Wednesday, 30 December 2009

365 Resolutions

LexxYou are probably thinking about new year's resolutions about now. Photographically one of the more popular resolutions is to start a 365 project where you undertake to take a photo every day. Starting a 365 project is very much like giving up smoking. Giving up smoking is easy, I have done it hundreds of times. Starting a 365 project is easy, completing one is hard. In a way it is more difficult than giving up smoking because giving up smoking requires positive action to break your resolution, you have to get off your arse and spend money to break it. However a 365 project requires daily action to keep the resolution going. My own experience of starting a 365 project was not very positive and I found that in some ways it dampened my enthusiasm.

The first hurdle was remembering that I was doing a 365 project, it would get close to midnight and I would remember and then have to suddenly get creative with just a few minutes to go. The output from these nocturnal sessions wasn't exactly the best and then I would have to show these paltry efforts on flickr. If this wasn't damaging enough, actually missing a day was pretty bad. I tried to tell myself that I could set the counter back to 1 but the project increasingly became a chore that I could have done without and after an embarrassingly short amount of time I quit. I remember keenly how hard it was to give up smoking, so why introduce that sort of pain for something that I love doing?

I'm not saying that 365 projects are bad, just that you need to approach them with a modest amount of time management, perseverance and not worry too much about the output. I dare say that many a photographer has blossomed through doing a 365 project and the all or nothing nature of the project may well help them get motivated to shoot every day. Also their fear of showing sub-standard work may well push them to see better and be more creative. It also has to be said that 365 projects have a lot of support because lots of people are doing them. However there may be a better way for you.

What are the goals of a 365 project? To take more photographs? To enhance your skills through practice. To hone your vision or develop a style? These are things that you can resolve to do without the psychological burden of a 365 project. What you need is a definable goal. Something that doesn't mean failure of the entire project if you slip up. Something that doesn't require you to show your poorest quality work just because you need to meet a deadline.

So what am I going to do this year? I'm going to photograph all the streets within a half mile of my office and I'll do it during my lunchbreak. It sounds like a lot, but I managed to walk every street within a mile in just a few months, so it should be achievable. If I don't manage to do them all, its no big deal I can carry on into the next year.

I'll only show the best shots, however I think that many of the streets will have slim pickings in terms of awesome shots. So I'm going to take a leaf out of a fabulous book called Barbershops by Tally Abecassis and Claudine Sauvé. It has shown me the way. Sometimes unpromising photographs will work if they are part of a collection, the trick is to shoot them in the same way. In Barbershops this is done to great effect, mixing straight record shots as typographies with beautiful wide, medium and detail shots to tell the story.

So I plan to do a series of typographies of items you will find in the street, for example, doors, doorbells and anything else that come to mind. These will be displayed alongside wider shots of the street and other detail shots taken with a more unique style.

The thing about this plan is that I'm not forced to do anything every day, there is a well defined goal and there is a timeslot set aside in the day for me to do it. Also I should have a unified body of work at the end of it. What could possibly go wrong?

Let me know if you plan to do something like this yourself. Or tell us your own experiences of a 365 project.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Channelling The Pre-Raphaelites

Its been quite a while since I have posted. Things have been a little too crazy at work and I have been very busy with the London Strobist meetup group, so the blog has taken a bit of a backseat while I deal with my commitments. But life is calming down now that Christmas is coming and I hope I'll have more time to post and shoot.

Back in September I travelled with my wife to Lake Vyrnwy in deepest darkest Wales to shoot a very special wedding. Jonathan and Charlotte were getting hitched in the family home in the woods by the edge of the lake. It was a fabulous setting. The humanist ceremony took place in a clearing in the woods with a fast running stream right next to it. The weather for the ceremony was touch and go, but the rain held off and there was even a glorious shaft of sunlight that came down and lit just the Bride and Groom at exactly the right moment in the ceremony.

Jonathan & Charlotte

Immediately after the ceremony we went up the hill to take a formal picture of the couple in front of the waterfall. We were quite lucky it didn't turn into a trash the dress session especially as the reception was still to come. The hill was very steep the trees kept grabbing at the dress, not only that but the leaf litter was deep and the ground moist, so one slip and it would have been a disaster. But we got to the waterfall without incident and got down to taking the shot.

The aim was to get a picture of them in front of the waterfall and use a slow shutter to capture the water in flow rather then freezing it. I wanted to have everything in focus, so I didn't go for a wide aperture I started at f5.6 and a shutter of 1/12s. This meant I had to push the ISO up to 1000. It wasn't ideal and Jonathan and Charlotte were pretty dark. Fortunately I had brought along a voice acivated light stand, my wife, and she held a SB28 flash in a white shoot-through umbrella above them with the power fairly low so as not to completely overpower the ambient. From this starting point I adjusted the shutter and aperture to tune the balance between the ambient and flash and eventually settled on f6.3 at 1/6s. With hindsight I could probably have increased the aperture and reduced the ISO, but I'm very happy with the end result.

I took a few shots with the bride and groom looking at the camera, but caught this image just as they stole a kiss. I prefer it to the more formal shots. The slow shutter and flash gives the image a bit of painterly look, and I knew that the image was in some way familiar to me. Having done a little research I realized that I had been channeling pre-raphaelite medieval fantasy paintings. In particular the paintings of Edmund Blair Leighton who wasn't actually a pre-raphaelite but is often associated with them. By pure coincidence I pass the birthplace of the pre-rephaelite brotherhood on my way to work everyday.

I asked some of my my flickr buddies for comments on the photo, and they did make a number of observations about various things they would remove from the picture twigs and the like, but remembering the day, Charlotte and her family wouldn't remove any low hanging branches from the trees along the procession route even when they presented a risk to the wedding dress, so in many ways I think it would have been wrong of me to do any pruning in the photograph.

It was a fabulous wedding in a beautiful setting and though this image isn't really representative of the day, in a way I think it captures the magic of it in a way that the reportage photos don't really show. Its all about the couple in this special environment.