Back in the 1980’s there was a company in the UK called Athena. They had shops in many high streets and produced what at the time was amazing artwork for people to hang on their wall. I remember as a teenager having two pictures (purchased from Athena) of a Porsche 940 and Lamborghini Countach hung on my bedroom wall.
If you went into any of their branches they would have a huge selection of artwork and cards for sale with some of the most iconic (for the 80’s) images and there was nothing else like it. There was the famous image of the lady tennis player scratching her behind that I’m sure graced the wall of many a student bedsit. There was the image of a woman’s mouth biting a cherry as her lip dripped (not as gruesome as it sounds).
There were also images of spectacular and tranquil landscapes taken from far away exotic places such as Greek beaches and Monument Valley in the US – please remember that I was 21 before I could afford a trip beyond the UK and the world back then was not as small as it is today. I remember looking in awe at these images and wishing for 2 things:
- I could visit some of these locations
- I could take photographs that were this beautiful and amazing
This second point was rather unusual as at the time I didn’t do photography, although I had always wanted to try. The equipment was however far beyond what I could afford and in any case, everyone I spoke to about my desire told me how difficult it was to use an SLR and that I should forget it. Nothing like giving a kid encouragement.
So, why am I telling you all this?
Well, yesterday I created the image you see above whilst preparing an illustration for a book. Whilst this image is not my usual genera, I do like images of flowers and I quite liked this one having made my adjustments in Photoshop. In fact it looked great on screen and I decided to run off a quick A3 print on gloss paper to see what the printed image would be like. The result I thought was exactly what I wanted to create and perhaps this was a new direction in which to develop my style.
When my wife came into my office. I asked her if she liked the image. She paused and said “yes it’s nice”. Then she paused again and said “but it’s a bit retro”.
“What do you mean” I said, “RETRO?”
Her reason for thinking it was retro was because it “looks just like those images from the 80’s that Athena used to sell”.
I’m now wondering if I have finally achieved something that I have always subconsciously aspired to or if photographic tastes are about to go full circle.
I hope you like the image.
“Finding Your Vision” is the title of one of the presentations I give from time to time around Camera Clubs and Photographic Societies. This particular presentation is however about 5 years old and with an upcoming presentation in June I need to bring it up to date. The core message of the presentation is however unchanged and states “your performance as a photographer is based on three aspects of photography that are inter-related”.
The three aspects that I am referring to are:
Your weakest area will be the one that limits your performance. Unfortunately as photographers we tend to focus (no pun intended) on the third one; skills.
Now let me take a moment to define Inspiration and Vision as these are often confused so I need to make my definitions nice and clear.
Inspiration is the motivation you have to pick up a camera and take a picture. What is it that inspires you to do this? Why do you take pictures? Is it a feeling or is it that you are trying to achieve something? And keep in mind that not all subjects inspire everyone to the same level. I am very motivated by capturing wide open outdoor spaces. Still life photography, action photography and quite a few others don’t inspire me so my performance will always be second rate with these subjects.
This is actually the reason for the image above which I will be incorporating into my new presentation. This is typically a scene that inspires me to reach for my camera.
Vision is effectively how you imagine the scene when you come to photograph it and this will cause you to answer questions such as how should I frame the subject, what mood do I want to convey etc. Other aspects of vision include imagining how you want the finished image to look once it has been processed without worrying how to process it. Vision is linked to inspiration as if you are not inspired by a subject you won’t spend the time to develop your vision of the scene.
Returning to the image above, here is the starting image. Hardly exciting but to me it was. I know it was because I took around 100 images trying to catch the right moment. You see I had a vision of the finished image.
When I decided to take this image I did so because I was inspired by the location. I then had to decide how I wanted to capture and represent it i.e. develop my vision. When I came to actually process it I refined my vision further.
Examine the image and I hope you will see that I like reflections, clouds and other aspects of the outdoors. I also hope you can see that my vision is about trying to simplify the elements of the scene. I like order, balance and symmetry which is why I have placed the horizon in the centre of the frame and tried to emphasise the reflections of the clouds. I have also tried to compose the clouds so that they are balanced on the left and right of the frame with the water movement emphasised in the centre. The colours in the scene were too intense so I switched to black and white which also helped me emphasise the elements in the frame. I could have pushed this emphasis further but this again is not my vision. I like the processing to appear more believable even though they are quite a departure from reality.
The final element of my trio is skill. If you don’t have the skills to capture and post process your then you will struggle to realise it. We have all had times where we have an idea for an image but it never looks quite how we want it to. This is because we don’t have the skills yet to achieve our vision or perhaps we didn’t slow down sufficiently to employ our skills fully.
Next time you are wondering how to improve your photography come back to these three points:
Find your weakness and develop it.