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 ‘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.
 

'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Photojournalism : A Brief Foray into the World of Press Photography

PT. I - The Events as they Occurred.

 

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!

2 (1 of 1).jpg

 

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.

 

RTA, Prestwick Train Station

 

PT. II - A Question of Motive.

 

“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”

Scott Lorenzo

 

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. 

 

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

- Ralph Hattersley

 

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? 

 

“Essentially, the camera makes everyone a tourist in other peoples reality,

...and eventually in ones own”

- Susan Sontag

 

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!
 

 

" 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, ‘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 ‘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 ‘mastering’). To retain all detail & digital information I then open the image as a .TIFF copy in Photoshop via Lightroom.
 

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 ‘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.

The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen

Oaft! It’s the first of January 2018 - A new year, a fresh start and another 365 days worth of opportunities to be embraced!

Having met with the Princes Trust, attended in-depth business seminars and submitting a rough copy of my business plan / proposal to their funding panel, I’m happy to announce that I will be receiving the funding that I require to take The Eye of God Photography to the next level - to run it as my first business. This is a venture which I am extremely excited to explore - to ride the tiger, as it were.

I have a lot to do to make this happen in January though. I need to finish my website, sort out my finances, get in touch with the Inland Revenue and put the final touches onto my plan for the year. However, once these small hurdles have been cleared I’ll be ready to get out there and get stuck in.

I’ve got some pretty big things planned, things which I can’t reveal as of this moment in time - but, what I can reveal is that I aim to get my YouTube channel off the ground (having posted my first video in December here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SovGqZFF2_Q&t=3s) with more videos detailing my photographic journey to come, to start offering one-to-one photographic workshops, to work with a lot of interesting people and to generally grow as a person and as a professional - I also plan to get out a lot more. This means full on and intensive extended trips into the Scottish wilderness (Rain, Hail or Shine), journeys further afield than I’ve previously been thus far and generally discovering places that I haven’t seen before. Most folk want to visit other countries, but I want to devour my homeland before I go anywhere else. I want to explore every nook and cranny and to experience everything that this amazing place on Earth has to offer.

It's with all of this buzzing around my head that I enter a new year. I’ve never enjoyed Hogmanay before, but standing on the harbour, between the land and the sea - embracing the winds of Storm Dylan with Chelsea in my arms and Cooper at my feet - I was actually excited for the clock to read 00.00. 

-

The image below, taken while everyone was out celebrating, details a sculpture in Ayr town centre known locally as ‘The Fish Cross’. The sculpture stands amongst a slew of empty shops - a dismal spectre and representation of the town today. The figure stands, looking down at the fish in his arms - symbolic of the Ayr of yesteryear; a successful place built upon local trade - now just a shadow of itself, falling apart all around him.

I took this photograph not to revel in Ayr’s creeping decrepitude, but to inspire myself to enact positive change - no matter how small a fish I may be (pun intended). I personally remember Ayr as a thriving social hub full of small businesses and that’s the way I’d like the future generations to remember it too. It is for this reason that I pledge to donate a portion of my profits as a business into local development charities and into local food banks.

Why the food banks? Well, during the process of starting all of this up I was owed a considerable sum of money. I was rapidly reaching the point where the money I was borrowing was running out, my overdraft was breached and I was really struggling both financially and mentally. Though I knew the money I was owed was coming, I realised how bad it must be for those who live in that constant state of desperation through no fault of their own. Walking through the supermarket a week before Christmas feeling sorry for myself, I came to the realisation that there were people in my community that were truly suffering; and I wanted to actively combat such a corrosive social ailment if I could. 

While the powers that be seem to act in a manner that suggests that we don’t matter and that our towns are simply a hindrance to their plans, it is up to us as a COMMUNITY to support those greatest in need around us - the Princes Trust are helping me, so it is only right that I extend a helping hand too. Should you have the means, I’d implore you to do the same. 

It may be an un-realistic Utopian ideal, but lets actually do something for each another in 2018, so that no one needs to wake up in the morning feeling like there is no point in carrying on.

 

 

'The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen'

Why I Didn't Wait for the Sun to Set at the Summit of Ben A'an

I awake suddenly to the sound of my alarm ringing out in the darkness - it’s 5.30 in the morning and its still pitch black outside, but most importantly the skies are still crystal clear and the ground is still frozen… Coffee time!

Last night during a sudden drop in temperature (to a balmy -5 degrees) I made a snap decision to ascend and to photograph ‘Ben A’an’ the following morning - if the conditions remained as they were. Situated in the Trossachs - a two hour drive from Prestwick - I’d have to leave early if I wanted to reach the summit by sunrise.

Coffee in hand, I defrost the car. I’m fully awake due to the excitement and anticipation and I hit the road, making good progress until I almost come off the road just outside of Callander due to some very thick ice lurking in the darkness. Arriving at the Ben A’an car park in very good time I put my (roasting) new 3-in-1 jacket on, humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag over my shoulders onto my back and put Coops on his lead so that we can cross the road safely. I let him off at the foot of the path and literally hit the ground running. Or so I thought. 

I get approximately 30m up the steep path from the road and suddenly realise to my horror that I can’t breathe; the sudden cold air and the weight of my bag are constricting my lungs. Gasping, with my heart pounding like a pneumatic hammer, I come to an embarrassing halt in order to regulate my breathing - deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks Mr. Wright). The fresh mountain air quickly revives me and I head (slowly) to my next rest stop - a wee bridge connecting the initial path onto the mountain trail. My thighs are burning at this point, my bag feels as though it weighs the same as me and every step upwards fills me with apprehension.

With much effort and a concerted struggle to persist, I reach the halfway point chuckling as I notice that someone had vomited on the man-made two-foot high stone steps. My legs feel as though they are about to give way as the path suddenly becomes much steeper and I look up to see the summit looming what seems to be an aeon away from my position. This does nothing to ease the feeling of plausible defeat in my heart - I see Coops bounding through the trees (full of energy) way up the trail, not for turning back and remember the SAS adage that my Papa was always so keen to relay to me; ‘He Conquers Who Endures’. This provides me with a well-needed kick up the arse and I press on making decent progress against all odds.

As the path curves upwards into the shadow of the peak, it morphs seamlessly from thick man-made steps to rough, extremely slippy, natural crags. Due to its constant shelter from the sun, a thick layer of sheet-ice has settled in nicely, leaving anyone brave enough to continue towards the summit at risk of seriously hurting themselves. I stop to take stock of the situation, then continue my ascent using the fresh snow at the edges of the path to provide the grip that I required. At this point, the summit is about fifty metres away and I catch a second wind (one of the best feelings in the world when climbing). My blood is flowing freely now, my breathing regulated and my muscles warmed up. The rest of the climb is assuredly pleasant and I hit the summit and suddenly lose my breath again…This time, it’s the panoramic visions of splendour hitting my retinas like a six-tonne truck that stop me in my tracks; snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun; deep emerald woodlands rising up to meet the pure mountain air and the vast expanse of water that is Loch Katrine reflecting the land surrounding it.

I’m filled with a deep sense of joy, of accomplishment and of wonder. There’s literally nothing in this world that could counter the euphoria of such a moment and I smile. Meanwhile, Coops is on the summit - looking at me as if to say ‘is that it!?’… after all, his first ever walk was Cairn Gorm! I scramble up the to the summit absolute to devour my sandwich and to down an ice cold can of red bull in order to restore my spent energy reserves. The conditions are perfect; no wind, no solar haze and most importantly of all; NO RAIN!

 

[NOTE; In landscape photography (especially when a strenuous ascent is involved), well-maintained energy levels are vital to focussing the mind in the field, as without them one may as well just go home empty-handed. I’d already decided that each shot was to be carefully considered, crafted and ‘of its own’, meaning that there'd be no ‘b-shots’ or duds. I wanted each photograph from this adventure to serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the location and to pay homage to my struggles while ascending the summit.]

 

My first image is a composition overlooking Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, with the hills remarkably well-defined summit framing the shot, kissed by the beautiful, golden, morning light. I depress the shutter release and stand back at a loss for words… I know that here and now I’m experiencing a life-affirming moment in time.

Hearing voices behind me as I stand in awe of my own work, I turn my head and see that a large family has joined me on top of the world, spearheaded by a fellow that looks strikingly familiar to the American singer-songwriter Father John Misty. They greet me warmly (having come all the way from Canada) and heap attention onto Coops before settling down onto the rocks to soak in the views and to crack open their collective Thermos. 

I lock-on to another composition, this time featuring the summit-peak in the foreground. I take the shot, outwardly expressing my excitement for the image. The group behind me are now getting ready for a family portrait, standing in front of the sun. I take a moment to suggest that they take position at the spot where I captured my first image as it’d serve as the perfect backdrop for such a picture and happily end up taking the shots for them - putting a massive smile on their faces.

By the time we finish sharing stories, the summit has become a buzzing hive of activity. I count no-less that twenty-four people and three (well insulated) dogs - its amazing to think that such a place (located in and atop the middle of nowhere) can be so busy! Interestingly though, I didn’t see any other photographers! I spend the rest of the daylight hours watching the light and meeting lots of lovely people with interesting stories to tell, from South Africa to Stoke, making my experience all the more rewarding! 

The sun begins to set and I decide to head down from the summit to utilise the last of the golden light on capturing compositions I’d seen on the ascent, as I’d already captured images that I was more than satisfied with. Anything else from today would simply be a bonus! The first of these compositions is threefold - an extremely moody monochromatic shot featuring Loch Achray from the Northern side of the Summit, an abstract shot of the crag covered in icicles set against the clear blue sky and a close up of the heather above the snow - with large icicles hanging off of a single small bush.

My final descent is just as arduous as the ascent - the sheet-ice was making things fairly treacherous in the twilight, and the steep terrain covered in snow obliterated any semblance of a swift descent! Nonetheless, I make decent time and reach the aforementioned mid-way point and take a shot of Ben A’an from the path. It’s a great shot, but the deforested foreground casts a wee bit of a malaise upon my state of euphoria. Just as I reach the bottom of the trail and the end of my adventure I hear two Kestrels calling out through the twilight and stop to enjoy the moment. I tune into my ears and hear the soft warning calls of smaller birds nesting amongst the heather - it fills my mind with wonder.

I get back to the car, taking stock of the days adventure. The feeling of wellbeing is overwhelming - not only did I overcome any semblance of physical or mental stress, but I reached the summit to behold one of the best panoramic vistas that Scotland has to offer - the kind of place that requires no real effort in order to capture its innate natural beauty. I humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag into the boot, gulp down a litre of water and set off homewards through the darkness - avoiding the frozen road which very almost claimed my life this morning.
 

 

I'd like to thank everyone that I met atop Ben A'an for their generosity, stories and encouragement - your company took my already exemplary adventure to a whole new level! Until next time we meet - lang may yir lums reek!


 

'Atop Ben A'an'