Moving right along, we're going to push the envelope now and get you moving towards the more creative side of things. As of the last workshop, you know how to look at pictures from a somewhat different albeit cold and unfeeling perspective. This week's exercise is about the OTHER side of that, which is identifying in pictures what you DO and DO NOT like. It is about identifying how those elements lend to the effectiveness of the image to convey a message. When you are able to recognize in your own and other people's images what your aesthetic preference is, you can begin understanding your own style.
Unfortunately, you do not really pick your own style. It kind of comes out all by itself. It's been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but not everyone can pull off a certain look. If you consider the world of fashion, while you may really admire the way Lady Gaga or a certain skateboarder looks, even if you purchase the exact same clothing and get the same haircut or even take it a step further and invest in plastic surgery to get a new nose, you are still going to essentially look like YOU.
Ansel Adams is credited with pointing out that there are always 2 people in every picture - the viewer and the photographer. The way you hold your camera, the way you interact with or approach your subject, the way you compose an image, the type of lighting you prefer, the lenses you favour, and the way you tweak or transform it in post-processing all form a part of your overall style. Like developing wrinkles or getting a paint stain on your favourite jeans, over time your body of work may change drastically as you acquire new skills and equipment, but the common thread will always be something that is like an invisible signature.
Part of developing your own style is trying on different ones until you find elements that "fit" -that you feel both confident and at ease with, and are able to do with seemingly little to no effort. Exploring other photography styles is a natural part of development and it's normal to try and shoot like those you admire. I encourage you to check out this video in the context of borrowing ideas in the fashion industry for an interesting perspective on how fashion trends being copied and reproduced forces creativity.
With your armoury of vocabulary and ability to look objectively at images, you should be able to identify elements of other photographers' work and recreate similar images. What kind of lighting was used? Are they prone to shallow depth of field? Is there a vignette or a colour wash they frequently employ? Do they use a lot of Photoshop? (Hint - pretty much all images look the same straight out of camera (SOOC) so if they look too perfect, they probably are.) Consider carefully how each of these elements contributes to whatever it is you have identified about the picture.
This week you will be asked to create an image by first finding one you like and identifying in writing the elements you will be incorporating into your own image. Please provide a link to the image from which you are drawing inspiration and/or get permission from the artist to use it on your own blog.
Below is the detailed description of me taking a walk in the shoes of Brandy Anderson of Fresh Sugar in Calgary, AB, by doing my own take on her 2010 WPPI award winning image in the category of "Fresh Faces." She also shared some of the mistakes she made as a new photographer on her and Danna Bowes's Two Photogs blog, which is well worth a read. The image I used for inspiration is here. Please view it before reading the technical critique. Brandy was kind enough to let me use the image here:
The image is backlit through panes of glass. We know it's a bus because we can see enough to identify it, and the child's face is clearly visible only where she casts her own shadow. You can tell it is either early in the day or later in the evening/afternoon because of the angle at which the light cuts through the bus. We can assume it is the morning because in autumn a child would not be coming home late enough to be in the sunset. We can also assume it is the child's first day of school as parents tend to make a point of photographing that and not just some random day like the third Tuesday in November of 4th grade. There is enough of the schoolbus included to frame the child and imply the context of heading off to school without overpowering the image. The use of subdued colour and addition of more texture (I'm pretty sure the bus window was smeary before she started lol) in Photoshop lends to the feeling of ambiguity, heightening the the underlying apprehension mirrored by both the child's and the photographer's feelings about the first day of school. It doesn't matter if the photographer was conscious of how profound the image would be. Whether these were conscious decisions or simply instinctual during post-processing does not alter the impact of this image.
This a novel way to present the first day of school to an audience. We are traditionally shown cheerful colourful happy pictures that attempt to reflect what we perceive as the ideal experience for ourselves and our children, but is not the case for every child, and certainly not for most parents who indeed feel a bittersweet mixture of trepidation and pride as they close the door on one chapter and open the next when they send their children off into the public arena of school. In a word, brilliant. This is the essence of her pictures, her style - something indelible in the way she presents what she sees through her lens that clearly illustrates to the viewer how the photographer is always present in their photographs.
While I have a kindergarten-aged child, this feeling of ambiguity is oddly enough most accurately reflected in my oldest son, who has survived elementary and junior high and is on the cusp of entering the adult world. Recreating the setting and the lighting was the easy part - my son is too old for school busses. He uses the public bus system, and bus shelters are conveniently a) located nearby and b) made of several panes of glass. My son isn't awake early enough in the day on weekends to do this by morning light, so we used afternoon light instead. This was one of the first shots I took. While I easily succeeded in making the setting work for me, the first images were too much like a portrait. He was posing, sticking his tongue out and putting on a show. I needed him to relax.
The second attempt didn't really capture his personality well either, but I did notice the delicious lens flare I was getting and decided to go for a third attempt.
In the image below, by lowering my perspective not only did I get my nice lens flare, but I was able to really capitalize on his edgy look and personality, mostly because by this point he was growing impatient with me, wondering how much longer he was going to have to stand in a bus shelter freezing his butt off (he's wearing pyjama pants and no shirt along with that filthy hoodie) before we could go home and he could have the two extra cookies (I put them in the oven seconds before we walked outside) I had promised him for humouring me.
Once I knew I had my image, I went into photoshop to grab the following textures, which were blended as soft-light layers and adjusted to about 75% opacity. If you need some help working with textures, this is a great link. This first texture is a freebie I downloaded from a freebie site.
Tidbit of interesting information - adding textures used to be accomplished in the days of film by doing a double exposure (taking two pictures on the same frame) and in the darkroom by a technique called 'sandwiching negatives' where a second negative was sub- or super-imposed either at the same time or consecutively as the original image. The first colour photographs were actually shot using three separate film strips, making sandwiching negatives necessary to view the final image. If you have ever seen a Selphy printer at work which lays down the colours in multiple consecutive passes you'll totally get it. Anyhow...
The texture above is a shot of concrete with light coming in through one of our garage windows. I chose this as the finishing touch because not only did it have a nice grain to it, the shadow in the picture is off a bike wheel. When you remember the photographer is in every picture, if you know I am a bicycle commuter, this becomes entirely relevant.
The final image is below. While you can clearly identify many similar technical elements, it is obviously not the same as Brandy's. Mine smells like teen spirit.