Saturday, 29 January 2011

Content, technique, and style

Looking through the pile of prints I'd made I got to thinking about why my photos don't look like the ones I see in photo magazines. It must either be that I'm a happy snapper with no idea what makes a photo, or I have a style of my own. I can't decide which. Maybe it's not for me to decide. What I did notice was that in the shots I think work best there is a lot of space. Negative space. I think that's why I like shooting along the beach in winter - big sky, loads of empty sand. But it's there in other images too.

One thing that I find difficult to discern in my photographs is any trace of technique. That's really where I think my pics differ from those in photography magazines and camera club shows. When I examine the majority of those images all I see is the technique (graduated filters, slow shutter speeds and so forth). The content appears to be of secondary importance. They are images more about technique than subject. Surely all photographs should be about their subject and not, primarily, about the way they were made?

While musing on this over the last few days I found this article on Pixiq (one of my favourite photography sites) which makes a similar point.

I'd go further and say that a photograph works really well when subject, technique and abstract form combine in equal measure. But two out of three ain't bad.

I also picked up a photobook from the library, 'A Portrait of Southport'. As I flicked through it I saw a couple of shots that reminded me of subjects I've shot (Southport being where I roam the seafront). Getting the book home I realised that all they had in common with my images was the subject. And they weren't representative of the rest of the book. Almost every photo in the book had been taken on a bright sunny day in spring or summer.

Almost without exception the shots were picturesque. None had an air of gloom or melancholy. There was no untidiness. It was a book the tourist office would love. I was relieved. When I looked again at my collection of Southport photos they had a very different collective feel. Possibly because they were made in winter. Even so, I have shots of the public art similar to those in the book, but there wasn't a photo of a cracked window in the book!

The trouble with discovering your photos often feature a particular trait, is that when you next venture forth you might be conscious of it and try to overcompensate for it, or play up to it. This concerned me. Until I put the camera to my eye it concerned me. As soon as I started framing shots I automatically made them the way they looked right to me. When I reviewed them there was still plenty of negative space and off-centre subjects. Oh yeah, there were a few that had the frame cut in two by a harsh vertical too. Something else I seem to do without realising it. Picture postcards they are not.

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