Sunday, August 19, 2007

Moment of Clarity

I was going to write a post with a couple of pictures - nothing special, but mainly as a celebration of how I had overcome a (fairly) lengthy period of photographer's block. But, I just had a slight epiphany while out smoking a cigarette so I felt I should commit it to virtual paper while it's still fresh in my mind.

I was thinking, as one does, about the reasons why I enjoy photography, and came to a somewhat depressing realisation, which may or may not be entirely true but certainly made me think. I've noticed a certain pattern in the way I take photos and my motiviation behind them. I spend a lot of time looking at photos I admire, and trying to emulate the ideas and techniques behind them. This I have no problem with - I think it's something everyone does and it is probably the best way to learn the craft.

My epiphany revolves around the way I do this, however. As I try to emulate these pictures, I will often try it out as a 'proof of concept'; I will attempt to take a certain type of picture, and even when I don't entirely succeed I am happy if I think that I have got the basic technique right and with a little more effort, or perhaps the right conditions, I could take a picture 'just as good' as the one which I am copying.

I think this probably started with those long-exposure water shots. I always wondered how they were done before I bought a digital SLR and was using a completely automatic point and shoot camera, and it was one of the first techniques I tried to copy when I bought my Nikon D50. I had some success, then read up on filters and bought a cokin filter set with an ND filter. Even though I haven't taken any photo of flowing water that I am particularly happy with, I am satisifed that I have the technique mastered, and unfortunately this has subconsciously made me think that this is ok - it's as if just believing that I could take a picture as good as one I have seen somewhere that impressed me is all I need to do. The picture itself has never materialised and up until now this didn't really bother me.

If the above situation was a one-off, then perhaps I wouldn't be worrying so much and writing a blog post whining about it, but the more I think about it the more examples I can think of. The following picture is a particularly good example:

Star Lines

As you can probably see, this picture is nothing special. However, it's perfectly indicative of my problem. I was always interested in taking photos of star lines, having looked at and admired many photos of the night sky with amazing circles of stars taken over a period of a couple of hours. So I researched what I needed - a tripod, a full battery, a wide-ish angle lens, a light-pollution free sky. I tried a couple of times with little success; I didn't realise just how bright the sky around cities is, or how much of a drain on batteries long exposures are. Finally, I was somewhere dark enough to take a picture, and I tried it out. I left the shutter for about half and hour or so, and got this. It wasn't very good, but I thought that if I had just left the shutter open longer, and perhaps composed the picture a little bit better, then I could have taken a picture just as good as those I admired. Again, unfortunately, the picture never materialised. This was enough.

Again, my infra-red pictures followed this pattern. I looked at photos. I read up on filters, which lenses didn't produce hotspots, and how to post-process the pictures. Eventually, after many failed attempts, I finally produced some pictures like these, which I blogged about in my last post:

Two Windows

I'm repeating myself now, but again, I wasn't happy with the picture as a whole - I don't think it has anything special. But, yes you guessed it - I was happy enough to leave it at that.

It's the same for others. Those ubiqutous long-exposure, sunset-and-rocks photos, the photos of a huge sun reflecting on the water, the list goes on. It's hard to believe that I've only just realised what I have been doing all this time, and worryingly, if this trend continues, I'll run out of techniques to try and stop having fun (I can't deny that I enjoy what I do - no matter what the problems are with it) That would be a disaster.

So I'm drawing a line in the sand. I'm going to take an infra-red picture that is as strong compositionally as it is technically. I'll do the same for good ol' sunset-water-and-rocks, and I'll take a well-composed picture of proper circular star lines. This post will remind me why I'm doing it, and I won't rest until I've posted at least one good example of everything I've tried. I've 'mastered' the proof of concept, now it's time for the real thing.