The Roundup for February 17-23, 2018 Edition

Midnight sunrise by Christopher Parsons

I find it really hard to identify the stories in my photographs, prior to actually pushing the shutter button. When I look through, say, my best photos of 2017 I can see which ones have stories embedded within them but it’s a pretty rare thing that I saw, and decided upon, the story before taking the shot. In part, I think that my challenges are linked to only taking my photography more seriously for a relatively short period of time.

But some of the difficulties I’m encountering are also linked with my still learning to take ‘technically’ good photos, after which I think I’ll be more comfortable with more ‘narrative’ style shots. And I want to get better at the latter because I take Martino Pietropoli‘s statement pretty seriously: “Good photos tell stories. Average photos are just beautiful.”

Pietropoli’s article is excellent, insofar as he spends the time to walk through not just the importance of building a story into a photograph but because he also shows examples. In choosing examples he doesn’t merely say ‘here are narrative photos’ but, instead, he spends the time to spell out some of the narratives which might be bundled up in the shots in question. For me, his article was a particularly clear and poignant way of thinking through what stories might be in any given shot, and also as a way to differentiate between what he identifies as narrative versus ‘merely’ beautiful shots.

If I have one critique of the article — and I think it’s pretty minor — it’s that there’s an assumption that someone understands how to take photographs competently, and using this basic competence they can take shots with story. Put another way: I think that a lot of the efforts to create popular stylistic shots are very helpful in teaching people how to use their cameras and lenses, and to think through the importance of framing. Does that mean the people may end up with a series of ‘generic’ skills that many other photographers can roughly approximate or precisely imitate? Absolutely. But just as it’s important to learn how to write the five paragraph essay before breaking into longer-form writing that breaks all the rules of that high school essay format, learning the high-school format in the first place is an important skill that leads to more advanced writing.

I think that spending time looking at Instagram or Flickr or other places which hold ‘beautiful’ images is entirely appropriate for those who are learning to take photographs, and take them seriously. But I also tend to agree with Pietropoli that a photographer must eventually come to a decision: will their photographic style focus principally on technically beautiful shots or, instead, try to engage with the world by evoking emotions and reactions linked to the stories contained in their photos.

New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

  • Cypher – a puzzle game about the history of cryptography

Great Photography Shots

I was really impressed with a range of the shots which won in the 2017 International Photographer of the Year contest.

Wave Crashers’ by Emily Kaszton. First Place, Nature: Aerial (Professional).
‘Neon Desert’ by Stefano Gardel. International Fine Art Photographer of the Year
‘Battersea’ by Giulio Zanni. Second place, Open Category: Long Exposure (Amateur)
‘Untitled’ by Pedro Diaz Molins. Second place, Fine Art: Photomanipulation (Amateur)
‘Lighting Clothes’ by Ramon Vaquero. Third place, People:Fashion/Beauty (Professional)
‘Desert Essential’ by Giovanni Canclini. First place, Open Category: Open Theme (Amateur)

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Photowalk Challenge

Natural Ladders, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

There are a lot of different ways that you can challenge yourself to a photowalk. Use specific lenses or focal lengths or creative formats. Walk a predetermined distance and take a hundred photos from that site. Shoot black and white, mobile only, or focus on a concept, colour, or number.

I think I have a challenge that’s a bit different.

Recently I planned a photowalk to wander along a river in Toronto and, along the way, shoot some sculptures I’ve wanted to look at for the last several months. I got ready to head out, threw my camera over my shoulder, and walked out of my building and into a light drizzle of rain.

The low chances of rain had turned into the reality of rain, and it was only starting to come down harder. Without weather sealed gear there was no way I was going to be walking a few kilometres in the rain and shoot.

I quickly rerouted to an enclosed botanical garden that I live nearby. And pulled out my 12-42mm 3.5-5.6 II R kit lens and started at one end of the gardens and walked all the way to the other end.

Piles, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Sharp Symetry, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Unitlted, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Opening, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Revealed, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

I then swapped out my lens for the Panasonic 25mm 1.7 I had with me, and proceeded to walk all the way through the gardens once more. The shots I got tended to be different from the zoom lens, and forced me to think about what was differently possible to shoot with the prime lens compared to the short zoom.

Rough Hills, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Valve, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Red Frame, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Untitled, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Apex, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

Once I’d walked the length of the gardens once more I passed through it one last time, this time with my Olympus 40-150mm 4.0-5.6 R. This is definitely not the lens I’d normally use for this kind of shooting environment. And that meant that I was forced to really try with the lens and make it perform in a space in which I’m not comfortable using it.

Aligned, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons
Pals, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

What did I take away from this? That by walking the same space with different lenses possessing different characteristics I saw the space and photographic opportunities differently. It also was a useful exercise in just visualizing the possible: what shots was I willing and able to experiment with based on the lens at hand? What kind of shot — architecture or natural environment – captured my imagination with the different lenses?

The shots shown above are those that I was most happy with. There were, obviously, far more that got deleted (especially from the 40-150mm!). It was a fun opportunity, and a challenge I suspect I’ll revisit in the future.