Tag Archives: creativity

In Focus: No Camera? Think Again

commentarylogoOne of the key components of improving your ability in the photographic realm is practice.  Practice seeing opportunities, seeing shapes, patterns, plays of color, and compositions.  Unfortunately, our ability to exercise photography is often limited, as we don’t always have our ‘serious’ camera with us.  During weekdays at work, for example, or going out for dinner, or even just walking down to the convenience store for ramyeon, we usually don’t have a camera with us… or do we?

Most mobile phones and hand-held devices have a built-in camera these days.  To be sure, in terms of technical image quality they fall far short of that ‘serious’ camera.  Most exhibit too much image ‘noise’, are all but useless in low light and are severely limited in, or totally devoid of control over things like exposure and depth of field.  It is because of these drawbacks that most people, once they acquire a ‘serious’ camera, eschew that crummy little token to device functionality as inferior.  And rightly so from the standpoint of technical quality and control.  But in terms of the more important abstract elements of an image – composition or the capture of color, pattern and shape play – they are no different than any other camera.  Indeed, they share exactly the same limitation: your ability to see the opportunity.

When we are out with that ‘serious’ camera, it’s often for a purpose and we tend to assume some degree of responsibility to take great (or at least good) images.  But an image is never great because of a camera; an image is great because of the mind and eye driving that camera.  And just like behind the wheel of a car, the more you drive the better you get.  With an attentive mind, your ability to read the road, the conditions and potential problems improves with the miles.  Likewise, you can vastly increase your mileage behind a lens by using the tools at your disposal and one advantage the small ‘token’ camera has is that we tend not to take it seriously – we are free to take pictures that don’t matter.

But if the pictures don’t matter, if the apparent limitations render our images poor from a certain point of view, what’s the point?  It is that mileage we are after.  Or to be more precise, mileage coupled with an attentive and critical mind.  Furthermore, we can take those limitations and use them to hone and strengthen our photographic eye.

Can’t control exposure? Saddled with one (usually short) apparent focal length?  No ability to exploit depth of field or make pretty bokeh? Stuck with seemingly random (and usually too slow) ‘shutter’ speeds?  It may seem a bit like running into a headwind, but these are blessings in disguise for the development of you photographic skill.  Your ability to spot opportunities that lie within these limitations, along with your composition and choice of point of view, absolutely has to be more acute.  Do it often, do it with consideration and attention, and you will surprise yourself at the quality of the images you can extract from your phone, and every time you pick up that so-called ‘serious’ camera, the wind will be at your back.

Leave a comment

Filed under In Focus

In Focus: Back to the Basics

commentarylogoCameras these days are smart.  Very smart.  Actually, cameras have been getting smarter for a long time now.  It was back in the 1960s when cameras first sported the ability to measure light, removing the need for the photographer to have to use a separate light meter, and fifty years on, this is trivial for any modern camera.  Light can be measured at single or multiple points in the frame with an extremely high degree of accuracy – the modern photography enthusiast has been relieved of the necessity to be mindful of the thing at the core of photography.

This is all very convenient and photography is faster and more accurate than ever from a technical point of view.  There is no doubt though, that we have become spoiled and it is a sad fact that many of the people that put these marvels of modern engineering and technology to use don’t understand what the camera is actually doing, and something like ‘manual mode’ can assume the proportions of a giant scary monster.

We all start off fearful of taking responsibility for our images and this is not surprising.  Almost everyone these days begins his or her journey through photography with a small ‘point and shoot’ digital with which almost no meaningful user-control is possible.  When we graduate to higher levels of photographic technology (acquire a DSLR, for example), we take this fear with us and are often very reluctant to get out of the coddled comfort zone that encompasses the various ‘program modes’ on that new camera.

If you are one of those for whom the manual modes are unfathomable territory (and there’s no shame in it, every photographer was once), take a step into the unknown.  Once you click out of the program modes, you are clicking into the essence of photography, for no matter how simple or advanced your camera is, there is only one thing that really matters, one thing that is at the heart of all cameras, the prime function for which all the surrounding bells and whistles are but incidental – shutter speed and aperture value.  Hang on, that’s two things.  But those two things do come together to give us that one thing: exposure.

Understanding exposure – the relationship between the aperture and the shutter – will enable you to be much more creative with your images.  Now you can intentionally create those effects you sometimes get by accident and wish you could duplicate.

Did you ever take a portrait and wonder how the subject was nice and sharp, yet the background was beautifully blurred? Open up the aperture and raise the shutter speed.  How about at night when you got some wonderful long-rayed stars on point light sources? Close the aperture and slow the shutter down.

Appreciating the intimate relationship between the shutter and aperture will do much more to further your photography than any amount of poring over that manual trying to memorize all those quirky functions the modern camera has.  I really recommend you knuckle down and make the effort.  Indeed, once you get a real handle on exposure, everything else becomes much easier to get your head around.  Get out there and give your creativity a fair go.

Leave a comment

Filed under In Focus

In Focus: Creativity Killers

commentarylogoI recently read a short book about creativity and inspiration in photography. It contained some insight about how the author sees the creative process and gave much advice on how as a photographer you can nurture your own, or if you’re like me, as just a regular person who aspires to take better pictures.

Something that really struck me as significant was an interview with a very well known photographer and his views on this issue. Specifically his ‘Top 10′ list of things that kill the creative photographic process. It was just a very small part in the book and there wasn’t any clarification on these points – it was just a list – but I just want to pull out a couple and share my take and thoughts on them. Hopefully something will resonate with you, or at least generate some food for thought. Here we go in descending order:

Creativity Killer #10: Not knowing when to set the camera down.

I used to carry my DSLR everywhere, also, if I didn’t have at least two different lenses with me, I felt uncomfortable. In fact I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to take photos. These days I’ve eschewed digital for a rather unwieldy and inconvenient film camera and unless I have something particular in mind or a potentially interesting place to go, it’s much more comfortable to leave it at home. I’ve found this has taken a lot off my mind and I’m free to actually enjoy my photography when I choose, and under no self-pressure.

Creativity Killer #7: Impatiently press the shutter.

A habit exacerbated by the age of the digital camera. It’s so easy to snap and move on, or fire off a few and sort them out later. Probably the single biggest benefit of spending time behind a film camera is that I can’t see my results so I am literally forced to view my frame much more carefully before I hit that shutter. For those of you who, like myself, have a challenge with self discipline at times, this is of undeniable benefit. But whatever medium you shoot, next time you’re out spend a little more time with the camera at your eye evaluating your compositional options before actuating that shutter.

Creativity Killer #2: Own and carry expensive gear.

This is perhaps the most controversial item on the list, and very illuminating being ranked so high (or even ranked at all) by an internationally renowned photographer. It’s also prudent to keep in mind that the context here is creativity. Further, I see the context as ‘creativity on the street’ so to speak, that is, not specialized photographic areas such as sports or action where creativity takes a back seat to the ability to shoot 8 frames per second from a distance (which does require expensive gear). We’re talking about everyday, walk-around-style photography – a style which encompasses the vast majority of people who carry a camera. This is a complex topic with many different supporting arguments so I’ll keep it brief. Expensive gear is your bark, the image is your bite. Needless to say, there are many extremely fierce-looking but toothless photographers prowling the streets.  It’s so easy for budding (and experienced!) photographers to think something like “My photos would be better if I just had that camera.” This way of thinking will stifle your creativity more effectively than just about anything else. Slap yourself upside the head and get out there and work at taking better pictures with the gear you’ve got. I know I had to. I’m like a cracked record on this issue, but not enough people say it – your gear has nothing to do with the creativity in, and quality of, your images.

If you think these things don’t apply to you, or you view your own ability as above average (or other people tell you it is), take note of the Creativity Killer #4: Become talented and take yourself very seriously.

If you are interested in developing your photography, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book – actually a book in two parts. To find it, google ‘The Inspired Eye by David duChemin’. It’s very cheap and available to purchase and download online. The ‘Top 10 Creativity Killers’ were part of duChemin’s interview with photographer Chris Orwig.

You can work on developing your creativity with the Seoul Photo Club on Flickr.

by Aaron Raisey

Leave a comment

Filed under In Focus