You may have noticed my passion for encouraging different views of late, driven by a frustration with judges, the need to develop my art beyond just the standard camera club imagery, and my observation of the visual artistry possible in photography after visiting exhibitions, viewing online work and books I have acquired.
How and why has this occurred? A little history first. I joined the club to broaden my photographic skills and share knowledge with new people. My initial foray was on-line but I was encouraged by former club President Matt Carr (also in the same on line forum) to join a club of real people. At the time I was technically proficient having photographed with a film SLR for many years, before moving to digital and a digital SLR. But I was confined to what I read or saw around me. I would say my photography was naïve and as such lacking nuance.
After a few months in the club, I was scoring well in competitions, listening to judge’s opinions and applying that to my own images. For a year or so this was how I tried to develop my skills. However, after 18 months I realised I was over thinking my images and the judges were just giving formulaic technical feedback. I was pleasing the wrong audience and my photography suffered – it was boring. There was no vision beyond the technical and I was becoming a machine.
There were others with similar views and we began to push for change. Our initial aims were to have less focus on competition, judges with broader views that appreciated the art as well as technique (if not more), a desire to develop beyond the technical. Things changed. We had a new SAPF president with similar views prepared to modernise the judges, we brought in peer review to share our images and talk about them and there was a shift from pure competition. I even became a judge to try and drive the change outside the club.
We altered our direction and things seemed better. However, after a several years I saw the club and the SAPF start drifting back to the technical, the creativity aspect just a passing fad. Why was this happening? Although I thought we were getting better at developing as photographers, the emphasis remained on the basics. The reason of course was simple – the many newer members we attracted were seeking the basics to learn how to use that shiny new toy. That is not a problem per se as a club must fulfil the needs of its members.
But what of those of us that had progressed? How could we grow as photographers? My friends and I realised we were becoming bored with it all – we were at the other end of the spectrum. Some chose to leave (and still do). How could the club meet our needs and the newer member’s needs at the same time? Perhaps education would help. I felt the answer lay in outside viewpoints – not the views within the club or the SAPF.
As President I used my fortnightly emails (you can revisit my thoughts on the club web page) to explore and share other areas of visual art. In doing that I discovered how to feed and develop my passion (which unfortunately only made me feel less part of the club). At the same time, I found that street photography and monochrome imagery let my creativity grow. So if you look at my Flickr photo stream you will see a lot of street photography and see how I’ve developed my style.
How have I developed this? Like many creative areas we need inspiration as well as some form of constructive feedback so let us examine the sources.
Inspiration comes in many forms – books, open discussion, video essays, galleries and exhibitions. If you want excellent inspiring articles featuring talented new photographers, as well as history then choose your source carefully. I have found a number of good online magazines like Resource Magazine and The Photo Argus, but for inspiration, the best I have found (so far) are Feature Shoot, MonoVisions and my favourite Lens Culture. There are of course others, but these consistently inspire my work.
If you want to view images from other great photographers, many museums and photographic agencies give access to extensive libraries of photographic works. Many of you will have read and seen my link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which has over 35000 images to view (as well as other visual art). Similarly, the Museum of Modern Art contains an incredible collection of images that push the boundaries of photography. Many other museums around the world including the National Gallery of Victoria also have collections you may view online. There is also a library of 187000 (yes – that big) of images from the New York Public Library.
Some of the world’s great photographers work out of agencies – one of the best being Magnum. Modern photographers including Martin Parr, Steve McCurry and Australia’s Trent Parke, feature here, along with the greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Elliott Erwitt, Josef Koudelka etc feature at Magnum.
The British Journal of Photography (the oldest photography journal in the world) provides access to its archive of images including newer visual artists and articles examining photographic process and creativity – it is not about cameras but about creating great photographs. There are many articles to get your teeth into.
Similarly, Adobe Creative Cloud users have access to Adobe Create magazine – another great resource of inspirational images. This also links to Behance – Adobe’s image sharing portal. It is a little harder to use but there are communities that you can share with in many genres.
Feedback is a little harder. The peer review and judges at camera clubs fill part of that need but these are very limited as our numbers are small and we are exposed to the same thing repeatedly. Once you have heard rule of thirds (that is actually a theory and not very good at that), distracting highlights, more cropping (or less), needs a vignette, step to the left or whatever you start to think it’s an endless loop of the same music. Rarely do you get a “Wow – that is so creative – I don’t care about the technical aspect – 10!” There must be a much broader range of views!
Fortunately, there are large online communities you can become involved with for that constructive feedback. The internet is full of creative people who share their images, their views and their passion. Some are massaging their egos, some are educators, some are just seeking an outlet for their work. The skill lies in finding the useful amongst this overwhelming volume of material.
The difficult part is choosing where to look and what to avoid. We must be critical viewers and thinkers.
Let us start with the pages that encourage you to post images and get feedback. I’ll first dispose of a couple of web sources with little real merit.
Facebook is wonderful for feeding an ego as everyone tells you how amazing you are. The problem is that most of those commenting barely know the difference between shutter speed and ISO. The groups that spring up tend to feed your brains dopamine centres but offer little constructive information. I have seen numerous pages that sound promising but are really there to feed voyeurism, envy and self-aggrandisement. As Jennifer Williams says “As regards to Facebook for photographers unless you have a business page and lots of friends to like it not worth the effort I only use FB for social with the exception of a couple of groups.” My suggestion – use it sparingly – it isn’t about development.
Then we have Facebook’s subsidiary Instagram. This is better in that some very good if not brilliant images posted with great creativity. You must be a member to view images unless someone sends you a link. I am not a member, so here is what former club member Ashley Hoff has to say:
Instagram is currently the king (or queen) of photo sharing platforms, based on sheer volume of content. A lot of people use Instagram – from your teenage children/grandchildren, celebrities, shops and organisations to regular people. Think of Instagram as social media (or Facebook) but with pictures only.
Many professional and serious photographers also use Instagram. It is possibly the best way to get your images out there, but it is also easy for your work to get lost in the noise. If you are after likes, you need to know how to use hash tags effectively, which is an art in itself. There are also businesses that you can pay to farm likes for you (if that is your thing).
It is not all roses and unicorns, especially if you like posting the images that you take with your trusty DSLR. Instagram is still well and truly aimed at Smart Phone and tablet users – the only “official” way to post an image is via the official Android or Apple app and from your smart device (be-it a phone or tablet). This means that you must somehow transfer your images to your device before you can upload them. There is integration from both Facebook and Flickr, but quality suffers. There is also a Windows app, as well as the ability to view your account via a web browser, but you cannot upload images using either method. Other challenges with Instagram include image sizes – Square Image: 1080px in width by 1080px in height, Vertical Image: 1080px in width by 1350px in height and Horizontal Image: 1080px in width by 566px in height. If your images are outside of those parameters, it will either resize them either up or down to suit OR it will force you to crop them as you add them to your feed.
Ashley has mentioned to me that it also feeds the dopamine centres (again) by encouraging a popularity contest. Get followers, get feedback, get more followers, get feedback etc. Then lose followers – and lose feedback. There is also the issue of selfies for profit as discussed in this article about Instagram with a lot of millennials obtaining the same shot in the same location – selfies for profit. It certainly isn’t creative – nothing new when you are repeating someone else’s work. My suggestion is try it for suitability. It may meet your needs, it may not.
There are also numerous photography magazines that are great resource for ideas with image sharing such as PetaPixel, DPreview etc. These pages provide information with some well researched material as well as some completely superficial space fillers. That is the internet as a whole. Some have forums and the ability to post images which are more creative. The genres posted vary, but you may find higher quality images with meaningful feedback
One of the best of these is fStoppers. This is both a magazine and a community that gives feedback. There are numerous educational articles, active discussions, and the ability to post and receive feedback from people interested in similar areas to your own.
Next there are a number of image sharing sites that offer critique as well.
One of the most popular, oldest and most complex is Flickr. Storage is massive – 1TB for free, and for those that pay $25/year infinite (which is therefore a cloud based backup option). This is a vast community with numerous groups you can join with almost any interest. There are groups that provide little or no feedback. Others that require administrators to approve images before being posted. Others with critique. You will find something here to both inspire and educate. We have a group for the club (if you didn’t know), and there are many others to choose from including cameras, lenses, film, genres, themes, abstract, events. For those that need an adrenaline rush, when your photo appears in Flickr Explore you suddenly find your photo is viewed, “faved” and popular! But it only lasts 24 hours – there are a couple of groups that invite explored images so all is not lost.
If you want a more critical and managed experience ie you post images and if the reviewers think they are of merit they are posted. If you miss out try again.
For that you need to join sites like 1x and 500px. These are very exclusive, very high end and very discerning. Fortunately the images are viewable – although you do need to sign up for full access. You can also get critique.
- 1x has a critique forum for you to submit images and get feedback (if you are signed up). But you can view images.
- 500px also has many images to view with comments from both members and editors.
Both sites still have followers and ratings, but in a more structured way. Are they for you? Maybe not, but there are vast numbers of very high quality images to see frequently.
If you are prepared to spend some money, you can do courses. In Adelaide we have the Centre for Creative Photography which will teach you not only how to use your camera, but how to appreciate images.
Lynda.com is a highly respected and established training site for many subjects, including photography. You can undertake tutorials that suit you at your own pace. Being part of LinkedIn it can be a little intrusive (I do not like the regular semi-spam emails) but the resources are good.
I’ve provided website links for each site above, but I’m sure you can find more and some of the links below may inspire you as well
To conclude, I hope I’ve inspired you to look beyond just the club and feed that photographic passion. Exposing yourself to new images and community will help you develop further. Don’t be concerned if some judges tells you that your image is not on the thirds or has some technical fault -that is just them nit picking as they don’t know what else to say. Love your work, seek inspiration and share it. The point is that you should look beyond the club paradigm if you want to truly develop as a photographer. As I said recently, we are very small fish in a very small pond and there is a massive ocean to swim in – if we try.