Getting Your Vision Across
This is about opposites. You know, in the bottom of the picture is a single rock in the river, unmoving, cold, lifeless. And right above it is this beautiful tree, blossoming with all the colors of the fall. And it's the juxtaposition between the two that attracted my attention. So the composition is very central and square to make sure that it's very obvious that that is the anchor and that's what it's playing against. There's a loss of color in the bottom. It's very muted, desaturated almost. And there's a vibrancy, not 200%, Peter, but still vibrant enough that sort of there's this bouncing between the two. That's what attracted me to that picture or that opportunity. And that's what drove the post-production and the choices I made in composition, saturation, et cetera, et cetera. We go to things that could be as simple as, you know, you're looking across, here we are at Lord Howe Island. In the background on the left is the cliffs and those cliffs are 1,000, I think 1,000 meters? 1...
800 and something, but close enough.
They're whatever, they're big. And then in foreground is another island. So this is that hint of Lord Howe Island, which is, you know, I got these massive big cliffs on the end, and there's a small island in the bay. And what attracted my attention was the difference between the small and the big. That's what drove the decisions in composition, choice of a long lens to compress, et cetera, et cetera. So I'm just saying, pick a word, pick something, pick a subject, pick some sort of filter and start with that.
And I think that's a good way of looking at it because subconsciously, that's what I'm doing. But I know that when people ask why did you take that photograph, that to say I just did it subconsciously doesn't give them an answer. And yet, the way Tony is presenting this is here are some concrete ways. Concrete, 'cause you're into concrete.
There you go.
Here are some concrete ways that you can actually--
Set up that thought process to generate results like this.
If you're going out to photograph the fall, focus on color. That's your starting point, I'm looking for color. In fact, we did that. We were looking for fall colors. Unfortunately where we were up in 'round Banff and Jasper, we were probably a week early, we reckon? We noticed the turners were coming back, so if we'd been up there next week, we probably would've nailed it. But that's what we were focused on. So what happens is, even though there's not a lotta color, we did notice those little pockets because our brain was tuned in for that. And it's a little bit like tuning that radio. If it's spot on, you'll hear it, if it's not, you won't. So at the end of the day, when we talk about photographing the invisible, what we're actually looking to photograph is almost something that's universal. And what do I mean by universal language? We can look at certain types of images and we know what we're looking at even though we don't know what we're looking at. When you take a picture like this, I think most people looking at this image would agree that it's a grandfather and their grandchild. And yet, how do we know that? Which is the grandchild pixel? Which is the grandfather pixel? What gives it away? It's not something concrete, it's invisible. And whether it's a portrait or a landscape, that's what we're trying to communicate. You know, sure in an image like this, it's a lot easier to understand that concept. And when it comes to landscape, becomes a little bit more difficult. But at the end of the day, we are trying to photograph something that we can't see in respect of bringing something more to our imagery.
Certainly in the terms of fine art, isn't it? Because sometimes if it's just a photo of the family, you want to know, what you're photographing is certainly visible, but what makes fine art is something that's invisible. Maybe that's a good way of describing it.
Yeah, absolutely. In the same way that you know, we've had a few shots and I talked about wind is invisible, current of water is invisible, but we can see the effects of it, we see the consequence. And that's what happens when we look at something we say, you know, I'm gonna reduce the color balance and turn it into more of a blue. We can see that it's cold, even though we can't see cold.
But emotion is invisible, love is invisible. But in that last photo of the grandfather and his grandson, you know, you can see the love and the emotion just by the gesture of them standing next to each other.
Did you just use the word love?
No, they like each other a lot. (laughing)
You know, so invisible can be a lot of things. Invisible could be curiosity. For instance, you take a picture like this. It's a picture of a little boy reaching down into the puddles, you know? But at the end of the day, what I'm photographing is the curiosity that's embedded in innocence of youth. That's what the photograph is truly about, curiosity. It could be things like love, as Peter said. Could be fear. And we see a picture of somebody's in fear, we know they're in fear and yet, it's a physical outcome of something we can't actually see physically.
So we ask how do we do this? Where do we start? So I was watching a movie called The Book Thief. You ever seen it?
Uh, yes I have, actually.
In that movie, it's quite fascinating because essentially it's about a guy being harbored under the stairs for, in wartime. And he's not allowed outside for a couple of years. And a young girl who lives in the house, she goes to school and comes back. One day she comes back and he says, "What's the weather like?" He hasn't been outside for, you know, for over a year. And she sorta says, oh it's a bit overcast, something like that. And he said, "No, if your eyes could speak, "what would they say?" And I was watching this movie in a plane, I went pause, I went damn!
It's pretty cool.
That is exactly what photography is about. If your eyes could speak, what would they say? We sit and we look at things and we feel it coming through us and we experience it and we're trying to. You know I watch people come back from a holiday, and they don't have a photo of something. You say, oh what was it like? "Oh man, I was on this beach and the wind was blowing, "and the sun, ah the sunset was incredible, Peter. "You should've seen it. And, "Like it was warm, and." I can't get that, but then they pull up a photograph. And there's this beautiful sunset and these palm trees, and suddenly you're a lot closer to how it felt. That's what we're trying to get at. So, you know I took my wife to Paris. Oh, it was actually we were taken to Paris as a part of a sort of a jaunt for Canson. And we went to this part near the Eiffel Tower to get a photograph. And this image for me sort of summed up joy, spontaneity, and life. It was raining, she got drenched. That's not why we were there. She was a bit devastated at having had her hair done, suddenly it was like this. But we took advantage of the moment. And in that moment, I realized that I wasn't photographing my wife in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was truly a photograph of spontaneity. It was truly a photograph of joy and being in the moment. That's what I mean by you can start with moments, things that just happen, you know? So ultimately we're not just photographing things and places, we know that. And when we go out, and I think when we come back with our pictures, that's some of the reason some of us get disappointed. 'Cause it's in the frame, we got it, but there's something missing.
I sort of find that when I come back, sometimes I'm so close to the event or the location, and I look at the photographs and I go, ah, I haven't captured it. And then a little bit of time go past, and I revisit those photos and I relive it and I say, wow I so have captured it. And it's interesting, so I dunno if you guys feel like that, but yeah, sometimes time is a good help or a good conduit to help you get to the place that you wanna be--
Do you find that it's sometimes, that the reason you took it, just once everything settles, it starts to come back to you why you took it, what was it--
Yeah, I do, yeah that's right.
Yeah so photography being a voice for our eyes allows us to say things that sometimes don't fit words. And what's kinda strange and I started with words, you know?
That's my excuse.
I know. Here we are, we've switched sides. You can be the (mumbles). You know, this is from an art piece and it's called Salt and Pepper. It talks about flavors of an old friend's return, you know? This is about the water coming backwards and forwards at low tide, the bottom of mangrove trees, and you can see the ripples on the water. The mangrove trees, the water goes away and leaves the tree roots exposed, but it must come back for those mangroves to live. So the flavors of an old friend's return, the old friend is the water. The mangrove needs the water to come back. The flavors is about the black and white. So when I produced that picture, I did keep the colors subdued to keep that sort of essence. We talk about, you know, getting behind a theme of a picture, but even when you do like an exhibition for instance, with my LUX et AQUA exhibition, which is LUX et AQUA, light and water, there's a reason behind every picture. But there's also an overriding, an umbrella, sort of attention or focus that I had. And for me it was about the witness of the dance between the water and the light. So I loved the play and I always have loved the play between light and water. I'm not that interested in the coast. I find it difficult to shoot trees. I'm not that great standing on a hill. But you put me over water and light, I'm on song.
You're very self-deprecating, aren't you, eh?
What does that mean?
It means that you do take good photos. I have trees and hills--
But this isn't about us, Peter. This is about them, and this is about your image being your words and understanding that when you do see a picture and you do decide to take it, you start off with something. Is it saying everything you want it to say? It's your picture. Is it speaking in a way that you want it to be heard? Is it saying, is it showing what you want to be saying? And for me, as I think this picture here is about, you know, I talked about earlier, but it's about salt, and that doesn't really sing and tell people about the ripples on the water, about the scraping of the salt, about the different between the white and the blue, whereas that does. So that drives the process. You take this picture here. I love that sweep of coral, which is that sort of textured area in the blue, and then it's no longer where you see the yellow. And that's because the boundary of where that rhythmic ebb and flow of the tide goes limits where the coral can come to. So that drives the process. This one here which is about surfers rising and falling with the tide. And shot from above it has a completely different feel. So the surfers fall into the channel and come back out. And it's kind of a play on perspective because when they're in the water, they're also flying through there like that. And that drives that one. You take a picture like this one, and when I look down on this part of the reef, for me it was like a map, it was like a treasure map. It was just one of those symbols of a place that we all dream of going to that beautiful blue water with the golden sands, with the golden reefs. And yet there's no scale to it. When you see it at two meters, there are a couple of hints of scale, because in this image there's a couple of sharks, and when see them you suddenly realize. But you don't know how far up, how big it is. And it was a great sort of example of, is it micro land or is it macro land? Is this a mini sea? But it reminds me of a treasure map. And it kind of reveals a tapestry of turquoise dreams. The poetry I wrote with that was a micro land, a mini sea, the treasure map the sea reveals, a tapestry of turquoise dreams. So everything about that had to come through in my processing. The turquoise, the color was imperative to come through. So we talk about crafting an image that will communicate exactly how we felt, and that's what's been behind these little starting points and processes. Recently, as we said, we were up in the mountains and photographing and everyone's getting the full mountain, with the clouds. But Peter, one of the things you and I kept jumping on was every now and then the clouds would reveal the odd peak, and we'd look at it and we'd say wow, I want to get that and I don't need the rest. Was just about that. So our photography, we get to a point where we're saying, what is the language of vision? Is photography alone, is that picture alone enough? And what can I do to contribute to it? What am I actually going to say through my picture? What is it that my picture is going to move within people? And we do a lot of before and afters. I think we got a few of our own pictures coming up here. But you take a picture like this, and when I stood there, the three, you know, getting away from poetry, let's say it's three words. And I've taken that shot, I'm standing there, and you walk up and you say to me, what are you feeling? Just break it down into three words that are going to be shared with this picture. Well for me, those three words would be, it was drama, there was mood, and it was dramatic. And when I say dramatic versus drama, dramatic was about the impact, and drama is about the feeling of things changing. So, I then went into that file, and I brought out the drama. I made it into a dramatic image that had mood. This was what was behind it. So it's okay to have vision. We see things, vision is the art of seeing what others don't see, but how do we translate that? And I can sit here with poetry, I can share my thoughts. You have your pictures, I have my pictures that we like, as you said, and I agree with you, Peter. We take a picture, we should satisfy ourself first. So the first person you gotta be able to be comfortable looking at and saying I love it is yourself. They gotta look at it. But you know, sometimes you look at a picture, and you go, well what is it I'm trying to break down? If we had to give people a takeaway for all of this fluffy stuff I'm talking about. And I look at a picture like this and this picture is about color. It's about the blue giving a cool feeling. And the cool and the deep is about unknown. Whereas the warmer color is about the known and it's about a safety aspect. So that's what's behind that picture, so I will bring out the warm and the cold to accentuate that. You take a picture like this one. It's about contrast used to bring out texture. Texture is about feel, feel is about the kinesthetic touch, about a three dimensional aspect. When you see this on paper, it actually feels three dimensional. So everything in post-production in here, apart from a little bit of color accentuation, was all around contrast. Was contrast to bring out the texture of the water, to bring out the difference between that little bit of sand under the water, et cetera. But it's not always about strong impacts. Sometimes it's about subtlety.
Yeah no, you're good, continue on.
So you know, often you look at a picture and you go, well I don't want it to be too in-your-face. Sometimes it's about something that's softer. And if you think of a bride on her wedding day, I might look at a soft picture of a bride and I think, well, this is a picture for her. This is about her being an angel or princess on that day. For today, she wants to be an angel. And it's about the softness of something about dreamlike. That's what it's about. And I use tone, I use the quality of tone. So the lightness, the high key effect to give a feeling of something that is ethereal, that is soft, and that is dreamlike. So while yeah, I get all poetic and funny about words, but the picture has to bring that through. 'Cause I can't be there to describe it. But the words help me get there. We talked about this picture, and this is about using symbolisms of time, by using peeled paint to give that symbolism of time. Et cetera. Maybe it's about this one, and this is one of my favorite aerial pictures. One layer but many, dwelling within a thin crust, sky above, earth below, not is all as it seems. Often when we're photographing from above looking down, what we see is not what people think they're looking at. You know, you look at a picture like this and at first glance it's almost like a cross-section of the earth. The skin layer, the subcutaneous cross-section, the epidermal, the whatever's underneath it, and the doctors will be able to expand on that. And above it, above it looks like sky. But then we remind ourselves we're actually looking at the coast. The deeper water is the sort of, is the replication of the sky and so on. And the single picture, single boat up here, which on a small picture looks like a dust spot, as I've been reminded by judges of competition, that I should've removed the dust spot, but in exhibition at 1.5 meters, you actually see a boat and suddenly, that's the key that unlocks the whole picture. So understanding how we can use those things. An image like this where having that little guy right down at the bottom right-hand corner walking a bridge, that scale suddenly brings purpose and meaning to the whole image. It adds context. So it's all about a different viewpoint. It's about looking at what's in front of you and saying, how can I look at this in a different way to tell a story in a way that others may not expect, or to bring a new meaning to the same context? Peter, you got some pictures here as well, which I find quite fascinating. Tell us a little bit about them.
Well I just, I wanted to put these pictures in just to sort of show that I still have ideas and emotions as well.
You had a lot!
I probably didn't have these ideas necessarily at the start, but rather after I'd got the captures back and looked at it. So we were in the karri forests down in southwestern Australia. And when you're in those forests, it can be very, very hot. But there's a lovely coolness in there. And what struck me was the road that went through was almost like a scar that, a raw scar that man has put through. And so in the next image on my, oh you're gonna give me the flicker, oh this is promising. You can see that I've just, between the two, the road has gone a little bit redder and the forest a little bit cooler just to emphasize those changes.
It's also got a little bit of mid-tone contrast, which has given a bit of structure to it. Gives that three dimensional feel.
Indeed, don't give away too many of my secrets, Tony, but that's right. And so it's just a subtle change. There's not a lot in there, so we don't have to go, you know, 100% across. We can just do subtle changes, which to me, make, you know, big impact. This image I really liked the shape so it's geometry for me. That I felt that the scene is presented was probably a little bit stretched out. And so we're in a digital workflow now, it's not a problem to just compress them in and create a composition that I'm comfortable with. I've also enhanced the coloration because that's pelican, um.
Mud. On the there. It possibly actually is that colorful because all I've done is enhanced the color that was in the raw file there. So that just gives you a bit of an idea of the great and varied diet that our wonderful pelicans have in Australia. This image I photographed, we circled around these little islands quite a lot, and I wanted to get the clouds up above. And I did, but my, this was a little bit when I was learning my focusing, the focus would go onto the cloud and so the island below was out of focus, so I had to introduce the clouds myself to give you that feeling. Of course, being able to introduce your own clouds means you can place them exactly where you want to. So maybe a little bit contrived, but just to give you an idea that, you know, if you have the idea, where the ideas start and finish. When I was capturing, I had a real idea. The idea didn't eventuate in the captures. I wasn't happy with the slight miss of focus on the islands below, so I recreated it later on. Would I do that today? No, I'd get the focus right the first time, I think would be the answer there. What really struck me about this particular aerial, which is not too far away from the little islands, was just the way the sun was streaking across. But when I got my capture back, I realize that, you know, our eyes, when we're looking at things in real life. Let's imagine a sunset, golden light, and we're looking at a white picket fence. What color is that white picket fence? Oh, it's white of course, why? 'Cause our brain tells us it's white. But if we, turned upside down or whatever and we really looked at it, the color is actually quite yellow. And so when I'm looking at this scene, I'm seeing all of this color. But that's because my brain is telling me the color is there. I know how green the water is, I know how yellow the sand is. But I needed to do that in post-production to bring it through, so. My changes are based on what I felt, what I experienced, and also what I want to express in the photograph at the end of the day. Classic image of a sand dune disappearing into the background. I also--
Same sand dune.
Same sand dune, that's right it is. So that's the same sand dune. We went down and put footprints all over it, so no one could come shoot it the next day. But again, the end of image was a three image put together. It's three. So there was the foreground. There was the middle ground of the dune, and then I put in the blurred water, which is what you're looking here. Just again, I like that signature 30 second blur with the clouds moving along. And that's what we ended up creating. So it's quite straightforward. You know, low, no light. Compress, give the mountains a little bit more height, add the color. Similarly here, lack of light, same location. We waited, we waited, we were there for four or five hours. So in post-production, I added the sunlight that refused to appear. So these are sort of ideas that I've had and things that I've wanted. Not perhaps expressed the same way Tony has, but what we're hoping with our joint presentation is that giving you different avenues or different entrees to the thought process of creativity, you will be able to pick up one of our ways and that's gonna start to work for you.
I mean, really what we're saying isn't it, that you take these pictures, you spend a lot of time, you're up to all hours of the night, you cop it from your partner that you're never around. And you take a picture. For me, I want that picture to live on. Whether it's to satisfy me or an outside audience. Even if it's just me, I still wanna look at it in five years and go, I really like this picture. So it's almost like an echo. I want that image to have an echo that goes on and on. I'd also like people to look at that image and tell others about it, or to talk about it, or to love it, or to remember it. You know, if you watch a competition, and we have the privilege of judging competitions all over the world. We've judged thousands and thousands of pictures. Every now and then we see one or two we think, I'll always remember that picture. And that picture has an echo that lives on. And as an artist, it's that echo that I'm looking for. You know, I want that picture to have an outside influence that goes beyond just standing in front of it. I want you to walk up and see that image, and look at it and then walk away and still here, it's burned into your brain. To me, where is that echo? Where does it come from? What is hidden in those invisible layers? And we're not talking about Photoshop layers or Lightroom or Capture One or anything like that. We're saying layers of depth in your pictures. And we've talked about where that comes from, and starting points for you. You know, I've mentioned this picture. There's a resonance for me, there's an echo. I used this picture because I've been told by many people that this image is one that they always remember and they associate with me. The standing waves in the form of the boat's wake followed us like a shadow, the liquid looking like a solid, and I was reminded of the irony inherent in the birth of concrete. You know, that's why I did it. And the thing is people remember that picture for a reason. They don't know how I put it together, they don't even remember if I showed them. They just remember the picture. So perhaps, Peter, what our challenge is, because we all go out and nowadays as you said, you said to me today and you said this to the audience, there's no such thing as originality or there's nothing unique in photography. So what're we trying to do to be unique? Perhaps what we're doing to do is to find that connection between two things. An image, something in front of us, and an idea. And put them together in a way, link them together in a way, that hasn't been done before to create something entirely new. This is what the alchemist does.
And it might not be that we can ever do anything that's unique, but we can do something that's unique and different for ourselves. And, you know, I think there's a time where people will copy the work of other photographers. And they should because that's how you learn. It's just that you shouldn't then enter them into competitions or post them on social media as though they were your own creation. Certainly not with proper attribution. But once you've done that, I think that, you know, as I showed with my sand dune photo earlier on, I thought that that was completely new and that was a great lesson to me was, well there are a lot of photographers in this world, there are a hell of a lot more photographers today than there were back 30 years ago. And so, we just have to accept that maybe we're not going to be able to create something that's unique within the world, but we can certainly create stuff that's unique for us.
Absolutely. You know, I've realized that whatever's going on in my brain at the time I'm out there capturing images will have an influence on not only what I see, but what I want to bring out of that picture later. This picture was taken probably eight months ago. And in the last few years, we've had a lot of, fear-based activity and events in the world. And we start to hear people talking about doomsday and, you know, that we're on a precipice and things like that. So I look at this, and I start to, when I was photographing this. This was a salt lake and those colors were all there, but I brought them out. This is a real expression of an abstract taken from a landscape. It's not about the landscape. It's about the hidden corners of a drying ocean because this is all part of a salt lake. There's a bit of land coming in. This is all tidal and it dries out. And it is a drying ocean. But when I looked at that, it was a reflection of a time when fire ruled the earth. It took me right back to the dawn of the earth, where fires would bubble, volcanoes would. You can almost feel the volcanic activity here. And smoke and bubbling of magma. And I look at this, and to me when I look down at this image, I saw these bits of sand that were broken off, but in this perspective of an aerial abstract, it almost looks like that piece is falling away and breaking. And that is just holding back this sort of cacophony of fire and brimstone. It's a tipping point in time. So for me, this image had a really strong emotional impact about that moment in time, which may not be relevant in 10 years. But at this point in time when I photographed it and when I presented the image, it was about the time where the planet is, where we are as man. So that's me using my imagery to make statements about how I feel, not just about what I'm looking at, but what it's reminding me about other things. So the question we probably could leave you on, or should leave you on as we reach that closing time is how far will the echo of your images reverberate? How far will the message go? With your pictures, are you really thinking about what you're doing? It doesn't have to be poetic thought. It can be as simple as a few words. It might be starting off with just a couple of points that you're gonna use as a filter. But just a little bit of stock, take stock, figure out where you're going. We're all on a journey with our photography. You know, one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors of all time is this, "Be yourself." Uniqueness and creativity starts from within. No point trying to be anyone else 'cause they're all taken.