This week I thought it would be fun to answer the five questions I get asked the most.
What camera should I buy?
Not a straight forward answer I’m afraid because it all comes down to: What are you willing to pay? And how much camera to do really need. Be honest with yourself. So I can only advise – whatever you pick make sure it feels good in your hands. You’ll be carrying that baby around for years to come, so make sure you hold it before buying.
“The most important thing is to have a camera that you like, the one you like best. It has to feel right, its body, and you have to be happy with what you are holding in your hands…Then you have to go out and seek adventure, like a boat with all sails hoisted.” Sergio Larrain
Oooooh my lovely Hassledblad, I’ll never get bored of holding you. Most beautiful camera in the world (for me)
2. Will I ever be as good as you?
Probably not. But then I don’t know how to fill out an excel sheet, how the stock market works or what to do with myself in a meeting. I’ve put the 10,000 hours into my passion and so I think that’s paid off in my photos.
The 10,000 hours theory by Malcolm Gladwell is – in a nutshell – that by putting 10,000 hours into a skill it will make you a master, see here. And I like the sound of that, especially as I’ve probably by now put 20,000 hours into my photo-taking skill. So you can call me Super Master Anthony now 🙂 Or let’s call it ten years – only ten years to become a master. That sounds like a good deal to me.
The question then I think you really need to ask yourself is – Where am I going to focus my efforts over the next ten years? What will I focus my free time on? Will I be someone who creates? You don’t have to become a master, but consistent practise at anything will reward you with an exponential rise in your skills.
(To be fair and even handed, here is a rebuttal of the Gladwell theory.)
Who doesn’t want to do this? I can’t imagine. Looking at your negatives on a lightbox. Still cool after all these years.
3. Do you still shoot film?
Yes, not that often, but most of my books and projects are shot on my Hasselblad 503cx with 12-shot roll film, which at twenty-five years old is still as good as ever. Take that, DSLR’s!
And did you also know that old format cameras that many of the great masters of photography shot on are still better quality than most modern DSLR’s?
I am a bit of a meditator. I try to remember to keep it going in my life because it’s a beautiful way for me to remember to stay slow, stay present and not get sucked into the stress and whirlwind of my modern city life as a worker and as a parent. I like to be present with everything I do – if I’m taking a photo or playing at the playground (with my kids).
I started shooting film before I started meditating, but it feels like a similar vibe. Film is a slow, methodical process. I like the feeling of taking photos ‘on purpose’ and not just because of the temptation of filling my big memory card.
Meditation and photography seem to be a running theme this week – this is an interesting article that takes the connection between photography and meditation further. It seems a lot of meditation teachers are also photographers!
This article by photographer David Geffin about shooting film waffles a lot, but I like how he explains it as:
“Film forces you to work different “photographic muscles” much harder than when shooting digital.”
I also like this article on Phogotraphy about why you should shoot film- which includes this tidbit: “Did you know it can take up to three bracketed RAW digital files to achieve the same sort of tonal range some films can get?”
There is also the argument that film ‘just looks better’:
“It’s difficult to not take issue with this reason as there are plenty of Lightroom filter packs that can emulate different types of film photography, so in fact a RAW digital file has a great deal more scope on the final look than its traditional counterpart.
However… isn’t that just a little bit contrived? You spend thousands on the best digital camera and lens only to put it back through a filter to give it imperfections and restrictions only available in film?” – Phogotraphy
So this isn’t to pressure you into shooting film. It’s just to say – however you want to do things, do it. Ignore everyone else.
This is me blessing the sun god. Good natural light is super important to me as I rarely use artificial lights.
4. What lens do you use?
What do you like to take photos of? Every genre of photography has its standard focal lengths. So really it’s about where your passion in photography lies. Here’s a good article that explains it in depth.
Really what most people forget is the importance of good clothing when out adventuring. A good question to ask me is – what should I wear? Answer – good walking shoes, warm waterproof coat and a hat!
5. Is it fun being a photographer?
Yes – but it’s also frequently terrifying, super unstable, cold, weird hours, tiring (physically and emotionally)
It’s full of clients who ‘forget’ to pay you, impossible deadlines (shoot a book in 8 months, in a country that you don’t live in!).
But – for making my living, supporting my family and creating work that I love, fun is probably the wrong word. It’s possibly the most interesting and exciting and satisfying life I could ever imagine, even with all the crazy-making that it brings into my life.
See I told you it was tiring
So I am drifting off subject now, I’ve been looking this week at Jane Bown’s book Faces: The Creative Process Behind Great Portraits – which I really recommend. Great portraits – plus she talks about how she captured each shot. Lots of simple simple and useful ideas there.
She says that the hallmarks of her work are “dramatic contrasts of light and dark, the use of available light and a simple but effective composition.”
I loved this:
“I like pubs and bars, because the light comes from a variety of sources and directions and is usually atmospheric.”
“I really do love people and I think they pick up on that. Because they don’t have to perform they can relax and be themselves – in most of my successful pictures the sitters are at ease with themselves and the camera. Often the sitter will make a gesture, a movement or an expression that ‘makes’ the picture. Portrait photographs are joint creations – when a sitter admires a photograph I always say, ‘You did it.’ I like to think of myself as a truthful photographer.”
I like that – she was super humble, very clear and with a dedication to simplicity. A lot to admire.
I threw this one just to show that I can take being photographed, regardless of what I look like….just!
And one last piece of advice inspired by the master Mr Bresson:
“The creative part of photography is very short. A painter can elaborate, a writer can, but as it’s given, we have to pick that moment, the decisive moment.” Henri Cartier Bresson
And I would say then that even though the act itself of taking a photo is very short, the creative process leading up to taking that decision should be deep and long and thoughtful.
My recommendation is this: to improve as a photographer you should spend 20% of your time on the technical learning and post-processing and 80% of your time on creative learning. Now that could be researching a new photo project, or making an effort to really ‘see’ your walk home from work, or going to an exhibition, or reading a photo book….and of course the actual taking of photos – whatever it is that gets you inspired and gets those creative wheels turning.
So those are the answers. I hope you enjoyed them. Do you have a different question you’d like to ask me? I would LOVE to hear it. Please ask any question (as silly or serious as you like) on my blog or reply to me via email. And I will promise to answer.
Ask me anything! I promise I won’t laugh 🙂
So a couple of last things:
- I have now only three spots left open for my Light Monkey’s Photo Collective for 2016.It’s an amazing way to help you stay motivated, inspired and creative all year. Plus it’s open to anyone who has been on one of my workshops – regardless of skill. Passion is the most important thing.
Idea – Online Light Monkeys group:
A few people have contacted me asking about an online version of my Light Monkeys group – perhaps with a couple of meet-ups in London – but more of a focus online. This sounds pretty exciting to me. I love working with people regularly – seeing people develop their photography and working together to create and inspire. If this sounds like something you could be interested in please send me an email. I’d love to find out what people would like first before I develop anything (initial ideas would be portfolio reviews, monthly tutorials, online monthly group chats, group reviews of everyone photos, monthly challenges, a forum for asking/answering questions and help developing projects)
The photos in this post are from the most excellent Mr Paddy Bird who filmed me for a documentary and for his creative editing course, Inside the Edit. It’s an awesome, awesome course, would recommend you check it out.
Anthony and Diana