SIMPLE TIPS FOR BETTER PHOTOS – 3 – LEARNING TO SAY “WHY…..”

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This advice, aimed a those relatively new to photography, comes in two parts.  Two earlier “tips” pieces are here and here.

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PART ONE – YOUR VISUAL EXPERIENCE, AND VISUAL AWARENESS

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If you want to improve your photography, it is important to enhance your experience of the visual world as much as possible.  By which I mean that you should expose your mind to as many images as you can get your eyes on – and by no means should these images only be photographs!  Pencil sketches, charcoal, crayon, watercolours, oil paintings, graffiti, children’s scrawls, old masters, advertising – they are all equally useful and you should look at these too.

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Because every time that we see a new image – no matter what the medium it has been produced in – we are adding to our visual experience, we are making ourselves that much more Visually Aware – as Roger Hicks, writing in Amateur Photographer magazine put it, we are adding to the visual libraries in our minds.

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One of the joys and great benefits of blogging is that it provides almost endless opportunities to see other peoples’ images, and this is the reason I trawl through the photography section of WordPress’s Freshly Pressed most days – to see what people are producing.  If I like an image I find there, I press the “Like” button, and this not only registers my preference with the image’s author, but it also causes the image to appear as a thumbnail near the bottom of my blog’s sidebar – where it (hopefully!) gives the images further exposure, while giving others new ideas.

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I mention these “Liked” posts near the top of the sidebar (over on the right of my blog), and give the date there on which I’ve last updated them.  If you scroll down the sidebar you’ll come to IMAGES I’VE LIKED RECENTLY, and the pictures appear there.

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PART TWO – ARTICULATING YOUR OPINIONS ….. BEING ABLE TO SAY ”  WHY ….. “

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So, drowning yourself daily in pictures, where do you go from there?  Well, the second bit is not quite so easy, but it is something that puts you on the road to knowing your visual preferences, and thence to creating images that suit those preferences.

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Because, let’s make this clear from the outset, I am talking here about YOU – YOUR visual preferences – NOT those preferences that anyone else, say a competition judge (oh, shudder …!) says you should have.  We are all different, we all like different things, and thank heavens that’s the case >>> so this is a journey of exploration for YOU, a journey to find out what YOU like.  What you like may of course change over time, there is no guarantee that it’ll be fixed, but the point is, this is about YOU …. YOU ….. YOU …..

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So, how to start?  Simple.  Look at an image, its probably best to start with a photograph, and simply ask yourself whether you like it or not.  And whichever is the case, ask yourself WHY.  The point is that here – at the start of a very long and fascinating road – you are going to start putting your preferences into WORDS.

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And rest assured that this does NOT have to be long or sophisticated, not something up there alongside Matthew Collings pontificating about art or Mark Kermode reviewing a new film.  It can be ultimately simple: “Its too dark and sombre!”, or “I don’t like posed portraits”, or “The blues and yellows here go very well together”.  Because in each of these examples you have given a reason, you have translated your feelings into words that you and others can comprehend – YOU ARE ON YOUR WAY.

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And from those simple beginnings, you may start to notice other things.  For example, “I like this because the many lines in this picture all lead in towards that darling little girl”; or “do you know, having only a part of that person’s face in the frame really intrigues me!”; or “this photo’s not in focus but I don’t think that matters at all!” – and so on.

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It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t have to be technical or “sophisticated” >>> but its YOU, putting YOUR thoughts into words.

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WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  Because it is helping you to know yourself and, in particular, to become aware of your visual tastes >>> so that when you next point a camera at anything, you will have that little bit more of an inkling as to why you like or dislike it >>> you will be more consciously on your way to developing that holy grail of photography, Your Personal Visual Style.

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Two more things to mention here.

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THE DIRE CURSE OF THE GREAT GOD INDIFFERENCE!

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You show your photos to someone else and hope for a positive response.  You’d much rather have them say something positive, than utter negatives.  But there is a third possibility that is far worse than a negative – and that is INDIFFERENCE!

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Its uncomfortable having someone saying negative things about your work >>> but at least its input, something to be thought about and worked upon maybe – unless you consider the person making the points an utter clod of course.  Because at least your attempts have made an impact, albeit a negative one.

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But when someone is completely unmoved by your efforts, when someone looks at them with the complete indifference that, for example, the thinking classes reserve for party politics, now THAT really hurts!

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THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF COMPETITIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

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To my mind, photography can never be in competitive, simply because it is far, far too subjective.  Remember, as I said above, we are all different, and we are talking about YOU … YOU … YOU … not anybody else.  If you’re lucky, you’ll create images that you like.  If you’re luckier still, you’ll create images that others like too – and that really gives a buzz!

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But, because of the medium’s subjectivity, it really is not realistic for a judge or panel of judges to compare images – their preferences may not be anywhere near your’s – and its YOU who matter.  I have read of people tailoring their photography to what they think will please competition judges, and that really is a very, very sad state of affairs.

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My view?  I’m not at all concerned with winning prizes or competitions, in my view these things have no connection with photography at all.

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For me, photography is something that I can amalgamate with creative vision, to produce images that show how I see and feel the world around me.

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Adrian

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20 comments

  1. just perfect!!! I have washed my hands off competitions now. In particular local ones. I compeltely agree with you about photograph being your vision and how can any other pass a judgement on it. Photograph is your viewpoint, your philosophy, your belief and it is your visualization. To sit on a judgement on any one’s creativity is like killing it. Being human, I like when there is a positive response for my efforts. I also like negative response which is constructive. I like when people make suggestions to improve it. To follow or not to follow it is my look out at the end. But I will surely listen and try and then decide on merits of it.

    I recently had an encounter with so called well known, esteemed photographer. It left a very bad taste in my mouth. I don’t expect everyone to like my pictures. I don’t even mind indifference compared to the kind of shit (sorry for that 🙂 ) I heard about my photography. For a moment I felt like crying and lost all my confidence. Then I thought about all the wonderful things that are happening on my photography front and decided to ignore him. I have never encountered such scathing attack on my work before!! One of my friends told me that “it means you have arrived” !! What a “wonderful” word we live in, isn’t it? 🙂

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    • Well, its your choice – but for me, photographic competitions are not of any use whatsoever. And you’ve said it – to sit in judgement on someone else’s creativity is killing it – absolutely!!!

      You’ve had brushes with Indian photographers before – if you lose your confidence, think of me … it won’t do much for your confidence … but your resulting hysteria will at least help you forget all about the criticism … trust me … I’m a doctor …. 🙂 …..

      And I think your friend is right – it means you have arrived – your are someone worth criticising and ridiculing >>> if you were unknown and a complete non-entity, would he have bothered to expend his bile on you???

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        • Good! Yes, it is you but its more than you >>> its everybody!!! – I feel very strongly that everyone should create their own images – and not be downtrodden by those who would seek to impose their visual tastes upon them.

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  2. Well articulated Adrian. I feel exactly the same as you do with respect to producing images to please a judge or an exhibition selector. I did all that 30years ago – quite well for a time – but I’m long past that stage. Like you, I shoot for pleasure and if others like what I produce that is a bonus.

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    • Absolutely – glad you agree! Unless you’re a professional, shooting to please someone else really is a sad state of affairs – that’s photography’s great freedom, isn’t it – doing our own thing. A

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        • Agreed! But its strange, there are these myths and legends around photography – and its exactly the same in birdwatching >>> and one of the great holy grails is to turn professional, that’s what everyone wants to do.

          Well in birdwatching I did just that – 5 years managing and leading safaris in Kenya – looking at everything from birds and mammals, to Nature generally, geology, local history etc – and it was damned hard work! Oh I enjoyed it, and saw incredible things (but rarely photographed them!), and vastly enjoyed the contact with my clients – but at the end of the day it was hard work.

          I once did 3 safaris back to back, seeing one group off at Nairobi airport and welcoming the next group immediately – and I ended up totally drained and confused – couldn’t remember anyone’s name, or what I had done with which group etc etc – no alternative but to drink heavily! So blow professionalism!!! 🙂

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  3. Great posts about beginner photography! I’ve never asked myself “why” and I think it’s a good idea. I just knew I liked some shots I took and others I did not, but I can absolutely see the benefits of asking why I like a shot, and just continuing to take shots from many different angles.
    Thanks Adrian!
    Veronica

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    • Veronica, that’s absolutely great, I’m so glad its useful – thank you! Now go for it!!! – and any photographic questions, advice needed, etc, I’m always glad to help. Adrian 🙂

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      • Thank you very much Adrian 🙂 I do find it all a bit daunting, and the only way I kept at it was because I tried not to put to much pressure on myself and just shoot to see what I come up with. I will turn to you for advice when needed. Have a great day! Veronica 🙂

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        • Great stuff! Haha, as an oldie I can say that things are much easier now in these digital days – so go for it!

          Way forward – as you say, shoot and see what you come up with and, following this post, look at what you’ve got and see if you can identify things / attributes you like or don’t like, and move forward from there. Are there any shots where your reaction is anything like “Oh no, if only I’d ….. ” – well, go and do what you should have done, and see what happens!

          If you want to email me some shots to look at, that’s fine – I’ll send you an email address if this is the case. A 🙂

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          • ” Are there any shots where your reaction is anything like “Oh no, if only I’d ….. ” – well, go and do what you should have done, and see what happens!” Hmm…never thought of that. I’ve never went back to take a shot with an improved understanding of it. Great Idea! You can tell I’m so new at this..no? Even though I had my camera for more than 6 months, I can’t say that I have much experience. I am happy to receive any thoughts of praise or criticism you might have on the photos I have posted on VAB Photos 🙂 So far I have been drawn to nature in general, especially small things in nature, but I will experiment with shooting other things this year. We could exchange emails too if you like.

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            • Yes, let’s exchange emails. The reason? Well, if you’d like candid critique on any photos, the results make not be comfortably aired on a public blog! How scary can I get???

              Here’s an idea. Get a photo that you have some feelings about – positive or negative – and maybe an idea or two of what you were trying to achieve when you took the photo – what hopes did you have for the photo? And email all this + the photo to me, and I’ll comment.

              Its not good to air emails on an open blog, so I’ll get your email address into my email, and then erase your email address from your comment. A 🙂

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  4. I like this post very much, Adrian. “Why” is absolutely important all the way from “why am I taking photographs” through “why am I shooting this particular thing/scene” and of course to bring out, as you mentioned in your post, the reasons one likes/dislikes a particular picture.

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