My most common mistake while learning photography

If the number one mistake in post-processing is over-saturation then the number one mistake in camera is putting too much in the scene. This is specific to certain types of photographers more than others and I personally got stuck with this one far longer than most. Like many others I briefly went through the phase of trying landscapes and architecture where wide and expansive shots including all the details are the ones that feature on the likes of National Geographic, but those photographers have been practising their whole lives and know exactly how, when and where to compose the perfect scene with all the elements in their right places creating depth, shade and more. Not only that, but those shots are often very selective and minimal and we only remember them as being packed with wide mountain ranges and huge stretching landscapes because they’ve been carefully crafted to offer elements in the foreground, moving layers or light in the right places to add to the feeling of depth and punch. These are useful artistic concepts that we all learn and apply over our time in photography but while starting out we’re usually doing little more than travelling to a nice spot in the city or countryside and snapping a shot of a particularly nice view of the city from above, or a large valley with woodland, towns or whatever else in there. Because we haven’t learned how to use the light to create layers, or we haven’t taken the time to get low enough and use the street and foreground as leading lines or other creative and skilled techniques we end up with a flatter image with just a lot of different elements. By reducing those elements and composing say one layered part of cliff or mountain, one layered section of parapet of the building with something in the foreground we can create a more unique, interesting and attractive image.

Like anything there are of course exceptions and times when busy and complicated shots are intended. This shot of a community garden right in the middle of Edinburgh city is an example where I simply took a snapshot of what I saw as an interesting typographical kind of shot and later while processing I discovered two people in the shot I hadn’t seen while there, turning it into more of a Where’s Waldo in my mind. Similarly, long stretching city views and mountainscapes are common and often breathtaking but 9 times out of 10 they’re from photographers with years in the field, expensive equipment and a lot of technical ability that newer photographers have yet to learn thus giving them a much lower chance of making mistakes and pulling the viewer into the shot.

Going so far as removing everything from your frame except your subject is another way of creating punch and holding the viewers interest. While you’re new it may feel like you’re missing out on having all these amazing things in your photo and you want to get across the beautiful complex scene and ranges visible to our eyes- but the camera and monitor are different from our eyes and we have to remember to play to our format and unless we’re willing to pay thousands to have our scene printed across an entire wall it’s probably a lot more sensible to focus in one composing part of the scene for more impact. Never forget your final product while taking a shot.

3 Things that Improved my Photography that are Completely Unrelated to Photography

I’m often asked my general or best tips for improving at photography and while these are questions that can’t be answered without more information about the person asking, I do have some general tips and things that helped me immensely and can be applied pretty universally. I came to realise that most, if not all of my tips aren’t really related to photography or gear, but about the process and person instead.

An alarm clock and schedule
For a long time I shot almost nothing but mid-day light and night shots. The thing I was best at in my first year of photography was Light Trails. I’d like to say this was because it was something I was personally interested in and specifically went out of my way to shoot but in reality it’s mostly because those are the only times I was out shooting. Whether working (or in most cases, sleeping) I completely ignored sunrise and morning light and it wasn’t until I forced myself to take this omission seriously that I increased the width and breadth of my photography in no small measure. The two most popular times of day to shoot are Sunrise and Sunset and no matter what anyone tells you they’re both very unique and have their own palette and light. Excluding one from your repertoire means cutting out one of the best times of day to shoot and handicapping what you have access to and often simply by getting up earlier means you have access to a whole new range of photos. Not just the light and colours change but the types of wildlife you see, the way people dress and what they’re doing, the light and shadows in the streets do a complete 180 and you have twice the shots that you had before in almost any genre.
Take this seriously and set your alarm for early in the morning and schedule yourself time to go out and shoot- after all, the early photographer shoots the worm.

Social trip to Amsterdam
A car/willingness to travel
Being poor photographer is both a blessing and a curse. It limits your access and schedule and thus restricts the content you have available to you but at the same time it narrows your focus and forces you to get creative with what you have available. So it’s with a pinch of salt that I highlight this piece, but getting a car or simply travelling more, both locally and abroad is hugely important. I’ve come to realise that exploring new places is deeply rewarding and mentally enriching for human beings, perhaps in part as an evolutionary reward for those who survived in times of hardship or perhaps simply because it takes us back to that feeling of finding and learning about new places as a child. Whatever the case, being in new and unknown places is something that sets us in a different frame of mind- of being open to new surroundings and details and even cultures. This frame of mind is what we’re often striving for with photography so we can intuitively narrow in on great shots.
Whether finding new places means travelling across the world or simply walking a mile further out of your town or city than you have before to find a new section of woods or a new part of town, just being willing to find new things is a big part of growth as a photographer.

The best 3 shows I’ve ever heard of

Since I was little I’ve loved film and now I’m older I can appreciate the production and art in the craft as well as the story- it’s always made film something I love to learn by watching.
Conversely, I’ve had a special kind of dislike for TV shows. While there are plenty of exceptions, in the span of all my memory they’ve been little more than a mix of shallow creations with little value or story, and the non-fiction has always been just plain boring.

The exceptions come and go from time to time- Mythbusters and How It’s Made were two (initially) low budget mostly-independent creations that were focused and pure enough while still interesting enough to be good to watch. But blockbusters with soul are rarer still and you have to look at the outcasts and indie companies like Adult Swim to come up with anything with a skew from the status quo.

It’s with this in mind that I say shows like Futurama and the titles below are worth their weight in gold- they’re big budget blockbuster productions that stood the onslaught of the corporate overlords to keep their ethics, values, souls and stories intact and through that gauntlet they became shaped slicker and sleeker but still with enough depth to reach a mind or two.

These are 3 shows I feel represent this perfectly, the best 3 shows I’ve ever watched.

3. Firefly

Firefly is an interesting entry because it’s modern and oldschool at the same time. It feels like old TV- where a group of main characters are put through different situations and everything goes back to normal at the close. It harkens back to a time where TV shows ended on a pleasant moral point that the audience can think about, without soapboxing or arrogantly assuming right or wrong. The early Simpsons did this fantastically and many of the best fictional shows of the past stuck to this formula- but Firefly feeds it into a more flexible background story, a higher production value and more human moments than the universe it exists in has any right to portray. Firefly is the best of oldschool feel-good TV.

If you’re interested in Firefly you might want to check out the film version- Serenity. It’s a lot thinner and less character driven than the series but it’s a great entry point and has a faster pace.

2. Westworld

It’s with hestitation I add Westworld to this list because it’s so new and it’s similar to bad shows in a lot of ways- it has shiny production values and regular characters going through different situations each episode, perfectly regular normal TV. But what’s hidden to the audience while you’re watching Westworld is that you’re learning- you’re learning about the Universe and the characters and the rules that shape what you see around you without ever knowing it. Every interaction and scenario tells you a little bit more and gives you another piece of the map until you think you realise you want to know what the hell is going to happen next and how things are going to change- which is where the incredible story picks up. Unlike other shows, Westworld has a concrete story in place and a direction from day one and you have no idea what it is or where it’s headed unless you watch like a hawk. Throughout this development you’re also battered with moral considerations, questions of life and love and progress and technology and humanity. Westworld is a show that doesn’t dumb down to let you catch up to the story- it’s on you to interpret a lot of what you see and if you don’t keep up them you’re going to miss out.
It’s one of the few shows I’ve watched twice and it’s just as interesting a ride the second time as it is the first.

If you like Westworld check out Michael Chricthons other work- he’s a director and writer I could talk about for weeks because of two primary reasons- he’s intelligent and curious in equal measures. The original Westworld movie, while dated and cheesy by todays standards, was unique for the time. It’s basically Jurassic Park (also by Chrichton) with robots in that it’s a disaster movie about a theme park where the attractions become the danger.
More than that, read his books. He writes in a way that typically takes real history, science or evidence/discovery from either and writes according to the good old science fiction formula of what-would-happen-if.

1. The Wire

The Wire is everything you don’t do on TV- You don’t make a show about poverty, filth, crime and degeneracy because according to the studio audiences aren’t going to want to put themselves in those characters shoes. You don’t portray real life and all it’s little boring moments and failures because nobody wants to watch that crap. You don’t beat the characters the audience likes with a stick and show their countless mistakes and horrible attributes and you certainly don’t kill them off because that’s what happens in real life. The Wire does them all and more. The Wire drags you into the world and as you slowly come to understand the characters and their choices you find yourself routing for them and the scenario you think might just play- then reality and humanity hit and you’re left with your pants at your ankles and a bullet in your head, cause all the action and suspense and great writing in the world don’t change the fact these are, for the most part, real events taken from real case reports.
Despite the realism and issues The Wire deals with on screen, it never once blames anyone or tells you what’s wrong with the world- every character has dimensions and changes depending on the circumstances they’re dealing with and so while I felt angry at the city in the first season for the failures and lackings in the school system, the show comes back around later on to show that those failures I was bitter about exist for 20 other reasons, including being a result of the people I felt sorry for.
The Wire ultimately shows the human shit-show in all it’s strength and weakness and nails home the fact that being angry and upset at the state of the world is wasted sentiment- you can spend time trying to fix your small part of it and maybe make a difference, you can take what’s yours and help yourself get through it, you can bury your head in the sand, and you can walk away from it all and do your own thing but ultimately we humans are still going to be humans and the shit-show is going to play on.

It’s all in the game.

5 Select Things I’ve Learned About Street Photography as a Beginner

Having tried my hand at street photography now for little more than 2 weeks I’d consider myself the last person to seek complex and detailed advice from, but at the same time many of the most valuable things I’ve learned throughout my life have been from people at around the same level of skill as myself while trying to get to that next level of ability and not from the pro’s who’ve been doing it for 20 years who explain without context and expect me to know anything and everything when I’m still stumbling to hold onto the basics. With that in mind, here are a range of basic concepts I’ve learned specifically relating to Street Photography in my early footsteps into the genre.

1. Light is Everything
One of the biggest separators between average and great Landscape photographers, and photographers in general is their knowledge and use of the weather, the light and the time of day. Most of us know of and have experience with Golden Hour and Blue Hour- the 1 hour after Sunrise and the 1 hour before Sunset. These are the times when the sun is lowest in the sky and provide a very horizontal light position, resulting in fantastic shadows, contrast and colour. So why do so many of us forget about this when we try Street Photography? Perhaps it’s because we get so focused on the subject and finding the right person that we forget we’re still (at times) essentially doing Portrait Photography, and if anything is important in Portraiture it’s lighting. The hour after sunrise is particularly loved by Street Photography because it’s often when most people are commuting to their place of employment in town. By using the light at a slight angle we can have long stretching shadows to emphasise someones walk to work and build a very sombre mood or shoot into the sun and create silhouettes against the street or pavements with ranges of tone.
Similarly, the Blue hour is not to be forgotten as it can be a time when people are heading out to the night life in the cities so people tend to be dressed to impress and particularly active and enthusiastic and with use of street light it can create a brilliant orange/blue complimentary contrast.

The Golden and Blue hours vary in length and their time depends on sunset and sunrise, meaning it changes from day to day and place to place. I’ve found this website particularly useful for getting detailed information by location but many phone apps have similar functionality and may also be useful.

2. There are Two Main Techniques, Both are Worth Learning
There are lots of different approaches and techniques used when shooting Street Photography but these main two take up the majority of space for most photographers.

First is looking for a good subject to shoot, then following them until you find a nice location or backdrop to shoot them against. This can feel creepy at first, and I suppose it kind of is, but then so is street photography in general if you look at it from the same angle. This alone is enough to turn many people off but there are benefits to shooting this way. It’s particularly useful if you’re far more interested in shooting the people than you are shooting the street or surroundings. Bruce Gilden is a great example of a candid street photographer who, despite what most would consider a very aggressive approach, gets fantastic results and doesn’t piss as many people off as you’d expect. His dominant approach is to walk the street against the crowd with a flash in one hand, a camera in the other and literally jump in front of people and snap them at the right moment. Another variation on this approach is to roam a particularly nice area and find someone you like then trail behind or in front of them to shoot once you have your desired backdrop.

The second technique is to find a nice spot in the city and wait for a subject. This provides a more relaxed approach as you’re often able to take an out-of-the-way position and many times go completely unnoticed. Here, everything is about timing and patience. You might sit in the same spot and snap 25 shots before you get the subject you want in the right position, but often that’s exactly what it takes to get an interesting street shot.

3. Framing and Telling a Story Become More Important
One of the things that attracted me to, and that I love about street photography is that it’s often more about context and story than other types of photography- that is, the way your photo is interpreted can vary from person to person but ultimately that interpretation is what gives the photo its impact. Whether it be a simple story like the lack of interaction and potential between two people who are close to each other that you can draw from, or something more obvious like a man in work clothes on the bus heading to work, it’s all about the context you put in the photo and the framing becomes a huge part of that. Getting in just enough to show elements of the story while also using the frame to compose is hard to marry but so often is what makes the difference between a good and bad photo.

4. The Largest Hurdle is Usually Yourself
I soon realised that the biggest weakness I had in street photography wasn’t anything to do with my skill or technical ability but was more basic than that- that I simply refused to take certain shots because of conscious or subconscious fear of what might happen, whether that’s physical altercation or simply a nasty look, it’s scary and hard to ignore in your mind. Most articles on street photography cover this in more depth but suffice to say the key things that helped me get over this were 1. Coming to terms with the fact that I was missing some of my best shots and that I wasn’t going to be a good street photographer otherwise and 2. That feeling embarrassed or self-conscious after being spotted taking a photo of someone revolves almost entirely around the fact that I’m simply not doing it enough or at all- that I might always feel that way but simply taking more candid shots means I can learn to ignore it quicker. After accepting those two things I went out and sought out shots I wouldn’t normally take simply to challenge my previous perception that I couldn’t take a shot because I was embarrassed or that I might not be missing a good shot anyway and lo-and-behold I instantly improved my repertoire and ended up with far more to show for it. For others, your demons about shooting people you don’t know may come in different flavours but ultimately we’re all simply self-conscious because we humans are programmed to care what others might think about us, but when that human trait gets in the way of progress you ultimately need to either accept it as part of your life and move a different way, or simply take the time and effort to overcome it like anything else.

5. Don’t Forget Indoor Spaces
For the first few days I shot on the street I completely ignored indoor spaces in favour of roaming the streets for a nice location. It wasn’t until I passed a pub on the corner of a street with an interesting looking guy having a pint and a completely different looking gentleman having a coffee on the tabletop outside that I realised there was a whole other world of shots either from outside to in, inside to out and simply outside and inside alone.
Using public spaces like museums, indoor markets popular indoor venues can be particularly useful since they’re often purposefully built and decorated for visual appeal and typically full of bustle but with their own quiet periods early in the morning. This early period can help you isolate a subject or simply set up your shot and wait. Other benefits include the fact that there are often tourists or people with cameras shooting so you wont stand out as much, and