Back to Basics

I think I’ve taken some decent photos. I’ve also taken a good number of bad ones and some of the good ones have been accidental, but overall I reckon I’m improving.

As well as the project I’ve described below, I’m also now involved in a semi-secret one with a friend and now take the publicity photos for work. All mean taking pictures of people, generally strangers, but needing very different styles, so I’m learning.

The main thing I’ve learnt is that I’m not very good. Technically. Taking them for work has been the first time I’ve had a specific requirement put on me rather than me deciding what to do and how to present shots. It’s not a strange requirement. It’s probably very easy as soon as I work out how to do it, but I’ve not been able to yet despite having been playing with editing software for various other effects previously.

It is, simply, to have a white background.

Not cream, not magnolia, not even alabaster. White.

So I’ve picked somewhere to take the shot with plain white backgrounds, tried with and without a flash, changed settings on the camera to lighten the background without making the subject looking like an extra from Twilight.

Not white enough.

I’ve lightened in editing, used various approaches and while I’m sure I’m missing some, changing the settings I know to make it appear that the subject is the only part with colour in it.

Still not white.

It can’t be difficult. I know you can do it to pretty much any photo as the person at work who does the website can send photos off to have this done to them. but I can’t, yet.

It’s a little thing but I feel utterly useless when I can take what I consider good photographs but can’t produce a plain white area.

I’ll go have another go

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Never work with children or animals?

Or, alternatively, do both on your first ever proper photoshoot!

Thats not to take away from when I’ve taken photos of people before, particularly one friend who’s done some modelling, but previously i’d always met people at least once before so this certainly felt like a first time.

The title’s also only accurate in a limited, legal sense as the model was 17 and in no way childish and the dog was lovely, but all the same I could perhaps have picked a more straightforward shoot for starters at first glance.

It was incredibly easy though. I didn’t want to direct much if at all, as me barking out orders was never going to help it look like someone was really walking a dog. I wouldn’t want to compete with the dog either.

My first attempt at doing a shoot for this project with a friend was a simple matter of hoovering – but I said there was no need to have the hoover actually on and the result was that it just didn’t look like she was hoovering! Obvious now and my friend even said so at the time, but my wonderful politeness meant a refusal to invite a friend round to not only pose for me but also do a bit of hoovering for me – and led to pictures that just weren’t up to scratch.

I am much happier with the ones from this and should hopefully be posting more shortly.

Project

This project I’ve talked about a couple of times. It’s nothing earth shattering but I like it and it seems a few other people do as well, going by the initial reaction I’ve had.

I’m delighted and frankly amazed that people are ever happy posing for me and the number of people who have said they’d like to join in with this is fantastic. The more the merrier too so do shout if you read this and it takes your fancy as well.

I’ve called it Divine Mundanity. It’s a rubbish name, but I wanted to call it something and it’s at least descriptive if nothing else. I am trying to create a collection of shots of people dressed up in their finest, be it a ballgown, three piece suit, clubbing gear or lingerie, but doing everyday tasks.

I haven’t got as many under my belt as I’d hoped to from my week off, but a couple (walking a dog and hoovering) are shot and edited and more (loading a dishwasher, ironing, queueing for a bus) are lined up and more being arranged.

I like the idea for a few reasons, none of which I mind admitting.

First, for me, doing a series means I only have to be really happy with one photo from each shoot. Obviously out of pride and wanting to do a decent job for the model I’d want a few to share, but for the ultimate goal of exhibiting I only need one. It takes the pressure off making every shot perfect and means I can play around more with settings during shoots and not worry too much about missing something.

Secondly and most importantly it means people can wear something they like and feel good in. People like dressing up, well, most do.

I love contrasts and it’s a natural way of making people stand out. It’s just a case of matching the right person and outfit with the right activity. Oh and the small matter of making the best of people too.

The idea did come from a photograph, but I’ll not say which one or show it until I’m happy with the collection I’ve put together (or given up on it, but I don’t give up on much).

Do shout if you fancy joining in!

Manners

I’m writing these out of sequence but a couple of posts back I mentioned that at the festival I discovered something about myself – potentially a style.

This is that I’m polite. That sounds immodest but if anything it’s a drawback. I’m certainly not the only photographer who’s polite but during the course of the gigs, despite being cocky about having a press pass and determined to get some good photos, I made a point of not getting in other’s peoples’ way or annoying the artists. I’m not the only one to take more discrete photos but that approach is certainly not universal.

This is not meant as a criticism of photographers who plant themselves in the way of people trying to watch the band or set off flash guns in the face of the artists. They are professionals. I’m sure their results are better than mine. The artists get some publicity and most probably aren’t put off after a while. Even the people they annoy by standing in front of them will cope so long as they don’t spend long in one spot. There are, however, two reasons why that’s not how I feel comfortable taking photos.

First, my ego is too fragile to be called a wanker by quite as many people as I heard people aim at some photographers of that style during the festival.

Second, I just prefer to capture what’s going on without influencing it.

Yes I want to be able to do shoots where people are posing for the camera, but at a gig where people are performing for an audience, that’s what I want to capture. I don’t want the artificial wink to the camera, I want the smile to a familiar face in the crowd, or the gurn trying to hit the difficult note.

That discovery has influenced the project I’ve started subsequently, to try and play to my – well my preference, given that I can’t call it a strength. I am sure it made for better results at my first outdoor shoot a couple of weeks ago though and it’s something I want to try and stick to, to try and develop some level of personal style.

People

Much as the profiles are a pleasant compliment, they’re unlikely to develop either talent or reputation, so a friend who’s done some modelling before got me onto a website for budding photographers, models, make up artists, retouchers etc.

One of the highlights of the site so far have been getting asked if I was a photographer or a model by one short sited, or excessively polite, individual. The other was discovering that there are people who seem quite happy to describe themselves as ‘retouchers’, which coming from a legal background just makes me think of repeat offenders of a particularly unpleasant offence.

Much as I’ve had some positive discussions about doing shoots with models on there for a while, it wasn’t until recently that one actually came off. The problem has been that there’s so often something else that comes up, including for me. There’s also a tendency to be a bit non-committal. To be fair to them, a lot are attractive young women so they’re right to be a bit careful, but there’s nothing to stop a chaperone attending too, so the nutters that are no doubt on the site and turn up to a shoot with a camera phone should not pose as much of a threat!

What I’ve found overcame this was posting a clear idea on the site of “I want to do this” and let the models, male and female, contact me. It’s shown a bit of imagination, it’s a bit different and it’s meant people fancy doing it for ‘free’ in return for some different shots for their portfolios.

To be critical of myself, I should have thought of doing it earlier. I’m a Solicitor – my whole business model is based on “I do this and I’m good, contact me if you want my services” so my previous door-to-door salesman technique of meeting prospective models was never going to be the best plan.

So I now have a project to focus on, have already started it off with a couple of shoots, one of which I’m really happy with and a few people lined up to do more shoots with for it.

A bit more about the project next time.

Profiles

When I first started taking photographs, the ones I took that people liked were always landscapes or animals. I could take a family portrait without cutting anyone’s head off, but that was about it.

What I seem to have developed a knack for more recently (can you develop a knack?) is taking pictures of people that, while they are far from special, are generally ones that the person in the photo likes. Regardless of anyone else liking them, as someone who has only ever liked half a dozen pictures of me, the best compliment I can get on a portrait I’ve taken is when they are used as a profile pictures on Twitter or Facebook or similar.

Love it or hate it, social media is important and your profile, particularly the picture, is how you’re presenting yourself to the world, so having my photographs as how a dozen or so people choose to do that is very flattering.

It’s only a little thing, they aren’t arty and as I say they aren’t stunning, but it does always make me smile, so here are a few that made me and the subject happy.

Press Pass

It’s been a few little things that have made me decide to make a go of photography, one of which was getting a press pass for a local festival.

Long Division is a music festival, with bands playing at venues around Wakefield city centre. The first one, last year, was a success. I loved it because it was a fraction of the price of some of the big summer festivals, you don’t spend all day up to your knees in mud and I can walk (stagger) home from it and sleep in my own bed.

Last year I took a few snaps with my mobile phone and put them on Flickr. To my great surprise, someone got in touch, saying they were putting together a presentation on the festival and asking if they could use my photos. Given how many people had a press pass, or just a huge camera, I thought my efforts were well below the standard that should be available, but remembered this year and emailed the organiser.

I ended up with a press pass for this year’s festival and as well as enjoying the music, getting around all the venues during the day, took some shots which I’m really happy with and which I found out later that at least a couple of the acts liked as well.

Spending a day as a ‘proper’ photographer also made me realise that I have views on how a photographer should act and I think I have the start of a style, which I’ll write about another time. Contact with the organisers afterwards was good too but also made me think I needed a better way of editing shots than the playing on my iPad i’d been doing previously.

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