Almost Weekly Photo

Always Inspiring!

Remnants of a flood, Wendover, UtahNikon D850, Nikon AF-S 70-200mm…

A Grand Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Detail Phase One XF 100MP Trichromatic, 110mm Schneider…

Finding Good Influences

When I was at school, I was struggling with a…

Paro Dzong, Bhutan
Phase One XF, 35mm lens, f8 @ 1/1600 second, ISO 160

How many photo books do you have on your shelves at home? I reckon I'd have close to 1000, but I confess that includes several boxes of books still under the house from when we renovated eight years ago!

And how often do you refer to those books for inspiration? It doesn't happen often enough, but sometimes I find myself printing a bunch of images on my Epson SureColor P10070 (with Canson paper, of course) with a little time between prints. So I'll go to my bookshelves and pull out a photo book. You can do the same with a Google search, of course, but what are you going to type into the search bar? And what will Google decide to give you? I think the advantage I have is that I have already chosen the book because I liked the images. Or the approach. Or the technique, the philosophy etcetera. While the images are great, it's the ideas that matter to me.

I'm always looking for inspiration and it was while reviewing one of my books that I decided to revisit black and white with areas of soft focus. Years ago in the darkroom, I'd use translucent plastic held over the print during exposure to create softness in parts of the image. I loved the results, but never felt that I'd really nailed the technique.

At the time, I was heading off to Bhutan with David Oliver and, given it was my fifth trip, I felt I had the space to try something completely new. And I knew David would be fully supportive if I tried something in black and white because he's always telling me how much better it is than the crap colour photos I produce!

The photo of Paro Dzong is one example of the technique. It uses softness over most of the image, which is then rubbed back over selected areas. Obviously I've also pushed the contrast up and I'm enjoying the deep, rich shadows. It's a little different to my usual work and while I haven't completely nailed the technique, I do love this one. It certainly has some mood to it.

So, my suggestion for this week is, what could you try that is a little different? Maybe you'd like to try some high contrast black and white as well? Or maybe we can both convince David Oliver to shoot a little in colour!

Little White Islands of Snow, Antarctica
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider, f4.5 @ 1/1600 second, ISO 800

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo which I suggested wouldn't win any photo competitions, but commented that I liked it anyway! My blogs are posted onto Facebook as well as my website, so they get a bit of traction - including a few comments that agreed with me and suggested we need better judges.

Now, that's a problem!

To start with, I'm one of those judges and, if you ask me, the photo above (and the one I posted previously) would not win a photo competition. They might be accepted, given a Silver Award or get into the top 20% of entries, but they are unlikely to come first. And as a judge, I wouldn't give them first prize, either.

But I still love the photo. It has lots of emotional baggage for me. I love small, snow covered islands. I remember the cold wind as we stood on the ship's deck, approaching Antarctica for the first time that voyage. And I love the light.

However, the point I was trying to make (perhaps unsuccessfully) is that not every photo we create needs to be something that everyone else in the world loves. I know I get a lot of likes and loves on social media (and thank you for doing so), but there are also a lot of people who just click past because my photo doesn't do anything for them. And that's okay!

We can't control how people react to our work. Now, while it would be untrue to say I've given up caring what other people think, I am training myself to accept that there are all sorts of views out there and not to worry too much about the 'negatives'. On the other hand, sometimes judges have made negative comments about my work which have been really instructive and useful. They have helped me become a better photographer - in my opinion. 

We all have opinions and that's a good thing. It's a first step to creating new and original photography, so we certainly don't want everyone agreeing with everyone else - that would be boring. And as for the judges, yes, there are times when judges get it wrong. So do photographers! But if you enjoy the competition process as I do, I think the solution is not to get upset by poor outcomes, but to work out if you're still happy with the photo.

Sometimes my work is criticised, I agree with the judges and the photo is no longer a 'favourite'. But if I still love a photo after it has bombed in a competition, then that to me is a mark of success.

Richard White's 2020 calendar on my wall at the studio. What a great photo to finish on.

Richard White died last week, doing what he loved most, talking and discussing photography. His passing was unexpected for Richard, the person on the other end of the phone, Richard's family and the world-wide photographic community. And while there is undoubtedly a lot of grief for us all to work through, I'd like to celebrate Richard's life and contribution.

In fact, I can hear him now. "Don't make a fuss about me, concentrate on the photographs". Well, Richard, I love the May photo this month in your 2020 calendar. It was shot at Hadrians Wall in England and I can see it as a metaphor for so much of what you stood for.

It has a beautifully balanced composition, just as your many articles and presentations were carefully balanced. And the wall represents the different sides of photography, perhaps the gap between film and digital and all that the two mediums have come to represent.

Richard was not a fan of digital photography and post-production, but I mustn't misrepresent him. He owned digital cameras and used Photoshop, but what he loved most was his 4x5" view camera and processing sheets of black and white film. He was a large format fan. Digital was just how he presented his work for publication in Better Photography magazine.

And what a great contributor. With our 100th issue just about to be released, Richard has contributed to every issue since No. 10. And given we're a quarterly magazine, that's 23 years of putting up with an editor who had quite different views about what photography meant.

And this is what I love about Richard. He had his opinions. He knew what he liked, but in presenting his case, he always put himself in the shoes of the other side. A foot on both sides of the divide. He didn't criticize modern post-production technique per se, rather he queried whether what was being produced was of any real value. And I think he had a good point. There is so much poor quality photography in the world today, it's true to say digital technology is responsible, simply because it has made photography so accessible to so many. Just pick up your phone.

And in the early days, even the experts were good at making crap digital shots. I still cringe when I think about the early post-production we accepted as being 'good'. Richard was the voice of reason and the conscience of photography. He questioned whether the changes in the medium were progress or just a move in a different direction. He wasn't interested in switching to digital in the early days because it simply wasn't as good as film. And then in later years, it was his choice to stay with large format because he was a fan. Rather than following all the new fads and trends, he looked inside to find what really matter to him. That's a strength of character we can all emulate.

Richard White leaves behind a legacy of great Australian black and white landscape photography. Like Ansel Adams, he was passionate about education and the environment in which he lived. Unlike Ansel (for whom I have the greatest respect), we won't be able to fit Richard's best work into a small book of 400 prints! Ansel was a black and white technician, Richard was a black and white artist - who in many ways stood on Ansel's shoulders to take photography a step further into the future. He was progress in his field of endeavour.

Richard, you will be greatly missed.

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