Monday, 30 September 2013

Telling the story

As modern photographers, and in particular digital photographers, it is easy to capture one image that tells a story.  You only need to look at Facebook, Flickr, or any other site that hosts photographs.  If you open a newspaper or read an online news site the chances are that sooner or later you will come across a photograph that was taken not by a professional photojournalist but by someone with a half decent camera phone.

Camera club photographers are well adapted at this.  However, this obsession to capture that one competition winning image can often be to the detriment of a better story that could be told over a series of images.

The photo essay is very much like a written essay but with fewer words and (hopefully) a lot of quality images.  It is a blend of art, journalism and story telling that are combined in a structure that conveys the story to the viewer.

Washing anyone?
The final collection of images will contribute to the story and will also play a part in evoking a sense of theme and emotion while still being artistically and compositionally strong, informative and educational.  Creating the photo essay can be extremely demanding and challenging but done well the finished result can be rewarding and powerful.

A photo essay can take one of two basic forms:  The narrative form is an essay that starts at a particular point in time and follows the story via a sequence of events or actions.  These types of essays tend to follow a chronological order.  Example of these may be following a group of children through their first year of school or through some religious rite of passage such as confirmation; a behind the scenes essay on the organisation and delivery of an event or something a bit more challenging; following someone dealing with depression.

The other type of essay is a thematic one.  This type of essay is one that
focuses on a central theme this maybe homelessness in Pennine Lancashire; environmental projects or religion in your local area.  The thematic essay is one that presents images relevant to that theme.

Occasionally, and it is extremely rare, a photo essay may take on both forms at the same time.  There is nothing wrong with this as long as the essay tells the story that you want to get across.

The Five Elements

Regardless of what your photo essay is going to be about there has to be certain elements to the project in order to make it work.

The Story – In producing the photo essay the story is one of the most important aspects of the project.  The photographs should provide a narrative that includes a beginning, a middle and an end.

A Range of Photographs – The essay should have a range of photographs that help strengthen the story.  Consider images that set the scene; images of little details that help increase the overall impact and/or portraits of people that are part of the story.

Order – The photographs should follow an order that helps deliver the story fluidly and easily to the viewer in an interesting sequence.

Feeling – The photographs should have a ‘feel’ to them.  Whether this is informative where you, the photographer, are giving information about a particular subject or emotive where some of the photographs evoke emotion with the viewer.  This can be uplifting or upsetting.  The latter type of images can be extremely powerful.

Captions – Captions can be an essay author’s best friend.  They can help carry the story through in short sentences and ensure that the viewer understands what is going on.

Before you Press the Shutter

Life's a beach

A photo essay is as much about your skills as a story teller as it is about the photographs that tell the story.  There is (or should be) quite a bit of work that goes in to the project before you even touch a camera.

The first thing to think about is the subject.  What is your essay going to be about?  This may seem easier than it actually is.

A photo essay requires a lot of work so it’s important to ensure that your outcome is achievable.  For instance you may decide to undertake an essay about Modern Religious Practices in Pennine Lancashire.  Fantastic, you have an interesting and engaging subject.  However, when you start looking in to the subject you suddenly find that there are more different religions practicing in East Lancashire than you first thought.  They all have different festivals, they all have different places of worship.  You’re project has just gone from a twelve month time span to ten years.

So, when you are planning your essay take in to careful consideration the length of the project and the amount of work required.

Ensure you are clear on what the story is.  Will people find it interesting?  Will you find it interesting?  Is there a story to be told?  A clearly defined story will have greater longevity and a wider audience.

Once your ideas begin to form then this is the point to hit the books and internet.  Again, this is something that may not be necessary (depending on your project), but if you are going to interact with people or your subject has an informative angle then you at least need to know what you are talking about.  You don’t need to hold a PhD in the chosen subject you just need an understanding.  The more work you put in at this stage the closer you will feel to your essay and more informed the finished product will be.

Have a look at what other photographers are doing.  Do a flickr search and join groups.  You can be almost guaranteed that someone else has attempted the same subject matter as you somewhere before.  Don’t forget to ask questions!

Think about how you want the project to look and how it’s going to be presented.  Also think about how you process the image.  Do you want something a little retro looking, ultra modern or something obscure like 3D?

The whole idea is to set yourself a little challenge through a project and fall in love with photography all over again.

Thursday, 26 September 2013



We all remember the earthquake and tsunami. We watched in horror as nuclear reactors began to melt down.

Japanese photographer Soichiro Koriyama's new book brings us face-to-face with the reality of that blighted land with a series of dark and forbidding images.

I think that the book is only available in Japanese but fortunately the images are available on the photographers website.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Make it simple

Recently on The Online Photographer a debate was taking place.  The subject of which was basically why don’t camera manufacturers make a simple camera that is of good quality design, affordable, produces reasonable images and is notable by its distinct lack of program modes, video and other adornments that never get used.  It would appear that people want a camera that is as simple as those found on mobile phones.

Personally, I want a mobile phone to be a mobile phone and I want a camera to be a camera, after all that is what I bought a mobile phone for and I’ve bought various cameras (compacts and SLR’s included).

The strength of opinion demonstrates that there is a need for a piece of technology that fills this niche.  If there weren’t then this debate wouldn’t be taking place.  However, there is also another issue here and that is one of which of which camera, we as photographers, choose to do a particular job.

Let’s take the landscape photographer as a point in case.  Generally, this photographer purchases a full frame sensor DSLR, a couple of nice heavy lenses, a set of very expensive filters and a lovely tripod that weighs more than the brick of the camera.  He/She then spends half a morning puffing and panting up a hill to spend twenty minutes to an hour setting up to spend five minutes catching sunrise.  This is if they haven’t broken their leg trying to find their way up a mountain in the dark!

There is an alternative to this.  That is a high end compact camera.  These cameras are ideal for landscape photographers.  They’ll fit in a pocket, the majority will shoot in RAW, they have functions like self timers and some will even emulate Fuji Velvia film.  The other benefit is that due to the lens and sensor set up the resulting image will be sharp from front to back.  Of course, you can still use a tripod however, as the camera is smaller and lighter you only need a smaller and lighter tripod.  The RAW capability also means that you can add a graduated filter in Lightroom (or other software) later.

Image by Nick Turpin
Another example is street photography.  The good street/documentary photographers get close to their subjects without using telephoto lenses.  Excellent examples of this include Nick Turpin and Martin Parr’s Last Resort.  The end result is a lot more intimate and a much more telling story.  The photographer also has the advantage that he/she is less likely to get stopped using a compact type camera than when using a DSLR.

Of course there are exceptions to this.  Some wildlife photography and sports photography would be difficult with a compact camera but there are still opportunities even in this field.

I think Fujifilm was really close with its X-Series cameras.  They are nicely designed but still have too many refinements and are expensive.  I do believe there is a need for the simple camera, possibly something on the lines of an Olympus Trip 35 but I also think that as photographers that we need to consider our equipment choices more carefully instead of going for the obvious.

Oh!  Hang on, I must go, my camera is ringing!

Monday, 16 September 2013

What is it about film?

Hovis anyone? - Photograph by Lee Johnson
A little while ago I decided I was going to run a roll of film through my old Pracktica MTL3 35mm SLR.

You see, for quite a few years the MTL3 had been confined to its case, up in the attic while my digital cameras took pride of place either in my pocket or over my shoulder.  I had become aware that I was getting a little stale, creatively speaking.  I was constantly shooting, processing images, posting and shooting again but for some reason, some of the shine was wearing thin.

Please, don't get me wrong.  I love digital photography.  It allows me to attempt shots that I wouldn't dream of trying with a film camera.  I wouldn't dream of giving up with digital.

Anyway, the resulting images from the first roll of film were posted on my Flickr account (look for the images tagged MTL3).

Wash your duvet - Lee Johnson
In the same box was a roll of Boots own brand 400 colour film.  It was ten years out of date but I decided I was going to shoot with it anyway.  I decided that I was going to shoot a mini project on launderettes (the full story on this will be in the next issue of Pixel).

It was at this point I found something very interesting happening.  I was loving photography again.  No, not just photography, I was loving shooting photographs on film again.

Shortly after completing the launderettes I acquired a Pentax K1000 outfit and it just confirmed what I had found.  I love shooting on film.

I've been so inspired by this that I'm looking in to other aspects of film photography.

What is it about film that I love?

This is a random thought and it's one that I'm putting down on screen without thinking it through properly but for me, film photography is about creating something tangible; something you can hold; something real.  It is a physical thing from pressing the shutter to holding the print.  It feels crafted and worked.  I have to admit, I probably put more work in to a digital image file and I will always shoot digital;  I still love digital and I'm not against digital but somehow for me, it feels virtual.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

And now for something completely different!

Our friends at La Dolce Vita are holding a wine tasting evening tonight (details below).  The also have a new exhibition in the Galleria.

Wine Tasting evening
Sat 7 Sept 6.30pm & 8pm
Sample eight different Italian wines from different regions with Wine2You’s Keith Morton.
A friendly informal tasting, with home-made Italian food to sample from our new menu

Tel (01282) 866008 for tickets or call in at La Dolce Vita deli Italia, 40 Albert Rd, Colne.

Tickets are £15.95 including lots of delicious Italian nibbles.