Observe where you Gravitate

I follow too many blogs. I read too much techy info and lust after too much gear. Whilst the intention is to get as much info as I can to become a better photographer, I think it's possible get to the stage where all this is just noise. You have a mountain of facts and techniques to draw on, but zero direction. Somewhere along the way I believed that the more I found out, the more my specific 'photography trajectory' would just organically slide into focus.

Am I to be a headshot photographer, fashion photographer, event photographer, journo photographer, still life photographer? Reading blogs hasn't made that clearer to me. In fact, if anything, it keeps me interested in all of them.

I've felt this keenly in the recent, busy months. I've shot all of the above with models, and products, and street, and documentary, and shows, and weddings... but the problem is I don't have any clear direction for the future. Am I going to just shoot a bit of everything forever, being a photographic 'jack-of-all-trades'?

Then I got to thinking about who my photography heroes are. Let me visually introduce you to a few of them:

Gregory Heisler

Steve McCurry

www.stevemccurry.com

www.stevemccurry.com

Don McCullin

www.contactpressimages.com/photographers/mccullin/mccullin_bio.html

www.contactpressimages.com/photographers/mccullin/mccullin_bio.html

Joey L (specifically his Africa and Varanasi Portraits)

www.joeyl.com

www.joeyl.com

While I was thinking about these guys  who are an inspiration to me, two things were immediately clear.

1. These photographers are known for a style, which includes subject matter, composition, editing etc etc. They don't 'also shoot weddings'. These guys do one thing very, very well.

At some point I have to choose what it is I shoot. I may feel right now that I need to shoot a bit of everything to keep the scant work flowing in, but the irony is that if I focused it down I would likely pick up more consistent work in the long run because I am the go-to guy for 'x'... if I'm good enough. 

I suppose the old saying, "if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time" applies here. 

I will consider myself a success when I have a smaller website, with less material on it, not more. I will have a defined idea of who I am as a photographer when I have ceased chasing the blogs for techniques, tricks, tips and tools, and have locked into something I love and put my head down to be the best at it I can be.

2. So the obvious question is what will I choose? What do I want to shoot? What resonates with me? it might be obvious to you because I laid it out in this post, but it dawned on me slowly. I looked at these images from my heroes and realised that the images which resonate with me are actually very specific.

It's people photography, and the sort of people photography where the individuals have stories etched into their features.

It's photography which gets in close. It's capturing subjects willing to be vulnerable enough to stare down the lens at you and offer you a bit of themselves to freeze in your frame.

These are the shots I want to be taking. If I could choose (and I must choose) what my photography will become, this would be it. 

I know that this sort of photography isn't lucrative any more. I know that this sort of journalism is going through huge changes which leave less and less opportunities to make a career out of it, but I can't help it. This is the stuff which speaks to me.

So I need to try. I need to work out ways to overcome my shyness in shooting strangers. I need to find a style which I can own, and then keep it simple. I need to invest time and energy, because it's work the risk. 

I suppose the challenge I want to leave with you, especially if, like me, you are struggling to find a direction for your work to focus on: look at your heroes. There is likely a clear thread there staring you in the face, which you just need to pick up and follow. Start to hone in on shooting the work which really resonates with you.

I still don't know the way forward, but having a direction to face, even without having taken the first step yet, feels like huge progress.

Shooting Photo Narratives

Note: This post also includes a review of Exposure.so, but I haven't been asked to do the review or paid in anyway for it.

What is a Photo Narrative?

Well, it seems the definition varies a little, but for me it's taking your camera out and catching frames throughout a day, or an event, which communicate the story, and visually represent what went on. A good Photo Narrative, for me, requires very little, if any words, because the images are strong enough that they give you the sense of that 'happening', even if you don't have all the details. I suppose it's documentary photography in essence but has an emphasis on sequential events over a deliberate space of time.

I have always been a fan of this sort of photography.

I used to do it more actually but the 'more pro' I got the less I shot like this, and I think it's because I became too precious with my shots and prohibitively selective about which shots I shared with the world.

At some point I realised that if you spend enough time on each image, and only post your prime shots for others to see, people will think this is what you shoot like all the time. It makes sense too, and definitely strengthens your image to the world and your brand in general, but aren't you losing something in the process? 

I have a skill; and can choose to use it to take people along with me to see the things I see. It's a more generous approach to photography, and might mean I will end up posting some images which aren't my strongest in order to construct a Photo Narrative, but I really like the idea of building something out of many pieces which tells a story.

A couple I know back in Cape Town do this very well, turning their holiday shots into beautiful Photo Narratives (check out their wedding photography too which also has a great documentary feel):

http://lovemadevisible.co.za/travel/ 

I know many photographers who don't like this sort of shooting because they prefer to maintain the illusion of a high 'hit rate' by only posting one, crafted shot at a time. The fact is that if you head out to shoot and commit to posting a Photo Narrative by the end of the day, there will be some shots which are stronger than others. You also won't have the time to do deep edits on these images if you want be timeous about the things you're covering. In that way it's more akin to photo journalism than the crafted photography of the portraiture and art world. Personally I like the challenge though. I doubt anyone will be printing any of these images off as canvases for their walls, but that's not really what they're for, and I'm ok with that.

Recently I signed up to exposure.so, which is a new platform designed to display your Photo Narratives. Here is a link to a Narrative I posted showing my walk around London this Saturday morning past, visiting Mandela Memorial sites, and bumping into a Hoard of Santas:

https://seantuck.exposure.so/sadness-and-celebration

A little bit on Exposure:

First off, I'm sure you'll agree that it looks beautiful. I am sucker for the clean, white look and they have done a great job of providing a stylish and simply layout. It is also very user friendly. It only took me 15 minutes to put this Photo Narrative together and it was a fun process which felt less like work and more like effortless creativity.

Great use of fonts, good design aesthetics, and some useful control over which order photos are displayed in, as well as an attractive light box solution mean that they have nailed the look and functionality for me.

The negatives are that you only get 3 free Photo Narrative posts before you need to pay for a subscription. It's not a huge amount of money, and it's definitely worth the price if you are into this sort of 'shoot and sharing', but for someone like me who doesn't get to do this often enough it feels like just another platform I would have to give a bunch of time to, to ensure I got my moneys worth.

I mean this subscription is also on top of the other subscriptions which I have to pay monthly like Photoshop CC, Squarespace for website, 500px Awesome account and other sundry accounts for little things like Wetransfer for client file transfers. You can quickly rack up a bunch of these 'little' subscriptions for things you 'need', until you get to the point where you wonder where your money is bleeding off to every month, and I'm trying to be more careful about this sort of thing myself. Can I afford another platform which only serves one very specific purpose, even if it does it very well?

And that brings me to another negative. This would be an entirely new platform to maintain and draw visitors too. I am having enough trouble trying to draw traffic to my main website without confusing the brand I'm trying to build with yet another URL. I have only just moved everything together in one space. Until recently I was running my photography portfolio off 500px, my videography portfolio off Wordpress, my photography blog off Blogger, and my iPhoneography blog off Tumblr. It's too much. So I moved everything onto Squarespace and have been really happy that I finally have a combined home for everything, so I'm not going to shoot myself in the foot by letting a bunch of new Sean Tucker Photography content spring up elsewhere on the web.

If there was a way to have this platform integrate and display within Squarespace (like embedding the Photo Narrative onto a page or post) and a way to display on social media platforms other than just sharing a link, then perhaps it would be more worthwhile for me personally.

There also don't seem to be options to leave comments and interact as yet, but I'm sure this functionality will appear with updates?

That said, head along and check it out because it really is a slick interface providing an eye catching Photo Narrative layout. I know it sounds like I just dumped all over them but they really have built a beautiful platform which will do exactly what many photographers want. I think my rant has more to do with 'too many platforms and subscriptions' in general.

Check them out here (you may need to request an invite):

https://exposure.so/ 

I'll leave you with some shots of Santas from my last Photo Narrative:

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50mm: Focal Length Series

So this is the challenge I have given myself: to head out on a series of Photomissions where I am only allowed to use one focal length per session. I will walk the same route each time; between Waterloo Station and Oxford Circus Underground, and shoot using only one prime lens along the route to see what I can catch, and report back the experience and challenges of shooting with that particular focal length. I'm hoping to cover 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm.

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This week it's the

50mm f1.4 prime.

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NOTE: I am shooting on a full frame camera. If you're shooting on a cropped sensor camera (APS-C sensor) then these comments will apply more to a 35mm prime.

The Great Grandaddy of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, was a proponent of this focal length, using it almost exclusively throughout his career. So I figured I would be in good hands with this one.

Starting off from the station I felt immediately at home with this focal length. I have heard people suggest that 50mm on a full frame camera is pretty close to the natural focal length of the human eye, and I could feel that straight away. I had this strange experience when I was looking around for shots to take; the moment I lifted the camera to my eye, the shot I had envisioned was right there in my viewfinder, with no intermediate calculation needing to take place.

It felt very natural.

When shooting with the 24mm, or even the 35mm, I found that I had to try and lock the focal length in my minds eye to predict the composition of each potential shot, but with the 50mm, "what you see is what you get."

I think this is why the 50mm is my favourite street focal length.

It's a great compromise between standing far off and compressing the background, and having to get in your subjects face, distorting them in the process. It gives you context by included background elements, but also separates your subjects nicely.

It really is a great allrounder.

In the world of primes, your legs are your zoom anyway, and I find the 50mm puts you in a comfortable place to shoot most of the action. It makes your viewer feel like a part of the scene, but doesn't mean you have to be shooting in people's personal space to do it.

There is this scene in the opening of "The Bang Bang Club", where one of 4 photojournalists covering the violent transition of power in '92 in South Africa, pulls out a long lens and begins shooting the action from a safe distance. The 3 other characters in the movie come hurtling past him right into the middle of the action with 50mm primes to get the shots. After things have calmed down they turn to their timid colleague and tell him to 'throw that lens away and get into the action with a 50mm, or else you can't call yourself a photojournalist.' Famous war photographer, Robert Capa, used to say, "If your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."

There is a great deal to be said for the proximity of photographer to subject when it comes to street photography, and how this effects the viewers perception.

This lens will get you close without the compromises. I know some people take quotes like this and insist on shooting even wider (35mm) but I find that the trade off with distortion, and the fact that you effect the scene by getting too close, aren't worth it.

For me this lens is the one I use the most often. This is my street photography, go-to prime.

The Canon 50mm f1.4 was the first prime I bought and is my baby, both because of the quality, and the sentimentality as it marked my entrance into the world of serious photography. The 50mm prime is always the cheapest prime in any brand, and is often the first lens people buy for their DSLR's, aside from their kit lens. It is the gateway to a whole wide world of better photography, and the beginning of the deep, dark gear hole. The Canon 50mm f1.8 is only around £90 (R1000) and is so worth the price. If you can shell out a bit more for the f1.4 it is really worth your money.

If you want a way in, this is it. Go grab one and get shooting.

Here are some more of the shots I got:

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Find Your Angle

On New Years Day I went into London to shoot the Parade.

The streets were lined, 2 or 3 people deep from the curb, with on lookers from all around the world, wielding their own cameras. As the parade began to go by, and with a cursory glance at the LCD screens of the cameras around me, I realised that I was getting exactly the same shots as everyone else.

I had one of those moments of clarity where I realised that if I was just going to be replicating the shots everyone was getting that day, I genuinely didn't want to bother shooting at all. I'm not creating at that point, I'm merely doing a shoddy job of reporting.

Who cares if I have a full frame DSLR?

It would be difficult to pick my shots out of a line up from the images being grabbed by the happy-snap holiday makers with point-and-shoots all around me, unless I could find another way to shoot this parade.

I committed that if I couldn't find a better way to shoot this, or a different angle, then I would put my camera away, and head home. In fact, given the icy wind, it only took a couple of minutes of fighting the crowds and cold before I resolved to head back to the soup I had waiting for me on the stove.

I was walking back to the tube station and decided to take some back streets and avoid having to push my way through the mass of humanity crowding the road side along the parade route. I rounded a few corners and stumbled upon the prefect situation; I walked right into the staging area for the parade, and as luck would have it there was no security to stop me.

I stayed there for a good hour, walking among the floats and acts as they lined themselves up to join the throng on the main street. I was able to walk into the middle of the road and get down to eye level for some shots which, I knew, would be something more intimate than your average photographer was able to get further up the way. It was worth the walk, and made the whole mission worthwhile.

My 'take away' from the day was to always look for another angle. If I am shooting the same shots as everyone else, then I am not being creative enough.

It reminded me of a documentary I watched recently about 3 of the founders of MagnumRobert CapaDavid Seymour, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In their early adulthood they were in Paris during a series of protests, and as friends they decided to Photomission and cover the happenings. One of the commentators in the documentary spoke about how you could mix those photos up on a table and still be able to tell whose was whose. Capa loved strength and drama, choosing to shoot men with fists in the air. Seymour caught the softer side, capturing woman and children as they watched. Cartier-Bresson loved to find a new angle, an interesting composition.

Each found their own way of shooting the events; their own angle.

So...

Find another angle.

Find your take on what's happening.

Here are a few of the shots I captured:

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