Philosophy : Art Versus Education

While it is true that the ready availability of information on the web has catalysed the development of many a keen mind, it has also given rise to a steady decline in articulation across the board. Those whom previously may have fallen by the wayside, due to a distinct lack of quality in their work, have been given a platform by which they can saturate their chosen markets, without the hindrance of personal reflection and/or learning curves. 

As creative professionals, we no longer need to study our chosen subjects in order to develop an unspoken understanding of our field. Instead, if something comes up that we don’t understand, we can open a browser and look it up - or, if we don’t want to make that sort of commitment to our craft, we can simply start a thread on a social media platform and let others do the legwork for us. The same rules also apply to those under a course of study. A subject or technique is briefly discussed before subsequently becoming the go-to until the next is introduced to the individuals (of which there are many).

Though it’s very easy to be cynical in a society which is (increasingly) cut-throat at best, the important thing is to figure out the issues at play and to set about incurring change. Even if it’s only on a personal basis. As creatives trying to develop our skills and to forge a path for ourselves in an increasingly difficult working environment, we must strive towards excellence. In the age of availability, we are told that the hustle is more important than quality of work, and this, is a integral part of the problem we all face.  

We must focus on our artistic integrity, while nurturing our own creative development. We must stoke the fires of productivity in order to compete, yes, but we must also place an unwavering value upon our work without the incessant need for β€˜content’ clouding our collective judgement. We must resist crossing the threshold unto falsity in order to meet targets and instead rely upon our skills to get the job done to the highest standard possible at that point in our development. We must never give in to the pressures of the modern age, wherein beautiful works of creative expression are nullified within seconds. 

In order to truly forge a path for ourselves in the modern age we must look at our working environments with a cynical eye. Social media, online profiling, marketing & all of the modernistic tropes are simply tools by which we may solidify our place in the world. Without a well planned and critical approach we are doomed to fall by the wayside, leaving nothing behind to account for our endeavours. No matter what you are trying to do, you must first consider how your output will benefit your growth. Nurture your efforts and allow them to bear fruit. Strive to reduce the dross in which you will become consumed and allow yourself to operate on a level which is both conducive to your own personal targets and to those around you.
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'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Photojournalism : A Brief Foray into the World of Press Photography

PT. I - The Events as they Occurred.

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In the past week I’ve encountered two different scenes that I deemed worthy of press and as such, I shot both scenes in gross detail. Scene one consisted of a large fire which had had spread through a pine woodland and gorse bushes near Irvine, North Ayrshire, due to a period of rather intense heat & distinct lack of rain. I was on my way home from a productive business meeting, cruising alongside the expansive & bustling beach park. I’d travelled approximately half a mile from Irvine harbour when I found myself driving through a dense cloud of acrid yellow smoke and heavy, grey ashes. 

As I turned the next corner I came upon four fire engines & stopped the car. I got out & headed into the brush, following the trail that the firefighters had left behind them as they rushed to tackle the blaze. I got as close as I could to the woodland, to the point I could see and hear everything that the firefighters were doing and saying, without impeding them or diverting their attention from the task at hand. I shot a series of images & a short video before heading back to the road and phoning my contacts for the local press. 

Fast forward fifteen minutes and I was back at Irvine harbour, seated in a local coffee shop & editing the photographs before utilising the free wi-fi to upload my work. Tipping generously for the lemonade I’d just drank I left and went home. Between leaving the coffee shop and getting home, the story had gone from local to regional press!

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Scene two consisted of a relatively serious RTA (Road Traffic Accident) that took place at Prestwick Train Station. After a lazy Sunday morning I was on my way to my Grandmothers house (directly across the street from the train station) when I found the road down to my usual parking space cordoned off & blocked from view by an ambulance and road traffic Police vehicles. I quickly parked my car elsewhere and rushed to the scene, praying that my nephew hadn’t run onto the road or any other terrifying scenario which races through ones mind in a situation such as this one. 

As it happened, a (rental) box-van had attempted to pass under the railway bridge at speed & being too high (the maximum height for vehicles is well signposted), collided with the bridge & very almost split in two upon the sudden impact. Once I had established that the passengers were OK I retrieved my camera from the car & proceeded to make photographs of the scene while onlookers gathered around the Police cordon, phones at the ready. I then rushed into my Grandmothers house, made a phone call & sent the images to the press for their approval.

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RTA, Prestwick Train Station

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PT. II - A Question of Motive.

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β€œThe picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”

β€” Scott Lorenzo

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Primarily a Photographer that specialises in Portraiture, Product Photography & Landscape Photography, I am usually able to establish an idea for a shot, plan my compositions to the n’th degree & execute my designs in a relatively controlled manner. However, photojournalism is almost entirely spontaneous - requiring immediate response & a keen sense of ’sight’ in order to capture a situation effectively.

It was on both of the above-mentioned occasions that I felt compelled to document the events that were unfolding before me. I also made the conscious decision to exhibit their happenings on the broader spectrum, choosing to connect with those whom were able to amplify my experiences in a daze of pure adrenaline & some underlying & multifaceted psychological driving force. I wonder, then, what it is that compels the mind to act in such a way. Yes, it is true, that on both occasions I made sure that the situations were under control before I reached for my camera, however, I still query my own motives for doing so. 

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β€œWe are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

- Ralph Hattersley

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I have found that through the lens of critical self-reflection, there exists an egomaniacal satisfaction in being the first to document a scene; even more so wherein one becomes the one & only source of its visual documentation in the public eye. Becoming the conduit by which others may experience the existence of an incident outside their own private lives promotes a sense of self-importance, or of power, in the individual. 

In the thinking mind, cognitive dissonance manifests itself between the act of documenting a scene and its subsequent amplification; whether it is undertaken purely as an act of collective altruism or as a personal conquest. What then, is the driving force behind making a photograph of someone else’s misfortune, or, of natural devastation? Is it an instinctive urge to make ones tribe aware of danger? Is it revelry in the face of misfortune given ones current position of safety? 

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β€œEssentially, the camera makes everyone a tourist in other peoples reality,

...and eventually in ones own”

- Susan Sontag

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It is on this particular wavelength, that whenever I see a phone raised to capture a snapshot of a scene that is unfolding before an individual, I can disdainfully (& with ease) envisage some dystopian future wherein the individual seeks not to aid those in peril or to enjoy a pleasurable experience. Instead, they compulsively reach for their smartphone in order to duplicate a moment in time in some vain attempt at proving that they, in fact, existed.

I'll conclude this piece with another compelling excerpt from Susan Sontag's thought provoking compendium of essays 'On Photography'. Thanks for reading!
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" The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."

Locational Product Photography - The Buck 221 Creek Knife

Today I’m shooting photographs of the Buck '221 Creek Knife' & in this blog, I’ll run you through my general process for crafting a final image. 

Ok. To set up my composition and to frame the product, I first consider what I would use the product for in the real world. In this case, it’d be survival or outdoors activities. I decide that it'd be best to focus on the theme fire-building, opting to reflect the process of creating fuel for a camp fire. To do this, I’d wear my thick, β€˜blade-proof’ gloves, use the (very sharp) knife to carve kindling & a durable, refillable lighter to ignite it.

Now that I’ve established my theme, I choose my background, opting for loose bark as fits nicely in to aesthetic of my image & features a nice rich pallette to play with. I set up my composition, using only natural light as this is empathetic with the scenario in my head and the idea which I wish to convey.

The Knife takes centre position, set diagonally against the flat background. The Gloves and the lighter are then introduced, set diagonally at the opposite angle to aid the eye in finding the knife (leading lines). I’m shooting at 85mm, with an aperture of f11 to optimise my sharpness across the frame. My white balance is set to β€˜cloudy’ as this is truest to the scene & I’ve got a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. I don’t have any need to boot my ISO from 100, as I don't have any movement in my scene. I take the shot & then open the image in Adobe Lightroom.

Before

Original RAW File. Unedited.


Editing Pt. 1 - Overall Image Balancing in Lightroom

Before I start to balance my image, I picture how I want the final image to look. I want a gritty, modern looking image that appeals to all audiences with earthy tones & clean detail. I also need to be mindful that the company may want to add text & logos. With this in mind, I select a crop that is aesthetically pleasing & frames the subject well. 

I double check my white balance & colour tint, which are both fine. There are no obvious changes to the original colour of the Knife & I can move on to adding a touch of contrast to enhance the richness of the colour palette across the frame.

Balancing my light settings is a subtle process with this image, as everything is relatively well balanced. I reduce the highlights by about 25% & boost the shadows by 5% to draw out some detail before adding a 15% boost to the images clarity. This helps to define the overall structure. I then drop my vibrance & saturation by 5% & 15% respectively - now I’m starting to shape the overall colour of the shot with respect to my original concept.

Dialling in the hues of the colour palette, I then desaturate the yellows, reds & oranges this draws more attention to the blues of the knife, where I boost the luminosity of the blue in the handle. I have no use for split toning in this particular shot, so I move onto sharpening the image - this adds a wee bit of grit which will come in handy in part two of my process. The last action I perform is the addition of a very subtle vignette - further leading the eye towards the centre of the image and the logo on the knives blade.

At this point, I’m happy with how the image is shaping up. I’ve sorted the fundamental balance of the image & I’m now ready to implement part two of my processing - polishing (or β€˜mastering’). To retain all detail & digital information I then open the image as a .TIFF copy in Photoshop via Lightroom.
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Editing Pt. 2. Polishing The Final Image in Photoshop

The first step I take is to make a duplicate of the original layer, performing some additional (but subtle) noise reduction. I’m careful not to affect the overall sharpness of the image, as NR can be quite destructive. This layer is then merged with the original and I can start to creatively edit the image.

Generally, the next step for me is to add contrast layers, one for overall contrast & a second for more localised edits. I tease out the finer details by making subtle boosts to the mid-range contrast, which adds to the earthy feel of the shot. Next, I hone in on the knife, making sure that everything remains natural. By editing the product alone, I’m able to make it pop out of the image - making it the prime focus. I usually aim to have my opacity set between 10/50% on this layer. This means that it blends nicely into the frame.

I add a subtle layer of β€˜Dehazing’ just to reduce any leftover light-distortion. This helps to define the image since I’m using natural light. At this point I notice a slight blue hue to the blade & opt to reduce this locally by adding a colour cast mask - this reduces the blue tint & makes the metal look more grey which is closest to the original colour. At this point I’m pretty much done. I tighten my crop - being mindful of the gaps in the corners, burn my shadows slightly to add a bit of richness & add a final vignette - using the eraser at an opacity of 50% to sculpt my corner shadows.

The final step in the process is to add the fade which gives the image a cinematic feel, concurrent with modern processing. To do this, I create a curves mask & pull up the blacks (or crush them) in a heavy handed fashion. I dial this in across the image by reducing the opacity to 10% & export the image as a full-resolution JPEG file & a watermarked half-resolution JPEG for sharing purposes.

After

Final Image. Processed JPEG.

Field Notes : The Heads of Ayr.

While it’s generally true that only the best photographs from a shoot will appear before the public, I thought that in the name of transparency it might be a good idea to put out some of my failed shots. Nothing is ever perfect - sometimes things go to plan, but most of the time they don’t. The weather in Ayrshire and in Scotland changes rapidly and sometimes without warning, as does the light required to add that special touch to a composition.

The first image I’ll share in this series is an exposure made upon a headland on the Heads of Ayr, which you can see below.


Conditions;

The air was quite humid with an element of fog which remained unseen until I switched on my headlamp to head back across the fields towards the road. I was shooting from a very exposed headland wherein the wind changed direction inconsistently - both blowing my tripod (which was weighed down) and pushing dense cloud across the sky & obscuring what little stars I could actually see. 

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Heads of Ayr, Failed

The Image;

That morning, I had purchased a 10-20mm lens, which has an amazingly wide field of view. The main issue I faced with this lens however, was that I had bought a Nikon fit (which I’m adapting to fit my Sony body with a β€˜dummy’ adapter). This means that to change aperture, I have to manually set the aperture pin on the base of the lens until I either a) purchase a manual adapter with aperture control or b) purchase an electronic adapter. Having just shot in Dunure, I’d set the lens to f 3.5 - reducing the depth of field & allowing more light to enter the sensor.

A few issues arose in the moment, such as being unable to magnify the stars in order to attain pin sharp focus (I’ve since rectified this issue) and being unable to truly gauge my exposure (+2 stops was equal to -2 stops underexposed) - making up for this with a high ISO which in turn, introduced some colour β€˜noise’ - which is anathema to me! With all of this in mind, my image suffered from shake due to the high winds, lack of focus due to my inability to hone in on the stars and high noise due to using a high ISO and boosting the exposure in post production. The result is an image which is both soft and features trailing of the stars.

I do love the juxtaposition of the clear blue night sky against the cloud which is glowing orange due to the light pollution from Dunure/Girvan/Cars - the colour is exactly what I’d hope for. I also like the composition, which has a lofty atmosphere - so it’s not all bad. All in all, I was able to rectify the issues that befell me on the night. I’ll return when the conditions are a bit more favourable for long exposures and get the shot I wanted that night! Without the f*** up’s, I wouldn’t have the skills to ascertain what the issues are. It’s a simple case of trial and error - which will pay off when a shot comes up which requires immediate attention.

Culzean Castle - The Nature of Coastal Photography

As I sit and look over a soothingly calm sea, towards the well-lit mountains of Arran, I feel the heat of the afternoon sun warming my back as it slowly begins to descend towards the horizon. It’s been cold and bleak so far this year and today is the first day that I’ve been able to sit comfortably on the sand in just a t-shirt, soaking up the ambience of the coast.

I’m sitting on the beach below Culzean Castle at low tide and I’m waiting for the sun to set for the day. I’ve got a nice composition set up, my camera locked in place on its tripod, filters carefully selected and settings dialled in ready for the brief moment of golden light that will illuminate the scene, bringing it to life. So far, everything is looking good for a clear sunset, though the wind has begun to pick up and there’s a worrying amount of rain clouds passing overhead across the sea (it’s been blue skies all day)!

An oystercatcher soars somewhere abovehead, calling out to the others foraging amongst the rocks. The sound reverberates and echoes around the shallow bay, amplified by the rocky cliff face before diffusing amongst the trees on the outermost cliffs - a wondrous effect! Everything else is silent, barring the gentle ebb and flow of the waters edge and the tweeting of songbirds amongst the trees.

Unfortunately, as time drifts by, the clouds have grown much heavier and are now diffusing the available sunlight. This is worrying. Though my plans were now under threat, I seize the opportunity to capture a very moody monochromatic shot of the castle from the sands of the beach - briefly lit by a break in the clouds as they drifted westward. Kneeling in the wet sand to capture this shot, I notice little trails which I discover are caused by molluscs travelling between the rock-pools at low-tide - something I’ve never seen before!

I go back to my original composition as it’s now Golden Hour - though the cloud has become so thick that the light is all but useless for my composition. I decided to leave and simply edit a daylit long exposure shot that I’d captured earlier on.

Do I regret wasting hours of my life waiting for the final image? No. By simply being in the moment I witnessed a brief but dramatic change in weather, enjoyed the sun on my back while gathering agate on the shoreline, met new people and generally found time to think about my overarching plans for The Eye of God Photography. While I didn’t get the shot I had planned, I got a couple that I’m very satisfied with instead.

- Go Outside, It's Good For You!

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