Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Another one of mine for those addicted to taking selfies
A Guide To Taking A Successful Selfie

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Simple is not easy

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” – Steve Jobs

Female photographer by the waterNo, this is not going to be a blog about sayings by the late Steve Jobs.  It just happens to reflect very well the reaction I had (eventually) upon seeing a sample of photographs taken by Paul Caponigro.  The pictures I was looking at were mostly still life or landscapes, and I am ashamed to say that upon a superficial glance, I was inclined to dismiss them as simple shots that just about anyone could have taken, myself included.  Nevertheless, it demanded somewhat of an effort to stop looking at those images.

A devastating thought arrived to crush my original sentiment.  My first instinct to label the prints as simplistic and within the grasp of even a buffoon such as me was not just naïve but was in fact incredibly self-delusional.  The fact was that I had not taken a single photograph even remotely resembling anything like them.

I began to realize that though the composition may appear to be fairly straightforward, a lot of thought must have gone into placing each item in the viewfinder just so.  After all, over a million people visit the Stonehenge every year, and God alone knows how many rolls of film or digital sensors have been exposed to the sights afforded at that location, and yet just how many of these images could arrest my attention in such a manner.

Going through, what, I am certain was a carefully nuanced and well thought out process to produce something that reveals only extreme simplicity, Mr Caponigro captivated my imagination to the extent that I am now punching up a keyboard in an amateurish attempt to pay homage to his stellar work.  And believe me that is quite an accomplishment considering just how lazy I am and loathe to exercise my brain cells for anything other than my personal gratification.

To all those who think of themselves as “landscape photographers”, check out his images and bang your head in despair upon the ground under his feet.
Some of my photographs have always been a mystery to me in terms of how I arrived at them…
The above line is a small part of a much longer quote by Paul Caponigro.  To be honest, I didn’t really bother understanding the rest of what was said.  That simple confession resonated so strongly with me that my eyes were not quite able to focus on the rest of the words.

Wooden bridgeI have to admit, I have a sneaky suspicion that there may be a huge chasm between what Mr. Caponigro intended by his words to signify and why they resounded with me.  So, in the highly unlikely instance that the man himself comes across these musings, I hope he will forgive me.  And if he is not inclined to do so, I wish to immediately inform him, that I am definitely not of sound mind and therefore cannot be held responsible for my acts, so undertaking any legal pursuits against me shall be of no utility (especially as I do not possess much of anything that is of any great worth, so it will not even cover the shark bait).

Looking at photographs produced by others, I continuously find myself challenged as to whether or not I would have been able to deliver the same results.  Certainly this is often the case with regards to the artistic vision that leads to the result.  Would I have considered a certain pose, or a particular composition?  Would I have been pleased by the way the shadows fell or would I have looked for a different light?

Recently, I have had a chance to go over some photographs I took several years ago.  And yet again, I find that I am continuously intrigued by the process that I went through at the time to arrive at one image or another.

After the passage of time, I sometimes find myself at a complete loss to explain what I was attempting to demonstrate in a particular image.  But at other times, I find myself fascinated by the reasoning behind certain images.  Why did I decide to choose a certain depth of field, or a particular angle? Sometimes, I wonder why I decided to boost the contrast here and not there.  Why did I attempt to convey the scene this way or that?  Was there something I missed the moment I tripped the shutter that may have added a je ne sais quoi to the overall atmosphere of the image?

I suppose such musing may appear to denote a certain incertitude as to my abilities with a camera.  On the other hand they may simply be read as a fascination with the mystery that the process of creation holds for me.  It is only by asking such questions measure our progression.  Oceans may yet have countless mysteries to yield and space may well be the final frontier, but I am still continuously perplexed by my own inexplicable need to create (or my inability to do so).
The key is to not let the camera, which depicts nature in so much detail, reveal just what the eye picks up, but what the heart picks up as well.
Aha, therein lies the rub.  Maitre Caponigro now expects us to involve a dimension which apparently grants meaning to whatever is laid before us.

It is hard enough to capture what our eyes see, because as opposed to the lens and sensor, our eyes and brain are so much more adept at interpreting the world around us.

My mind is a wandering thing, and I find myself deviating from the original line of thought I was pursuing to indulge in a rant.  If you are not interested, skip the next few paragraphs.

I have always found the megapixel race to be as nonsensical as the nuclear arms race.  How many damn nuclear missiles do we need anyway?  Wouldn’t just eight do a good enough job of destroying the world? 

I mean I remember the time I printed an A3 size poster of a shot taken with my old Canon G2 compact.  It came out good enough to hang on my living room wall!  Why in hell’s name do I need 80MP for?  OK, ok I am leaving myself open for a ton of abuse from people who will not agree, but bear with me and consider for a moment if there are not some other more desirable features you would like your next camera to provide you with.

Personally, I would just about eat a plateful of live, wriggling worms full of green yuck for something that will render the concept of HDR or exposure bracketing a moot question.  OK, perhaps I would not actually eat the worms, but I would do a lot for a camera with a dynamic range that comes close to matching the ability of my eyes and my brain to adapt almost instantaneously to the light and shadows of a forest scene at high noon (imagine no more rejections because of blown highlights or clipped shadows).

OK, done with the detour, back on the main road again.

 Ramp to serenityI cling tenaciously to the notion that any successful artistic endeavor must demonstrate an essence of whatever is depicted.  So how does one represent something that cannot be seen, touched, smelt or tasted no matter what the medium?

The more I think about this, the more I realize that taking a photograph is not the instant gratification of aiming the lens at something and pressing down on a button.  In the end, and many may disagree with me here (how dare you), it comes down to the careful and considered composition of the image.  Oh how simplistic that sounds.

But a successful composition involves a lot more than just the rules of thirds or filling the frame with the principal subject.

I am reminded of a story told to me by one of my literature professors of an author who was obsessed with perfection.  He never completed a novel.  In fact, he never got past the first sentence.  He would endlessly fiddle with the one phrase trying to refine the vocabulary and structure to his everlasting disappointment.

A truly successful composition tells a story.  The challenge is really in deciding what should be part of the composition and carefully selecting the elements that are important to the plot.  And then placing those elements so that there is a narrative that gradually unfolds: a beginning that entices, a middle that captivates and an end that satisfies (or alternatively leaves the viewer wanting more).
It is one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it's another thing to make a portrait of who they are.
Aha, find someone with an expressive face then, or someone who has managed to master the art of faking sincerity.  Zoom in really close and keep the focus on the eyes razor sharp.  Easy, right?

Except it really isn’t, is it?

Musician Take me for example.  Most of the people, who think they know me, persist in the belief that I am a kind, intelligent, multi-dimensional and caring person with a delightful sense of humour (more fools they).  And yet, every time I appear in a photograph, it is invariably the portrait of a sulky, angry, mean, frustrated and humourless misanthrope.

So who is right?  If a subject is uncomfortable sitting for a portrait all the technical prowess in the world may not render justice to the real person.  It is the photographer’s duty to make the model feel comfortable and relaxed.  But even my self-portraits depict me to be a most surly specimen of the human race.  Considering that the images that feature yours truly that I am particularly attached to are the ones that I took myself, I am certain that the pictures that I take of myself are indeed quite successful and am quite prepared to accept that I am an entirely despicable person (rather that than disparage my lofty ambitions with the camera).
Work incessantly, cultivate discrimination, gather freedom from your own hard-earned results. Disregard successes but go back for help in an immediate problem. The possibility of discovery is everywhere. Freedom from your own work allows for intuition that draws from all your experience and perception but goes beyond it.
Even by my standards I seem to have suffered an excessive bout of verbal diarrhea, and the unease is certainly not helped by the sneaky suspicion that I have not said much of substance.  So I have convinced myself that I should just shut my gob and leave it at that.

ParagliderAh, but I must have the last word, so I shall leave you with just one thought concerning the quote above.  We do indeed learn more from our failures than our successes.  The warm glow of a victory washes away the aches of the hard toil that led to it and erases its memory so that we forget to reflect upon the reasons behind the accomplishment.  And though failure may bring with it some despondency, it also brings with it a greater opportunity for future reward.  After mourning the loss, it is a chance to consider the mishap and gain wisdom.  And we must thereafter practice that wisdom to the point that it becomes such a part of our intuition that we no longer even realize all the thought and work that goes into a portrait that captures “what the heart picks up”.

Thank you for your indulgence.  If you enjoyed this blog or like my portfolio, please visit my Facebook page Shadow69 Photography and click on “Like” to show your appreciation and support.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Microstock Agencies Review - Part 1

A brief overview of some of the microstock agencies I have signed up with.  A few words of warning first:

  • YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET RICH OVERNIGHT SELLING PHOTOS ON MICROSTOCK AGENCIES.  Keep your expectations realistic.  Everyone is reporting that earnings from microstock are declining, partly because of all the competition and partly because agencies keep cutting prices and commissions paid to contributors. 

    If you rely on microstock for your living expenses, then you will need to invest a significant amount of resources (it isn’t just about the camera, but also lighting, models, post-processing, key wording, marketing, technique and ability) to stand any chance of earning a decent amount.
      There are people out there who have created huge organizations to be able to live off of microstock, and you will need to match their “mass production factories” to stand any chance of earning a reasonable amount.
  • Every agency seems to have their own specific audience, and just because 5 other agencies have accepted a picture doesn’t necessarily mean that others will.  This doesn’t mean that the picture is bad, just that it is perhaps not suited to the site in question.  Unless you rely entirely on microstock for your income, best not to let the rejections get to you.
  • Microstock may take up a lot of your time.  Especially if you have a large portfolio you want to upload.  Best thing to do is to enter as much information as possible as IPTC and then FTP the files.  Even then some sites may require you to spend time on preparing the images (e.g. assigning categories) before the actual submission for review and that takes time.
  • You need to keep feeding the beast.  With tens of thousands of contributors and several millions of photos, it is easy for your work to get lost.  There isn’t much you can do about it other than trying to beef up your portfolio as much as possible.  Upload regularly, keep your portfolio fresh and varied.  The more pictures you have and the greater the range of subjects, the better the chances that someone will find yours when searching.
  • Exclusivity is baloney.  I used to be exclusive, and more out of indolence than anything else, was convinced that it was the right thing for me.  I gave up on exclusivity because I realized that just one agency is never going to give me enough exposure.  As I said above, each agency has its own customer base.  If your images are not spread across a wide spectrum of potential buyers, you are losing out on possible sales.  Agencies often say that exclusive contributors are better protected and make more money.   This is not absolutely true.  You may get a slightly higher percentage of the sale value, but you may also be missing out on a whole different customer base.  I don’t believe that the difference in the non-exclusive and exclusive commission rate always makes up for it. 

    In terms of protection against theft of images, I never experienced any advantages during my time as an exclusive contributor.
      The times I reported an unauthorized use of my images (published on websites with the agency watermark), the agency sent an email to the site owner requesting that they either remove the image or legally purchase it and then promptly forgot about it.  When I followed up with the agency months later, I was informed that they had done all they could and if I wished to pursue it further I was on my own!!
  • Pick the agencies you sign up with this carefully.  Many agencies have come and disappeared, so you need to make sure you are not wasting your time.  You will end up spending a huge amount of time post-processing, key wording and submitting images. 

    Some agencies are worth it because of how well known they are and their already established customer base (iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime are prime examples). 
    Others are easy to upload to and don’t require much effort (e.g. don’t require you to provide additional information if they can read IPTC data or if they provide bulk edit functionality).  So weigh the pros and cons before investing too much time.  I signed up with quite a few agencies and later on stopped submitting to some of them because I wasn’t convinced that they were going to do much for me, but in the meantime I had already wasted a couple of months.

Here are some of the agencies I am currently signed up with.  I’ll include my referral links, so if you do sign-up with any of them, I would appreciate it if you would use my reference.


Seriously consider joining this one.   Payouts can be set to be made by Paypal or Moneybookers once the earnings hit $75.

There is a contributor test, where at least 7 of 10 photos need to pass the review.  But once that is done, I think the reviews are fair and they don’t have the silly “similar” policy which seems to get on everyone’s nerves at another site.  

Reviews take around a week, which is just about the average time for most sites.

Shutterstock is the daddy of all subscription sites.  Mostly you will be making $0.25 a sale.  Once in a while you will get a credit sale, but that can be fairly rare, so you might feel a bit frustrated.  Especially when you may make more for a subscription sale on some other agencies.  The key difference is the huge customer base at Shutterstock.  In theory the small commission is supposed to be compensated by the volume of downloads (because of the low prices, buyers may buy huge volumes of images).  Shutterstock is rated number 1 amongst contributors for revenue.

Shutterstock has been around a long time and is very popular with contributors.  So competition is huge.  However, Shutterstock do seem to favour newly uploaded material in the search algorithm, so there is a good chance that you will start selling almost immediately.


This one is a tough one, and I really am in two minds about it.  Fotolia is considered to be one of the top four microstock agencies in terms of earnings for contributors.  And though I have had a few sales there, they are nothing that made me jump around for joy.  I have heard that sales are tanking for nearly everyone and to top it off they are quite aggressive about slashing commissions for contributors.

Reviews are lightning fast.  In every single case my images have been reviewed within two hours.  It’s almost as if they have an army of reviewers sitting there ready to pounce on the images the second they are submitted.  The downside is that the reviews seem to be very unreasonable.  It’s almost as if they have a rule that regardless of quality they must reject 80-90% of my submissions.  I have seen a lot of complaints from other contributors to that effect as well.  They also do not provide any specific reasons for the rejections, so you are left scratching your head in an attempt to figure out what exactly they think is wrong with the picture (it is not doing anything at all for my bald spot).

Also, I find the submission process a little annoying.  Apart from assigning categories, you need to take care about the sequence of keywords.  It seems that the first 7 or 8 keywords are given priority, so either you must ensure that they are appropriately sequenced when you enter them as IPTC or you need to reorder them prior to submitting or once they have been accepted.
Fotolia do not accept Editorial images.

Personally, I don’t hold out much hope for either a huge amount of sales or a drastic increase in my on-line portfolio there.   But, for the moment I am continuing to submit there because of their ranking in the microstock world (I’m a sheep. Baaaaa) rather than because of any personal conviction.

They also seem to have a very bad reputation amongst contributors for underhandedness.  While every agency changes their terms and conditions (especially relating to commissions paid to contributors), Fotolia in particular seems to get extremely bad press about it.  I haven’t been with them long enough to experience this myself so can’t give any opinions, just thought it may be worth mentioning as a warning.

Dreamstime is also considered to be one of the top 4 earners for contributors.  This was the very first agency I joined back in 2006 as an exclusive and really learned a lot from them about stock photography.  Out of loyalty, I stayed exclusive for a lot longer than I probably should have.  I understand that they have to run a business and therefore must do what they think brings in the money for them, but I do think that perhaps exclusive contributors should be treated a little better than non-exclusive contributors (and this goes for any agency, not just DT). 

Review times are taking longer than before, which is an annoyance for the photographers on the site (possibly could mean that they are not investing in the business by hiring more reviewers).  I have at times had reviews pending for more than two weeks.  This can be especially annoying for editorial submissions related to recent events.  They claim that news related images are reviewed faster than normal submissions but I have had cases where they took 3 or more days and I am sure that other contributors submitting to other microstock agencies managed to get images related to the same event them out in the market before I did on DT.

Reviews do seem to be somewhat inconsistent at times.  But, even though, I have had an occasional run-in with the “head honcho”, support is still very helpful in providing very specific feedback about refusals if you ask them politely.  Though, I think, nowadays they might not answer every query due to the larger volume of submissions.

They have implemented a “no-similars” policy meaning that if they feel you have too many photographs from one photo session or too many images of a particular subject in your portfolio already, they will be rejected regardless of quality.  Though how much is “too many” no one seems to want to say.  I have found that sometimes they are not willing to accept more than one photograph of a subject, but at other times four can slip past.  This has had some photographers up in arms as they feel that this is used very subjectively and is frequently abused.  I don’t get riled up about this anymore since I gave up exclusivity as there are plenty of other sites that will accept what DT decides it doesn’t need.

For contributors, there is a rather attractive feature whereby pictures get upgraded to higher levels the more they sell, thereby increasing their price (hence not such a great feature for buyers perhaps) and also the commission.

Payout is at $100 via Paypal or Moneybookers.


Very easy place to upload to.  Just FTP the images, import them on the site and if you have already entered your title, description and keywords you don’t need to do anything else.  They will just go straight through for review. 

Review times are about 4-5 days for RF, 1 day for editorial and seem to be fairly reasonable.  I haven’t had a lot of rejections from them. 

Sales, so far, have been fairly slow for me, but they are considered as number 5 in the top microstock agencies ranking, so it’s probably worth having a go there.  Payouts can be received via Paypal once earnings hit $50 or Moneybookers once they hit $100).

Portfolio size does seem to matter in search placement so try and get as many images on there as fast as possible.


This is a pleasant enough site.  Sales have not really taken off yet for me, but for some strange reason I have big hopes for this one and I can’t really think of any big reason not to recommend this site to contributors.

Review times are pretty fast.  Generally my submissions are reviewed within two days, though I have seen other contributors occasionally complain about delays.  And even though at the beginning I had trouble understanding the reasons for some refusals, I now think that the refusals are fairly reasonable and don’t get upset about them anymore.

Once, I contacted their live support via the chat and found them to be very responsive, polite and helpful.

Payout is at $30 via Paypal or Moneybookers.

I do like this site a lot, primarily because it is very easy to use.

They make it particularly easy to copy image attributes for new images from those already submitted.

Review times seem to average about a week (sometimes shorter, sometimes longer).  Reviews seem to be very unpredictable and vacillate between being really tough and really easy.  In general, I have learnt that reviewing is very subjective, and depends more on the reviewer than the agency, and as you can’t really control who ends up reviewing your submissions it is often a matter of luck.

I think it is worth contributing here, as they are generally viewed as a solid agency with a lot of potential.  They are currently situated around the middle of the top ten microstock agencies. 

Payouts are via Paypal or Moneybookers at $50.

Reviews are reasonably easy and on average take a little more than a week.  General consensus amongst contributors currently seems to place them in the bottom half of the top ten microstock agencies for sales.  They have to compete with some agencies much bigger than them and need to be very aggressive in their marketing.

Payouts are via Paypal ($50) or Moneybookers ($100).


That's it for now. I’ll do another little blog on some of the other agencies I am a contributor at, but either I don’t feel they hold out much promise, or I have only joined them very recently so can’t really give much of an opinion on them.

If you have any questions, drop me a message and I’ll be happy to reply if I have the answers.

Please visit and like Shadow69 Photography on Facebook if you are on there.  Many thanks for your indulgence.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A beginning and an end (or maybe not)

Action shot of a polo match
In the dark, uncivilized and bleak days before the advent of digital photography, I bought myself a Minolta SLR camera (don’t remember the model, don’t think I really paid that much attention) and a couple of lenses with the firm intention of learning how to create hard-hitting edgy photographs.  It was highly ambitious considering that I had absolutely no idea of what I was doing.

If ignorance truly is bliss, then I must have been the happiest of all want to be photographers.  Actually, I must have been living in Eden before Adam and Eve went and spoilt it for everyone.

The only thing on the camera that I thought I understood was the button I had to push to take an exposure (not that I knew what an exposure was, to me it was just press the button, magic happens and someone’s soul is captured on a thin strip of something or the other made of chemicals).  At least that was the only thing on the camera I was really interested in.
Reformation wall in Geneva
F-numbers were a complete mystery to me.  Luckily I can’t remember what I thought they were for, or else I would probably have to jump off a bridge just to preserve what tiny iota of dignity that may be spared me.  But I do know that I had absolutely no idea what aperture and field of depth were, so it is highly unlikely that I was anywhere close to being right about the explanation for their presence.

I happily bought a couple of rolls of Ilford ISO 400 film.  And if there was any rhyme or reason as to that acquisition, it was definitely not because of a deep understanding of photography or of film.  I think I must have heard someone mention, sometime, that Ilford was great film and that the higher the ISO the faster the film.  What exactly was meant by a fast film?  I had no idea.  Worse still, I had no inclination to find out either.

Today, I would like to be gracious and forgive myself for being such a glorious idiot and just allocate the blame for my ignorance on my impetuous youth.

It took me just a little over a week to finish off those two rolls of film.  When I got back the prints, the results were on par with a migrating goose laying an egg in mid-flight.  As I already said, I had absolutely no clue about what went into a good photograph, but I knew a huge big failure when I saw it.

For some time after that I ridiculously persisted in the belief that the camera I had invested in was a dud, or that I needed a stronger pair of spectacles. 

After a while, the realization that photography may not merely be a matter of pointing the camera at something and pressing a button began to persistently hammer itself onto my consciousness.  It became increasingly hard to ignore the relentless misgiving that photography might actually entail some hard work.

And so I embarked on a never-ending journey of learning about photography.  F-Stops, depth-of-field, shutter speed, ISO, front lighting, back lighting, rule of thirds, leading lines…  I devoured everything.  Of course, every single source of my edification wagged a proverbial finger at me and informed me that the only way to learn was to do.  And so I did.

Kids building an igloo (snow house)I spent an absolute fortune on film, and snapped away at every opportunity I got.  And yet, my results did not improve.   It was almost if I was learning nothing.  I was perplexed as to why this machine on which I had lavished such care remained aloof and refused to return my love.  I pictured the employees at the development lab crawling on their pristine floors clutching at their sides as they desperately tried to hold them together to prevent their guts spilling out from laughing so hard.  Paranoid? Me?  Nah, just because I think everyone is mocking me doesn’t mean they’re not.

One day, someone asked me the exposure settings I had used for a particular photograph.  I was at a complete loss as to what to reply.  I couldn’t even remember Dr Alzheimer’s first name (it is Alois by the way), how the hell was I supposed to remember the f-stop and shutter speed I had dialled in for a picture taken God knows when.

So in addition to lugging around my unresponsive camera and lenses, I started carrying around a notebook to note down the settings for every exposure I made.  That lasted for about 20 minutes.  After five shots my discipline crumbled, the note book fell into a river.  I watched it carried away on some very fast moving currents from which, much to my relief, it was never recovered.

I finally ended the development laboratory’s hilarity and my personal misery by selling off the camera and lenses to a second hand store, thus relegating photography to the huge rubbish heap of attempted and unsuccessful personal endeavours.

Sunset on lake Geneva 1I’ll leave you here for now, much like in a television series, where the hero is left hanging from a cliff in a, well, cliff hanger ending, I suppose.  But we all know he’ll manage to overcome his predicament and the suspense is nothing but a feeble bluff. For if he did not, what inane excuse for entertainment would we be force fed next week?  And so till next time my friends...

Please visit and like Shadow69 Photography on Facebook if you are on there.  Many thanks for your indulgence.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Mr Callahan, meet Shadow.  Shadow, pay your respects to Mr Callahan.

I love writing these blogs.  Partly because I am incredibly shy and yet am still an egotistical maniac with an overwhelming propensity to volubility.  Speaking for any length of time to any number of people renders me a nervous wreck.  And yet holding my tongue and not saying anything would create such a huge conflict within my already demented mind that the resulting explosion could surely provide enough power to light up Times Square in New York for at least a year.

But I must say that notwithstanding the vainglorious compulsion, there is a more satisfying reason to the madness.  Edification.  I learn a lot by reading up on the various photographers that I feature in these ramblings.  I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with most of the artists that I have talked about before embarking on this project.  At times I even felt a little embarrassed at my lack of knowledge of such illustrious personalities.  But, in the end, I remind myself of a lesson that I was taught by someone a lot wiser than most of the people I know.  Starting out ignorant is not something to be ashamed of, staying ignorant when you have the opportunity to remedy the situation, should carry a most heavy penalty.

I taught myself photography by reading books.  And after learning about exposures, field of depth, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, the most important guidance that stuck to me was to study the work of painters and other photographers.  Each blog in this series is an opportunity to find a new perspective on how photographs may be taken.  Very recently, I stumbled across the work of one Harry Callahan.

As a fan of Clint Eastwood (though the debacle at the recent Republican convention, has somewhat dimmed my ardour), I was already familiar with the name of Harry Callahan (“…you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”).  But to be honest, possibly the Harry Callahan that I am referring to today is a tad more instructive to aspiring photographers.

Photography is an adventure just as life is an adventure. If a man wishes to express himself photographically, he must understand, surely to a certain extent, his relationship to life. I am interested in relating the problems that affect me to some set of values that I am trying to discover and establish as being my life. I want to discover and establish them through photography.
Callahan’s photographs illustrate his words above perfectly.  His work was deeply personal and his family was always a pivotal subject.

I guess, any artistic medium, is a reflection of the person using it.  Whether art is used to convey a social or philosophical message or simply as an ornament to beautify ones surroundings, art captures the essence of the its creator.   It is inevitable.

The end deliverable is the result of a myriad of personal decisions the artist makes throughout the creative process.  The decision to highlight a particular subject and how to portray it is coloured by the prejudices of the beholder.  What is attractive to one may be repulsive to another, what is of paramount importance to someone is a matter of dull trivia to the rest of the universe.  The choice of particular hue of green deposited on a canvas, or the particular chord change in a song, or the selection of a particular depth of field are all personal decisions.  And all personal decisions are subjective and invariably tinted by the sensibilities of the one making the decisions.

The rare occasions when my wife accompanies on a photography trek with her own camera, really help to bring this home for me.  We may both snap an image of the same subject before us, but we each do it in a very different way.  The angle of view that may please her may bore me, and the perspective I choose may confound her.

And yet the beauty of art is that there are no right answers but only a multitude of possible responses to what may be shared queries.

...To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that, there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters...
As I said before, I am a self-taught photographer.  It is a habit of mine that whenever I discover an inkling of an interest within myself for a particular subject I morph into a black hole in an attempt to absorb as much information as I can about it.  After having read the whole series of National Geographic Photography Field Guide books, I was absolutely certain that Cindy Crawford would be thumping on my door begging me to do a photo shoot with her (it was a toss-up between the photo session or her proposing marriage, I just thought the option involving a camera was more realistic.  And if you don’t know who Cindy Crawford is… you are way too young and utterly despicable).

Theoretically, I am the perfect photographer.  Every time, I imagine myself taking a photograph and applying all the knowledge I have accumulated about exposure, framing, composition and light, I never make a mistake and my image is invariably a masterpiece.

Everyone seems to say the same thing: “practice makes perfect”.  Of course, if everyone says it, it must be true.  Though I have a tendency to disagree because I don’t think perfection really exists.  If it existed, surely someone would have already packaged it and it would be available on the internet for only $19.99.

But I can’t deny that there is no substitute for experience, and in this case that just means taking a gazillion photographs before one can even hope to call oneself a photographer.

I guess I've shot about 40,000 negatives and of these I have about 800 pictures I like.
Gosh, he cannot be much good then, can he?  What was all that nonsense about “experience” if the success rate is going to be barely 2%?

But honestly, hands up everyone who comes home having shot a 100 frames and actually submits more than 40 of the photographs.   Hmmm, OK.  Now everyone who has more than 10 photos from those accepted  keep their hands up and everyone else put their hands down.  A little less hands up now.

For those of you with your hands still up… be honest, how many of those photos would you be willing to put up on the walls of your own living room?  Not so many anymore.

And for those still in the running, maybe its time to set your standards at a higher level.  Personally, if I were to be brutally honest with myself (which is kind of hard to do for me, since I love myself soooooooo much), I would only get a print of 1 in 2000 pictures I take.

Experience doesn’t necessarily always translate into great results.  What it does do, is provide the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.  Or alternatively, it just provides the opportunity to make mistakes resulting in walls, ceilings and endless pillars of albums filled with mediocre photographs because self-importance clouds the eyes and the judgement.

The mystery isn't in the technique, it's in each of us.
The last quote I have chosen from Harry Callahan ties in very aptly with the first one I used and is, to me, the very essence of art.  What makes art so exciting for me is that it cannot be explained by any amount of logical reasoning.  It is visceral, it is magical, it is inexplicable.  It just is.  And what makes it, is what we as the creators of art carry within us.  It is defined by who we are and in turn, to some extent, it helps define us.

The magic of art is not in the grip on the brush, or the f-stop.  It is in the instinctual comfort of holding the brush in that particular way, it is in the personal vision of throwing some part of the scene out of focus.

The true fascination with art is in our innate yearning to understand life, the world, our fellow humans.  And it is also the eternal desire to be understood by our peers.  When it comes down to it, all we are doing is searching for some validation of our life and our very personal understanding of it by exposing to others what we cannot express using set formulae.

As always, I end with a personal request.  Please, if you have enjoyed this blog or like my portfolio, please visit my Facebook page Shadow69 Photography and click on “Like” to show your appreciation and support.