Inspiration

beauty in broken things

Broken glass with colours 5

In the West, when we break a cup or a plate we throw it away – in Japan, you might practise a technique called kintsugiKintsugi is a method of mending ceramics using a paste made with gold, silver or platinum.  The idea is to incorporate the history of the breakage and its repair into the object, resulting in something more beautiful and meaningful than the original – you can see some pictures here.  I love this idea and this week has brought some blog posts and articles to me that all link into it as a theme.

First off, I came across this post on Improvised Life, about Yoko Ono’s book Acorn.  Here’s a little extract from the book:

Mend an object.

When you go through the process of mending, you mend something inside your soul as well.

Think of a ‘crack’ in your own life or the world.  Ask for it to be healed as you mend the object.

Our tendency when we ‘break’ is to look for a return to how we were before, which can never happen as we’re irredeemably changed by these things.  Instead of seeing ourselves as damaged, how much better to celebrate our breakages by mending them with the gold of wisdom and experience, so that our cracks add something valuable to us.

But quite apart from the parallels with mending your life, kintsugi is very much in line with the current trend for upcycling and turning old and broken things into useful and beautiful ones.  It also overlaps considerably with another Japanese concept, wabisabi, which sees value and beauty in the old and the decayed, sadness and impermanence.   Unlike our throwaway here-today-gone-tomorrow culture, it places value on the history of a simple piece, and evidence of wear and tear and the patina of time are valued far more than shiny new-ness.

Many photographers are naturally drawn to these things, loving to photograph the rich colours of rust, crumbling facades, dying flowers, or worn stone steps.  Nina Katchadourian has taken this one step further.  She mends broken spider’s webs with red thread, and split mushrooms with bicycle tire repair kits.  The spiders don’t like it much, removing the repairs overnight and leaving a pile of red thread on the ground underneath by morning.  The mushrooms are less able to comment, and to me the multi-coloured circular patches give them a whimsical air of fairy-tale toadstools that I rather like.  (Incidentally, Katchadourian creates some of the most playful art I’ve ever come across – you might like it, you might hate it, but she obviously has a lot of fun making it.)

Not quite meeting the criteria for kintsugi, but containing something of the essence of it, Bing Wright used broken mirror glass to reflect sunsets, then photographed the results.  These photos are so gorgeous I felt like smashing up some mirrors and going out to do the same, but this really isn’t in the spirit of kintsugi. Kintsugi arose out of necessity – as in our own not-so-distant past, Japanese folk had to reuse and recycle as it was outside most people’s means to throw away and buy new.

While photographing broken things doesn’t make them usable again, as kintsugi would, it can recognise and make something good out of brokenness.  Some years ago I broke a glass bowl I was very fond of, and at first was upset.  But then I looked at the pieces and thought how lovely they were in their own right.  I placed transparent coloured sweet wrappers between the pieces of glass, shone a bright light on it, and took these photos. If I’d known about kintsugi then, I might have made my bowl whole again afterwards.

If you want to try Kintsugi yourself, you can buy a kintsugi mending kit from Humade.

Here is the Improvised Life article featuring Yoko Ono’s book.

24 Brilliant Pictures of Broken Glass

The Art of Beautiful Repair

Broken glass with colours 4

BBroken glass with colours 1

Broken glass with colours 3

Broken glass with colours 2

 

 

The dark side

Pilgrim sculpture by Helen Whittaker, Beverley Minster

For the psychologists among us

What haunts us is often the shadow side, the dark side, of our selves.  It appears to us like these figures – dark, faceless, ominous.  Jung believed that we needed to make friends with these shadow selves in order to become whole, and that once faced, they no longer had the power to haunt or frighten us.  More than that, he believed that this shadow self held treasures for us to discover.  If you dare to look into these sculptures in Beverley Minster, you’ll see they contain ‘hearts’, made out of beautifully coloured glass fragments.

For the photographers

Beverley Minster is one of the only cathedrals I’ve been to where they charge you for permission to photograph even if it’s only for personal use.  I felt a bit annoyed by this and wasn’t going to bother initially, but got excited enough when I saw these sculptures (by Helen Whittaker) to walk back up the length of the cathedral to buy a permit.  Because I was excited, I started snapping away without even thinking about settings and the first shots came out over-exposed and blurred.  However, once I’d calmed down enough to set the camera properly, I found that the straight shots didn’t really work and lacked atmosphere.  I went back to deliberately hand-holding during a long exposure and, after a bit of processing, ended up with the image above.  For me it captures the feeling I wanted far better than the ‘correct’ settings ever would have done.  Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

 

 

Adventures with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, flowers, intentional camera movement

I’ve been playing this week, which is something I don’t do nearly often enough.  I’ve tried taking photos using intentional camera movement before, but always as a bit of an afterthought.  They’re not easy to do well, but I got one or two that I liked one day, by chance, and that gave me the idea to try this technique in a more deliberate way.  This is the image that started the whole thing:

Flowers, Newark Cemetery, with intentional camera movement

The flower beds at the entrance to Newark Cemetery are a riot of colour, but too regimented to be interesting to me in their natural state.  I moved the camera horizontally for this shot, and it worked pretty well.  When I converted the RAW file, I remembered that I could move the Clarity slider in the opposite direction to normal, to smooth and blend the colours, and this turned out to be surprisingly effective.

Using the same technique transformed this image into an abstract blaze of summer colour:

Summer colours, intentional camera movement

Today I took a walk round the garden to see what else I could come up with.  The two previous images were created just by using a small aperture/slow shutter speed, but this time I armed myself with a Polaroid filter, which cuts down quite a bit of light (therefore giving a slower shutter speed), and intensifies colours.  Although not a sunny day, the light proved too bright for even this to give me long enough shutter speeds so I dug out something I’ve had for ages but never really used – a ten-stop filter.  It’s quite nifty – it screws onto the end of the lens and you can then twist it to increase or decrease the light coming in.

The results were pretty mixed and I deleted lots of the resulting pics.  It’s not easy to get this right and it takes quite a bit of experimentation to find just the right shutter speed and movement to give a good result.  I’ll put some of the more successful images at the end, but before I do that let me pass on what I learned:

Movement: generally speaking it’s best to move the camera in the direction of the dominant lines in the image.  Eg, trees usually look best when you move the camera vertically up or down, and sea or open country if you move horizontally.  However, I found that the flowers in close up demanded something different.  Straight lines didn’t work very well, even diagonal ones, so I tried moving in circles – you can see the effect in one of the images underneath.  This was better but still not quite what I wanted.  In the end I found that jiggling the camera had the best effect – imagine you’re freezing cold and shaking and shivering and that’s the movement you make.

Shutter speed: it’s impossible to give hard and fast rules on this because it will vary so much depending on the lighting, but most things seemed to come out best at around 1.5 seconds.  If your shutter speed is longer and you move more, you risk losing all shape and form and ending up with pure colour – it can be nice, but I wanted a little more definition.  If your shutter speed is too fast, there isn’t enough time to make sufficient movement.  The best combination was a longish shutter speed (approx 1.5 secs) combined with quite slow but definite movements.  Moving slowly worked much better than moving fast.

Aperture/ISO: obviously the aperture needs to be small to increase the shutter speed.  Most of the time I found f22-f29 about right and because this gives you considerable depth of field, it allows for some definition in the image, too.  ISO was kept as low as possible – ie, ISO 100 – again, to reduce shutter speed.

Filters: to get the shutter speed slow enough, I first tried a Polaroid filter – which reduces the light by two stops – and then a 10-stop filter.  The 10-stop filter was much better for this as I could simply twist it to increase/decrease the effect and watch the shutter speed change till it hit the right number.

Composition: this was quite difficult – probably the most difficult part of the whole thing.  I cropped most of these images into squares because at full size they included areas that spoiled the overall effect.  To get enough movement blur, you need to move beyond the edge of your normal framing and that means you tend to end up with bits you don’t want.

Colour: these images are all about colour – none of them would work at all if you took the colour away.  That’s not surprising, really, as colour is always what interests me most.  However, I think you could work this technique by concentrating on texture rather than colour if you wanted to go down that route.

Post-processing: I didn’t do much post-processing – the thing I did most of was cropping, and cloning out sensor dirt (but you shouldn’t have to do that if you keep a clean sensor).  The one thing that made a huge difference was the Clarity slider in Elements’ Raw Converter – moving this the ‘wrong’ way (ie, to make it less sharp) improved more than a few of these, and saved one which I would have otherwise discarded.  The colours are as they came out of the camera – I haven’t enhanced them in any way.

Success rate: abysmal – be prepared to delete most of what you take!  But it’s a lot of fun to do something with an element of uncertainty and serendipity.

And lastly: when you’re shooting with a tiny aperture it really shows up any dirt on your sensor.  Because I normally shoot with quite large apertures (which hide sensor dirt) I didn’t realise I had several huge lumps of the stuff stuck to my sensor and I had to spend ages cloning them out.  Probably a good idea to clean the sensor before you start.

I had a lot of fun with these, even when restricted to my own back yard.  I’d like to find some more open, panoramic shots to try and also some urban street shots with people in them.  I’m thinking I might make a little project of it.  I’d also like to do a series spread over a year, where I concentrate on showing the changing colours of the seasons in abstract form.  It’s wakened me up a bit to try something different – feels like it’s been a while since I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Summer colour, intentional camera movementThis one didn’t work at all until I used the Clarity slider on the Raw file to soften it, as it looked rather harsh initially.  I think it just about succeeds now, and I like the vibrant colours and the touch of red.  The movement here was vertical, which I found didn’t work so well for flowers.

Blue gate with intentional camera movement

Blue gate, intentional camera movementThese two, plus the one at the top of the post are the most successful of anything I tried.  The colours work well together – the blue gate, red/orange brick, magenta flowers and white stems add up to a very satisfying colour blend.  I tried moving the camera in a variety of different directions, and found that either an up and down movement, or a kind of jiggle, were most successful.

Summer colours, intentional camera movementI don’t feel this one quite makes the grade – the large pink geraniums dominate a bit too much.

SONY DSCI like the way the leaves have come out on this, but the composition could be better.

Pots of ivy, intentional camera movementI really can’t make my mind up about this one.  I look at it one minute and think it works, and then I look again and think it doesn’t!  It looks like a double exposure but there are actually two pots of ivy.

Summer flowers, intentional camera movementI moved the camera in a circle for this one – no other kind of motion seemed to work very well.  I do like the way that the small white flowers are still quite distinct, and I think the colours are great.

Flowers, intentional camera movement, blending modeFinally, this is the same picture as above but with a duplicate layer added and Linear Burn blending mode applied, giving an altogether different effect.

The sound of colour: music, photography and Kandinsky

Wet pavement with lights

Wet pavement with lightsThe two photos Andy used for his CD ‘Reflections’

A little while ago, a musician called Andy wrote to me asking if he could use some of my photos as art for the cover of a CD he was producing.  The CD is called Reflections, and the photos he asked for were the two shown above. Naturally I said yes, and we exchanged a few emails which ended in the suggestion that we might aim for some sort of collaboration between us – probably involving me responding photographically to his music.

This is quite a challenge for me and has got me doing a bit of research for ideas on how to go about it. It’s hard to find much about photography and music – if you Google it, you end up with articles about how to photograph bands or rather literal depictions of musical instruments – images of the music-making, rather than inspired by the music.  However, after a bit of searching I did find this article  from nonsensesociety.com, which featured an online community project that encouraged artists of all kinds to post a piece of music plus the personal art that it inspired.

The results are fascinating.  There’s a lot to read and listen to, so I’ve only skimmed for the most part but I noticed a few things as I went through the post.  One of these was that a large number of people used music with words, and I wonder how much of their interpretation is about the words rather than the music?  It’s hard not to be influenced by lyrics and I got to wondering if their art would have been at all similar had they only had the music to go on, especially as much of the resulting art showed quite a literal take on the lyrics.  Interpreting the words is fine, of course, but to me this is a whole different ballgame to being inspired by the music and more on a par with using poetry as a creative source.

For me, the more interesting entries were ones where the music had been used to evoke a mood and the resulting artwork didn’t bear an obvious relation to it, such as Timothy Brearton’s painting inspired by Massive Attack’s Danny the Dog.  Brearton says ‘the music was the “field” from which the ideas took form.  There was something about music which freed me, and opened me up for the moment to manifest.’

I’ve never found this to be the case for myself.  I don’t like to have music playing when I’m doing something else that needs a certain sort of concentration, such as the kind that writing demands – I want silence above all else.  This is a bit discouraging in terms of any plans to use music as a creative tool, but I haven’t tried it with photography and that may be very different.  To me, writing and music have more in common than photography and music – writing has sounds and rhythms and patterns which have the potential to clash with music. Drafting sentences in my head involves trying out different rhythms and sound patterns, which I ‘hear’ in my mind; music playing at the same time interferes with that.

However, photography is all about pictures and doesn’t rely on sound at all, so music is likely to be much more compatible with taking photos – I hope I’m right about this.  In some ways I feel as if I’ve bitten off a little bit more than I can chew.  I don’t want to do the obvious thing and interpret the titles of Andy’s recordings (they’re all instrumental) in a literal way.  I’d like to find a way of working more directly with the music itself, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to how that might work for me.

Many artists over the years have used musical references in their work.  Whistler, for instance, titled his paintings as harmonies, arrangements, symphonies, and nocturnes – all musical forms.  I don’t think, though, that Whistler used any particular music as a starting point for his paintings, and the titles are simply metaphors.

Kandinsky is more interesting.  He supposedly had synaesthesia, a condition that involves experiencing sense impressions with more than one sense at a time – for example, a colour triggers the person seeing it to simultaneously experience a sound or a taste or a smell.  You might hear colour, taste words, or see music, and it’s supposed to arise from some kind of cross-wiring in the brain that’s found in about one in two thousand people.  Kandinsky claimed to hear colours as sounds and see sounds as colours, and regarded his paintings as visible music (although not any particular piece of music).

Composizione  VI 1913 KandinskyComposizione VI, 1913, Kandinsky

It’s hard for me to imagine what synaesthesia must be like.  It’s true that we use metaphor that suggests synaesthesia – we feel blue, we experience a sharp taste or a sweet voice, and it’s easy to understand what someone means when they say the sound of a trumpet is scarlet.  But we don’t actually see scarlet when we hear the sound, which is what sets us apart from the synaesthetes.

While I’d love to be able to do something similar to what Kandinsky did, I’m not a synaesthete so this is probably beyond my capabilities.  Perhaps the best way forward is to let the music evoke a feeling and look around me to see if that feeling is represented by something I see – a kind of matching up of emotional response to the thing I hear with the thing I see.  One of photography’s limitations is that it relies on something that actually exists to form the basis of the image.  Do I have to find the right place, the right environment, to get this to work?  Or should I be able to find something in any environment that would do the job?  I don’t know yet – I’ll report back when I do.

Any thoughts on this would be very welcome – how would you go about it?

Some links I found along the way:

Creative Harmony: Art + the music that inspired it: http://nonsensesociety.com/2013/01/creative-harmony/ – the main article I talk about in this post.  There’s a lot to read and listen to, here.

25 Sonic Postcards inspired by Instagram: http://disquiet.com/2011/12/28/instagrambient-25-sonic-postcards/  – Personally these don’t do much for me, but they might be of interest to someone.  25 Instagram photos were used to inspire ‘soundscapes’ – I find some of them positively annoying, but maybe I’m missing something……….

Kandinsky’s Color Theory: http://lettersfrommunich.wikispaces.com/Kandinsky%27s+Color+Theory – this post has a chart showing Kandinsky’s colour theory, ie, what each colour sounds like or feels like to him.  If you have a while to spare, you can use it to try and interpret the painting above.

The man who heard his paintbox hiss: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3653012/The-man-who-heard-his-paintbox-hiss.html – more about Kandinsky.

The Influence of Music on Painting and Animation: http://ncca.bournemouth.ac.uk/gallery/files/innovations/2007/Gilbert_Jennifer_392/Innovations_JenniferGilbert.pdf – a 38-page essay which looks in detail at synaesthesia, the artists Kandinsky and Fischinger, and Disney’s Fantasia.  It’s written in an academic style, so a little dry, but still very readable.  I only skimmed…….

 

 

 

Getting your photographic mojo back

Rainbow lights

A couple of years ago I had an awful time when photography stopped being something that made me happy, gave me strength, and was always there for me, and instead became a source of worry and angst. My inspiration had upped and left the building and it didn’t feel good. The sense of loss was horrible; my whole life was – is – centred around photography and I felt like I imagine a religious person would if they lost their faith. What I didn’t realise then was that it happens to nearly all of us at some point or other, and it’s happened to me many times since. It doesn’t worry me nearly so much now, because I know it will almost certainly come back. There are some things I’ve learned during these times – things that give practical help and things that are comforting – and I thought I’d bring them together here in the hope that they might be of use to someone else.  This is not so much about those times when you run out of ideas (much more easily sorted), but more about a kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ of photography when it all feels hopeless and you can’t quite remember why you’re doing this.

1.   Remember these times are part of the natural creative process. Gail McMeekin, author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women, refers to it as the Void and says “In the creative cycles of birth and death and rebirth, there are times when we are empty of ideas, adrift in a sea of ambiguity and nothingness. These times can be labelled the neutral zone, the void, a vacuum. No matter what they are called, they are part of the creative cycle and wise women accept them and trust that when it’s time their inspirations will percolate again.”

In Chinese philosophy winter (whether of the earth or of the soul) is seen as a time of quiet, of withdrawing, reflecting and preparing for spring. It’s not regarded as an unproductive time at all, but as a necessary stage and a time to nourish yourself for the bursting energy of the spring that’s on its way. It may not look as if much is going on, but underneath the surface there’s a lot happening. I’ve noticed that after a spell where nothing inspires me or interests me photographically, when I do finally pick up my camera again I start to produce better shots – it’s as if I’ve taken a quantum leap forward. These fallow spells often herald a positive change when you do get going again.  I think we reach a kind of learning plateau where we can languish for a while like a boat in the doldrums.  Sometimes giving it time is all that’s needed.

A lack of inspiration can also be a sign that we need to change direction, or re-assess what we’ve been doing. However, it’s best not to try to force this; do what you can to become calm and  Zen-like about the whole thing and realise that you can’t push the river, but must let it take its own time and make its own way forward. It might not be what you want to hear at that point, but this is how it tends to work.  Take the pressure off yourself and allow what’s happening (or not happening) to happen.

2. Try morning pages It helps if you can do something to get out of your own way. For a long time I resisted the idea of Julia Cameron’s ‘morning pages’. If you haven’t heard of this, the idea is that, first thing in the morning, you scribble down three pages of stream of consciousness writing. You write whatever comes into your head, without thinking about it or censoring it. If nothing comes into your head, you write ‘nothing’s coming into my head’ over and over until something else does or you’ve done your three pages. Don’t even think about grammar or spelling or punctuation – just get it down. I regard it as a kind of brain dump – all the rubbish and angst and limiting thoughts you have get dumped out on the paper. Write as if no-one’s ever going to see it, and make sure no-one does, because if you’re anything like me you’ll sound like the world’s most neurotic person ever.  It’s best not to read back through it either unless you’ve left quite a bit of time between the writing and the reading, but it can be quite interesting to read back through it at a later date.

I didn’t really believe this process would do anything, and only tried it out of pure desperation one day. I was astonished to find that within the next day or two I had three of the best ideas I’ve had for some time. I’m not sure it always works that quickly, but it does clear your head so that other things can get in.

I do find Julia Cameron a bit prescriptive about how you’re supposed to do this. She says you must write your pages first thing in the morning before you do anything else, write them in longhand with pen and paper, and do it every day without fail. Well I don’t do any of these things and it still seems to work. I’m not ready to do anything first thing in the morning except read something enjoyable while I drink my morning tea; I can type almost as fast as I can think, so I find doing the pages on computer works much better for me than writing by hand; and I only do them from time to time when I feel the need. I tend to rebel if someone says I ‘must’ do something a particular way and if I had to do them Ms Cameron’s way I’d probably never do them at all. It works just fine however you do it, I’ve found.

3. Fill the well If you’ve emptied the trash out of your mind but you’re still empty of inspiration then you need to fill yourself up, but you also need to be careful how you do this. What works best for me is to look at other kinds of art than photography. If I look at great photographs when I’m in this state it just tends to depress me, as the void between them and me seems too huge for me to have any hope of even beginning to bridge it. For that reason I find it much more helpful to look at other kinds of art. Go to art galleries, look at art online, look at beautifully made things in sophisticated craft shops, go to a sculpture park or trail, watch some art films.

It doesn’t even have to be art. Get out in nature and look at natural things. Don’t look with a view to photographing them, just look and enjoy. Go to something you’d never normally think of going to – dog racing, perhaps. Try something new – anything. Novelty wakes the brain up, and will help get you going again.

Another thing that works for me is to read some kind of inspirational book. I don’t necessarily mean you have to dig out the Tao Te Ching or whatever – it could simply be a story of someone overcoming a problem or a tragedy, or maybe a book of interesting quotes. As long as it’s life-affirming and not cynical it will help and it doesn’t have to be about photography (in fact it’s probably better if it’s not).

4. Take up a different form of art or creativity Something that can also help quite a bit is to take up a different form of creativity. If you normally take photographs, try painting or drawing. (If you think you can’t draw, try Zentangles – everyone can do these and they’re a lot of fun.) Or avoid visual arts altogether and have a go at drumming, or dance, or knitting, or origami, or making bread, or writing poetry. You won’t put the same pressure on yourself as you would in your primary creative outlet, and doing something else will satisfy that part of you that misses being creative.  I find that writing helps me when I can’t do photography.

5. Hang out with the right kind of friends Many of us have at least one person in our lives who sends us away buzzing with enthusiasm and ideas after a chat over coffee.  Ring this person right now, and arrange to see them.  Hopefully you’ll be able to do the same for them at another time.  (And thank you from the bottom of my heart, Eileen, because you’ve done this so many times for me!)

What helps you get your photographic mojo back?

My ebook is here!

Book cover

I’ve done it! Finally.  My ebook is out in the blogosphere.

It’s been a long time coming. I finished writing it ages ago and I don’t know whether I just got all shy about putting it out there, or if it really was because I was battling with the technology, but it’s been sitting unloved on my hard drive for such a long time that I’m embarassed to say how long.  My friends and family had started rolling their eyes any time I mentioned it, and giving each other despairing looks.  Anyway, it’s here now, and you can read more about it by clicking on the Ebook tab on the menu. Or you could click here.

In what feels like a bit of a brave move, I decided to use bendy pricing – for anyone who hasn’t heard of this, you put a recommended price on a product but allow people to change the price if they want to pay something different. It’s becoming an established way of doing things and since I couldn’t make my mind up how to price the book, I thought I’d give it a try.  And really, I’d rather someone bought it for less than didn’t buy it at all (of course, they could also choose to pay more…….).  I did have to do a bit of inner reflection on how I’d feel if someone only paid $1 for it, or horrors, nothing at all, and I realised that would be a tad upsetting, so I’ve put a minimum price on it.  Depending on how it goes, I may change my mind about this bendy pricing idea so if you think you might want it, but only at a lower price, don’t wait too long 🙂   And if you feel like spreading the word and telling other people about it, I’d be a very happy bunny indeed and you can come and have tea with me any time.

Rainy days are great for photography – honest!

Las Iguanas

I’m always telling the people who come on my workshops that rain offers wonderful opportunities for great photos, but what I do when it rains?  I stay in, of course.  Well, you know – it’s wet out there.

But sometimes you get caught in it without meaning to, and last week was one of those times.  My friend Eileen and I had gone to see the Tracy Emin exhibition at the South Bank Centre in London.  I still don’t know what I think about Ms Emin so maybe I’ll come back to that bit of it later.  Anyway, the South Bank Centre is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain at the moment, and there are artworks of various kinds all around the area.  Before we went in, when it was still dry – just – we explored a few of these.

One of them is the Urban Fox, a giant structure made out of straw applied to a wooden framework.  He’s rather good, isn’t he?

Urban Fox

And this is a photo of a photo of him being transported there.  You can see just how big he is – look at the size of his head compared to the size of the truck transporting him.

Urban Fox transporter

There was also this themed, outdoor, cafe sort of place; not sure what it was meant to be about, but the colours were wonderful.

Indian cafeFlowers and stripes

 

Dishoom

I also loved the bright pink of this Banksy-style mural, especially in among the rather nasty grey concrete that dominates this area.

Pink

As we came out, we headed for an amazing rooftop garden (of which more in another post).  We started exploring, but the clouds had darkened and the rain began to come down in huge, fat drops, so we headed for cover.  Beneath us as we came down the steps there was a fountain installation by Jeppe Hein called Appearing Rooms.  Jets of water create ‘rooms’ inside the fountain, and these rooms keep changing.  A group of teenagers had stripped off and were having huge fun trying to predict where the next ‘room’ would appear.

Appearing Rooms

They left shortly after we reached shelter but this little boy wandered up, looked at the fountain for a moment, and then jumped right into it fully clothed.  A few minutes later his mother appeared, looking absolutely horrified.  There are times when I wish I wasn’t so old and sensible; part of me was wanting to run right into it myself and dance in the centre.

Fountain dancer

I also took this shot, looking up through the fountain towards the steps we had just come down.  The couple with the umbrella appeared at the top of the steps and I suddenly saw what a great shot it would make, taken through the water jets.  I zoomed right in and grabbed the shot – they only stayed there for a moment – not knowing if it would work, but it did!

Umbrella

The rain was torrential, with some thunder and lightning.  I liked this guy’s solution to staying dry.

Orange cape

Chairs in the rain

Central Bar

Green reflection

And I’m going to include this shot (because I like it), even though I got it badly wrong and the shoes are very out of focus – I’m so annoyed with myself.

Shoes

Finally, some tips that might be helpful if you fancy trying some photography in the rain.

  • Sounds obvious, but unless your camera has weather-sealing, keep it as dry as possible. Light rain probably won’t harm it for a short while, but it should definitely be protected against heavy rain. Hold an umbrella over it; pop it inside a ziplock plastic bag (with hole cut out for lens); buy a pack of Rainsleeves (very cheap); or splash out on a well-designed rain cover. At the very least, tuck it inside your jacket while you’re not using it.
  • Two more cheap ways of keeping your camera dry: use one of those clear plastic shower caps you get in hotel rooms – place the elasticated end over the lens. Or use an old waterproof jacket or trousers (try charity shops) and cut off an arm or a leg. These are often elasticated, which helps fit the end round your lens.
  • Don’t ignore the obvious: find a doorway or tree to shelter under while you shoot.
  • Wipe your camera – lens, LCD screen, camera body – down frequently with a microfibre cloth.
  • To keep your lens as dry as possible, keep the lens cap on until you’re ready to shoot. Have some soft lint-free cloths available to wipe your lens with.
  • Using a lens hood will also help keep the raindrops off.
  • Here’s another idea: put your camera on a monopod and use a superclamp to fix an umbrella to it. It’s portable and because the camera isn’t inside anything it makes it easier to operate.
  • Keep your camera pointed down when you’re not using it to keep most of the raindrops off the lens.
  • Keep yourself dry too. Good waterproofs will have you singing in the rain.
  • If you’ve been out in the cold and are coming back into the warm, avoid condensation forming on your camera by placing it inside a sealable plastic bag (while you’re still outside) and squashing out most of the air. Then let it come back to room temperature. Humidity generally isn’t good for your camera if it persists for a long time. Make sure that it spends most of its time in a warm, light, dry place to discourage moulds and other nasties.
  • If the worst does happen and your camera gets a dowsing, there’s a great article on Shutterbug telling you what you need to do.  Print out a copy of it and keep it inside your camera bag. Use waterproof ink, of course 🙂

 

Square format shooting

Most cameras shoot in rectangles – a common one is 3:2, which means your photo (whatever its actual dimensions) will measure three units across by two units high.  For example, your prints will be 6 inches by 4 inches, or 9 inches by 6 inches or any size that has the 3:2 ratio.  The trouble with this is that we can get locked into this one way of composing and stagnate there.  Shooting to a different ratio forces you to compose your images differently and helps stretch your ‘seeing’ muscles.

Shooting Square

There are a lot of different aspect ratio options you can go for, but for the moment I want to suggest that you start by shooting square. Why square?  Well, it’s not something we come across that often and therefore it stands out – it’s a little unusual and we’re not used to seeing  potential pictures in that shape.  Most photos that you see in newspapers, magazines, adverts, and so on are rectangular, although one obvious exception to this is CD covers.

The square has some interesting properties. It’s a very stable shape, and it takes away the usual dilemma of choosing between portrait and landscape format – a square is a square, whichever way up you put it.  Some subjects very obviously suit this format – such as flowers – and while placing your subject bang in the centre is usually a no-no, with square format it often works well.

At the same time, it can work equally well to have your subject off to the side.

You can still use the Rule of Thirds for effective composition.

Sometimes the advantage of a square is that it allows you to leave out the ‘extra’ bits that would spoil your composition.  I cropped the next photo for this reason – the square contained exactly what I wanted to capture and no more.

Diagonal lines often work well within the square and set up a pleasant tension between the stability of the square and the movement and dynamism of the diagonal.

Symmetry also works well, as the square shape itself is symmetrical and so sets up a kind of ‘echo’ of the composition.

How to set your camera up to shoot square

If you’re very lucky, your camera might just have an option that lets you do this.  I’ve only ever seen this in compact cameras, but if you check your manual (under aspect ratio) you can find out if yours does it, and if it does then you’re off and away.

Traditionally, square format photography came from medium format cameras using 120mm film made by manufacturers like Hasselblad and Rolleiflex. These are very expensive and beyond the price range of most enthusiasts.  But….if you like shooting in film, and enjoy the toy camera effect, then Holgas, Lomos, and Dianas all use 120mm, produce square prints and are very affordable.  Some camera phone apps are in square format too, and prints from Polaroid cameras are, of course, square-shaped.

Most cameras don’t have a square format option, however, so let’s assume your camera doesn’t either.  You have two choices.  The first is that you just have to imagine you’ve got a square shape in your viewfinder instead of what’s actually there.  This is a bit difficult at first, but can be done with practice. If you do find it difficult to ‘see’ in squares, then a good tip is to cut a square in a piece of black card.  Hold it in front of you, look through it, and move it around till you see a good composition.

The second option is much easier: if you have Live View, put some tape on your screen so that the only bit you see is square shaped.  Then you just compose your picture using the part of the screen you can see.  Later on, of course, when you upload it to your computer, you’ll have to crop it square.  (And if you have a DSLR and don’t like composing using Live View, just use it to identify possible compositions and then take your picture using the viewfinder as normal).

In the picture below I’ve used light-coloured masking tape so you can see clearly what I’ve done, but black tape or a colour that blends with your camera is a lot less distracting.  If you’ve used light-coloured tape and it bothers you that you can see through it a little, you can get round this by placing a piece of dark card behind the tape (thanks to Kat for this tip).

Cropping

Once you’ve taken your photo, you’ll have to crop it square.  If you use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, set the cropping tool to No Restriction, and hold down the Shift key as you use the mouse to crop.  This will keep your crop beautifully square-shaped.  Alternatively, if you know what size you want your final print to be, then you can just enter the dimensions and resolution in the cropping toolbar.

In my recent post on the Turner Centre you can see one example of how cropping to a square can change the whole way a photo looks.

Printing

Printing square photos can cause some problems for you if you have your photos commercially printed rather than print them yourself.  In the UK, Photobox offer a couple of sizes of square crops: 5 x 5 and 8 x 8.  This is a bit limiting and if these sizes don’t suit you, then DS Colour Labs offer a better variety of sizes although their prints are a bit more expensive.  If you’re in the US try Mpix, who offer a wide range of square print sizes.  And of course you could just get them printed out on a larger size print and then cut off the excess.

Finding square frames shouldn’t pose too many problems as they’re fashionable at the moment.  For anyone living in the UK and the rest of Europe, Ikea always have a good selection.

More Ideas

For lots of ideas about using a square shape for your photography, try the Flickr group B Square, or have a look here.

Michael Kenna takes beautiful, minimalist landscapes using square format.

Jaqueline Walters, on Flickr, has some great black and white and Holga square images.

Kawauchi Rinko is known for her rather dreamy, square format images; the link will take you to a selection of her images and an interview, but do a Google Image search to see more.

For an interesting, if slightly awkward to grasp, method of composing with square images, see Diagonal Method.

Kat Sloma also has an interesting post on taking square format photos that goes into lots of detail about how best to compose for this shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colour Workout 1

It’s spring, and the world is bursting with colour.  One very nice, and very simple, photo project is to choose a colour and then go out and photograph it wherever you see it.  If you want to make it a bit more challenging, then get a friend or family member to choose a colour for you.  Or, you could write some colour names on pieces of paper, put them in a container, and pull one out.

Pink & orange

Blue & Green

Collected by LethaColleen; images by, left to right top to bottom: 1) mactastic , 2) Majlee, 3) Jen Bekman, 4) BooDilly's, 5) Majlee, 6) Mervyn Hector

 

You can do this just as well using neutral colours.

 

Collected by LethaColleen; images by, top to bottom, left to right: 1) Camilla Engman, 2) Bird in the Hand, 3) Lucky † 13, 4) Blind Spot Jewellery, 5) Bergman's Bear, 6) bldgblog

 

A variation is to shoot a rainbow of colours.  There are seven colours in the rainbow so you could do a square seven rows wide by seven rows high.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, the colours are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.  And if you want to get really adventurous, you could try something like this:

 

Mosaic Blossom

Mosaic Blossom

I’ve no idea how they did this, but if you want a much simpler mosaic-maker, try here:

http://bighugelabs.com/mosaic.php

At Big Huge Labs you can choose a layout, the number of columns and rows you want, the background colour and border colour, as well as being able to import your photos from Flickr or upload them from your own computer.  You have to sign up, but it’s free.

This is a really easy, fun and effective project – even quite ordinary photos can look really good when you put a collection of one colour together and once you start looking for a particular colour you’ll be amazed at how often you see it and where it turns up.