Looking For The Next Great Photo
For me, the search is all about looking for the next great photograph. We've got that passion, so we can't stop, there's nothing that's going to turn us off, and so we're out there searching, continually searching. And even after all the years that we've been doing it we're still searching for the next best photograph.
But, well, you think about it. We just did that workshop and we took our guests out and we'd go to a spot and the sun goes down and who were the last two back on the bus?
Oh, it was only you. (laughs)
Oh I wouldn't keep them back from doing that.
So that's why I have more passion than you and I look harder. (laughs) But we would be out there and one of the things we like, you know, when we take people out, is to show them that there's always still another picture to get, you know? You're amazing what technology can do nowadays, really. It's, you know, I remember taking a photograph in a workshop a few years back and everybody was getting back on the bus saying th...
at the light's gone, the light's gone. And I stayed out there and someone said you won't be able to get a good picture. And it kind of was like a red flag to a bull, you know? So I stayed for another two minutes, took a two minute exposure, thanks, Pete, and it was so dark we didn't even need an ND filter, it just came out. And that picture sold really well. And it just had a magicalness about it that nobody else had captured. So, for me, searching for things that other people aren't seeing is really important.
Yeah, yeah, that's right. So don't, we can talk a little bit about this photograph coming up, which-
The one that I saw? (laughs)
Well, tell you now, I have a slightly different memory about how it was captured.
Well I have the right memory and you have a distorted one.
Yeah, so, so my story, my story is that we're part of the ND5 group, there's, there are five of us, Christian, Michael Fletcher and Les Walkling and Tony and I. And we're a group of five photographers and we'll talk maybe a little bit about collaboration as well. So we'd hired this helicopter and we're flying around Wyndham, up in Kununurra, the north of Australia. And I can remember Tony being in the front of the helicopter, so he saw this tree shape first. And he just said-
Sorry, can you say that again, just for the record?
He saw this tree shape first.
There you go.
Because he was in the front, and we were all in the back.
And over the headphones he says, aw, that's a great photo, uh, guys, is it all right if I use that one? I really want to have that one in the exhibition. (laughs) And he then paid us all 200 dollars. No, no that wasn't true, but anyway, then we all came into view and we saw this shape.
So, Tony, what did you see?
See, see, sometimes when you're looking down from the, from an aerial shot, now the thing is, if you don't shoot aerials, not everyone gets up in planes and helicopters or, you know, climbs up a mountain, but you look down and you're seeing things from a completely different perspective. And that's the attraction I think, or the seduction of aerial, is it's looking at the very same things that people have been looking at for a long time, but you're seeing it from a completely different perspective. And often you'll see symbolic images, you'll see things that remind you of something else, and this is a great starting point for your imagery. And I'm going to touch on that a little bit later in the course as well, that often when we look out we get overwhelmed by what's in front of us, Peter. And we look and it's like wow, this is amazing! And if you can just find something to lock into and work with, it makes it a lot simpler.
And shapes like that, which obviously look like a tree, someone would say it's a moving tree blowing in the wind, you have this bulb at the bottom which is in water. It kind of gives you something to work with and say, well I've got a story to tell here that's a little bit different to what's actually there.
And the beauty of this shot is when you stop and think about it, what are we looking at? We're looking at water and mud and that's it. (laughs) And that's the magic, isn't it, that showing people something that they probably never saw. If you were standing down there, you'd have absolutely no idea what you're looking at. But on a wall, it looks amazing.
And Peter, it's OK, you can use that shot.
OK, thanks mate.
So this is a photo taken in-
Can I just stop you before you say anything?
This is a beautiful picture, don't you agree?
Absolutely stunning and there's a word comes to my mind every time I see you bring this up, right? I'm sorry to be soft and emotional with you, but, glass, that's it.
You know, we talk about glassy, we talk about glassy pictures, we talk about being out on a lake. We were on a lake up in the Rockies the other day, it was just perfect glass.
Mm, it was, yeah.
This image looks like it's glass. How did you do it?
Well, the right way that I made the, I mean the water's still to start with, but I'm using mid tone contrast. I'm basically using contrast in my curves adjustment layers.
To just make it harder on the, just on the water and lightening it up, that's the technical side. Um, I was with David McGonigle on a trip down to Antarctica, and David had been to Antarctica 110 times, or something like that. And he now has this print as a big two meter up on his wall, because he would use the photo as an example when he's giving talks on his voyages down there. But this is Drygalski and I might be saying that wrong Drygalski, Drygalski Fjord in South Georgia, it's right down at the bottom. And it's a panoramic stage, so I'm on the back of the, on the stern of the ship, and I've gone and taken about six or seven shots with a very wide angle lens and stitched them together. What you find with a wide angle lens is what does a wide angle lens do? It minimizes everything. So when I'm standing on the deck, I'm looking like this, up to the top of the mountains. When I look at my photographs, I'm looking like that, to the top of the mountains. So what I've done is I've taken that panorama and I've squished it in. And that makes the mountains taller. And that gives you a much stronger feeling of what I experienced, than what a straight photo would have. And then of course you've got that beautiful sheen, the light, sunlight being reflected off the water. And again, that's where you're using the skills of, that we've developed in Photoshop, or you could do a lot of this in Capture One, or Lightroom as well.
There's nothing particularly tricky about it, it's more a matter about having those thoughts in the first place. And that's what we want to make sure that you guys go away with is, where do you get those thoughts from, how do you develop them? So that when you're in Photoshop, when you're in Lightroom, Capture One, you're not just using the techniques to try and do something, you've got a purpose for doing it, if that makes sense.
You know, I look at that and it reminds me of a quote by Leonardo Da Vinci that says, where the heart does not work with the hand, there is no art. And that's a great example of art where the heart and the hand go together. Because all that technique you talked about, that mechanics of putting it together, has come together in such a way that you forget the mechanics when you look at it, it's just mesmerizing.
Well I hope so and we talk a little bit about that, too. But before we get on to invisible Photoshop let's just talk about our approach, which is definitely two steps. Now we've both come out of the days of film. We used to expose the film, and even when you sent 10E film off to the lab.
You could have that tweak. I mean we used to click the first few frames of the roll of film, to see how the processing came out.
And then adjust the process.
And then you could adjust the contrast, you could adjust the exposure. You could, if you were a little bit tricky, even adjust the soup so that, the chemistry so that you got slightly different colors and stuff like that. So, if you went to a mini lab where they made prints, there was always someone who was lightening or darkening the print, adjusting the color balance. And then if you went to a commercial lab or professional lab, they would be dodging and burning, lightening and darkening. So photography, ever since it started, has always been capture, and then do something afterwards. It used to be in the darkroom, now it's in post production in our computers. So capture and post production to me is the message that I'm trying to put out there. And I know that we've had, we've got a few friends and they got into photography-
You've got a few friends, I've got, I won't go on with that.
You've got a few more. A few of our friends were reticent to get into digital photography. Out of the days of film they said, I'm going to digital over my dead body. I won't say who that was who is now a Nikon ambassador.
We won't go over that.
But that's another story. But he said, over, you know, just wasn't interested. But now that he understands how to do things in Lightroom and in Photoshop, he loves it. Because it gives you that creative freedom.
I was just going to say, you know, often people are put off by their fear of the unknown, in all things in life. And I think it's important that you understand what we're showing is, yes, there's an unlimited distance you can go, you can get so good at it, but you'll never be able to do it all. And even if you're just starting from ground zero, if you like, you can do a couple of little tricks and suddenly your picture's transformed and it's very easy. So we're going to hopefully share that whole journey.
I mean at one end is this image, which is photographed in the middle of the day, perfectly blue sky, nobody around. And that's not what I had in mind, it's taken in Ani, in eastern Turkey, and what I'm get feeling is the shape of that church, that cathedral there, the ruin. And so I've got a photograph of an old lady, I've taken in a village not too far away. There's actually a little silhouette up in the shadow behind the church, on the right of the church, and then of course there's that ominous sky that I've dropped in. That's what a lot of people think about being two steps in post production. I don't do that very often, that's so, that's days and days of work. To me, when we're talking about two steps, it's much more simplified than that.
But yes, that's probably what we show people to get them excited, but every day, every image, there's just a little bit of a tweak, which is what we want to emphasize.
It's all about the intent, really, isn't it? Because like if you were producing an image from this area as a documentary page, then you wouldn't start constructing and putting things together, would you?
No, that's right.
But if you wanted to share, hey, this is a sort of part of my experiences of being in this place, these are some of the memories that came together, in the same way an artist experiences a place, goes out, travels through a country, through a culture and then comes back and says, I'm going to make a painting that sums all that experience up, same thing.
Well, you're right into that painting feeling aren't you? Talk us through this.
This is an image from an exhibition I had called 3:2:1, which is about concrete. And this was part of a series where I photographed on a construction site that was made up of tilt panels, so you've got the gray tilt panels that get put up. And I'm standing in front of this particular wall that had been put up, and it's basically the wall with some steel mesh, the reo that reinforces the concrete floor sitting along the bottom a doorway. And I looked at it and I thought, it kind of symbolizes the whole construction process, because in the doorway is a brick. And when, you may have heard the anecdote, or the saying of, you know, the first brick in the wall, or, you know, it starts with the first brick. And here we have this wall ready to sort of become something else. And I was thinking, where does this end up, you know? We have the reo, the mesh at the bottom of the image, which is actually the foundation, it provides the strength for the building. And the building might last for 40, 50, 60 years. In fact, in a month after this was set up like that and I took the original shot, that was painted, it had signs on it, there was a door there, you know, and people were coming in and out, it was being used. But if you go forward 50 years the paint will peel, the building will start to fall down. So what I've, in this image I've attempted to do is effectively compress time of 50, 60, 70 years into one image by having the first brick or a symbol of the first brick, by showing the peeling paint as a symbolism of age, and putting them together in one image. There's still the warmth of that reo at the bottom, the positiveness, the life force of that strength of steel underneath, but there's a coldness in the walls that over time it will start to deteriorate. So this is a use of photography in a way to tell a story or give away a concept that is a passage of time. And that's what I mean by some of my fine art.
And my take away from this is how much thought you have given to creating that image. And I think that sometimes when people look at our work and wonder what's, you know, how do we do it? It's not just the click, what Dr. Les Walkling our friend talks about, he says what's happening behind the camera is more important than what is happening in front of the camera. And what he's getting at is the, well I hope, I assume, never put words into Les' mouth, but he's thinking, you know, it's our ideas, it's our thoughts behind our head that really inform what we do as photographers and what we capture. And that's where I, you know, I look at your work and he, you know, you'll hear later on, Tony always has stories behind the photos, and that always inspires me.
So, one of these little things I did want to say is that when you've done your post production.
What I noticed in the post production is that it is invisible. So post production, it's sort of like when we're doing these adjustments to the image, we all know as photographers that it's been mucked about with, but it's important that we can't see the brushwork, unintentionally at any rate.
Yeah, look, I think what you don't want people to be doing is looking at your picture and wondering, how did you do that and how did you do that first, they may get there. And it's the same as like, you know, I have a background that includes wedding and portrait. And one of the things that I used to say to people they say, you know, what about framing? And I said, well, if you go to a framer, one of the dangers of going to framer, not all framers, but some framers, is their focus is on framing. Do you want a picture to hang on a wall that people walk in and go, wow, what a beautiful frame! Or do you want people to walk in and go, God that makes me feel warm, or gosh that gives me the shivers, or wow, where is that, you know? And I want people to fall into the imagery and fall into the concept of what's behind the imagery. The presentation is there to support the idea, the concept.
Mm, and so we talk, I, well, we talk about the idea of invisible Photoshop, and that's no disrespect to Photoshop at all. It means that the Photoshop or the Lightroom or the Capture One techniques that we use should not be visible to anybody, really, and even other photographers. They might know that you've darkened down the sky, but they shouldn't be able to tell you whether you've used a 500 pixel feather or a 1,000 pixel feather.
You know, they should, it should be just invisible, and that takes time.
It does, yeah, and then, it's about a subtlety and a sensitivity to the technique. Where we can get seduced, we get excited, we learn a new technique, you know, you download one of your amazing techniques or tutorials and you practice that technique and you put it on every picture. And some of those pictures it probably wasn't relevant to it.
But you do it because you're excited about the technique. And what we would like to see you move towards is to get excited about the idea.
So, Tony, the technique that you've used here.
This is another one where we've used multiple images in the photograph. And could you have created it without multiple images?
Or is this a, this is in a scene, yeah.
It would have been very difficult. And this image is actually one of my, you know, for photographers issued, 100,000 pictures, more, this is one of my all time favorite pictures because of the idea behind it. It's part of the same Concrete series, and the idea was I was standing there, and I'm going to break this image down later, in a different part of the course.
But I was standing looking at this piece of concrete, and it's called floating concrete. And when they pour these panels, you have the big ones, but you also have small panels. And it's sitting on an even smaller one. So if you can imagine that when it's all gray, I'm standing there looking at it, and a little bit of rain coming down, and I'm thinking, that doesn't look right, Pete. That piece of concrete, which I know is heavy, is floating, how does that happen? And that made me think, you know, concrete starts off as a liquid, you pour it in, so it's actually liquid and then becomes solid. So a few months later I was in Florida, giving a talk at a conference in Florida, and at the end of the conference they took me out fishing, because you know I love my fishing. We went out and it was one of those milky days, absolutely milky days, and the sky came down and the sky and the horizon, you couldn't see where they met. And behind the boat was this standing wave pattern, you know that ripple that follows the boat as we're chugging along? So I'm sitting on the back of the boat having a beer or whatever it was I was drinking and I was looking at this, and this connection came into my brain, and it works like this. And I saw this standing wave pattern and I thought, wow, that looks solid, it's not changing, you know how that just follows you. And yet my brain says, now hang on a minute, that's water.
Straight away I went back to my concrete shot and I thought, that's like that concrete. The concrete started as a liquid, became a solid, the water's a liquid but. So then I came home and I thought, now I can complete my story of how I felt and what was going through my head when I was taking this picture. I wanted to show that concrete starts life as a liquid. And then there's another image, which is a sunrise. You can see the warmth coming in because this was shot on a dull gray day with rain coming through. I blended that warmth of that color to show the dawn of something new. So whereas that blue image was about compression of time, from the original image right through to when the paint starts to peel, this is about the dawn of that building, it's about the dawn of creation.
So my take away, Tony, is that, you know, because we've got a passion and we're doing this all the time, photographs don't happen at the time necessarily that you take them, they can be developed over time. And sometimes there will be photographs that you might have in mind, and it might be a year or two before you actually find the opportunity to actually take that photo. So we've got these little projects that are constantly going on in our brains and that's, you know, maybe some people write them down.
And keep notes, I have a little thing on, a little notepad application on my iPhone where I-
I put little notes and that's, again, another normal part of what we do as photographers.
Yeah, and I've got, I write as you know and you love to read my poetry, I often write little bits of poetry and prose.
It's just, they're like the words that go with what I'm thinking. And I was thinking about the point of exploration that I think Ken had touched on earlier, that sometimes you take an image because there's a connection, there's a passionate feeling that you have, but you don't always understand it in its full depth. And it's in the exploring of that image later that you start to pull it out.
So I just worry about the poetry you'd write on my photograph, Tony.
On this one? Well I know who that beautiful figure is.
So that's my daughter many years ago. She wasn't, actually she was running around in the foreground there, but that isn't her there, she was running around in the cape at another location and we dropped her in. But Santa Maria dei Miracoli and I know for all the Italian nationals out there that I have pronounced that incorrectly. I have tried for years and years and I can't get it right, so I'll just have to accept that it's spelled as it sounds. (laughs)
So what are you trying to say with this picture?
Well, I don't know whether I was actually trying to say anything. I was more trying to communicate a sense of mood and emotion, you know, the angst-
I like deep feelings.
I like the age of Venice and I like architecture and, you know, having a figure in the landscape for me gives it scale, creates a story. And it doesn't matter what my story is, because you guys have got different backgrounds, you're going to have a different story that you put there, but I think it's going to help all of us have a story, and that, to me, is what it is about. But-
I was going to say, the other thing about bringing a figure into this image. If we imagine this picture without the figure in there, we would be looking at it from a distance and quite detached. But as soon as you put a figure in there and particularly a child and that movement, for me it brings me into the image, it allows me to participate in the exploration of the image. It allows me to feel like, I wonder what it would be, it would actually be like to be there?
And it does allow me a way to get into that image.