I figured I could share a bit about the way I create my images. The workflow - as it is commonly called. Now it has to be said as the very first thing that I am not the most nerdy or technical kind of guy when it comes to photography. Yes I use histograms, yes I always shoot in manual and RAW… but I have no interest in adjusting the “auto focus micro adjustments” or trying to measure white balance as I go, but we will get to all of these things as we go along.
This text is meant perhaps not so much for professionals as I am sure they have already sufficient knowledge of all the things I want to talk about, but more for an interested hobbyist and a person with a creative and a discerning eye, who would like to know either how to get started with DSLR cameras or perhaps even how to take better photos with their phone for Instagram (although granted I really am not so aware of differences in phone cameras).
Anyhow… without further ado, let’s get going from the very beginning! I will walk through with you from the very first thoughts I have when I take my camera all the way to posting it for public consideration.
First of all let me dedicate a paragraph to saying that if you are an eager hobbyist or you want to get into photography - please, please, please make a small investment into buying an old, manual film camera and a few rolls of film to study. And invest a bit of money to have someone developing those for you. The main problem with modern digital photography is that it is too easy to shoot 10000 photos with only one keeper especially with all the post-processing that has been made so available. Before I ever got myself a digital camera I shot through numerous rolls of film and that has taught me a few valuable lessons, which I want to share first:
Take your time! DSLR has made it very easy to just shoot willy nilly without much consideration, but film teaches you that each of those limited frames is valuable! Especially since in older cameras you really have no idea how your shot will turn out even crop-wise, you really have to stop and think.
Try for the love of god to get it right out of the camera! Post-processing is great, but if you look at my photos for example, I rarely if ever do anything that would not have been possible without the help of a computer. A computer just makes it faster but it should not be the tool you HAVE to rely upon for a good photo. Remember that at the end of the day film will have better quality than digital nine out of ten times. That is just a fact. If you have a minute go and look at photos of Ross Halfin. He doesn’t even know how photoshop works and he only shoots on film. No matter how much you photoshop or edit in other ways, you won’t be able to get same results as him.
Good. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get down to business.
The very very first thing you have to consider when you are grabbing your camera is the light! Light is your medium and the way you are able to produce images. Are you in direct sunlight with harsh shadows? Is it overcast? Are you in the shade but there is sunlight nearby? Are there natural light reflectors such as walls, posters, windows etc. nearby? Do they affect the subject of the photo? When you consider light first, the subsequent works becomes easier. Next thing you want to think about is the temperature of the light. I won’t go too technical on you with that but if you are shooting in RAW format on DSLR the light temperature is easily fixable in editing. But if you are not, take a good care to look at the color of the subject. Let’s say you are shooting a person - does the skin look natural or too blue (in which case the light is cold) or is it too yellow or even reddish (light is too warm). Different sources of light produce different temperatures so keep an eye on them.
At the same time you need to know how your camera and lens act wit the luminosity itself. My regular piece of gear isn’t very good when it gets too dark so I have to be creative with my settings sometimes to take a good shot.
Next bit we already go a bit philosophical. In my images I consider what is happening and is it worth shooting. Being mainly a documentary photographer I always keep a keen eye on what is happening and how people react to what is happening. Sometimes it is necessary for me to be almost invisible so that people are unaware of me taking a photo and sometimes their awareness creates a good effect. A technique I love using, albeit slightly unorthodox, is lining up my shot with all of its technical aspects and commanding my subject to look at me. It often catches them a bit unaware and creates a great dramatic effect like in the photo below:
Here the man was getting a tattoo after what has been a very intense evening and I was just hovering around talking all sorts of bullshit with everyone in the room as I saw the opportunity. I took my good time in getting the settings of my camera right and after that said perhaps even slightly with a rude, commanding tone: “LEO! Look at me!” It’s a dangerous technique, but effect is worth it in my case. It works almost always...
So be aware and LOOK with your eyes and not the camera. But keep the camera at hand and ready! Is the photo worth being taken? Could it be good? Shoot!
After the light and subject are considered it is time to think about the exposure triangle, which consists of aperture (the F stop), shutter speed and ISO-number. Personally I am willing to let shutter speed slide as necessary as long as my aperture and ISO are exactly where I want them to be. Especially with my camera (DMC FZ1000 if you are wondering) large ISO gets VERY grainy. Much grainier than other cameras of same price range. But this is very much manufacturer and model dependent factor. What I would like you to consider the most is the aperture. Large aperture (small F number) means the sensor of the camera will be more widely open so more light gets in. Now this is important: bigger aperture means SHALLOWER depth of field - blurrier background. This effect also called “bokeh” also depends on your focal length but I won’t get into that right now. Plenty of people on the internet can (and have) explain it better that I would be able to in this text. I am trying to keep this short and sweet, but I feel like I am failing…
Aperture also can affect how well your camera’s auto focus will work. Obviously you can always use manual, but in my case I do not always have the time to adjust it manually. Considering my large aperture and auto focus along with situations that demand quick reactions, it is no wonder a lot of my photos might go straight into the bin due to lack of focus…
As a photographer it would be incredibly handy to have a crystal ball to tell you what will happen within the next minute. I urge you to train your mind and your eyes to see beyond the present moment. See the whole situation and see what everyone is doing and THINK how their actions will affect the surroundings. Let’s take an example of a protest for example. Everything is peaceful and you might be shooting the protesters shouting their slogans at the police or whatever… on the corner of your eye you might notice someone loading a home made smoke bomb or some such thing… YOU have to see that before the pacifying police force will see it and react with your camera. Where will it be thrown? Do you need to get out of the line of fire? Where will be a better shot located? Where will the smoke land and where will the wind blow it. Train yourself to be constantly aware of your surroundings like Jason goddamn Bourne!
I firmly believe that you always need to strive for perfection in each shot while also realising that it is impossible to achieve. An ideal situation would be where one shot of one situation is perfect and tells the whole story. I understand that that never happens while we shoot and edit but consider this idea for me: Time is also a great factor in photography. I often revisit shots that I have taken a year ago to edit them again and have a fresh look. Often we push the button in an instinctual manner and our minds can’t always figure why have we done so. Taking a bit of time after the shoot to look at your photos will have an interesting impact on the way you see.
We live in an age where all we do is look down at screens of our phones. I don’t want this to turn into a cliche, but consider right now where you sit. Consider the lines, the light and the colors. Consider the texture of the wall. If you are at the cafe or a bar - look out of the window and consider how people walk past the building. Also consider what reflects from that window. Do this every day with or without your camera on you. Consider the movement of the world around the block where you live and in fact here is a challenge for you! Why don’t you take a week and shoot ONLY around your block? What will you see? How will you see? I am sure that with what I have said you will see many things you haven’t noticed before within 50 meters of where you live.
In order to keep this text a bit shorter I will not write anything on my post-process at this time. If you are intrigued by what I have written and want to comment and enter a discussion, please follow The Bird Projects on Instagram and shoot a comment somewhere down there. I tend to reply to everyone as soon as I can. I want to write another text on post-processing for all you nerds who like that sort of thing, but it might take some time!
Meanwhile please keep creating! Keep recording your stories and those stories that are happening around you!
I will be getting ready for extreme darkness and cold of Finland, while trying to record some of it without any available bloody light…