Hints Tips and Recommendations:
Learning by Example
Editor’s note: In this carefully researched essay, club member, Elizabeth Brupbacher invites us to extend our horizon beyond the world of club photography by looking at examples from some institutional collections and work by well known photographers. I warmly recommend that you follow her links.
Many Camera Club members enjoy working out how to improve their results. We make use of technology and also appreciate seeing the work of other club members and guest speakers. But do we make the most of the opportunity to delve into other realms of photography to learn and be inspired? Increasingly photographic collections around the world are moving online making it possible to access a wealth of experience and ideas. Collections often span many years, from historic to contemporary, and today’s
photographers might wonder if there is anything to gain from those who operated decades ago. It can, however, be argued that referring to the past is not a backwards step but part of the art of looking in all directions for inspiration. These collections allow us to pursue a specific interest or merely to explore. Here are some examples.
Portraits are More than Just a Face
A portrait photographer who focused on detail and left nothing to chance was Cecil Beaton. His image of Sir Michael Kemp Tippett (1944) makes interesting use of light from back right with illumination of the sitter’s supporting arm while ensuring a catchlight in both eyes.
A new generation of photographers was inspired by Beaton’s work, for example his photo of Quintin Hogg (1945) was the spark for Irving Penn. However, Penn’s self-portrait In a Cracked Mirror (1986) (see 2nd image on the page) perhaps looks more akin to Beaton’s depiction of the actor David Warner (1960s).
The image of Dame Dorothy Tutin (1955) demonstrates that portraits of the famous (and of women in general) don’t have to be glamourous, nor is fame essential in a subject. Would Linda McCartney’s photos be so popular if they didn’t depict an iconic family? Possibly not, although they do tell us that building rapport with the subject really helps. In her Family Life Gallery, click to enlarge no. 29/49 Paul and Mary, Scotland (1970) and it’s likely any contemporary family would be delighted with a similar-style Father and Baby photo.
Sense of Time and Place
Taking images of places close to home could easily be dismissed for seeming ordinary, just everyday stuff, but that would be to miss an opportunity. Co-founder of the iconic Magnum Photos Henri Cartier-Bresson was renowned for his French street photography. The Var Department, Hyeres, France (1932) might look like a grab shot but it wasn’t that simple. Scroll down to the section on Framing; Geometry and it explains how he trained his eye in geometry to assist with framing through his viewfinder. Street photography reminds us how quickly contemporary scenes can appear out-dated and so become historical, such as the undated Dawn of Light and Liberty by John D Stephen. So too architectural photography as in this perhaps surprising photo taken in East Kilbride in the 1960s by Alan Reiach.
Context can also reflect a subject’s life as seen in Fleeing Mosul (2016) by Abbie Trayler-Smith (click on image for details).
Press and Sport – Not a World Apart
Check out the World Press Photo Collection and it’s likely that most club photographers won’t expect to feature in it, but see the Sports category. Liverpool Champions League Victory Parade (2019) by Oli Scarff certainly tells a story. Taken from a high vantage point, it captures the euphoria of the occasion.
Wildlife in Action
There’s both action and drama in The Rat Game (2020) by Matthew Maran. It also proves that wildlife photos don’t have to be shot in exotic overseas locations as this was taken in an allotment close to his home in London. Note the low angle – he was lying on his front on the ground at the time.
Colour, Sound, Action (2018) by Liron Gertsman shows parakeets in mid-flight and, contrary to the instinct to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the moment, he used a slow shutter speed to portray the flurry of their movement.
Knowing the capability of our cameras and using the various software tools available today can enhance our photography. Such skills were used successfully to express a moody scene in Clouded in Mystery (2016) by Alexandre Deschaumes who stitched 12 frames into one panoramic image.
Contrast can be used to good effect in landscapes. London Salon member Irene Froy created her style of dreamy landscapes with pastel shades and hazy vistas. Compare it to the high contrast of Dunes, Oceano (1963) by the legendary Ansel Adams.
Finding the Modern in the Old
Back in the 1850s, botanist and early photographer Anna Atkins produced Papaver Orientale. Strictly speaking it wasn’t a photograph but a photogram for which she used the cyanotype process. Okay so we’re unlikely to use this process today, but that said, would the image look out of place next to club member Margaret Campbell’s Flower Card Images which were created using very modern techniques?
Exceptions to Rules
What appeals to one person doesn’t necessarily please everyone, and in particular photography competition judges (see our Hints & Tips on Competitions). Judges regularly comment on too much empty space appearing in a photo – but consider Raymond Depardon’s photographs of Glasgow in the 1980s and those spaces just shout out bleakness. Going against the grain can pay dividends.
The Big Picture
When we’re using our cameras or are sitting at the computer about to use our photo editing suites, here are some great quotes from two of the best photographers for us to hold at the back of our minds:
“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Eve Arnold said that she aimed to “show something you wouldn’t have seen otherwise … / … it is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument”.
Online Photography Collections
Here are some examples of online photography collections available to view and use as
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize – explore by year (National Portrait Gallery)
Essay by: Elizabeth Brupbacher