My whole photojournalism career has been about capturing people, places and events. You go into an assignment, assess the situations, the lighting, your subjects, what the message or tone is you want to capture. Set up your equipment, interact with your subject then capture the images.
But one problem I think all photographers face is settling into the routine as our careers develop and the years pass. We become too comfortable with the photos we take and thus, our photography becomes predictable and at times boring, Please do not misunderstand me, the photos are still great, they just lack sometimes in originality and are somewhat formulaic.
It is quite normal for photographers to go through a bit of a funk or to get stuck in a rut. I confess, after 24 years of shooting professionally, this is true for myself as well.
Lately though (really since starting to teach Cont. Ed. photography at Mount Royal University), I have tried to see things differently and to also work images differently too. At times, I have even *gasp* used just my iPhone to capture photos to post on Instagram rather than my bigger professional camera. And through this all, I have found at times the process quite liberating with the end result that my creative photo juices have started to flow again.
First, learning to see things different.
It can be a simple as opening your eyes and just watching the world. For example, the other morning while we were walking the dog (not ours, a friend who we are visiting), my kids saw her sniffing in some taller grass. I stopped to take a closer look and behold, there were a bunch of snails in shells sitting in the tall grass. The swirls, the lines, the colours – all caught my attention. I chose to take the image very close up and slightly off centre. Then I worked the image with a high contrast filter in photoshop. This is not something I would normally have photographed three or four years back. Too abstract for my normal style of years past (people/places/events). But by opening my eyes, I was able to capture a visually interesting image of something so small but so interesting.
Previously, I posted another blog about taking photos with a neutral density filter. This time I was able to photograph a water fall with a very slow shutter speed (0.8 seconds) while not on a tripod and no on camera filter. I rested my camera on a rock and supported it to make it somewhat level. Again, this time I tried a built in vivid filter in photoshop ( playing with preset filters is not my comfort zone as traditionally in journalism, corrections are kept simple). I also added a tilt shift filter in Instagram to create a more selective focus. Seeing that this image is not for print, more drastic changes are okay.
Finally, making the occasional return to my humble beginnings with simplicity.
When I first started taking photos, there were no digital cameras. Yes, there was colour film but I started my career with black and white photography. In fact, one of the earliest experiences I had was with a homemade pinhole camera with black and white paper in it.
I have always found something pure in black and white images. When I want to keep it simple, black and white it is. I am shooting on a digital camera these but have been tempted to buy some good old Ilfotech HC and Ilford film, break out the steel reels and do some darkroom work, but I haven’t quite ventured that retro yet. In the meantime, I’m happy shooting digital and converting to black and white. I push myself to see the world in greyscale. This happened while shooting a small Japanese garden I was wandering through. The image for me beckoned for simplicity, so I kept it simple. Again the image also had a tilt shift filter in Instagram added to bring the attention to the shrine.
I keep trying to experiment and push my personal photo boundaries as I work to reset my style and my photography. I will always have a photojournalism style but I think it’s good to also push my visual, more artist side to emerge.