Anthony Epes, art of seeing, International photography workshops
The morning after I sent out a blog post earlier this month about reviewing your work I woke up in a cold sweat. Something was deeply, deeply wrong….
I crept downstairs and turned on my computer. In a few seconds (my laptop opens at lightening fast speed, something I am very proud of) I realised my fear was valid. I looked through the photos I had picked for my ‘best of year’ selection and they were all random shots, devoid of a theme, a subject, a purpose, a mission. They were just a…. bunch of images. And it struck me that I didn’t come anywhere close to completing a project last year, and that was completely frightening.
In this age of camera phones and photography obsession it is no longer enough to produce a few lovely images and then think – OK I’m done, I’m a great photographer!One of my favourite contemporary photographers, Jonas Bendiksen, who produced the incredible photo book Satellites, said that the future of photography will lie not in the beautiful individual photos (I mean who doesn’t have a bunch of those) but in the stories that photographs can tell.
Daisy, from People © Anthony Epes, 2015
And this applies to both amateurs and professionals. Think about your audience, what do they want to see? A few unrelated but lovely shots of a beach or some great street photography, or do they want to be drawn in by you and a story that you have seen and are telling with your work? Think too about what you want to see when it comes to photography. A selection of images, or a story?
And it is in that that I failed last year. OK – to give myself some credit I have been working on my Venice at Dawn book – but not enough! Life, business, my funny children – they distracted me!
Pizza Boy, from People © Anthony Epes, 2015
Over this past week my mind has become a hot bed of intense thinking and just a little anxiety (which isn’t always a bad thing when it comes to being creative. Here’s Kierkegaard on why anxiety powers creativity rather than hinders it, from the beautiful beautiful website Brainpickings.) My question to myself has been – what story do I want to tell this year with my photography? And….. I think I’ve come up with something….It’s too soon to share my subject, but I wanted to share the process I went through with the hope that it might help you think about what story you want to tell with your photography this year.
I love taking photos of cities, and people in cities. I do have some other subjects. A few years ago I exhibited my project on trees, called Arboreal Dreams. So the first question I always ask is:
What do you want to photography – people or things?
Instantly I thought of people. I have done a hell of a lot of cities of late. Even though I do love to photograph the people I find awake in cities at dawn, they are few and far between.
The Painters, from Paris at Dawn © Anthony Epes, 2015
I also decided on people because my last portrait project, The Homeless World Cup, was incredibly fun to do and when I exhibited it last year I got tonnes of great feedback (not that I am taking photos just for the praise mind you :))
Team Indonesia, from The Homeless World Cup © Anthony Epes, 2015
What subjects/news items/themes in life are obsessing you at the moment?
Well, the subject I have chosen is nothing to do with photography, but everything to do with some techy subject I love. Perhaps you wouldn’t know to look at me, but I am a total tech nerd (my wife likes to say I look way cooler than I actually am. I completely disagree).
It’s incredibly important to be passionate about the project you are shooting – otherwise you risk getting distracted, losing interest, having a complete crisis of confidence mid way through the project and you won’t finish it. EVERY project I do I have a crisis of confidence midway through. Every, single, one. Heck I even had a crisis of confidencebefore I started my Paris at Dawn book – how can I photograph the most visited city in the world, and therefore the most photographed, in an original, inspiring way? Was the the big anxiety I faced. Turns out Paris at Dawn is now my favourite of the dawn projects.
Passion for your subject will keep you going when you think - my work is terrible! I hate my photos! Why have I spent so much time on this rubbish! Passion will help you get to the end so that you can settle, look back over the work and think – oh, this is quite good actually.
Is it easy to photograph?
One of the downsides of photographing Cities at Dawn is the mere fact that they are so far away (now that I’ve done two books on London!) Hence my limited progress on my Venice book this year. I will keep going on that, and my other city books, but I realised I need something closer to home to work on when I can’t travel – because that keeps the creative juices flowing. That doesn’t mean your project can’t be abroad – just make sure you are able to commit the time you need to it, and maybe have some smaller projects that are closer to home to keep you motivated throughout the year. (I have used this quote already on a blog of late but it seems negligent not to bring it up again at such an apt time – “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou) And let’s be realistic – will I have the time to shoot this?
One of my favourite of my recent projects has been The Belly Project
Belly, from The Belly Project © Anthony Epes, 2015
Talk about subjects being everywhere!
What are you hoping to achieve with this project?
Fame, glory, world-wide recognition? (OK, maybe that’s just me?) Is this part of a wider life goal, or is this a story you just want to share with the world? Is this solely for my family and friends, or myself? It’s good to clarify. If it’s a story you want to share with the world – the good news is there are so many ways now to get your photos out there. Yes it’s a crowded space, but never before has a photographer not affiliated with a news magazine, publisher or gallery been able to have the possibility to show their work to the millions. This is in itself a massive subject – and if people are interested in what we have done to get my work out there then let me know. I would be more than happy to put together a post on websites, news media etc. if that’s something you want to know about.
How many final images?
This sounds like a strange question to ask yourself before you’ve even started but it helps to give you some structure to the project. It’s not set in stone either – even if you think 30 images and come out with 10, you should regularly assess where you are at, have you told the story already? Perhaps you’re taking too many photos and not managing to distill the story into a smaller amount and that should help you focus your work. For my Homeless World Cup project I have about 20 images I am really happy with that, a great amount for that kind of project. For my books – 90 images is around preferable, but that is a 1-2 year intense project, so I would suggest you focus on between 10-20.
The world is littered with unrealised ideas! Don’t let yours add to the heap! Even if you don’t feel ready, or inspired I always think (or my wife does and she tells me so when I am dithering hopelessly) better just to get started and change things if it’s not right than wait for perfect conditions.
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” — Edward de Bono
Things may change
This is normal! Allow for your project to develop as you get to know your subject better and the way you are responding. Have plenty of time to let the work ‘settle’ so you can reassess, evaluate and respond to changes. On a new page on our site of inspiring interviews with iconic photographers, Annie Leibovitz talks in detail about her book ‘Women’. It’s a really interesting to hear how she overcame her initial fear of the project and how it developed as she started to shoot the project.
Some other questions to ask yourself:
Now once you’ve done all that thinking, planning, assessing…forget it! You’ve laid the foundations, you’ve done the sensible part, now is the time to get going, and as Picasso said:
“To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”
I’d love to hear about your photo projects for the year and how you’ve created them. Please do comment, I love hearing from you all!
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Ansel Adams
I am not crazy about January (is anyone? Well my son is, he loves grey days as much as I love sunshine. He’s even written a little book of ‘Grey day activities that don’t involve watching TV’’ to help other people enjoy them too). So in the absence of having my son’s enthusiasm for this weather, what I like to do to start the year is review my work from the previous year, as this gives me a nice jolt of joy and helps propel me on to a good creative path for the next year.
It’s funny how you can have a perception of what you have accomplished, but then you sit down, go through everything anew and really look at your images and this gives you a whole new perspective on your year.
You never know – you will could discover a great photo that you missed the first time round. For example, I missed this image when I was putting together my Paris book. I was flipping through my images one day and said casually to my wife – do you like this? And she went crazy – she both loved it and wanted to shoot me for not showing them to her before and maybe missing the chance of them being in my book. I was saved from her wrath just in time.
When he found it again ten years later he saw the power of the image (here is the interview again for anyone who missed it – it’s probably one of the most inspiring talks I’ve heard on photography in years).
In order to keep improving it’s important to take a cold, hard look at your work. I find doing my yearly review both a joyous experience – I always find photos I’d previously ignored which I now love – but also a little heartbreaking. Photos I ‘remember’ to be brilliant turn out to not be so much. But in an effort to improve your images you have to take a cold, hard look at what you need to work on improving, as well as celebrating how far you’ve come. Perhaps you’ll look at your work and be a little disappointed because you don’t have a lot of great images. Well, that’s just inspiration for committing to your photography more in the following year, right?
A photographer’s agent I know once told me that photographers are often the worst editors of their own work because they have too much emotion attached to their images. They often think about things like: the circumstances in which they took the photo, how they were feeling or how much they liked the subject – instead of just the image.
Apparently I am also guilty of this.
So, it really, really helps to go through your work with a photo-loving friend or friends. Heck, get a little group together, a few beers and make an evening of it. You will be amazed by what images you skip over that others love, and then they become your favourites, and likewise images you think are absolute killers and they aren’t.
(BTW I have introduced regular group feedback sessions into my Light Monkeys group if you are looking for something more structured.)
Getting into a ritual of a yearly review is an excellent habit because you are giving yourself time to let your work settle. You will have lost some of that excitement that maybe is attached to the work – like the holiday you were on when you took it, or the beautiful sunshine you encountered.
It will help you formulate some desires for your work in the coming year and set some little goals for yourself.
Next week I’ll be talking about this creative goals setting (goals in the loosest possible sense) and how to get a personal project started. Although I am a-keep-thing-in-my-head-kind of guy, and not one for lots of structure around my personal projects, I do like to set a few markers for the year, have a sense of how much time I want to commit to my work every week/month and have an idea of what I will be focusing on shooting wise. But more of that next week.
I think a lot of creative people get nervous about sharing their work with the world. Not only are you putting yourself out there to be judged (scary!) but it also feels rather uncomfortable to self-promote. But I am here to say that not only is it great to show people the work you’ve done because you have something unique to express that only you can say, it also inspires others to be creative. And as many of you know, I believe that creativity is an essential tool for living a good life. Whether your creativity takes the form of cooking, art or reading – it’s something that takes you away from life’s ‘grind’ and helps you enjoy life in a deeper, more meaningful, more connected way.
So do the world a favour – show people your work and inspire others!
I really like Austin Kelon’s talk (based on his book by the same name) called Show your Work. It gives a plethora of reasons why you need to be showing the world your creations.
My top shots
So in my yearly review I picked out some of my images that I really loved from 2014 (with the help of my wife, and it only involved one creative altercation :)) I would love to know what you think of my selections!
And…I’d love to see your best photos from 2014 – either post them to my Facebook page or email me directly and I’ll send you my feedback.
Looking forward to a great year for us all.
Happy shooting in 2015!
Included in my favourite shots are some photos from my Venice project. I stayed on the Eastern side of the city this year and discovered some amazing new places to shoot – abandoned buildings, a lush park and a fortress like entrance that must have been useful for ancient times.
Of course my adopted home city always wins my heart! This was a little ‘snap shot’ I took one morning, and is totally unprocessed. I never get bored of shooting this view. London always offers up something new for me.
And now to Paris, a city I learnt to love over many months, once I had got underneath it’s ‘pretty’ surface…
If I was to sum up what I like to photograph (and I should, we all should, not in a prescriptive way but just as a way to get to know our photography better) it’s probably this – urban landscapes, workers, humorous portraits (though strangely I don’t photograph to be funny) and street details. I love finding ugly, dirty, weird things on the street and making them look interesting or inviting. A quirk of mine I suppose…
A couple of weeks ago I was talking about ‘Making Light Your Subject’. Light is obviously a vast subject for us and I wanted to add some more ideas to inspire you, and to encourage you to keep up your photography over the holidays. The first, of pre-visualisation, is not so much related to light but is an essential practise that you should all be getting into, as it will help you maximise the creative opportunities that light brings.
Pre-visualise the final photo
One of my favourite photographers, Ray Metzker, died this past October. Metzker’s work is not abstract or hard to digest. His photographs look simple and beautiful, but that does not reflect the vision and skill it took accomplish such loveliness. Metzker was a master at pre-visualizing the final image.
The above image is a great example of what can be accomplished with some good pre-viz (as I will now call it). Picture yourself standing where Metzker was when he created his image. Would the shadows be so dark and textureless (no detail)? Would the whites be so bright? That contrast is not natural. The contrast was something that Metzer wanted to reproduce because that is how he wanted the final image to look like and so he created that in the darkroom. If you can understand this concept of pre-viz then you are on the way to better photography. By understanding how Metzkerinterpreted the light and how he wanted it to be represented in his photographs, you are shown how a master “sees”.
Wait for the perfect light
Patience is an essential skill in photography. I am an advocate of the shoot less, shoot slowly school of photography. Waiting for all of the elements to be in place, really feeling and seeing your composition before you press the shutter requires commitment and focus. Work hard on developing it. I think landscape photographer Charlie Waite personifies this concept. I love his work. In particular I love how he will find an interesting landscape and will wait for the perfect light to appear, before taking the photo. Sometimes even the landscape isn’t that interesting, but the light is special and that is what makes the photo mesmerising.
I often think of that rare fulfilling joy, when I am in the presence of some wonderful alignment of events. Where the light, the colour, the shapes and the balance all interlock so beautifully that I feel truly overwhelmed by the wonder of it. Charlie Waite
Maybe you find a landscape or scene you want to photograph but the light isn’t right that day, or even the next. Persevere – go in the morning, go in the evening, wait until the rich colour of autumnal light arrives – whatever it takes. I like to keep a list (mostly in my head, I am not that organised) of places I am waiting to photograph. And there are places I photograph again and again throughout the year. Creating an epic photo is worth the wait (by the way Ansel Adams thought that “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” I would even say 2 or 3 and you are doing incredibly well). Think quality not quantity.
Become intimate with your light
I recently came across this interview with Magnum photographer Trent Parke. I intensely encourage you all to look at this as it’s probably the most inspiring interview about photography I have seen in years. He talks about how his work is focused on his home city of Adelaide, how he has worked over years and years to become familiar and intimate with the light in the city. He knows which part of the city to shoot at which time of day because of this knowledge he has created of the city – and he has used the city and its hard light as inspiration for his incredible work. I love how he is using what is on his doorstep to create this kind of amazing work.
I hope you all have a great holiday season. I am looking forward to a good break with my family, and being in London whilst it quietens down. I’ll be going on many walks with my son, who has become a pretty awesome little photographer recently, through the empty streets and looking for something special. Apart from the fact that he’s a little trigger-happy, my son is great at getting into that zone of really looking – because in fact all children can see the world for what it is. As Picasso said ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.’
New workshops coming up in Jan, Feb and March - Special offers valid until Dec 31st – and gift vouchers are available for all of my workshops.
If I could give you all one tip – and only one tip ever again – it would be to commit yourself to noticing light. Why? Because light is photography’s most interesting, engaging and diverse subject. It can bring texture to a boring flat landscape; it can bring humour and humility to a photo; it can make our heart sing when it illuminates a tree with golden light on an otherwise grey day. Learn to notice light, then learn to capture it and you are leaps and bounds ahead of most photographers (and I include many professionals there too.)
I believe that creating singular goals for yourself in photography really helps to train your eye. In college we had to do things like go out and photograph blue balls. They were exacting and difficult tasks, but they elevated my ability to see in an extraordinary way. And it’s those types exercises I’d like to encourage you to do to help you train your eye and help you take more interesting photos.
In all of my photo workshops I am try to get everyone to slow down. Many people I meet approach taking photos as they do other parts of their lives – in a sort of ‘getting things done’ sort of mode. Which, as I bang on incessantly about, is the opposite mind-state to how you need to be when taking photos (perhaps with the exception of war or event photography :))
Light is a huge subject when it comes to talking about photography. There is a lot of technical teaching that you can learn in order to capture the light the way you want it, but what I wanted to do here was provoke your thoughts and give you a few ideas on the different types of light you can look for.
Look at the colour of the light
I am not much of a black and white photographer. I’ve done a little in my earlier life but colour is what really excites me. Probably my favourite photographer is Ernst Haas, someone who I think should be a lot more famous than he is. His work, particularly his colour work, is incredible: he looked at the colour of light, and worked to capture that in his work. So not just the beautiful shafts of light, or the sky, but he used its colour as part of his composition. When you can see the colour of the light it seems to add another dimension so you can also get a sense of its texture. It gives you a feeling of being ‘there’ in the photo.
So as well as looking for light sources and for beautiful light, try to think how the colour of that light can assist the composition.
I think this photo of mine, below, shows the colour of light idea well too. Without the warm yellow colour of the light this photo would be semi- dull. Nice clouds – sure! But the yellow light really makes the photo pop.
© Anthony Epes, 2013
Interplay of natural and artificial
One benefit to having such short days (yes, there are benefits!) is the more opportunities you have to see the interplay between the natural light and the artificial at twilight. When 4.30/5 pm hits, you have some brilliant opportunities to capture the fading blue light of the day and the arrival of artificial light. There is a huge amount to play with – go out and take a look.
Of course there will be a lot of competition for your eye: the glowing lights of shop windows, the luminous glow of buses, street lamps, the twinkerly, over-the-top Christmas lights – but that will be part of the fun. Look for the contrasts between natural light and artificial, and ask yourself some questions: what’s interesting here about these contrasts and interplay? What story are you telling? What feelings are you creating in this photo?
Along with lines and reflections, I think shadows are one of photographers favourite things. There is so much to play with when it comes to shadows, so many emotions we can create.
They can create a powerful opportunity to show a lack of light, to show contrast, and often to show humour too. Noticing where there is a lack of light can be just as significant as where there is good light.
I will talk in my next post about the importance of pre-visualising your final photo when you are shooting, and one photographer I would like to talk about is Ray Metzker. Much of his work’s power was the created in the dark room, but it was no accident. He will have pre-visualised his photos as he was composing and capturing the shot. Metzer used shadows to incredible effect in his work.
You also couldn’t talk about shadows without mentioning Bill Brandt – master of the shadow that looks so simple, so easy, so opulent almost and yet is the result of some incredible planning, focus and vision. Very inspiring.
(There are some rather funny/silly colour shadow photos too here)
I am going to carry on with this subject next week as I have more ideas for you. I really hope you enjoy my thoughts – and I would love to hear your thoughts/feedback/ideas. What do you love to do with light in your photography? Please do comment below.
“I went on Anthony’s London at Dawn workshop together with my father in August. It was a birthday present for my dad, we both loved the workshop and shooting this special city at dawn. Anthony is a great teacher and gave us some great help on composition, framing and creative use of exposure. Anthony also raises your awareness of “seeing” light which has been a real inspiration and something that has furthered my photography following the workshop. Many workshops focus on the technical side of teaching you about your camera which I was less interested in. I picked Anthony’s workshop because it focused on creative composition, framing and most importantly capturing beautiful light – and it absolutely delivered! Above all it was great fun to experience it with like minded photographers and share tips and ideas with each other.”
“I went on Anthony’s London at Dawn workshop in August 2014, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who is thinking of signing up. I had owned a DSLR for a couple of years and had a decent working knowledge of my camera and how to use it before the course. But I learnt a lot on the course, particularly around seeing images in everyday things, composition, and how to recognise and use interesting light to improve my photos. I think that before I did the course I was in some ways in a bit of a photo rut, for instance settling for aperture priority and auto white balance; this course got me out of that and gave me some new inspiration. It was also really good fun! And although I had a reasonable working knowledge of my camera and experience using it before the course, this is be no means necessary – the groups are small, so Anthony has time to work with everyone individually at different points over the weekend, offering tips to suit individual needs. There is also plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and I had a couple of interesting discussions which got me thinking in new ways. So all in all, highly recommended.”
“I would highly recommend Anthony’s London at Dawn workshop. I joined for the Tower Bridge to Columbia Road leg, and thoroughly enjoyed it (including the coffee and bagel stops along the way). The group was just the right size; Anthony was really great at tailoring his advice towards each student’s learning needs whilst also creating space for students to share their own experiences/techniques/do’s and don’ts. Not only did I learn how to avoid some typical faux pas for dawn shooting, but Anthony also inspired me to look at photographic composition in a different way (manipulating angles, exploring reflections, managing too many subjects in the same frame). All in all – a great course to go on regardless of your technical level – and if you are an avid photographer visiting London, definitely get on this course to explore some of the less obvious but beautiful bits of London. Waking up at 3am in the morning can definitely give you a new perspective on what’s interesting to photograph!”
“I took part in one of the Paris at Dawn trips last summer and can’t recommend it enough! We had a mixture of abilities in the group so it’s great for all levels. Anthony is a fantastic teacher, both for his technical skill and his infectious enthusiasm.”
“If you enjoy photography you MUST join this workshop. Whether you know London well already or you are a visitor, Anthony will help you see things you haven’t seen before. He makes it fun and informative, and is always on hand to give help and advice.”