#1182. 2/20 Vision – Disaster

By Ian Varkevisser | Art & Creativity

Mar 24

Yesterday I went on a guided tour of a township in the city. Pre-planning for the shoot I decided in my wisdom that I would shoot jpeg only and in Sepia with a soft focus lens to add an authentic look to the images. I like to travel light, so simple enough, the lensbaby soft focus lens with creative aperture disks and 0.6x and 1.6x converters would do the trick.

4 hours later after being baked in the hot sun I returned home and reviewed the images. TOTAL DISASTER. The harsh sun and lack of lens hood had caused the most awful lens flare ghosting on top of the soft images.

Dispirited I retired for the night my technical expertise and creative spirit in tatters, with an almost zero haul I would probably consign the day’s shoot to bin 13 the next day. I dreaded what was to come from my editor.

Now I have a very harsh editor with demanding standards who throws around platitudes like – “suck it up buttercup” – “when life gives you lemons ….” and the current favourite “sharp focus is so last year”. Perhaps , maybe.

I awoke this morning after a restless sleep my editors harsh yet to come criticism pounding my ego and 1 word jumped out at me – GLAUCOMA. I hit up aunty google and came up with this image relating to the condition.

Was there any salvation or take away from complete failure? With a touch of post processing and a few judicious radial filters in Lightroom I realised yep, I suffered from glaucoma. Well, at least if nothing else, I could have the inspiration in the back of my mind , and the technical know how for a series titled just that.

Just hanging around
On A Mission – Off to Church
Traditional healer on her day off
Boy Playing with Dog
Old man in his room
Open air barber shop
Preparing Sheep’s head – aka smiley – for braaing ( barbecue )
Old tyres are toys
Sport and recreation in the street
Sport and transport

I have yet to face my editor and endure scorn and harsh criticism but at least I have a cunning explanation in my back pocket to make me look halfway smart!


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  • Pascal O. says:

    Dear Ian,

    Absolutely brilliant ! If that is a disaster, let’s have more of it ! Superb !
    Thank you !
    Pascal O.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pascal, You are too kind but i would say brilliant is pushing it a bit far. Perhaps I will be able to replicate the technique with a little more skill, composition and in colour and come up with something resembling a series along the lines of that theme.

  • Zelma says:

    Not a disaster at all but only an intervention of the universe to teach us new skills.The mood is perfectly captured.I just love the photos

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Zelma, i think you have a deep insight into the part the intervention of the universe plays in creativity looking at your work. I have not shyed away here from sharing a failure and have light heartedly looked for the lemonade in the experience – if there is any.

  • Bruno Chalifour says:

    ;o) … Frankly what did you expect with such a strategy as “Sepia with a soft focus lens to add an authentic look to the images. I like to travel light, so simple enough, the lensbaby soft focus lens with creative aperture disks and 0.6x and 1.6x converters would do the trick.”, especially going on a rather documentary project. Simplicity is always a good approach (and you can always make it complex in post if such is your desire and if it really matches the project). As the saying goes, tricks are only good for young dogs and they waste their time and money. Let me be a little more precise: where and when have “sepia” and “soft focus lens” added any “authenticity” to any image. These are pictorial techniques used in the past by people that wanted to be as far as from photography and as close to painting as possible (Pictorialists). So no photographic authenticity here, in fact, exactly the opposite. Secondly, I do not see anything “creative” in any “lens baby soft focus lens and their “creative” disk. It is naive to think that a tool will make anyone “creative” (it sounds far more like an advertising strategy/lie), especially when it deteriorates the potential image without recourse. Do not forget YOU are the creative one in this. The gadget is just a contraption that make decisions regarding the results of your activities without you having any recourse; it is anti-creative in fact as it produces cliché after cliché regardless of your intentions and of the situations. Use simple tools and your creativity will come out strong (not masked by falsely pseudo “creative” gadgets that just undermine your creativity because they do not adapt to the situations the way YOU would). Your project was a truly interesting one; you sound very resourceful. Then the crappy equipment undermined everything (as far as I am concerned anything that undermines the quality of an image is “crappy”). If you thought that sepia brought anything (although I kinda doubt it) positive to your project then apply it to your raw JPG (color) or better work from your RAW file in post production (you will control it and have the possibility of truly being creative). If you thought that indiscriminately altering / softening was a good idea (without your having any control over it), think twice. In my opinion you should be a better judge of which area should be blurred if not destroyed. My advice: stay simple, gather as much good information as you can while photographing, your freedom of creation with it will be all the better.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Bruno, you make interesting points when it comes to keeping a process simple. However, that mainly applies to beginners looking for a personal style and learning the basics. Ian is very experienced and creative, you can see some of his posts at the bottom of the page “RELATED POSTS”. Also, by authenticity, I’m guessing Ian meant “true to his vision of what a series on this topic could look like”.

      Lens babies have always seemed very gimmicky to me, but it’s hard to argue with the very consistent and interesting look created here. It’s not something I would buy or use personally, but the resulting set of photographs is truly very good, wouldn’t you say? If anything, that would prove to me that gear is largely unimportant when you have a strong vision.

      Anyway, interesting points, I look forward to Ian’s comments on our comments 😉 Cheers

      • Ian Varkevisser says:

        Hi Pascal, I think you get what I meant by authentic from your comment. And you are spot on that gear even if it is deemed ‘crappy’ by some is immaterial – the challenge is to be able to use it creatively and effectively – I am up for that challenge even if it did not work out to my satisfaction in this instance. Back to the drawing board and all that.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Bruno,

      It is not that long ago that I was in private discussion with Pascal J lamenting the fact it would be refreshing to see a brutally honest opinion which sparked open debate. Let me be the first to congratulate you for breaking that mould and to say I take no offense to your comments.

      I am faintly amused that your opinion and advice runs to twice the length of my blog post and that the humour in the article has clearly sailed over your head.

      Frankly what did I expect – to build on the modicum of success I have had using the same gear in a similar situation.

      Purism in all things in life is an admired trait until it morphs into a form of religious fanaticism.

      Before I take advice in life I always like to know how qualified it is and where it comes from. As normal I took the liberty of doing a little research and stumbled upon your portfolio.


      I encourage other readers of this blog to do the same – if they already are not doing so.

      A quote by the famous photographer David Yarrow is always present in my mind – “Plurality is the bane of photography”

      I wish you well in your comfortable and safe journey through your photography, but for the time being I will continue to ignore conventions, break rules and push the boundaries of creativity and equipment.

  • Lad Sessions says:

    Ian, I rather enjoyed these images, mostly because they portray scenes of ordinary life. I don’t particularly like the “glaucoma” treatment, though I admit you use it well. I guess I wouldn’t use a lens baby for street photography. Still, you are nothing if not creative, and I yield to your artistry.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Lad, thank you for taking the time to comment. It is an acquired skill to be able to use a lensbaby for street photography not least because it is manual focus – and the decisive moment is highly acclaimed or overrated which ever you prefer in this genre. As to artistry like Pascal O above I think that is pushing it a bit far – simply throwing a failure into the pot for fair disussion and seeing what comes out of it.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Ian, I hope you aren’t serious. Glaucoma isn’t a very nice thing to have. Put Xalatan drops in each eye before you go to bed, if there’s any risk!

    I don’t know what your editor is chasing, but you’ve produced something truly “yours” – a selection of images which is NOT the same as 5 million others on Instagram. And that is pretty much what most of the photography magazines have been telling the rest of us to do. While one charmer once suggested that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, it is NO basis for photography.

    And a selection which gives what I think must be a fairly accurate impression of a place where I have never been – the people look delightful – and you are lucky to have had the opportunity to share some time with them.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pete, Let me put your mind and everyone else’s at rest. No I do not have glaucoma it was simply a word that sprung to mind after reflecting on the glare combined with the soft focus in the images. I might however attempt to convert the seed into a series named that who knows. Don’t be too concerned about my editor I am a big boy and have a thick skin, deep down my editor is a real pussycat. You are correct they did not come out as 5M others on instagram have – the question I am really posing is is there any potential artistic merit in them that could be developed into something bordering on unique yet telling an interesting story ?

  • Lani Edwards says:

    I for one, would not qualify your selection of images as a failure. Yes, they are removed from what we would expect when somebody mentions documentary street photography and we probably would feel more comfortable in some other category. Ugh…labels.

    What they do portray is an emotion of living life in even the direst living conditions. And pardon my naiveté, but isn’t depicting emotion and telling a story the point here?

    Regarding your use of the Lensbaby optics: as a fellow ‘gimmicky gadget’ user, I know there are a myriad more decisions to be taken before pressing the shutter button than shooting with a standard lens. Yes, you can be ‘creative’ in post processing but why if you can do it in camera as well? And, aren’t all cameras and lenses purely a tool anyway with which we feed the creative animal?

    To dismiss your selection of lenses or treatment of images because it differs from what you anticipated the end result to be, is short sighted. There is no one way/style that has more merit.
    The only disaster here is your expectations: What you envisioned and planned prior to your outing is different to what you went home with. Some can be more successful than others, yes, but growth requires us to leave something behind….it can be our habits, beliefs or mind-set.
    In my book, not a disaster at all!

    Okay. Now I’ve used up all my words for the day 😉

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Lah-Knee, You make good points about labels , story telling and being prematurely dismissive of concepts in the making or not yet perfected. As a kindred experimental spirit we understand the irrelevance of perfection and the beauty of wabi-sabi. Indeed failure is a growth opportunity.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Ian, I enjoyed your very creative take on images that you first judged as “lemons”. Well, you definitely made lemonade with them, dear sir! The sepia color and the almost magical blurred bits here and there give an aged, yet timeless feel to your superb images of everyday life. You’ve reminded all of us to not pitch out our images immediately, but to wait and reconsider them on another day. Kudos!

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Nancee, Thank you for taking the time to comment. Interesting that you also feel that sepia gives an aged and timeless feel to images – would you consider that to also translate into authenticity or not – which is the word I originally used but perhaps may not be a correct choice of wording ? I am pleased that even failure – my choice of words – is capable of bringing enjoyment and perhaps some humour into the situation.

  • philberphoto says:

    Ian, your misadventure is totally inspiring! And, as others, had you not said so, I never would have guessed. Kudos and congrats!

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Philberto , it brings a smile to my face to hear of people being inspired by my ‘misadventure’ – such a polite word for it.

  • Mel says:

    Love these images. Each one evokes a feeling, a glimpse into the emotions of people’s lives. So challenging to find much less capture. Whatever the “limitations” you are there. You are seeing…and touching my heart.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Mel, As with Phil above I am touched and hope it is a lesson to others not to be afraid to push boundaries and fail. It is only through doing so that we learn limitations and stumble upon opportunities

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    I use a lot the approach « capture neutral, process later », digital is so practical for that.
    But, even it it looks « too simple and naive », pre-selecting anything (a lens, a look, even turning the viewfinder in black and white, whatever), « creates » a mood… and that mood influences us in return before we take the pics… post-processing never replicates this; Fuji users often love their in camera jpegs film-looks; having had vision issues all my life (11 eyes surgeries so far since my accident age 18 months…), I never could « see » in black and white with a colour viewfinder; turning it in B&W always helped, even with the poor B&W rendition offered.
    Here we see a double thing: the first decision, the technical issue, the post-processing; I find the result totally convincing; as others say, emotion is there and the result has a « simplicity » that I really like 🙂

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pascal, As a fuji user i can safely say that we often are comfortable relying on the in camera jpegs and that I have yet to come across post processing software that renders sepia as well as Fuji does in camera – well at least to my liking – I do not speak for others who may have a freakish almost hatred of sepia tones and I have come across many in my travels – and still remain amused by the obsession that RAW is the almighty and that there is no place in the world for sepia. I trust the images do not invoke a traumatic emotion in you

      • Pascal Ravach says:

        No trauma, Ian… millions people go through so much worst… can’t really complain; I had all my life to try to accept it, and as « our » Pascal told me once, even after vast improvements thanks to the last surgery, my past limitations may have pushed me in directions worth exploring further…
        I once saw a documentary about a person in NY taking, since ages, pictures while being… blind. How inspiring!
        In fact, your images sounded friendly familiar… I never went to South-Africa, but a relative, Lucie Pagé, wife of the prime minister Jay Naidoo, after seeing my bio-healthy house project in Quebec, proposed me to live with them a while in Johannesburg and help create a wonderful habitat inside the ghetto, quite something! My ex didn’t want to join, and being the couple guy I am, I declined… still regret it everyday; so my reaction was… tenderness!

        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          Glad to hear that. On a different note that would be typical of Jay Naidoo to masquerade as our prime minister when he held minor posts in Mandela’s cabinet 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experiences in any case.

          • Pascal Ravach says:

            Sorry, my mistake, a typo from me… Jay was never presented to me as a “prime minister”… my brain went to holiday while writing…

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