Quick demo of Decim8, a real creative goldmine, using photo of David Byrne
Demo of spot-healing tool in Handy Photo.
Gray’s Anatoly: Fishy Images
I wonder if anyone said “Nice capture!” or “Awesome catch!” to Cartier-Bresson. These days they’re comments you see a lot on the photo-sharing platforms. A while back, I didn’t really like the terms “capture” and “catch”. For me, it sounded too much like fishing. I much preferred “nice shot”, like golf, or clay-pigeon shooting. (I’ve never been fishing or clay-pigeon shooting). But I’ve seen the comment so much that it’s grown on me and it got me thinking about the similarities between taking photos and fishing.
I was thinking about it more when I started using the new iPhone 5S. Its new burst function takes around 10 frames per second. If normal photo-taking is like fishing, this feels like trawler fishing, I thought. The first time I used it was in a crowded Portobello Road market. I held up my phone, walked forward into a sea of people, and kept my finger on the button. With the 4S, I’d have got 4 or 5 frames, by tapping repeatedly. Now I can get 40 or 50. My net comes up full of fishy images. I don’t think Cartier-Bresson would have approved.
So is it too easy to get good catches now? Well, you still have to decide where a good spot will be to lower your photographic net. And you still have decide to what depth to lower it and when. And you still have to decide what your best fishy image is, when you sift through the many sometimes infinitesimally different pictures that you capture, looking for that killer one, that decisive image, or “moment”, as Apple are calling them now. Come to think of it, that’s one modern term Cartier-Bresson might have liked.
Fishing for images in Portobello market
Gray’s Anatoly: Is mobile losing its identity?
I started a new mobile photography class last week and as I prepared for the first class I realised that one of my “little-known but quite obvious” tips had been superseded by the new iPhone 5S. I used to tell people in my first class that if you hold your finger down on the shutter button, the shutter releases when you release your finger (not when you place it on the button). Now if you hold your finger on the shutter button for one second, you end up with about 10 high-resolution photos. This new burst feature has the added advantage that it keeps your burst of frames separate from your camera roll and allows you to choose the ones that you like and delete the rest. I feel a bit sorry for the developers of Quick Camera which I used to go to for this feature but it’s a brilliant addition to the iphone camera.
A few other things have changed in my mobile photography classes over the last couple of years. There’s one to start with. Though I have a lot of affection for the term “iphoneography” and I still use it mostly, I’m alternating it with mobile photography. I had a flirtation with Android and lots of people now ask me: can you do it for non-iPhone too? There are some things I don’t teach anymore. I used to do a bit on tilt-shift but that seems to have died a death. After using it all the time in the early days, I rarely use it now. Likewise BlurFX. People seem to have gone off blurriness generally. My first class was mainly about how to post to Instagram. Now, very few people need to be shown how to do this, but I spend some new time on the pros and cons of the other available platforms. My early classes used to be very app-biased. And though I still love the photo-shopping power that is now in the palm of your hand, I do a lot more about the classic photographic questions of composition, colour and subject. My first students were very evangelical about only posting photos taken with mobile cameras. Now there’s a much greater variety of devices being used on previously mobile-only platforms like Instagram - and no-one really gets very upset about it.
Updating my classes is quite a good barometer of how things have changed in the mobile photography/iphoneography world. And as it blends increasingly with the rest of the photography genre, it loses some of its identity. But isn’t that what we always wanted: to be considered photographers not mobile photographers?
Tilt shift: you don’t see it much these days
Gray’s Anatoly: Make a calendar and force people to look at your photos for a whole year
The other day I was reminded of that line in the Smith’s song, Frankly, Mr Shankly: “Sometimes I feel more fulfilled, making Christmas cards with the mentally ill.”. Snapfish have this really excellent online tool for making calendars out of your photos and I’m getting a worryingly large amount of pleasure from it. So far I’ve done a calendar for my golf club (now in its second edition), one based on my music photos and I’ve just finished one of my mobile photos. I say “worryingly” because it feels like it’s not a very professional or creative thing to do. It involves a lot of sorting and classifying. Yes, going through old photos, putting the best ones into folders, choosing a certain number of portrait ones and a certain number of landscape ones, trying to choose some that match a particular month on the calendar (ie a sunny picture for August and a snowy one for January), putting two or three that go well together on the same page. So, worrying, because it’s a slightly mechanical thing to do. If I wanted to present it as something of greater value, I might say I was curating my photos. Are there other examples of photographers or artists who have applied their work in very practical ways? Come on, help me out here.
Calendars are a great way of forcing people to look at your photos for a whole year. The aim is that the recipients will feel so touched that I have thought of them at Christmas, gone to all that effort of wrapping up a real object, writing a little note and then going down the post office to post it, that they don’t immediately throw it in the bin. I’ll be very pleased if about 10% of them end up hanging on walls. I will put a copy of each on walls around my house - I find it’s good to live with them a bit. You learn what works and what doesn’t. And I think it’s nice to give those otherwise purely digital images some corporeal existence, a new purpose in life.
The cover of the 2014 rugfoot mobile photography calendar (signed copies available).
No such thing as a free lunch in photo-sharing platforms
Yay! I set up my own website! That’s the third one I’ve created in my lifetime and the experience is always exhausing. My head craned towards my screen, my eyes strain to check the brackets and the commas in that tiny little font that they use. One little piece of punctuation out of place and the whole thing can come crashing down. And you have to scour blocks of code to find where the problem is. There’s no undo button so you can’t just automatically reverse the brainless error you’ve just made.
My new website is a simple shop window for my mobile photos. I’ve curated the photos into subjects, so it’s a place where people can browse the best of my work without having to see my family snaps or be distracted by a third-party photo-sharing platform’s ads or branding. Each time I’ve gone through this process, I realise how much human resource, expertise and money must go into those slick photo-sharing platforms, which are a thousand times more than a shop window. They are incredibly complex and powerful machines. We take them for granted and we never expect to pay for them. And we are outraged and dismissive if there is even the slightest glitch. Yet we can’t ask for our money back because we didn’t pay any to start with. But as we all know now, we still “pay”, just not with money. We pay through our personal data, we licence our photos to be used in ads and on some platforms now we will be exposing our eyes to ads. But this is the new economy. There’s still no such thing as a free lunch: we just don’t pay for it in luncheon vouchers any more.
Setting up a website can be exhausting
Gray’s Anatoly: Taking photos doesn’t have to be offensive
I went on a photo walk around Southall with the excellent Click London meetup group on Saturday. This area of London has a large Asian community and our walk took us inside the local Sikh temple and to a music shop, where we were given a workshop in tabla (Indian drumming). I learnt (or was reminded of) a couple of things about photography, and specifically about mobile photography.
1) People are generally OK with being photographed. On entering the temple, we asked if it would be alright to take photos. Sure, said one of the magnificently bearded and turbaned temple officials. He designated a guide and we were shown around. Having a guide was good because it gave us an outward sign to others that we had been approved. Some people worry that the act of taking a photo is offensive to people. But if you go about it in an honest and respectful way, there isn’t usually a problem. In fact, the opposite is often the case. As I wandered around the dining area unabashedly looking for photo opps, a bride who had got married that morning invited me to take a photo of her. Already clearly in the marital driving seat, she called over her groom from the other side of the room for the shot.
2) Although we had permission to take photos in the temple, I’m sure we were bolder and more successful with our photography because we were using mobile devices. We simply wouldn’t have had the courage to take the photos we did with larger cameras and people would have been more aware of us. We weren’t hiding our photo-taking, we were just less obtrusive (and so more successful) because we used mobiles. And sometimes it’s the way you take your photos, or how indiscrete you are (and that involves the size of your camera), not the fact of taking photos, that people object to. If they can’t see you doing it, they don’t mind about it.
Check out some of the brilliant images our group created here.
Already in the marital driving seat
Gray’s Anatoly: VSCO, picking up where Instagram left off
Not wanting to sound too narcissistic, the new photo app VSCO seems to be aimed at people just like me. Instagram revived my interest in photography a couple of years ago and although the photo-sharing app that is now owned by Facebook has been much maligned in recent times (and for some good reasons), it should nevertheless take the credit for inspiring a lot of new photographers or, as in my case, reviving the passion of lapsed photographers. Like a lot of mobile photographers, my big camera has been out of the cupboard quite a lot more over the last year or so. And I’ve started syndicating to two leading agencies, one for big-camera photos and one for mobile. I’ve been using Lightroom to do basic editing and archiving and much of that editing has been inspired, and in some cases learnt, from my experiences editing mobile photos.
And the way VSCO tries to make a living is by trying to sell you the filters you use for free in the mobile app and then use them in Lightroom with your big camera pictures. Like Instagram and Hipstamatic, many of those filters are attempts to replicate old film. But VSCO’s filters seem like a natural progression from Instagram. Gone is the gaudiness of filters like X-Pro II or the vignetted sentimentality of Earlybird. The range of filters offered by VSCO are refined and understated. As well as favouring decontrasted and desaturated looks, its Grid also favours art-house subject matter (still lifes, landscape and concept-driven images - no place for gritty street or playful portraits). It also drags you back to your desktop (perhaps so you buy their filters?) by not allowing you to view other people’s photos via the app. To do that you have to be sat at your desk, or go through Safari on your mobile (shades of the old Flickr “mobile” app). But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps Instagram encouraged us to share too much and we forgot about concentrating on our own work. Likewise, VSCO also eschews Instagram’s focus on followers and likes. So VSCO seems to be an attempt to have mobile taken seriously and also to bridge the gap between mobile and big-camera photography. And to make a living from it without selling its soul.
Gray’s Anatoly: Death, birth or survival? The psychology of converging lines
It’s a classic compositional technique. Have your lines lead your eye to your subject. Or if you don’t have a subject, just have lines that converge to a point in the distance. And if you want, put that point in the distance slap bang in the middle of the picture. A lot of people do. And it never seems to fail. If you live in a city, there’s an opportunity at almost every turn. Lots of lovely corridors, buildings and tunnels to get those lines converging.
So what’s the fascination with converging lines? I’ve heard a few theories:
1) We like to know where our means of escape is. In the same way that our primeval subconsciouses like to have us sit facing a door, could it be that we like to be able to see the point where we can escape from a predator?
2) Many people talk about going down a long passageway when they experience a near-death experience. They are floating down that corridor of uncertainty towards an end that is uncertain but which keeps on getting closer. Are we drawn to pictures that presage that moment? What Freud called our “death drive”?
3) Speaking of life and death, some people have said to me we are drawn to converging lines because it reminds us of the moment we were born. When I heard this I paused, thought about it, and replied: “Shouldn’t the lines be going in the other direction for that?”. Or does it depend if you were born feet or head first? I can’t remember, what’s the usual one?
Anyway, like photography generally, we can analyse it til the cows come home, with some photos we just have to say, I like it because I like it. Or not, as the case may be.
Why do we like them so much?
Gray’s Anatomy: Music and photography (part 2)
A while back I drew some comparisons between photography and music. And I included a section in my advanced class where I asked my students to produce a photographic response to some music I played them. Today on my favourite BBC 6Music station I seem to be hearing a lot of music by “producers”. Until recently, producers were anonymous characters who “twiddled knobs”. Yes, some were quite famous but they usually stayed out of the limelight. But then artists like Streets and Moby emerged from their darkened bedrooms and proved that all you needed was Garage Band to produce (in the sense of “make”) music. You didn’t actually need to be able to play any instruments. So the producers probably thought: if these kids can get in the charts with their digital doodling, surely we should be able to, given the technical wizardry at our fingertips. And hey, you don’t need to be able to play instruments. No, you don’t, but you do need to think up something good, in terms of melody, narrative, drama, emotion, so the really key ingredients that make up good music. The technical barriers have lifted, but the really hard stuff, the stuff that requires raw talent, remains.
This levelling of the talent field in music reminded me of mobile photography. It’s now a lot easier for people to perk up a photo by adding a filter, or even taking full control of the editing with some pretty sophisticated apps, like Filter Storm or PS Touch. You can photoshop in things from other photos, you can change colours, textures, or even go completely crazy with some left-field transformations. The apps that allow you to do this cost next to nothing and you can do all this on the go if you’re short for time. But, just like music, although the technical barriers are now lower, you still need the same key ingredients as you always did to make good photos. For your harmony, you need to understand composition. For your tune, you need to tell a good story. For your musical emotion, you need photographic emotion. And in the same way that talented bedroom DJs are emerging as successful music makers, so many of today’s mobile photographers will emerge and become tomorrow’s leading photographers.
DJs coming out of their bedrooms