Have an Appy New Year
In the last few years photography has experienced a bit of a revolution. That revolution hasn’t always been met with much willingness or embraced warmly by the established folk that make up the self appointed upper echelons of the digital photo world. I’m talking about the steady rise in popularity of people shooting or editing pictures with their phones and quickly posting pictures up onto photo sharing social media sites like Instagram, and more recently Pinterest and EyeEm.
“It’s a passing fad” or “it’s not proper photography” are common things that people say about peoples attempts at producing pictures using various inexpensive apps and the picture processing tools now available on their phones. My answer to this is wake up and smell the coffee, and explain to me, exactly what is proper photography?
I am well aware that if you look at these social media sites you will be inundated with badly shot and “artfully” edited examples of hipsters hastily captured pics of their dinner or selflies of their latest outfits. However dig a little deeper suspending your cynicism and keeping an open mind will reward you with some very interesting new work from people who would never have traditionally got into photography through the more established routes that a lot of us have done. And rather than being elitist and dismissive of this work, we should embrace it, and take from it what could be useful to us in our own work. Taken on its own and viewed for its artistic merits alone, there is lots of great very imaginative digital imaging going on out there.
First though we have to break down some of the, often, self imposed boundaries with which we limit our own creativity. This is particularly evident in the world of underwater photography I have found, with many people resisting change of any kind. I had a discussion with one of my colleagues recently about picture processing and editing, and they were so entrenched in the camp of “I must get all my pictures absolutely correct in camera, on the dive” and viewing any sort of editing as being indicative of failure of one sort or another,that I felt a bit sorry for them and that they were putting themselves into a self imposed underwater photography artistic cul de sac with no way out.
Now whilst I applaud a persons attempts at getting the shot they want to achieve as close as possible to your idea of the end result, in camera, with perfect strobe positioning, and proper exposure control, I don’t think you should bind yourself with those conventions all the time. It’s unnecessarily restrictive and chains you to a way of working that doesn’t allow for much freedom to explore alternative ways of working.
I don’t mean this to be a cop out for sloppy work, but that you should look at all the paintbrushes or digital tools available to you from the vast array of wonderful and inexpensive image making and editing software out there right now.
“But it’s cheating isn’t it?” Lots of folk say this and I just don’t get it. Taking pictures underwater is cheating full stop, I mean we wouldn’t use strobes otherwise, or never turn our pictures into black and whites if we only wanted to record our underwater experiences honestly. And what about deliberately shooting with shallow depth of field, that’s not real is it?
We aren’t replicating reality anyway are we, just our interpretation of it, or whatever is considered the norm within our particular sector of digital photography. Once we shake off this notion we can really start to have some fun with it all.
If it was in another sector of the art world, it would be a bit like saying that anything you drew or painted had to look like a facsimile of the original otherwise it didn’t count .
Tell that to Van Gogh, Monet, Dali or Picasso they never had problems with bending reality, so why should you?
I personally think that a lot of it lies in the fear that we have of being judged by our peers and with the world of underwater photography being quite small in relation to the wider world of digital art, then it’s easy to understand why people have a natural reticence to put their heads above the parapet, in case their artistic efforts are ridiculed as pretentious or belittled as not being “proper underwater photography” whatever that is.
I also think that people are scared of using the word “art” to describe anything they produce. It doesn’t stop your average three year old expressing themselves so why should it hinder you?
Whether its good or bad art is down to you and the wider world, but never be afraid to experiment for fear of some miserable sod belittling you, or telling you, that it doesn’t count, because it wasn’t taken with a Nikolony F9000 shooting completely manually without the aid of a safety net, or whatever!
Injecting some playfulness into our lives in whatever way we feel happy about doing is surely never a bad thing? Shooting out and about with your phone is photography, it’s all photography, it doesn’t matter any more than if you shot with your phone than if you shot with your high end DSLR, and at the end of the day it’s the picture that counts most of all. Not how many pixels it has, or the size of the sensor or the super expensive glass that you shot the picture through. That has never mattered that much when we look at the history of film photography, and some of the most memorable pictures of the last 150 years have been taken with very basic equipment.
Whatever camera you use the most important thing is that you use it regularly. Yes, to get to grips with it technically, and if you are shooting with a high-end fully manually controlled camera, then there is quite a bit to learn and more importantly practice with, but I will hazard a guess that the camera you have with you most of all is the one on your phone, so practicing your composition skills is always at your disposal.
Don’t make apologies for it either, recently someone said on FB something along the lines of “sorry about the quality, I didn’t have my real camera with me” Hello! It was a great well executed correctly exposed, but most importantly artistically composed photo that was taken on a proper camera. Just because that camera had a smaller sensor with less dynamic range, and a fixed lens, doesn’t make it any less capable of capturing a moment in time. In fact the challenge of getting a great shot with a basic and simpler camera such as the one on your phone,and with no ability to zoom, so that you have to frame it well, is to be applauded, not apologised for, that’s just the worst kind of camera snobbery.
One of my own shots that garnered some praise recently was taken on an early morning walk with the dog, and was more about the moment in hand, and the time of day, than anything else. I always have my phone with me, and with two dogs in tow on farmland I wouldn’t have been able to give the necessary attention to my “proper” camera, with its choice of lenses and sophisticated exposure control and bigger sensor, I also think that sometimes having less choice over things can be a good thing.
So I simply turned around and took a few pictures of our dog against the early morning sunlight, filtered naturally through a veil of fog. I then edited it all in phone with a selection of apps downloaded from the Appstore, over a post walk coffee and seasonal mince pie.
Here is the before and after. The original shot was fine as it was, but that’s not what I wanted to achieve and using and becoming accustomed to lots of different apps, has made me aware that I could edit it differently, and the monochromatic nature of the original picture, lent itself well to a black and white treatment with a texture applied to it, which I had in mind when I took the picture.
Does doing this make it any less of a photograph? I don’t think so, and don’t honestly care if anyone else thinks otherwise. I have nothing to prove with many years experience of shooting with most formats of camera from large format film cameras, through to digital cameras of all shapes and sizes. However all that experience matters not a jot, in my opinion, and just because you may or may not also have years of technical experience under your belts, it is the picture at the end of the day that matters most of all, not the level of technical expertise demonstrated by the taking of the picture. Now please don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give yourself a pat on the back for pulling off a neat technical trick, or learning something cool to do with your camera, but I am saying that you shouldn’t rest there and it’s actually more about how you apply that skill in your pictures that matters most, and not the skill in itself.
At this point I would also say that I am not saying that you shouldn’t shoot with your more sophisticated cameras, in fact there is a lot of photography that couldn’t be achieved otherwise, i.e. sports and wildlife photography using long telephoto lenses, and utilising the super fast focussing mechanisms of modern kit. It’s more about incorporating all of your camera equipment into your digital picture production line and shooting with whatever is best and most convenient at the time. And if you happen to have your phone with you most of the time learn how to get the best from it.
So what on earth has this got to do with underwater photography with it’s specialist housings,lenses and external strobes etc etc? After all this is a blog on underwater photography.
Now I am well aware that there are underwater housings now available for iPhones and some other brands, but for a number of reasons, one of which is touch screen technology, they are less than ideal for shooting underwater, and to be honest a lot of people feel understandably reluctant to put all their digital contacts and data into a waterproof box and trust it underwater. So what has been the point of all this then?
Well, for one it’s about encouraging people to just go out and shoot more pictures, exercising their creative muscles topside, which is always a good thing, even if they never post their pictures. The more you shoot the more you get practice framing and composing your pictures and the restrictions placed on you by shooting with a phone with only one angle of view, makes you think more creatively about your compositions, and less about the technicalities. And most of the time I find particularly with the photo workshops, that people pick up the techniques quickly, but what they really need is the practice framing and composing things artfully.
Another thing is that even though your pictures may well originate on your usual underwater digital camera, there is no reason that you shouldn’t try a few creative edits with some of the great Apps out there, they often cost less than a quid, and even if you only use them once or twice are worth it. I find that they are a great way to spend time waiting for trains, or stood in a queue, time otherwise spent twiddling your thumbs.
I find that this helps make my creative juices flow and gives me all sorts of ideas, not just for phone shots but other pictures too. A lot of these fancy effects could be easily achieved using your normal photo editing applications like Photoshop, but that’s not the point and you probably don’t have your laptop to hand when stood on the tube or the bus, and for the same reason that you could well take the shot with your “proper” camera you could edit your pictures sat down at your computer, but you probably wont after the moment has gone, so if the means to make an edit is resting in the palm of your hand then you may well have a go, but more importantly have fun doing so. I have edited all the pictures illustrating this blogpost entirely from within my phone and exported to my laptop, I have shown on the picture explanation below the shots the App or Apps that I have used to edit the pictures, I was having fun pure and simple . And if you are having fun doing something you are usually learning, and gaining experience, but just because it’s fun doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to call it art, that is entirely up to you.
So please try and not be too cynical be brave have a go, be a tiny bit restrained and don’t overdo the same effect to death, but most importantly of all Have a very very Appy New Year.