In recent years I have photographed and hiked the Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail sacred to Shugendo Buddhism in Japan. I’ve walked long portions of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my camera. I’ve taken photos to bring light to the near darkness in Son Doong, the world’s largest cave in Vietnam where fewer people have ventured than have been into space.
As a photography workshop leader, I’ve taught groups of photographers in the United States, France, and many other parts of the world. In the course of my travels when I meet people—and I love to chat with folks along the way—once it becomes known that I am a professional photographer, one question is pretty constant: What kind of photographer are you?
Generally, when folks ask me this question they are looking for a pretty straightforward answer. Sometimes I wish I could tell them “I photograph children for a portrait studio,” “I am an architectural photographer,” “I am a wedding photographer,” “I photograph jewelry,” or something similarly specific.
As I’ll explain later in this blog story, I’ve worked professionally in a number of photographic genres, back at the beginning of my first photography career in the days of analog, film photography.
No knowledge is ever wasted. It’s helpful to have the skillsets from the different photographic niches under my belt, as well as my experiences as a computer programmer, fine-art painter, and a writer. But none of these individually fit what I’ve been doing and what I have regarded as my current profession since the dawn of digital era.
I tell folks who ask that I am a Photographer as Poet. That’s of course the title of this blog story. Stay tuned: in this blog story I’ll tell you what I think being a Photographer as a Poet means, some of the history of how I’ve arrived at this profession and calling, and some words about what it means to have a professional practice as a photographic poet.
I’ve become so enamored of my job title of Photographer as Poet that I had an inkan—a Japanese “chop” or inked stamp that is sometimes used in place of a signature—created with the characters that roughly translate to this phrase. Sometimes I use my inkan to handstamp and decorate my prints, particularly those printed on Japanese washi.
What does it mean to be a “Photographer as Poet” professionally? This is often a follow-up question to “What kind of photographer are you?”
Good day! It’s #TravelTuesday and because it’s Tuesday, it’s not Scott but me, Dave Williams, fresh from a red-eye flight from Calgary to London, coming at you loud with some kind of photographic wisdom!
Today, I want to touch on reverse engineering a photo, and this is something you can learn a lot more about from Glyn Dewis’ book Photograph Like a Thief if you want to dig deeper. Let’s do it!
So, in Banff National Park, there’s an iconic photo and I wanted it. I’ve preached time and again about being original, but I just wanted this shot bad! There’s a train line running through the park as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway network, and one curve, in particular, facing up to the mountains’ home to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It’s Morant’s Curve, named after the Canadian Pacific photographer who took the first photo of the new rail line here.
As you can see here, it’s so popular because of the original shot that there’s a viewing area with railings.
When it comes to reverse engineering a photo, it’s a lot about light. When it comes to photos of people, we can usually work out the lighting quite easily by looking at the edges of the person and the reflection in their eyes to see how they were lit. But, when it comes to landscapes, it’s more about working out the location and the timings, which we can do quite easily with maps and PhotoPills.
What we’re looking for with the light is the time of day, dictating the direction, and other clues that will help us with the scene, like the temperature and tone and the softness.
We also need to reverse engineer the shutter speed and focal length used, so we can apply it to our image, or add a creative flair if we want to put our own spin on it.
The whole process of reverse engineering a photo is a combination of science and art, and we can use it to apply the exact look from the original photo or put it “into our own words” if we want. That’s what I wanted to do, and here’s my shot: –
What I’ve done here is pick a spot slightly back from the gap, giving the train a piece of the image but not the entire focus. The front end creeps through the gap in the trees looking somewhat like a face, and then the rest of the train twists and turns as a leading line toward those epic mountains behind. The whole scene is, of course, iconic, but it has my own little spin on it, too.
Reverse engineering a shot like this is a good skill to apply, and a great way to learn. Have a go at it. I promise you’ll enjoy it, and it will help you in critiquing yourself, as well as deconstructing and analysing a photo.
I remembered this tip when I was recording a new class on all the updates, changes, new features and enhancements Adobe has added to Photoshop in the past year (and there are way more than you’d probably think). However, this one is not new — it’s “old school” but I’ll bet ya don’t know this one (it’s that little known). So, first the tip, then more on the course.
Here’s a little teaser about my new Photoshop 2020 course, which will be released later this week.
I’m up in Seattle today for my seminar tomorrow — the “Ultimate Photography Crash Course.” It’s not too late to join me tomorrow – Here’s the link.
I’m very excited to announce that submissions open today for the prestigious Malta International Photo Awards (MIPA), and I am so honored to be a part of the international judging panel and to be among such an esteemed group of judges.
Here’s a short video (below) about the awards, and the international judging panel.
Here’s a link to their official site for more details and to submit your image(s). I hope you’ll consider entering — it’s like I always say, ya never know, right? :)
The Secrets to Properly Convert Your Images to Black & White with Viktor Fejes
There are a lot of ways to convert a color photo to B&W, but have you ever considered what goes into doing it with the highest level of control by harnessing some of Photoshop’s most powerful tools? If not, then join Viktor Fejes for a deep dive into how to properly convert your photos to B&W. No matter what method you use to convert to B&W you are always concerned with removing color, controlling contrast and tonality, and enhancing detail.
In this class Viktor steps you through his B&W workflow and demonstrates techniques for using adjustment layers, creating a LUT for re-use, dodging and burning, manipulating tonal values locally, bringing out detail, adding grain, and so much more to achieve that B&W mood you had in your minds eye from the start. You’ll come away with a new set of techniques and a greater understanding for the fundamentals of B&W conversions.
In Case You Missed It – Advanced Photoshop: The Psychology and Science Behind Color Grading
Join Viktor Fejes for an advanced look at essential elements of color theory. From understanding color models and the science of RGB, to how to apply this knowledge when performing practical tasks such as color correcting and color grading. Viktor starts with the fundamentals and works up to advanced techniques used in cinema. If you want to manipulate color at will, understand the reasons why, and make your images look fantastic while doing it, then this class is for you.
Did you ever feel creative block? Or found yourself feeling less excited by what you do?
Many times such feelings appear from creative stagnation, when you allow your creative process to settle into routine.
Personal and professional growth is an essential component for any photographer, as well as continuous source of inspiration. Such growth can and should be stimulated, by challenging yourself, broadening your horizons and allowing some downtime for free experiments without any pressure or expectations. Not just as means of acquiring better clients, but as a means to feel more confident and satisfied with our own work. But all the pressures from content-consumption and the race to get more visibility and business, makes us miss out on this crucial part of our self-expression.
Many creatives and photographers (read: almost all) go into the field for the love of photography and creation. Creating for the sake of creation, for the joy of the process and opportunity to self-express, is a human trait. However, when we make it our business, we inadvertently put speed limitations onto our creative engine.
Below I have given few steps within two major factors that contribute to growth and how you can apply them within your craft.
Bring Back The Fun
Authors like Daniel Pink have proven that introducing expected external reward or condition on our behaviour has a negative effect on motivation and dampens our creative drive.
When your work becomes contingent on external factors, including appreciation, your mind turns potential opportunity for fun into work, and creativity faces pressure. It is not just results that gets affected, but the joy from the process itself. It makes us feel the creative process is no longer “our own.” It is “for something else.”
Simply put, when you expect to be paid or evaluated, you enjoy the process less. How many times have you enjoyed doing chores if your parents asked you to? But how many times you found yourself cleaning up your place on a whim, as a way to unwind and enjoy it simply because it felt rewarding to take care of something that is your own.
In the same way, working as a photographer may affect how much we love photography.
To reduce this negative side effect, you need to allow yourself time and instances of “pure creation,” time just for you that brings back the fun, the game.
1) Have at least 2 days a month where the shoot you do is just for you.
Is there a lighting you wanted to try?
New camera technique?
It may be a personal project that you had in mind.
Those two days are “you time” to execute all the things you were planning or thinking of trying.
Make these days only about learning and practicing that new thing or executing your personal idea.
2) Have at least one freestyle day.
What is a freestyle day? It’s when you come on a shoot with no plan, no set rules or expectations of results.
Important criteria here is that you have to let go of all expectations, and I mean- ALL:
Do not plan on publishing your work or for anyone to see it.
If you work with models, make sure to take the model you are most comfortable with and who will be okay if you will not release the images. It does not mean that, if in the end of it, you will end up liking them, you can’t release them. But making sure while you shoot, you are not having the pressure of having to show it to anyone.
Just take your camera and submerge yourself into the process. Take photos as you feel like, even if some of them will end up not looking good.
At the end of such shoot you are guaranteed to remember all the reasons you picked up a camera in the first place and feel the pure joy of the process again.
3) One for yourself.
Make sure on every shoot you take at least one image that is shot a way you would have never shot. Something very different, weird. This is how you develop flexibility of mind and can discover unexpectedly good new ways of shooting.
You can try using items around you as props, from the light bulb cover to mobile phone surface, to almost anything you can find, but something that you did not expect to use. Our brains thrive on challenge.
At the same time, we are so used to “how it is usually done” that we rarely allow ourselves to approach things differently. The true uniqueness and creativity can come from breaking the norms of the “expected” and brings back the child-like curiosity towards putting objects to unintended use.
Do Not Stop Learning
1) Have a moodboard of techniques and light that you like.
Get into the studio and try to replicate that light. Don’t copy the frame and the shot, but just replicate the light. Without Googling the set up. It will bring enormous amounts of learning, and you will grow to understand lighting better and be comfortable with it.
When we focus on only the result and forget the process, we end up only scratching the surface of experience. We can never master it.
Creative growth requires understanding of how the back-end of techniques works. Once you understand how lighting flows and what difference changing it one way or the other makes, you will find yourself confident in trying to experiment with it. You will be able to come up with your own unique combinations and techniques.
2) Once a day, learn at least one new thing… no matter how small.
Watching a tutorial, reading few pages of a new book, deconstructing the light set-ups…there is a vast world of new thing to learn out there. In sight of a big goal, we forget that any big achievement consists of small daily victories we have, small steps towards that creative goal.
Similarly, these small daily learnings, lingering at the back of your mind, once acquired, can help you improve overall quality of your work, serve as an inspiration, broaden your creative horizons and add to the feeling of self-confidence.
Give yourself small challenges once in a while. Slay your dragon and feel like a hero.
It boosts your confidence, and that confidence, in turn, will make you more open to experiments and help you feel like you can do anything, no matter how hard.
For example, I once challenged myself to read at least 100 pages of a book every day for a week. By the end of that week I did not just feel more educated, I also felt excited to try new techniques as the confidence of that small victory gave me extra energy.
Each of these steps is closely connected with one another. They provide mutual support. And all together jump-start your creative engine making it a speedy joyride.