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
Many of you will already know the news that the blog that coined the term iphoneography closed a few weeks ago. And the founder of the blog that founded the term is Glyn Evans, who has now launched a new website, glynevans.co.uk.
In 2008, Glyn was there at the very beginning of the iphoneography movement. Indeed if it weren’t for him, we would be calling it something else. By giving the movement a name, he gave it character and gave people who took photos with their iphones a sense of belonging. His website of the same name also gave people a place where they would find kindred spirits and, on a more practical level, useful information about this rapidly growing world. I started taking iphone photos in early 2011 so I was a relatively late arrival, but when I started, iphoneography.com was my most valued source of information. And when I launched my first classes, and then other classes, iphoneography.com gave me some great support. But this wasn’t in exchange for future favours or some other business angle. The view Glyn seemed to take was that if it was interesting to the community, he would talk about it. He had no vested interests or business agenda. This independent approach was also taken with his app reviews. And it was why the website was so popular. People knew his content wasn’t thinly disguised advertising.
Over those five years, the community has changed a lot. In many ways, it is now a business, rather than a community. Instagram made their millions and many other corporations, big and small, are trying to make a living from the now huge community. And whenever money is involved, people go a bit strange. And as a leading light in the movement, iphoneography.com was always going to be in the firing line, as people tried to muscle in on its perceived market. Ludicrous criticisms of the term “iphoneography” itself were made as people tried to attract attention to themselves. But they may as well have been trying to get people to call a spade a “hand-held digging instrument” because the term was here to stay.
Glyn’s aim with his new website is to showcase photography work, rather than to write about all the bits and pieces that surround photography. And with the changes seen in the last few years, focussing on the photos is a move the genre as a whole would do well to follow. I wish him luck with his new venture and salute him for playing a crucial role in launching a sub-genre that so many people - and indeed photography itself - have gained so much from.
What’s in a name?
The followocracy fallacy
I read recently that a hotel in Australia will give you a free night’s stay if you have more than 10,000 followers on Instagram. The idea (we suppose) is that you will take some photos, post them on Instagram and give the hotel some PR.
But it’s another example of how having large numbers of Instagram followers gets you free stuff. We might call it a “followocracy”. The more followers you have, the more doors open for you. As a power user, you have power. Over the last few years, we’ve seen how enough followers will get you all-expenses-paid trips if you agree to post pictures of their hotels, handbags or mineral water. Or free tickets to some cool events. Or even just good old-fashioned money. This followocracy is sustained by the belief that power users have some advertising influence through their follower numbers. But don’t advertisers wonder whether power-user value is a bit like a junk-mail delivery service? Yes, they can push things through a lot of people’s front doors, but most will go straight in the rubbish without being read, or there’ll be no-one home or they could start to annoy the recipients.
Some people still labour under the delusion that the quality of a power user’s photos is the reason they have so many followers. Of course, the power users themselves like to believe this too (who wouldn’t?) - this is how Instagram ensures they stay loyal to their platform. Some do happen to be quite good, but that’s not why they have lots of followers. Look closer and you’ll see most have got their follower numbers through Instagram’s suggested user list. Sometimes Instagram gives out large followings in this way to its pals (ie good old-fashioned nepotism), most other times they want people who they think will do good PR on their behalf. And if they weren’t already really a key influencer, in a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy, because Instagram annoints them as such, the world believes they are.
Q:Hi, I took part in your online Manfrotto iphone workshop - cheers! - you mentioned at the end of it you could send your presentation... is this the right address / place / way to ask for that? Thanks, Neil Shanks, neil"at"mediavillage"dot"org
Nice to hear from you. I tweeted a link to the presentation jus after the webinar. But here’s the link again: http://bit.ly/19jpOso. How you find it useful. Richard
Gray’s Anatoly: I worry for the world’s servers
I worry for the world’s servers. Surely they’ll fill up one day with everything we’re throwing at them? A few months ago I found out that my new phone (now my old phone) was automatically uploading every photo I took and every version of every photo that I took that I apped to Google+. I’d forgotten I was even on Google+, I’d forgotten that Google+ even existed. But yes, gigas of gigabytes of my photos were flying at every opportunity onto poor old Google’s servers (lucky they got that extra funding) without me (or them) knowing. Until I realised I’d used up my monthly data quota in two days and found I could switch it off.
But now I’ve got my new phone (my old one from before the previous new one) and have bought some Dropbox space, I’ve set up my phone to auto-upload there (but with wifi only). Go on, why not, you’re worth it, and I’m never going to use it all up, there’s tons of it. And now I find out that Flickr has a new auto-upload option to use up the Terabyte of space they give you as one of their customers. As they pour onto Flickr’s servers, they remain private until you put them in your photostream. OK, sounds great, why not? A Terabyte, you say? My basic maths struggles to work out how big that is: so, like, that’s, I mean, if a photo, that makes, right, around ….500,000 mobile photos? What’s my life expectancy again?
I got burgled once. And the only things I couldn’t replace were the photos on my laptop. So forgive me if I quite like the idea of saving photos into the cloud, onto those servers. They’re not filling up any time soon are they?
Do those servers have enough space?
Gray’s Anatoly: judging photo competitions
This year’s Mobile Photography Awards are open for submissions! I had the privilege of judging on the competition last year so I got to see how well it was run. Competitions come in all shapes and sizes and they’re now being seen as a key way of making a name for yourself in the mobile photo world. Some competitions are good, some not so good. The MPAs are definitely in the good category. But before you put your finger on your Paypal button, what should you look for in a photo competition?
Quality of judges
Make sure you know who is judging the competition. If you’ve no idea who’s judging, that’s already one minus point on the credibility rating. The judges should have a track record not only of close involvement in the mobile photo world and good judgement, but also of independence from other interests that might sway their judgement.
Impartiality and transparency
The decision-making process should ensure impartiality and transparency. Anonymous judging helps to avoid any of the judges dishing out the prizes to their friends and colleagues, or the competition awarding prizes to people who might be able to help the competition next year (either because they could be a big sponsor or because they have a gezillion followers on the social networks).
Check out the competition’s previous winners to see how closely the winning photos adhered to the category description. This will give you an idea whether the competition and the category is credible - and also whether you stand a chance of winning!
Depending on how much the competition is charging, it should offer good prizes. Of course competitions have to be economically viable, but if there’s a clear mis-match between entry fees and prizes, you may not be getting good value for money. Cash prizes are great, but perhaps even better for some people is the chance to be in a high-quality exhibition with the chance to sell your work.
Don’t let the competition do an Instagram on you. Make sure the competition isn’t simply charging people to fill its own magazine/book/website with content. Whatever prize your photo wins, make sure you get to keep the copyright and know where your photo will be used and for how long.
I won’t be judging this year on the MPAs this year, but that means I’ll be able to submit my own photos. Where’s that Paypal button?
Know who your judge is?
Tips for night shooting
I’m organising a night shoot on Monday with Click London, a new mobile photography group that officially launches next week in London. I had the idea for this shoot as I cycled home last Monday night. My ride took me past Battersea Power Station and, as has happened a hundred times on my bike rides over the last few years, I was stopped in my tracks by what I saw. The old power station, made famous by appearing on the cover Pink Floyd’s Animals album, is finally being re-developed and during the works it’s being illuminated at night. And it looks stunning. Of course the best camera is the one that’s with you, etc etc so I got some shots with my iPhone. But next Monday, here are a few things I’ll be thinking about:
1) A tripod. In low lighting situations, you need to keep your camera still. You can get tripods for the iphone, but they’re quite small so you might be restricted on the flat surfaces where you can place them. A great option is a Gorillapod, which you can attached to a railing. If you have large-camera tripod, you can attach your iPhone to it using a specially-designed case (eg the Manfrotto) with the correct screw thread.
2) A long exposure app or HDR. An app like Slow Shutter Cam with a tripod will allow you to expose your sensor to enough photons to get a fairly high res image. If you extend the exposure to 5 seconds or so, you can also create a smooth effect on the water of the Thames. Pro HDR will also allow you to get some detail in both the dark and bright areas of your image.
3) A remote or timed shutter release. To avoid camera shake, use an app that allows you to delay your shutter release. Slow Shutter has a timer option specifically for this reason. Or if you have headphones with a volume button, you can use it to fire the iphone shutter remotely.
4) Think creative. If you use Slow Shutter and try moving the camera halfway through your exposure, you might get some interesting results. You might even try to get a London bus passing through the frame at the same time. With Slow Shutter’s freeze control button, you can save various different frames from the same exposure. Combine this with Image Blender in the pub later and the creative possibilities are endless.
5) Get closer and get composing. I was running a bit late so I couldn’t get that close. On Monday, I’m hoping we’ll cross over the Thames and really fill the frame with the power station. There are a couple of brightly lit bridges nearby so I’d also like to maybe see how they could fit into the frame.
6) Sshh. Perhaps think about using a big camera. The power station is really brightly lit and even using apps that help control exposure, the iPhone struggles to retain the detail in the bright areas.
I’m going back, better prepared.
The democratising force of mobile
Mobile photography has been heralded as the new point of entry for photography. Here in the UK, some of our most respected photography institutions (eg The British Journal of Photography, The Photographers’ Gallery, etc) have embraced mobile as a fresh new genre that is attracting new talent to photography. I’ve said more than once that I reckon the Photographic Canon should be grateful so many more people are now doing photography thanks to mobile. And I think many of tomorrow’s Annie Leibovitzes and David Baileys will have started out with mobiles. And since more people are doing photography, standards will be higher too.
When we talk about the democratising force of mobile, we’re usually thinking about kids in baseball caps who are now trying out photography when they wouldn’t have 10 years ago. But here’s an initiative that stretches the reach of photography even further, putting cameras and photography skills in the hands in people who aren’t wearing baseball caps, who because of their marginalisation in society would be unlikely to pick a camera. It’s a project called Heart of a Woman and its aim is to empower women on the margins of South African society to take photos with mobile devices. Not only might they be able to sell their own photos, but the project will do for them exactly what mobile photography did for me, and for many others - give them a new and exciting means of creative personal expression.
Wasn’t it great for us when we discovered mobile photography? Well, you can help Heart of a Woman allow many more people experience that same buzz. You can make it happen in many ways, by doing your own blog, by tweeting, by donating your old iphone and, of course, putting your hand in your pocket. If you really believe in the democratising power of this new photographic genre, put your money (or efforts) where your mobile is.
Not just for kids in baseball caps
Gray’s Anatoly: Dancing at two weddings
I used to hear a strange phrase a lot in my old job: dancing at two weddings (I think it’s Swiss). We shouldn’t set up an office in Manchester because we’d be dancing at two weddings. You can’t do this and you that, you’d be dancing at two weddings. It basically means you can’t do two things at once, or you can’t be in two places at the same time.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m dancing at more than two weddings with my mobile photo posting. I’m currently regularly posting photos via four platforms: Instagram, Flickr, Eyeem and Oggl. Not to mention Backspaces and VSOM, which I joined recently but haven’t really started with yet. I’m wondering if I should start at all. I also post the occasional illustrative photo on Twitter, which I’m quite active on. And all these photo platforms dual-post to the Real Madrid and Barcelona of social media, Facebook and Twitter. And some of them allow you to dual-post to each other. For example, Oggl allows you to post to Instagram and Flickr, but not to Eyeem. In turn, Eyeem allows you to post to Flickr but not to Instagram. Meanwhile, with Instagram you can post to Flickr but not to Eyeem or Oggl. It gets complicated. Should I draw a picture?
Neat huh? But what does it tell us (apart from the fact I have too much time on my hands)? It tells us that Flickr is happy to welcome in any of its rivals but it never repays the visit; that Oggl and Eyeem are the two most giving apps, spreading their images to both Flickr and Instagram; that Instagram and Eyeem will have nothing to do with each other; and that Oggl and Eyeem consider each other unworthy of ever giving anything to. All this dancing is getting tiring.