Category Then and Now

Then and Now (3)

How, What, Why – for me these were the three stages of photographic learning. How to operate my camera, what to include in a photograph and why on earth am I photographing this thing?

Over the last few years it has been the Why that has consumed my attention and had by far the greatest impact on my photography. I am pretty sure that some people would say it has had a detrimental impact because, in the early years, I focused on the What and the What was beautiful things. The result was pretty pictures of beautiful things which, within a couple of years began to bore me. The reason was simple. They had no meaning for me; no Why. Just being beautiful wasn’t interesting to me. I wanted to take photographs that were more than just skin deep.

A good example would be the above photograph I took in Sri Lanka in 2012. A beautifully detailed old padlock on a chest at the Dutch Hospital in Colombo. I thought it was pretty then and I think it’s pretty now but beyond that it has no meaning for me and as such doesn’t. If I were to photograph it now I might do so as a commentary on the power that colonial nations exerted on their respective colonies but at the time it was just a picture and for me retains little interest after the initial appreciation of its surface beauty.

I was reminded of the Dutch Hospital padlock while out on a photo-walk back in January of this year. I came upon another padlock (though this one was

Portrait of people rushing by

certainly not as beautifully aged and wonderfully textured) attached to a set of shutters. I momentarily toyed with the idea of spending time photographic the padlock but very quickly dismissed that. Far more interesting for me was the idea of trying to capture (distorted) images of people rushing by reflected in the shutter; a rather abstract commentary on the speed of modern life. While I am sure many people will find the earlier image visually more appealing it is the latter image that I keep returning to, puzzling over the distorted shapes and trying to extract some little extra detail that I did not notice on a previous visit. In fact, while writing this I just realised that one of the figures reminds me of The Flash (the DC comic character) leaning forward at an extreme angle as he rushes along in a blur. Sometimes I think the greatest improvements in your photography come not from upgrading your camera’s firmware, but from upgrading your own firmware instead.

[ls_content_block id=”1357″]

Then and Now (2) – Sports Photography

When you are new to photography you need to photograph everything. You need to try every genre of photography and photograph every type of subject in every manner imaginable. Don’t ignore a genre of photography because you don’t think you will enjoy it. Try it first. I certainly had zero interest in photographing sports until I tried it one day. Now I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy street photography. Also, just like Street Photography, I am a much better Sports Photographer now than I was when I started. I know because I still have all the embarrassingly bad photos that I took in the early days. So here is what I have learned between then and now…..

Don’t panic

an old (bad) rugby photograph I took
Under exposed, poorly composed and badly blurred due to using all the wrong settings.

When you start shooting Sports, just like any genre, there are a host of new things that you need to be aware of. As a result it is easy to be overwhelmed and forget the basics. With the picture on the right you can see that the image was under exposed and would have benefited from a little more negative space in front of the main subject. More importantly the image is blurred because I was so busy thinking about all the new elements of sports photography that I forgot the basics. I turned up and started shooting without checking all my settings. As a result I shot the whole game at a much slower shutter speed than I should have.

Less is more

The first time I shot Rugby I shot over 800 images… of which 5 were reasonable. Many of them were bad for a number of the reasons mentioned in this article but many just shouldn’t have been taken. Put simply the players were too far away/obscured/had their backs to me. Even with perfect technique they were never going to be good Rugby photos so I should never have pressed the shutter button in the first place.

For example, It is possible to take great sports photos with an iPhone or a short focal length lens such as a 24-105 but it isn’t possible to take great sports photos of players who are at the opposite end of the pitch with this kit. When the play moves out of range stop shooting (or run down to the other end of the field). It will save you having to cull a bunch of useless images.

Similarly, when the play is heading away from you, it is less likely to produce interesting photos (just as taking a Street photo of someone’s back seldom results in an interesting image). There are some exceptions of course but generally you want to see the players face and the ball for an image to be interesting. This doesn’t mean you should stop tracking the play (after all it could quickly turn around) but you don’t need to keep capturing bursts of a players receding back.

Timing

rugby player scoring a try
Face and ball both visible – check. More importantly the body has not yet come to a complete rest/landed, making for a more dynamic image.

Another problem for novice shooters (Street or Sport) comes from an inability to read the game. Unless you are already a fan of the sport you are shooting you may not immediately understand how a particular play will unfold. From the start of the play where will the ball go. Will it be passed, if so in which direction, will it be kicked, if so where. There are decisive moments in sports as there are in Street photography. Learning when those are likely to occur will allow you to capture better shots. Learning where the ball is going to be is often more important than knowing where it currently is.

As well as the timing of the game itself there is also the micro level timing of the individual players. Sports photographs are a 2 dimensional representation of a 4 dimensional event. A sporting event unfolds over time with participants moving as it unfolds. Trying to maintain that feeling of movement can often be difficult especially when you are simultaneously trying to freeze the action in order to capture a blur free image.

Note: panning and slow shutter speed are two great techniques for capturing the feeling of movement in a photograph. However, while creatively interesting they can be a little hit and miss to pull off and don’t work in every situation – hence the default option of shooting at higher shutter speeds.

The solution when shooting at higher shutter speeds is to focus on the individual timing of the subject. As the pioneering 19th Century photographer Eadweard Muybridge showed, people’s muscles expand and contract as they move and there are times when, while running, they don’t actually touch the ground at all (see the first photo above). Capturing a shot of an athlete during these times will result in an image with a greater feeling of action/movement. In the second image above Jamie Lauder (Hong Kong) lands after diving to score a try. Despite the fact that he is on the ground his trailing legs, still in the air, tell us that he is still in the process of landing, and thus make for a more dynamic image with a feeling of movement.

Who is your audience?

One final element to focus on is the editing – specifically in regard to who your audience is. When shooting for fun at my local rugby club (or for certain publications) I will edit images more loosely to show more of the players/story. Your friends all want to be in the photos even if they aren’t doing anything particularly interesting. On the other hand if your audience is a newspaper editor they likely want a much closer crop that focuses in on individual players.

[ls_content_block id=”1357″]

Then and Now

Some years ago I wrote about the first Street photograph I ever took https://danmarchant.com/my-first-photograph/. In that post I mentioned that, while I like the image, the composition and content was pretty much luck. In other words almost nothing that I like about the image was down to me. The key word here is “took”. As a wise person once said “good photographers takes photographs, great photographers makes photographs”.

For me that means that anyone can take a good or even great photograph if you give them  a camera…. but probably won’t know how they did (what makes it good) and would be unable duplicate it. A great photographer is one who makes a photograph by thinking about it before they even set out to take it. They know the type of photograph they want, the subject, the type of processing they will use. They will deliberately put themselves in a position to capture the photograph they want and they will think about what they want to include in the image before pressing the shutter. Now I doubt I will ever be a great photographer but I do think that it is worth making some effort to think about your work, to strive to make photographs rather than take them and to hopefully improve over time. To that end I thought it would be interesting to look at the first Street photo I made and compare it to one of my more recent images in a Then & Now comparison.

Note: The word make doesn’t feel right when talking about capturing a photograph. Take is the commonly used verb and so hence forth I will use the word take, even though I mean make.

Then

Back in 2011 I attended a photography course given by photojournalist and documentary photographer Michael Coyne. I didn’t take any interesting or worthwhile shots during the course but I did learn a lot that helped me develop as a photographer over the coming months and years. Read More