Monday, 19 January 2009

Ebbing enthusiasm for photography?

Before I start, I'll just clarify that my enthusiasm isn't ebbing, but quite a few people I've talked to online seem to be going through a lull. I thought I'd try to work out what may cause this and attempt to provide a few suggestions.

First of all, the causes...

* Subject familiarity - this is where you have concentrated on one genre for a long time.
* Too high standards - this is where you've "mastered" a subject and know exactly what you want, and if conditions don't allow you to "better" what's been done before, you don't see the point in going out.
* Technique frustration - you just can't seem to get the shots you want and give up
* Idea droughts - you head out with the camera full of enthusiasm, but you just can't find anything that grabs or inspires you.
* Being held back - sometimes the people you go out taking shots with may have different ideas and goals that stop you chasing your own ideas.
* Not enough time - work and family commitments mean you appear to have too little time to take and process photos.

Well there's a few reasons I've experienced or heard of for people letting their camera gather dust.

I know lots of landscape photographers who have had a good few years carefully honing their skills, watching weather forecasts for good light, perfecting their processing techniques to make the most of a beautiful landscape. It's probably the most popular subject in the hobbyist domain; you get out somewhere nice, fresh air, exercise, photographically relaxing (no people issues or movement to deal with) and you can usually get "something" from the shoot; so it's no surprise that that it's popular.

But I think from the very nature of it being undemanding photographically, you do loose that feeling of progress after a while. The technical side does take time to mature, but once you've worked out where to focus, which filters to use and that F11-F16 is probably best, there's not a lot else to do technique wise.

So that's a classic example of subject familiarity creeping up on you.

I've had that with landscape, but the bigger problem I had was Too High Standards. When I was starting out I'd go out in all conditions, flat light, rain, storms and sunshine because I was learning and it was new and fun. Then as I progressed, I was more aware of the light conditions to the point where I'd just not bother to go out unless it looked like we were going to get fantastic light. Heaven knows how many shots I've missed because I thought the light wasn't going to be of a good enough standard, then an hour later it'd changed and I'd missed it. There is no such thing as bad light, just a poor choice of subject in the available light!

So the cure for these closely linked problems is to broaden your horizons, to branch out into 2 or 3 genres that can be practiced in different circumstances.

For example...

If you're a landscaper and not having much luck with the weather, if you took up street candids as a second skill and maybe still life as a third, you'd then have 3 bases covered.

Landscape for good light
Street for greyer days
Still life for when it's raining or too horrible to go out.

Technical Frustration is common when learning how to go from full auto on the camera to Av, Tv and M. It's also there when you first use filters, when you take shots for HDR, when you first convert RAW files, when you get a speedlite for the first time, and when you get second speedlite to try some off camera flash work.

I see people getting inspired from work they've viewed on the web, then getting annoyed with themselves when they can't re-produce the effect. They can spend hours, days and weeks trying to perfect a "look", but I'd question whether this is the right way to go about your photography.

First off, the best way of getting around Technical Frustration that I've used extensively is the "experiment till it clicks" technique. It's what it says on the tin. With digital exposures being effectively free, we can learn from trial and error, from being curious and experimenting and seeing what happens. Rather than spending hours trying to emulate a Dragen portrait, a portrait style which already exists and will soon be out of fashion, why not get out there with your camera and try new things. Go out into the garden, you don't need to travel to do this.

Learn about focal length effects by standing a coke can on your dust bin and shooting from your widest angled lens to your longest. Then do the same, but start off with your widest lens close to the can so the can fills the frame, then as the lens gets longer, move backwards so the can stays the same size... see what happens around the can.

Put your camera on a tripod and shoot the same can at all the different apertures on your camera and see how the background blur changes to sharpness as you get smaller apertures.

When you learn this way, the technical side of things becomes embedded in your subconscious mind so it becomes like second nature - it's a bit like driving a car. You can talk whilst driving because the skill is subconscious, were it not you'd have to concentrate so hard on changing gear, using the pedals, indicating etc. that you'd not be able to talk.

Idea droughts hit us all, writers get writers block and sometimes we just don't see anything we think is worth taking a photo of.

The cure for this is to give yourself a project. A purely personal project with the goal of producing a series of prints or even a self publish book at the end of it. Books these days can be as little as £10 so it's not a pie in the sky idea any more.

If you're lacking inspiration, this project will give you a reason to go out and take photographs whilst you wait for your "mojo" to return.

Being held back does happen when people who meet regularly are either at different levels of skill or want to pursue different areas of photography. This happens from time to time, it manifests it self with you going to places you'd probably not choose yourself or waiting around for ages when you're ready to move on.

The cure for this is not to stop going on shoots with your friends and find a new set of friends! As a hobby, photography is often more enjoyable with 1 or 2 others to talk to when on a shoot - and they can become models in shots that need human interest!

What I'd suggest if you feel you're being held back is to try to get out alone with the camera, maybe at lunch times or in the evenings, and in that time do something you want to do, but something that you know the others probably would not buy into. Make some stunning images from the outing and show them to your friends - this may well ignite a flame of enthusiasm in them and inspire them to give that subject a try.

It's certainly more friendly than abandoning people.

If they are holding you back because they work slowly, then that's trickier to cure, but I'd suggest some coaching in technique could help speed them along. Talk them through what you do and see if it sinks in - maybe they are metering incorrectly and struggling to get the exposure right and taking loads of shots. See what the issue is and see if you can help - and if not, either put up or.. well... lessen the frequency of your activity!

Not enough time is the perennial excuse for just about every hobby failing. It means that you've lost enthusiasm to such an extent that you're not actively looking to pursue your hobby.

The converse is this... when you're full of enthusiasm you will have your camera with you more often than not, you may take it with you at lunch time and see if there's anything you can photograph on your way to the sandwich shop. Then on the way home, you may take a detour through somewhere pretty or where there's wildlife to be found. you'll clear a day a week/fortnight to meet up with friends to take photos...

In other words, when you're in the zone, you're constantly looking for reasons and time TO DO your photography, when you loose your mojo, you stop looking for these opportunities.

So the cure... well most people have a lunch break. Take your camera out then. Most people commute to work - you can stop for 5 minutes on that journey and take photos then. Walk the dog? Then take the camera with you. Working away from home - you'll be bored in the hotel at night, so go out after dinner and get some shots if its a safe area.

It's best to get a buddy though - someone you go out with that's on the same wavelength. It's then a bit like having a training partner at the gym. Even when you're nor up for it, you go to the guy so as not to let down your buddy who will need your help on the weights, for example.

So there's some common reasons for stopping taking photos and some practical solutions that have worked for me over the years.

The main thing that keeps me going, and I cant emphasise this enough, is to keep moving on, progressing, trying new tools, techniques and finding out things for yourself as far as possible.

Photography is the perfect hobby for many personality types, but if you are the curious and creative type, then don't stagnate - there's always something new to try.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The New Book!

Well it's been a long time coming, but at last I've compiled my book on Yorkshire.

Click here to take a look....

It's a 120 page book with pretty much 120 photos and very little text. I like to let the images do the talking, so to speak.

The difference between this and the Leeds book is that every photo has a caption, so you're not in doubt as to where it is!

It's a smaller 10 by 8 inches, so the soft back one can go on sale for just £20.

It's really a culmination of 4 years of learning about the county, how to take photos and find my own style. Feedback from the proof has been very favourable, people seem to olike the heavy saturated colours and broody skies, as you often don't get that in books.

Also, I've included a section on industry, just a small one, that has shots of Drax and a few other "eyesores" that I've tried to make stunning shots from.

It's out there on sale now anyway - if you're not in the makrket for buying it, please take a look at the "preview" anyway, any feedback on that will be really valuable.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

One way to improve your photography...

In my role as a critique team member on Ephotozine, many people ask me how to improve their shots. I think there are many many answers to that question, loads related to technique, technical issues, getting the right light and being in the right place at the right time.

But in a lot of ways, you need to work out what you're saying with a shot, and maybe why you're saying it too. What I've advised before, on a few sites, is that you should think what you'd write in the "About" or "description" box of a photo sharing website, or in a letter to an editor, before you take the shot.

Say it in your head.

Be honest to yourself

If you really can't think of anything interesting to say, you will have an un-interesting shot. So do something about it, don't take the shot.

You can:-

* move on somewhere else
* zoom in
* get higher up
* get lower down
* do a long shutter speed to create movement
* do a fast shutter speed to freeze everything
* Try a bit of fill flash…

Then after you've done that, again mentally read what you'd put in the about box. Explain what you've done technically and why.

* why did you use a wide aperture?
* Why did you go for a 2 second exposure,
* what were you trying to achieve?
* What was the bloke in the shot doing, can we tell from the shot or does it have to be explained? if it has to be explained, then the photo isn't working.

In essence, I'm saying that to get a good shot, you need to know why you're doing it really. Or at least be able to communicate to yourself what the elements of the shot are doing, if they're adding to the shot, just consequential, setting the scene or a main focal point. If you can't say that to yourself, then no one looking at the shot will be able to work out what you were trying to do. You end getting the odd fantastic shot by chance, rather than by design.

So undoubtedly you need to learn the "how" of photography till it's second nature, that's a pleasure to do and takes time. But to really improve you then need to concentrate on the "what" and the "why" of every shot.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Power Stations in 2008

It's been a while since I last blogged, mainly cause I've been busy with the
band and out taking photos. 


My Leeds project has come to a pause for the time being, it was ideal whist
the sun was setting at 5:30, I cold dive into town after rework and get a
valuable hour of shots in, the head home and process them all evening. Now the
light's here longer, you're out later, you've not got the time to process reams
of HDR files, so I've decided on a new project to motivate me over the

Power Stations.

An odd one maybe? But I can see 3 of the biggest in the
country from my bedroom window, and over the years have got some classy shots of
the sun setting behind the plumes of steam, creating fire-like clouds that
reflect in the near by rivers. 

This one is a shot of Drax, Europe's biggest coal fired station and supplier
of 1/7th of the UK's electricity. It's also got 2 carousels of 6 cooling towers
which gives a little extra interest for the photographer. I pulled into the side
of the road to get the steam and saw there was a huge pool of water just in a
field, so had a wander in and was blown away by the reflections. Quite special
as you can see.


Quite a different view of Drax here - this is about 2 miles up the road to
the nearest M62 junction, I was trying to get the light poking through the oil
seed rape in the foreground.

In fact, one of my objectives is to show how close crops, be they cabbage,
wheat, barley or oil seed, coexist with these monster power plants. How our food
is going to be affected by the pollution they pour out. Here's a shot of a newly
planted field which is very close to Drax.


I'm also going for the dramatic mono statements too, here's shot of
Eggborough from a long way away - 200mm lens, F32 and 5 seconds.


This one is Eggborough from pretty close up, got asked to move on by the
security guards after this, I guess I look like a Muslim terrorist, sure they
all have bags of Pork Scratchings in their boots too.

Here's one of Ferrybridge from close up, this was 30 seconds so the steam can
smooth and dissipate a lot more.


So this is something I'll be popping out to capture on those nights where it
look nice out. You need some kind of focus with photography to keep the interest
up. The first years will be all about learning your craft and developing your
style. but now I'm, into my 4th year of serious learning and I've covered my
local are many times, I need something to keep the fire burning on those nights
when I really would rather sit indoors and watch telly.

What's your project for 2008?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

In Print... my Leeds shots in a lovely book

The Architecture of...
By Adrian Wilson

Many months in the making, at last my book, simply entitled "Leeds" is on sale.

it's 108 pages, one shot to a page, no words just fantastic images of Leeds city centre.

Go take a look - buy one if you're impressed!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Just thought I'd mention that I'm the subject of this magazine's "Big Interview" in April's edition.

Or is it May...

Well it's the next one to come out anyway

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

London of course

When I was looking for a suitable IT course to go on through work, London sprang
to mind for 2 reasons.

Firstly I've not seen my mate Jamie for 3 years, and a few others for a good
while, so it's about time I went down.

Second, I really wanted to take the camera out for a shoot - it's got the
best architecture in the country and loads of it, so what better for an
architecture tog than a night there?

Well maybe a sunny evening with a long sunset - but being January, this'll

I met up with a guy called Luis I met through
in Piccadilly Circus, then worked our way down to the national gallery, Trafalgar
square, Whitehall, Westminster abbey and parliament, the Thames and London eye
and finally to the centenary bridge looking back to Westminster bridge.

Four and a half hours, lots of HDR and some classy-ish results.

My main issue was that I'd lost my cable release, so had to hand-trigger the
shots! It's taken the edge off a few, but when large, it's not that bad. I can
spot it, but I'm sure most would not.

So the shots..

This one's a classic front on shot of the national gallery, love this building,
huge facade, sprawling wings, makes you proud to be English

This one's the gallery again, a HDR of 3 shots covering 6 stops. the bright
light is a pain, but what can you do? Also, the church of st. martin in the
fields would be better without the scaffold!

Here's the last shot of the night, a RAW from the centenary bridge which runs
parallel to the Charing Cross rail line.

A shot of the third most iconic thing in London, after Tower Bridge and
Westminster (or is the Eye now third?)

A beefy phone box down by Westminster. The top of this thing was huge, on
seriods, compared to what we used to get in provincial england. I tried to get
both towers in the shot and deliberatley dodged the road sign to show you where
we are.... if you needed any promptring!

If you want to re-create this, stand just below the statue of Boudica and
you're in the money. A HDR of 3 shots

Top left of trafalgar square as you look up from whitehall, the shadows are
people walking through my HDR shot - inconsiderate b'stards!

This is facing directly away from the centre of the national gallery, the
people sat still ehough for 20 seconds for an HDR to be made, cheers folks

And finally, I couldn't quite get a landscape oriented shot from where I was
stood, to improvised - the diagonal line in compositional terms can state
"unease" or "instability", so I thought it amusing to make
it look like the huge Eye was unstable!

Well that's a few of the shots I managed when down there with Luis.

That's one thing people seem to forget about photography, with the web and
photo upload sites booming, photography has become a social thing to do - I'm
pretty sure that with a few days notice, you could get a meet going anywhere in
the UK - so next time you're away on business, tell people where you are on a
forum, you may get a fun character like Luis to tog with for a night... or even