of photographic sloth should not be confused with photographing sloths which is a noble though slightly obscure pass time of wildlife photographers.

Pride - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

In the Frame... - Image © David Toyne

PRIDE: Seeing ourselves as something we are not. Pride and vanity are also collaborative. If someones pride really gets your goat, then you have a lot of pride.

In photography the sin of pride is a devastating sin. It will prevent you learning. It will prevent you accepting advice. It will make many a potential mentor shun you without you ever realising they have. Your development into a talented photographer will simply never occur. And why is that you ask? There's a simple and obvious answer to the question. If you are so prideful that you already believe you are a great photographer why would you struggle to actually be one? If you are so vain as to believe you already know best how can you ever listen and learn to a more experienced photographer? How can you ever see virtue in the work of anyone else if you are already the greatest? Also why on earth would anyone want to pause and help anyone so arrogant as yourself?

Now opening up to the fact that you are not the greatest at landscape, portrait, street or whatever type of photographer is difficult. You must subsume that huge ego. John Cleese once described this process of divesting yourself of ego as going to sleep thinking you're Atilla The Hun but waking up to find your a Budgie. Now it's very difficult to accept you are not always perfect but the benefits are enormous. If you are open to the fact you are flawed and have room to improve. You begin to strive to improve. You begin to be honest and examine your work more critically. You learn to listen and to take on board the opinions of others. That's how you grow as a photographer. It's how you approach greatness.

If you follow that advice then I am sure that one day you will be very proud of your accomplishments in photography. On that day being justifiably happy with what you've worked hard to accomplish is an entirely different ball game to just deluding yourself about your own greatness.

PS: The picture in the article is:

A/. The greatest picture ever taken.
B/. Has been posterized to hide the fact it's out of focus.

Which point of view will help me improve the most?

Friday, 16 February 2007

Envy - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Church, Graveyard And Tombstone - Image © John MacLeod

ENVY: Resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy irrationaly ignores the reasons for other peoples good fortune and despises the success of others.

Camera envy is one of the deadly sins of photography for a very good reason. It gives people the delusional excuse that if only they had the same camera as photographer x,y or z then they would take the same wonderful pictures as them. This insidious little delusion manages to insult the talent of the accomplished photographer by crediting only their equipment while simultaneously excusing them from responsibility for their own creative ability.

Rather than argue about the importance of what camera you use I will simply quote three professional photographers I interviewed recently and you'll see the pattern emerge yourself.

Deutsche Börse nominee Philippe Chancel when speaking about his work was interrupted by the cry of 'Great prints! What camera do you use?' looking very confused for a moment he said the following.

35mm. I don't know what one sorry, it's not important.

Philippe found the use of repeated motifs and symbols to tell a story far more important than any camera.

Johnathan Taylor a successful photo journalist when asked about his cameras of choice was using film cameras of a 30 year old design. The kind even a mild camera snob would ignore. His reason was relevant to his trade and revealed something about why he is good at what he does.

I like them as they have a small body so your face isn’t covered

Jonathan knew it was far more important to avoid creating a barrier with his subjects than to obsess over the best camera.

Hellen Van Meene brought a smile to my face and made a very relevant point at the same time. To quote from her own FAQ's:

Hellen started making photos on plastic snapshot camera she got from Santa Claus. She advises to get to know about color in the darkroom like she did, or simply by experimenting with Photoshop (like she does now, but based on what she learned among the chemicals in the darkroom). Learning to view the world like a photographer is the only thing that matters, not the hardware, film or settings used.

Hellen's full attention is on her connection to her models not what camera she has.

The moral of the story is covet not thy neighbors camera just focus on the content of your images, your approach to your chosen subjects and then really work at it. The rest will come and it won't ever matter what camera you use.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Digital Workflow (Part2) - Backup Those Files!

Ferris Wheel at Night - Image © David Toyne

To give an example hard drive problem think on this. A hard drive head hits a speck of dust on the disc. Scaled down it's like a jumbo jet flying down a runway at 650mph; six millimetres off the ground with it's undercarriage down. Imagine the chaos if at that moment it hits a family sized car. You'd be right in assuming both the jet and the runway are destroyed in the encounter. If it was your hard drive crashing then the disc and heads would be destroyed along with all your images. Image recovery costs, when recovery is posible, can run into huge sums of money.

Now backups are boring, time consuming and mistakes get made. So I run a very cheap and simple backup solution to avoid this problem. You could easily implement it yourself. All you need is one external hard drive and a small piece of software called AllwaySync. Looking online today a USB 2.0 external hard drive with 300GB of space can be obtained for around £65 ($140). AlwaySync Pro costs a paltry £10 ($19.99). So for a very small sum you're up and running.

What I have in mind is simple to set-up and simple to maintain. Afterwards your backups are automatic, rapid and only the files that have changed will be backed up. Just follow the easy steps below:

  1. Plug in your USB\Firewire hard drive. It will usually be detected automatically.Format the USB\Firewire hard drive with your chosen file system. Assign the drive a permanent drive letter that's not is use like X: or Z: for example.
  2. On the external drive create a folder called 'Picture Archive' or similar.
  3. Install AllwaySyc on the computer and run it (No explanation required it's a total cinch!).

  4. Allwaysync Pro - Screenshot
  5. Select the picture folder on your hard drive on the left and the picture folder you set-up for backups on your external drive on the righthand side (See above image).

  6. Click the 'Synchronise' button. The application will do the rest.
There are more advanced options you can use such as telling the software to look for changes and synchronise both folders when you plug in the drive, or to run on a backup schedule every week at a certain time.

AllwaySync Options Screen
You can tell the software to monitor your picture folder all the time and synchronise every time you save a change if you like. There are many self explanatory options available.

Loads of time saved!
There's nothing it doesn't do quickly and easily and without complication. It's what I like most about it. Most of all it saves time, doesn't rely on my memory and gives me piece of mind that my images are safe and sound. To me that's priceless.

***Note: I have no commercial affiliation with any product or service mentioned here. I don't get sponsored. I sing the praises of only what I have tried and what works for me. Even then only if I think it's a bit special and good value. I write these articles for personal satisfaction and to help you out, not for selfish capitalist reasons.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Design In Nature

Swan Reflected - Image © David Toyne

Another interesting article by Paul Indigo has just been posted. This one touches on design in nature. The article was illustrated with a great photograph of a swan.

Now it just so happened that I had a lovely picture of a swan to hand today. I took it a year or so back. So I thought I'd post it as it ties in with my previous article on healthy creative differences as it shows one subject with two very different interpretations.

My image also fits with Paul's thoughts on design in nature. Read his article and you'll see what I mean.

In The Eye of The Beholder?

What happens if you put lots of photographers at the same time, in the same place and ask them to photographer the same thing? All the pictures will be the same or similar right?.

To be honest I've often found it most odd when people state this kind of nonsense. I find it stranger still and most distasteful when a photographer is unwilling to share a 'secret' location. Is this in case you somehow steal their mojo? Thankfully I've recently had the opportunity to robustly debunk this myth.

I was recently on a photographic weekend with several practiced photographers and a recent convert to photography. One morning sat on a hill looking at the same tree at the same time. I suggested we all took pictures and then we compared the results. The results surprised even me.

I'll start with myself. I wanted a panoramic symmetrical shot of the scene. So I used a wide lens with the intention of cropping the top and bottom of the image afterwards.

Sycamore Gap - Image © David Toyne
Next is the photograph of Wirral, UK based photographer Anthony Smith. To use his own words

I shot this as a variation of what is an often shot scene. I wanted to include some of the surrounding landscape too. I shot in portrait mode for something a bit different as its not the usual landscape orientation.

Sycamore Gap - Image © Anthony Smith
Next up is Andy Rosochacki. Now Andy made me smile straight away by vanishing over the hill into the opposite direction and photographing into the sun. This is 'against the rules' so it gets my vote. In Andy's own words:

As you remember I did my loner bit and disappeared down the other side of the hill. I'd made a mental note to shoot towards the light source at some stage during the break as most of my previous landscapes have shown lots of detail on the land due to keeping the sun out of shot.

Sycamore Gap - Image © Andy Rosochacki
Last but by no means least is the new kid on the block John MacLeod. He's had a camera only 3 months and is already hooked. I feel he's got great potential largely because no one has had chance to try stifle his creativity yet. He's not hobbled with too many rules and technical obsessions. The result is his photograph is completely abstract and original. It shows a very individual way of looking at things. The great message for us all in John's shot is that you learn by experimenting and should never stop doing so.

Sycamore Gap - Image © John MacLeod
As you can see with a group of photographers in the same place at the same time the results vary hugely. This is for a very simple reason. The creative intent and the creative eye of each photographer is totaly different. This difference in creative intent shapes how a photographer will compose and what they want to show in their interpretation of a scene. It also tends to influence how and what they look for in the first place.

If there is a moral to the tale (and I am not sure there is!) then I think it is this one thing. There is no right and wrong image here there are just different interpretations of what was there. Don't mimic and don't fight your own creative urges. Be yourself, see for yourself and you will not go wrong.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Lars Tunbjörk Exhibition

Lars Tunbjörk at OpenEye Gallery - Image © 2007 David Toyne

I recently interviewed renowned Swedish documentary photographer Lars Tunbjörk. Later I attended the preview of his first U.K. exhibition at the OpenEye Gallery in Liverpool. The exhibition consists of three aspects of his work. The Office Series (2001) which shows all the underlying chaos and claustrophobia of the modern corporate workplace. The images are taken with a wry sense of humour while retaining the disturbing claustrophobia of the hot desking, cube farmed, globalized workplace. The second series Dom Alla (All Those) 2002, looks at institutional environments in the Swedish welfare systems.

© Lars Tunbjörk, Lawyer’s office, New York, 1997 - From the series Office. Courtesy of Galerie Vu
© Lars Tunbjörk, Lawyer’s office, New York, 1997.
From the series Office. Courtesy of Galerie Vu

The third and final series in the exhibition is Madrid, 2004 a very stark series of images of the residential developments on the outskirts of Madrid. It is an almost alien landscape punctuated by feeble attempts to add a plant here or a border there. In stark contrast to the Office series there are no people at all in these images. Its a suburban landscape repeated all over the brave new world of Neo-Europe and Lars demonstrates it very well. The lyrics of the Dead Kennedy's came to mind as I looked at this work. The chant of 'This could be anywhere! this could be everywhere...' echo'd round my head. It could have been a statement or a warning and the same can be said of Lars Tunbjörk's well observed photographic narratives. When asked about this he enigmaticaly said simply 'you decide.' and i'd certainly recommend everyone visits this exhibition and does just that.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Interview With Hellen Van Meene

New Work Book Cover - Image © Hellen van MeeneI'm a few days off publication of my latest interview with a profesional photographer. In this case it is with renowned Dutch photographer Hellen Van Meene. I'm just editing the final draft of the article and have to say I'm very excited about how it's shaping up. She's a fascinating and articulate person who's views on her work are extremely interesting. The interview will appear on ePhotozine.com very shortly. I'll post an update informing you when the article goes live. The image on the left is the cover to her book 'New Work' which I'd recommend both for the themes it contains, the quality of the images and as a masterclass in the use of natural light.

In the meantime if you haven't already you could check out my previous two interviews on ePhotozine.com.

Jonathan Taylor - A Photo-journalist based in Asia talks about his work and how to keep your cool and produce good documentary photography work while dining with a contract killer! A real insight into photo journalism from a very talented photographer.
Andy Rouse - The world renowned wildlife photographer Andy Rouse talks about his new work, photography in Antarctica and his future plans. Worth checking out for his award winning images alone. Add to that he's funny and to the point and you're on to a winner.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Shameless Plug

Veteran photographer and professional writer Paul Indigo has written two excellent articles recently. I thought I would highlight them here due to their excellent content. What sets them apart in my mind is the focus they have on the importance of non-technical aspects of creating a great image. An image with meaning and emotional content rather than a snapshot or a dry technical exercise. This is something that is often overlooked in art, design and photography.

The first is an article on conveying emotion in an image.
The second is an essay about designing images that work.

Both are recommend reading.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Is creative imperfection a good thing?

Brighton 2006 - Image © Luke Smith

What do we mean when we say a photograph is technically perfect? In fact I wonder is it a good thing to dwell on such things? I began to consider the topic of technical perfection seriously this morning when I read comments criticizing Henry Cartier Bresson for being technically imperfect. It's no secret that at times he was technically imperfect. However I was quite surprised someone could be so obsessed with the technical as to miss the undoubted emotional and artistic merits of H.C.B.'s vast body of groundbreaking work.

To me a technically perfect photograph, one devoid of meaning, is anathema. It is a photograph that asks no questions of my eye and makes no demands on my mind. It does not engage me at all. Its like a brand new show home. Beautiful on the surface but too anodyne and sterile to stay there long.

Please don't think that I am not suggesting that technical discipline is not required in photography. I am suggesting something quite to the contrary. There are too many lazy artists already I wouldn't suggest that you join their already bloated ranks by throwing any craft to the wind and trusting only your 'muse'. What I am suggesting to you is that obsession with nothing but technical perfection is the death of a thousand cuts to your creative eye. The end result is images like thousands of others. Images with no relevance and no originality. Images that serve no purpose other than that of a dry technical exercise.

I believe strongly that our eyes and through them our minds really enjoy a visual puzzle. A visual puzzle engages us and holds our attention. It's a feast for the eye and it stops us from becoming bored with an image before we have engaged with it. In fact I'd suggest it is often an images quirks and imperfections that grip us the most.

Take the image in this article kindly provided by extremely talented Aardman Animation photographer Luke Smith. It could be argued it has technical imperfections. It has converging verticals, motion blur and some dubious areas of exposure. I'd argue strongly that it's a dynamic image, it makes suggestions to us. It tells a story that demands more of our energy to figure out what's occurring. We can even easily apply our own interpretation to it. In short it engages us as viewers and holds us there. I could go further and state it's the blur and dynamic 'on the fly' feel of the image generated by it's imperfections that add most to this image. In short it is when measured by my yardstick and excellent and engrossing image.

I'll end with Luke's own thoughts on his image:

It's been interesting reading the threads about Cartier Bresson and peoples thoughts about technical perfection in photography. In case you don't already know this image shows where I stand on the subject...

I need say no more...

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Double Velvia Vision

Standard Hadrian's Wall - Image © David Toyne One of the major reasons many landscape photographers avoid going digital is Fuji Velvia film. It is without a doubt a fantastic film for landscape. It has a great colour and tone idealy suited to landscapes.

So it was with great interest on my landscape weekend that I tried out the Adobe Photoshop 'Velvia Vision' plugin from Fred Miranda's website.

The picture on the top left is taken with a 3 stop ND Grad filter to hold back the sky. The same shot shown on the bottom left has had the Velvia Vision plugin used on it. The Velvia shot has a warmer tone and has a better dynamic range and contrast. This has benefited the look of the sky greatly.

Velvia Hadrian's Wall - Image © David Toyne
Now i could have done all this myself given enough time in Adobe Photoshop. This plugin did it in 10 seconds 1 click and no effort whatsoever on my part. This gets my vote every time. Less time in Photoshop is more time taking pictures.

Verdict: $25 well spent

Understanding the Abstract

Cobbles, lines and curves abstract - Image © David Toyne Fellow photographer Chris Shepherd has written and interesting article detailing his thoughts on Abstract Photography. It's a good read and illustrated with a picture I particularly like. To me it is a good example of an abstract image that's both well executed and contains meaning for the viewer.

His views in the article differ slightly from my own so I may at some point write a contrasting article to compliment Chris's. This is not a critisism of the views Chris holds. Quite the contrary as it is different view points and perspectives that make any creative act such as photography unique. The fact our views are simmilar but diverge is no suprise to anyone and i'd certainly not want to change that difference of opinion. I'd add that I wouldn't say one of us is right and the other wrong either. Creativity is never as black and white as this if you'll pardon the photography joke in the metaphor! We all have our own approaches shaped by our own creative perspectives.

This is vitally important as without this no unique work could be produced. We'd all be static and boring clones of each other.

My next article will cover the differing ways photographers can perceive and approach the same subject. Like this note it deals with the 'creative differences' all photographers share and how they enrich photography for us all.