new year

New year’s resolution

We all do it… make promises to ourselves about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it as another year begins. Take more pictures, get more exercise, make more money, be nicer etc etc. You can take it as read that I’m attempting all of those but I thought that I’d talk about the first one – taking more pictures.

©Neil Turner January 2014

©Neil Turner January 2014. Shot using a Fujifilm X20

Time after time in my career I have realised that the more I shoot, the better my reactions are and the more instinctive the operation of the camera becomes. I’m pretty sure that someone could even devise a mathematical formula for it where x is the number of pictures you shoot over a given period of time, y is the number of days over a given period where you don’t take pictures and z is the probability that when you are shooting an assignment you absolutely nail the job. Unfortunately I’m not an imaginative and innovative mathematician so I’m not going to be able to define that formula – if you have the ability, please feel free to finish the task for me but not until you have read the rest of the puzzle:

All of this seems to be rational, don’t you think? There are a couple of flies in the ointment though: If you do too much of the same kind of thing, you can get into a rut and just keep producing cookie-cutter images.

So does that mean that there is an optimal amount of pictures to be taken? Well yes… and no… If you are shooting very different images on each occasion then you can take a lot more pictures and get a lot sharper without becoming stuck in the rut that I mentioned just now. There is a further variable that we need to include in our increasingly complex formula – having the time between shoots to properly edit our own work and to reflect on why and how certain pictures did and didn’t work and this requires a degree of knowledge and of technical and analytical skill.

Now we need to clarify what the formula needs to say:

  • Take lots of different pictures using different techniques and different equipment.
  • Don’t take so many pictures that you get stuck in your ways.
  • Have the time to edit and analyse your work.
  • Learn from your successes and mistakes.
  • Make sure that you know why and why the pictures that you like worked and why the rest didn’t.

All of this makes me re-assess my new year’s resolution. It isn’t just to take more pictures – it’s to take more different pictures and to learn as much as I can in the process. If I get time I might even learn a bit more about mathematical formulae too.

Space makes you think

In general I am a fan of tighter compositions, but there are some subject matters that are just crying out for space. A large area of foreground or background can lend an enormous amount of emphasis to an image. Placing a small subject in a large space helps you to tell a story. If you place a person in one of the bottom corners you might suggest loneliness or vulnerability, whereas placing them at the top may well imply the opposite.

©Neil Turner | Bournemouth | January 2005

This photograph of a child playing on the beach in the winter suggests that he is really enjoying his freedom. The photograph was taken from quite a height (maybe 25 feet) to isolate the sand from the confusing background and the fact that he is nearer the right of the frame suggests that he has a lot more room to head into. The oldest rule about composition – the rule of thirds – is being observed.

If the space around the child in the photograph was full of details then the impact of the composition would be lost. You would inevitably give the image more than one subject and spoil the simplicity which is the real secret of the picture. Of course if the child’s mother was in another area of the otherwise empty frame then that would give another message altogether, the space would still be making you think – but differently.

Cluttered photographs are much harder to pull off, simple images are often more effective and this image proves that simple doesn’t necessarily mean tight.