That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spot light, I’m
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough …
As Adrian recently put it, personal troubles can throw our inspiration off course, into the weeds. Minor trouble or big trouble.
In Adrian’s case, unfortunately, it was serious and I admire the sheer will he mustered to produce such stunning photographs in difficult times.
Me? nothing comparable, thankfully. Minor family complications, boredom, a general lassitude about my gear, my photography always focusing on the same subjects, mild dead-end frustrations at work. Rich man’s issues, what. Everybody hurts.
Issues nonetheless and my camera has been gathering dust for weeks just like it’s predecessor had a couple of years before it.
Will power ? I’m not a man of will (well, I am a man of will and taste, but that is for another time) and prefer to let things evolve their natural course.
So, inspiration : lost. Will to pick up the unloved competent Sony : lost.
Is that such a bad thing, though ?
It could lead to GAS. I mean, men will be men. GAS is the answer to all ills. And the recent photographs posted by Ming Thein in his flickr feed, of the continuously developed X1D, feel a lot more mouth-watering than initial samples. Tempting indeed.
But no, GAS isn’t the solution here. Quite the opposite.
The unlikely pick-me-up has been my old Galaxy S6.
“But it’s not as good” I hear you protest. And that’s precisely why it was such a boost. It feels (small in the hand, polished, and) very intuitive to use. No fuss about corner performance, MTF, megapixels … A phone camera is just a tool for making photographs, with no further agenda.
Timing, light, composition. Sod the rest. The rest is unimportant.
Now, Fuji guys, stop right there. I know what you’re thinking at this point : dump the A7r2 and switch to the only sensible stable. Super image quality (compared to the phone) and super fun to use (compared to the A7xxx).
But this isn’t about Smartphones, Sony cameras or Fuji cameras. It isn’t about gear. It’s about getting the juices flowing again.
It’s about hitting that big RESET button to get yourself out of the daily repetition of the old patterns.
It’s about reigniting the interest and desire to make photographs, while exploring other directions. About getting out of the rut (what rut ? The rut you’re in when you realise that you’re not producing anything original if you’re not traveling somewhere new. Rutus Norvegicus. It strangles you).
Personal lesson 1 ?
The hint of the century
If the photograph can’t be made with any camera, phone included, it may not be all that interesting.
That’s the difference between fine art and artistic photography.
Fine art is all about the gear and the process, the make the best looking print from a random subject.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, on the contrary. Fine art photographers are a very valid persona. Someone like Bruce Barnbaum has given me so much drive, for example. There’s that Barnbaum DNA in our very own Philippe (that plus a healthy dose of storytelling).
But there are equally valid other personas to take into account.
Unsung geniuses like Saul Leiter who don’t give a norwegian rat’s arse about the camera they use to produce fascinating photograph after fascinating photograph. And our very own Paul has plenty of that Leiter DNA in him.
And there are the experimental photographers, those whose prints you cannot touch for less than six times what your house is worth. The Gurskys et al. People exploring ideas more than aesthetics, abstraction or storytelling. People without whom photography still wouldn’t be on the charts as an art form. And no one stuck in a routine or adhering to any kind of doctrine can ever share DNA with those guys and gals.
These clever bastards aren’t just lucky bleeders. Take a look at their work online and you’ll notice not all of it is as brilliant as their best. That makes perfect sense and is a proof of their humanity, their own struggle to keep at it, explore an idea in the face of reality. Their ‘lesser’ work makes their best all the more triumphant and heroic.
This is where inspiration loss is such a wonderful opportunity. It throws in your face the limitations of what you have been doing in the past, forcing you to find new interest in your camera and new ways of using it to explore new meanings rather than staying at the same level of interpretation forever. That was just a dream. You start dying the day you stop challenging what you did the day before. First, you take Manhattan.
What follows after that is anyone’s guess. However, if simulated annealing is anything to go by (and hey, robots are the bright future of art, right ?), you fall back into another rut, but one positioned slightly closer to your end game. Cue, Reasons to be cheerful, part 3. Right ?
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.
Stuck in a rut? Try tuning out of the classic hits FM station and try something difderent, classical, jazz maybe even folk or country. 😉
Regarding your comment re lesser work from the exemplar photographers mentioned, I would suggest if people do not uniformly generally agree on what some artists best or secondary work, then there is really something worthwhile going on. When there is consensus about qualative assessements I tend to get weary about whether there is some form of adherence to a stifling High Culture conformity. Whilst there will be some widespread general agreements on the value for some works particularly for landmark original ones, if I find myself loving everything some artist has produced I tend to feel like I am just passively consuming rather than appreciating. Not quite prepared to aggree that the lesser work of the artist helps the better work look great, but that is more about context presentation and curation of the works.
Hi Noel, don’t like old classics ? 😉 6 are hidden in there, BTW.
The define we can define what art is, we can define what quality art is. Thankfully, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. The fact is, though, that individually we respond to some works more than others. It’s very subjective, definitely not a form of conformity. The artists themselves probably have a different ranking for their creations but the fact remains that some are subjectively better than others in the eye of someone. The only eye that counts is the author’s but we can’t help judge and have preferences. And I’m pretty sure, if you asked them, the authors would tell of their struggles to project their visions and ideas on to something palpable.
But the main argument in this article (which is a bit of a jove given it’s author and musical theme) is that low points in creativity may be unpleasant but are also a great opportunity in an artist’s life, even an amateur one. A big ship steaming full speed ahead can’t look backwards.
The photo world, in spite of a crumbling market, is one of intense marketing and confirmity (why else would people who will never set foot in a stadium buy 20 fps machines ?). I really like the idea that people sit down and think inwards a bit. Creativity lows are a great time for this.
ROTFLMHAO – as usual – well it has to be useful for SOMETHING! 🙂
Gave you all a head start – so here’s my [initial] response.
Pascal, why don’t you leave the A9 gathering dust while you try something else? Visit a few art galleries and STUDY the paintings. Read a biography of Michelangelo or Picasso (I was blown away by the one I read about MA – not sure I could identify a suitable one for PP, although as I told you earlier, I’ve seen a documentary film interviewing him which had much the same effect). If none of that works, study art for 12 months as an evening course. Or bury yourself in photography books about things like light.
I am frustrated at the moment because I am too busy printing photos to get out & take some more – but I am taking advantage of this to “spot” things that I will photograph when I get a chance, and it’s interesting being restrained – I can plan those shots more thoughtfully, analyse what I’m seeing and assess how I want to capture the image that’s formulating itself embryonically in my head. Whether or not anyone else appreciates any part of it has long since ceased to have any relevance. I take these photos for ME. Some of my idols are artists who, in their own time, were regarded pretty much as lunatics and their work was ignored – till they obliged their critics by dropping dead, after which you and I couldn’t possibly afford any of their paintings ever again. I am a Leo – I am therefore sufficiently egotistical to delude myself into thinking that the same applies to me. And photograph whatever and however I feel like. With an almost complete disregard for other people’s opinions.
After all, as I’ve also said before – opinions are a peculiar behaviour that humans engage in – they are incapable of being either “right” OR “wrong” – yet the people who cling to their opinions promote them with the kind of manic fervour we might expect from a delusional religious missionary zealot and treat anyone who doesn’t agree with them as if they were atheists – accomplices of Satan – and only fit for the funeral pyre. I guess it’d be fun to stir them up by deliberately baiting them – flaunting stuff at them that would inflame them to a blind fury. But I can’t be bothered. I’d rather tell them to write their opinions on a piece of paper, fold it over neatly, twice – and put it somewhere that the sun doesn’t shine.
Back to your plight.
Your second photo has exactly the same colours I got in a shot of my wife, on the plane, on our last trip – sound asleep, around 1 or 2 AM, with the cabin lights dimmed. When she saw it, she was horrified, and wanted me to burn it. Needless to say, I shall do no such thing – I rather like it – perhaps because of the bizarre colour scheme, as much as because of the subject matter of the photo. TICK to your shot.
No 2 – ever since my late teens & early twenties, I’ve found it amusing to invert the image – when I was following my railway fanatics around (because the object of their passion is a peculiarly challenging subject for photographers – ask Paul Perton) and committed what they regarded as sacrilege, by photographing a train from the wrong end, I couldn’t understand their problem. It seemed much less boring than their shots – with the guard’s van at the rear of the train slap bang in your face in the foreground, and the locomotive almost out of the picture at the other end. TICK to your shot
No 3 – If I ever find that statue, I’ll photograph it too** – I love flute music. 🙂 Seriously, it puts me in mind of a shot I took in Lyon last trip – of a bronze of a virtually naked and rather well built young lady, clearly labelled by the statue’s plinth as being Louis XIV. I thought it was his brother who went around Versailles dressed as a lady.
** Do tourists play with it? Or does the local Mayor’s office keep it polished like that?
TICK TICK TICK – love the next three shots – I must admit, I take photos like those, too – I find the subject matter irresistible and the only way to stop myself from doing it is to leave the camera at home.
Time to walk the dog – anyway this is far too long already, and nobody will want to read it all. My excuse is simply that it’s been fun writing it. 🙂
Pete, you are not allowed to be frustrated because you are printing a lot. I’m frustrated because I’m not printing enough. Maybe a hemisphere thing ?
Also, your version of origami sounds painful.
Thanks for the kind comments about this pics. Hope the walk went well, although it is a little late to enquire 😉 Cheers
Pascal, I don’t know where to start.
Firstly, thank you for your kind comments about my hackneyed photographs.
Secondly, you are right that equipment generally isn’t the answer. Well, sometimes it is, but I will come back to that. I have often found a certain joy in using simple, obscure or unsung cameras. Ricoh made a descendant of the GR1 called the R10 (GR1 -> R1 -> R10) which had a 30mm f3.5 lens and a brilliant exposure program that could work wonders will fill flash. Other pocket cameras are available – Fuji silvi f2.8, Olympus Mju II, Canon surehsot waterproof – but they all remove the need to fiddle with settings and concentrate on composition, light and all the things you mention. One of my favourite ILCs is the humble Sony A3000 – its an A5000 in a plastic sumo suit that makes it look like an SLR, made for developing markets. It cost about £230 with a kit zoom and a battery, and it takes pictures of unreasonable quality in every day situations, or where you may fear to take something expensive. The EVF is of such low resolution that you are forced to concentrate on composition in a graphic kind of way, since the level of detail and contrast offered by the viewfinder doesn’t give much other choice. With few controls, you are limited by the things that can be changed without menu diving, and as a result you set it up mostly how you want it and just photograph things. Simplicity is refreshing.
Camera systems won’t make you take better photographs, and won’t really give you inspiration. Some cameras or brands may push emotional buttons in us because they reference what some think “proper” cameras are supposed to be, but in the end all cameras do more or less the same thing, with greater or lesser degrees of aplomb. A new camera or change of brand doesn’t make you a better photographer by itself, and won’t give you inspiration when it’s lacking.
I’ve commented previously here on DS that I think one of the important things about (amateur) photography is growth – not by purchasing new equipment or having fancy lenses with 5 figure price tags. Owning a Zeiss Otus won’t make your composition any better, or inspire you to photograph new things in new ways, and obsessing about micro contrast or plasticity or whatever may be a distraction but probably won’t actually make a bad or uninspired photo good. Deciding what it is you want to or enjoy photographing, deciding on areas of specialism, understanding what interests and inspires you, thinking about your message or what you want to say, learning the craft in the pursuit of mastery, and having the courage to be self critical and learn from mistakes in an effort to grow all those things – that is what makes us better photographers. Plenty of times I look at some of my own work, and then that of others, and there is a temptation to feel depressed or disheartened. Instead, it’s better to look at why you think your work isn’t as good as something else, think about what it is you want to say with your photographs, and then try to make them better. Be more rigorous, be more methodical, be more creative, be more inspired… try harder. Don’t buy a new camera or lens or blame the equipment.
The exception to all this is if your camera physically can’t do what you want. I’ve been talking about the new Sony RX10 mark4 with it’s 24fps frame rate, and how it could allow me to photograph new things in new ways to achieve “more”. Sometimes cameras cannot physically achieve the things we need – and if that’s the case then persevering with a tool that will not do the job you want will only lead to frustration and disappointment.
I love the blue and purple abstract at the start of your article – there is something very soothing and satisfying about it, and it has lovely colour. I would happily have it on my wall.
Adrian, somewhere yesterday I read about a portrait photo produced by a professional photographer that was praised to the heavens when he showed it. And when asked what gear he used to take it, he shocked his audience senseless – he’d taken it with a Kodak Box Brownie, and all the other “gear” involved in taking the shot was stuff from places like his linen cupboard, at home. Not even so much as a tripod! Yet everyone who saw it agreed that it was a brilliant photo.
Of course – as you say in your comment – there are shots that cannot possibly be taken without more sophisticated equipment – and others that are “easier” to capture with better gear. But it is always the person holding the camera, that takes the photo. Not the camera.
Referencing Pascal’s comments about using a smartphone: in some ways I admire people who can take interesting and creative photographs with phones – although I also think it’s a reflection of how good the phones are at all the post processing. For me, the ergonomics of the phone are just not enjoyable, the fixed wide angle not always ideal, and the results are often only good quality when viewed on a small screen (in spite of what Apple marketing may tell you!) – but I support the idea of sometimes using simple cameras as an exercise in “seeing”. A Sony A3000 has incredible power compared to digital SLRs 10 years ago, and is like something from the space age compared to a box brownie, and we shouldn’t forget just how good even simple modern cameras are.
As you know, Adrian, I use a Canon PowerShot as a “take everywhere” cam, and it generally “does the job”. No comparison between it and the D810/Otus combo, but that’s to be expected. However, there’s nothing “wrong” with what it does, unless it’s my fault.
Each to their own – but using cellphones for photography has no appeal to me. I will leave that to people who like the battery on their phone to run flat by mid-morning. And prefer a nice back-lit screen, so they can’t see what they are shooting. (At one point on my last trip it got so bad with one pair of clowns using a cellphone that I chased around after them, taking photos of how silly they looked – “she” was struggling to use the damn thing to take their photos, and “he” kept getting kicked for breaking down in his duties, which apparently involved following her all over the place, with a large book, and holding it above her head to shield the damn thing from direct sunlight, to overcome the back-lighting problem. It was unspeakably awful – they had no manners whatsoever, they were getting in everyone’s way and there was a whole crowd of people who were on the verge of chucking them both in the Rhone!)
Fuji intrigues me – some people think they are slow to innovate, but it seems to me from what I see from the sidelines that they are running a traditional camera company and making steady progress in the right direction – that’s not a description I’d post for some of their competitors! – having spent a working lifetime as a business consultant, some of the things they get up to simply make me shudder, and it’s their own fault if their market disapproves.
Another which I find “interesting” and would like to pursue at some stage is Sigma’s foveon sensor. It won’t do for me – it can’t handle my available light stuff and doesn’t pretend to – but I set off down this path to learn more about digital, having decided at last to abandon analogue altogether for this final phase of my life (hell, I’m already 75 – analogue’s had more than its fair share, already!), and the foveon sensor would make an interesting study. But there’s cost, of course – I’d need a camera body & lens at the very least, and they aren’t free! That said, I can snatch one for just under 1800 Euro at the moment, with a 35mm (equivalent 50mm) F/1.4 ART lens – and I’ve been known to sink more than that into some of my other escapades.
One of the factors that tames me – apart from poverty, which (like wisdom) comes with old age – is printing. Pascal asked a while back if I’d like to produce an article on post processing, so with the brains of a gnat I set off to acquire various programs and test them out. I’m still buried in the middle of it. I learn more all the time. It’s never-ending. And it’s time consuming, which keeps me off the street. 🙂 And out of camera shops – except when I run out of paper or run low on printer inks. 🙂
I know I can spent a lot of time at a location trying to get the “right” photograph, but I try and do it discreetly, out of others way, with some consideration. On a number of occasions I have felt close to physically battering someone, generally when they are toteing a camera phone, often on a selfie stick, and just casually walking in front of my camera (or others) and then spending I don’t know how long taking selfies over and over and over again. I have an idea for a use for selfie sticks, but I can’t repeat it here!
Foveon: I share your reservations, and interest. Great for low iso work, great for tripod work, useless for low light work, action, fast focus etc. If I only took travel and architecture and often used a tripod, I think I would buy one. Alas I also photograph sports, street/reportage in available light, and often work hand held. And I don’t want to carry 2 systems. That last comment is the most insightful – when travelling thousands of miles from home, when everything has to fit in airline regulation hand luggage, it’s about flexibility of system versus the economy of the least equipment you need. A few years ago foveon would have been great for what I photographed, but now my interests and needs have evolved, alas no.
BTW sigma make 2 foveon bodies with 1.5x and 1.3x crop sensors. The smaller sensor version plus lens in a kit can be purchased for much less than €1800 the last time I looked, in fact below £1000.
I’m currently waiting for Pascal to format and publish a very extensive article I wrote about SillyPix Developer Studio, as from conversations with him I thought there were going to be other articles about other raw development tools. I’ve also dabbled with One1 Photo raw, which I found fairly hateful, and Affinity, which is ok but does less that Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Elements, and seems more of an editing tool than a raw developer if the vein of LightRoom, Capture One, SilkyPix et al.
I found your comments on processing software interesting. At the moment, I am using DxO OP11 and DxO VP3 a lot – LR – a bit of PSE – occasional dabbles with Luminar, On1 and Capture 1 Pro – just picked up a cheap copy of Picktorial, but it seems a lot simple for my purposes. To be horribly truthful, post processing software is just a mess. Some programs at least do what they claim – others have too many trumpets sounding, and not enough useful things. Most of their catalogue systems are crap and annoying – some people swear by them, I just swear AT them – as a means of getting in & out, they are simply awful. None of them offer a silver bullet, for anything, much. Sigh.
Yes I was aware of the smaller/cheaper Sigma – but part of the attraction is getting a sensor that’s way better than most FF cams, so I’d probably only do it if I get the larger sensor. I might get lucky, and pick one up second hand – who knows? I did that with the tilt-shifts, I would never have paid the full price for them and scooped up the 24 & 85 for 2/3rds the price of either one of them – second hand in name only (bought by a pro who ceased business and scarcely ever used either of them). I suspect the Canon range of PCEs is better/more versatile, but I bought them both with specific purposes in mind and they will meet all my needs.
There’s so much guff about buy this/buy that. Abandoning analogue & re-equipping in digital has been an expensive decision – but along the way I have been very careful about what & how to buy stuff, and the standard list price at the camera stores here would be WAY more than the total I’ve outlaid.
Hi Adrian, sorry about the late reply. When you work too much, you end up sick … flu in September, what ever next ? ugh …
No, indeed, gear rarely is the answer to any problem. If your abilities of vision have outgrown a specific camera, that’s more like a wonderful gift, to my eyes 🙂
Personal (as opposed to) growth is not viewed in the same way by all people. To me, the whole point of practising any artform is growth. And what I basically meant in this article is that temporary loss of enthusiasm or inspiration really shouldn’t be seen as a negative but as a natural stage in that global growth process. When you reach the end of an idea, or when lassitude sets in, it simply signals the need for more inwards thinking. The oddest thing will pick you up. A rose, a landscape, an idea, your smartphone. And it will start you on a new burst of exploration.
Thanks for the kind comment about the photo. Those are projections of a small led bulb though Murano glass shades. There uses to be large halogens that spread out spots onto much larger areas, not the tiny led creates much smaller and denser halos like these two. Cheers
I have found the purchase of a new lens to be great inspiration for doing more and better photography. Maybe that’s because I was never financially endowed enough to buy lenses indiscriminately. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a lens just to have it. I have always had to have a particular type or style of photography in mind that I could not do with my present equipment before I bought a new lens. And then I would take that lens out and burn it up in pursuit of my vision until I was satisfied. Satisfied with the quality of the new lens and satisfied with the possibility of the quality of work I might do with it in the future. And then it became a part of my photography “tool box”.
I’m beginning to develop a burning desire for an extra-wide angle lens for some work I want to do. I have been reading research reports on several lenses but so far I haven’t found one with both the focal length range and image quality that inspires me to buy. But I hope it won’t be much longer. I’m really feeling the need…….
Cliff, I am often dismayed on forums when people post discussion threads asking “which lens should I buy?”, as if a third party who doesn’t know the individual could ever answer that without intimate knowledge of the others photography and needs. It’s made even worse when someone asks if they should buy lens of completely different potential use, such as a wide angle or a short tele, as if the 2 are interchangeable!
Of course, certain lenses can open up opportunities that didn’t exist before. My comment earlier was that if you want a lens of a certain focal length, you don’t need one that costs $5,000. Too often amateurs seem to obsess lens performance, and justify differences between models, with words like “micro contrast”, “plasticity”, “rendering” etc when in reality none of that has any influence on the photographers ability to take a decent photograph. You could buy a $500 lens or a $5000 lens of similar specification, and it is the talent, skill, vision, story telling etc that will make the resultant photographs good – not the lens. (None of this is to say that expensive lenses aren’t good – it’s just that when someone views a photograph, particularly online, nobody is going to think its a good photograph because of it’s “plasticity”. I always say the important thing to picture making and story telling is having equipment that is “good enough”, in that it allows you to do what you need to do with “enough” quality).
As for lens performance, most modern lenses are more than competent, and have more than enough resolution, contrast, detail, sharpness and all that other stuff. Unless you are going to review your images on screen at 100% in the corners or enlarge to billboard size, the often minor differences between equipment probably doesn’t matter. I’ve been right around the loop of obsessing about lens performance etc and come to realise that what matters most is having the equipment you need, not want, and using a camera system that does what you need. It’s just a tool. If some commentators were to be believed, some of the cameras and lenses I use are so hopeless in their usability, ergonomics, physical controls, sensor design, lens performance etc that none of the photos I take could possibly be any good.
Hi Cliff, the great news for the guys asking those questions in the forums is that AI bots will son answering them 😉
A 5k lens is worth it when your clients expect you to have it or when it creates a special look. The Milvus range, for example, have a very distinct cream-dream look and a great build that justify the 1-2k asking price. But even that will never be a cure to bad photographs if the look they produce isn’t what you’re after.
Lens quality is just a joke. Very (very) few companies actually measure the lenses. Most usually calculate the published data from an ideal lens. Others aren’t even bothered, I think 😉
Anyhow, money can’t buy vision. Only an open mind and work can build that asset.
(sorry for late reply)
You and must have some bio-rythmic link. I too have been down about the results I have been getting. Particulary with my Sony A7II. So much so in the past two days I boxed it and my primary lens for it with the idea of trading them for something yesterday. Adding to this I borrowed a Leica SL with an adapter for a couple of hours to see how the combination would work with my M-lenses.
Fortunately, the experience wasn’t what I hoped (or feared) and I returned home with the Sony and lens. Thinking maybe something else would sing to me later.
Though, reading your article makes the situation clearer, by reminding me of something one of my instructors told us. This instructor was very much into the art and emotion of photography. And his recommendation for those times when you seem to have lost the spark and don’t know what you want to photograph, was to photograph what you feel, preferably by photographing self-portraits.
well, now I certainly hope not for your sake as I’ve been down with flu for the past 3-4 days 😀
Your instructor gave you an interesting idea ! Photographing your mood forces you to live with it but also consider it from the outside, work with it, possibly modify it. Never thought about that.
I think I’ll spare the readers the horror of my self portraits 😉 😉 But it may be an interesting idea to explore, even when feeling good. Just to experience the results of the process.
However, as I replied above to Adrian, I don’t think it’s wise to run away from lows. They’re a natural part of our rythm and should instead be used as pauses in between roads. Imagine living in summer all the time, you’d miss the other seasons. We need cycles, we need ups and downs 🙂