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Technically competent, artistically challenged

Discussion in 'Help Team' started by dazdmc, Jan 13, 2020.

  1. dazdmc

    dazdmc Well-Known Member

    I've been into photography for around 20 years and was lucky enough to have my own darkroom before moving house. Almost a year ago I bought myself a Nikon D5300 with 3 lenses as I was missing it but SHMBO wouldn't let me set the darkroom up in the new place. I filled the gap with a Panasonic DMC FZ45 bridge camera for snapshots on holiday, familly gatherings etc. Now that I'm really getting to grips with the equipment I find myself really lacking in taking a good photo, sure I can get the exposure correct, I can even get good sharpness, but all my images lack in interest if that makes sense? All I'm really managing is to copy whatever the scene is. I sometimes think this comes down to the fact that to trade I'm an electrical engineer and spend my working week repairing complex cnc machinery, it's all very technical and scientific. My wife on the other hand wouldn't have a clue how to operate any of my cameras but she "sees" the shot and gets very good results with her phone. I do get some good shots from time to time but they are few and far between, the good thing with digital is that you can see the image straight away and if it's rubbish you can delete and try again. In the good old film days you only had so may shots on yourroll of film ( I used to do alot of 120) so you had to make more of an effort.
    Can you learn how to see an image and then reproduce what you you pictured or is it just in you (or not in my case)
    What do you guys do when things just aren't going right and all you produce is only worth deleting?
  2. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member

    I read this and immediately thought about my late husband. Electronics engineer. I am a bit of everything, having run a Mini computer at one stage and accountancy as well as statistical analysis, so I don't know where that puts me.
    However, I used to paint and sketch a lot, so I guess I do 'see' compositions quite naturally (it feels).
    My hubby used to follow me and ask the same questions - what was I seeing when I took a shot. It's awfully difficult to say how you can get the sense of a picture or if what you are seeing can be framed a certain way in your camera viewfinder and result in an interesting picture.
    Images are all about light and of course, shade. Try looking at something and see how the light falls on it, whether the shadows give it extra interest and the light gives it form - and try to take the picture that shows this best. You can be very analytical with a portrait - indeed, you have to be! See if the light casts an ugly shadow under the nose, or makes the eyes look tired. Study it closely rather than looking at the model, for example. The same goes for architecture and plants (which can be very difficult and easier in soft light.) Look for drama in light and shadow play. Sometimes you just have to keep taking them. I know I count myself lucky to get one keeper in maybe 50, so don't be disheartened.
    dazdmc likes this.
  3. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I recognise what you say. It is small comfort to you but I lack any kind of creativity and I'm 100% into keeping a record of where I've been. It has quite surprising to me that, with the forum themes competition I have been able to find pictures in my archive that fit the description of the theme and which have been well received. However, given a theme, I can't go out and take a picture to suit - it just doesn't work. I can go out and take pictures of things - I like bird photography - but there is no huge scope for inventiveness in that. It is all technical based on what turns up in front of me. My wife on the other hand blissfully produces lots of wonderful pictures. She is armed with a bridge camera and is constantly on the look out for opportunities to fit ideas she has. It's another world to me. Still the main thing is that I don't let myself get upset anymore about whether or not my pictures are any good. I did go through a period of thinking like that and burying the prints, or latterly deleting everything, but I persist. A good thing about digital is that it is easy to go back and look at old stuff. I find I think better of stuff that I did a while ago than probably I did at the time. So don't chuck everything. You may well like it in a year or two, even if not now.
    EightBitTony and dazdmc like this.
  4. dazdmc

    dazdmc Well-Known Member

    I used to "see" and I won a few art competitions in my (much) younger years, I just find that the older I get the less I see. Maybe now that I have got to grips with the technical side of digital I just need to get out and shoot more, review the pictures I take and try to figure out why they're boring.
  5. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    I don't really know the answer to this I'm afraid. I was going to say 'work to some kind of theme' but it seems from what Pete says above that this isn't guaranteed to get you the results you were hoping for either. Might it be useful to spend a bit of time looking at some work by other photographers and seeing which images grab your interest? You could then perhaps start to analyse what it is about them that makes them work for you so that you can try and create somethign of your own. I'm not saying slavishly copy someone else, but for instance when I was working on one project, I looked at the work of Nick Waplington and noticed that in a lot of the images, he had evidently been sitting right down on the floor while he photographed pointing mainly upwards...I tried something similar myself and then experimented with shooting from all sorts of weird angles. Not everything worked but it made me look at ordinary scenes with a different eye and I got a couple of shots I was really happy with as a result.
  6. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I suppose it all depends on what you're really trying to achieve. My basic interest is in documenting things I find interesting. Sometimes it might look as if the picture's "composed" but as far as I'm concerned that's just luck. The main thing is to take lots and lots of pictures because the more pictures you take the more lucky you will be. Some examples:

    I just noticed the lamp's shadow...

    Shadow on wall P1030070.JPG

    The pattern of the bay windows in an Okehampton terrace...

    Terrace Station Road Okehampton P1010927.JPG

    On a breakwater in Sidmouth...

    Couple on breakwater pier at Sidmouth P1012642.JPG
  7. spinno

    spinno Well-Known Member

    is it just me or would it have been a better picture of the breakwater if the metal work had sloped from left to right:rolleyes:
  8. Bazarchie

    Bazarchie Well-Known Member

    My brain just does not seem to be wired to be creative. Maths, science and logic fine, but creativity no chance. My wife and daughters do not use fancy cameras but can see a shot much better than I can. Most of my photos are probably record shots and occasionally I get lucky with one that stands out.
    I am not convinced the skill you are after can be taught, but at least you can try. If you ever do find a solution please let me know.
  9. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

  10. Bazarchie

    Bazarchie Well-Known Member

    I agree or even if it was horizontal.
  11. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    Delete it!:(

    We all see everything slightly differently and have our strengths and weaknesses. I'm currently shooting very little and have little mojo or motivation, most of what I am shooting is related to other interests. I carry a camera quite a lot of the time I suppose, so that if something presents itself I can handle it. Much of the time things don't turn out as you see them to a greater or lesser extent, but you do get better at it, it is often extraneous stuff that we haven't really spotted when shooting that is the problem, due to concentrating on what we have actually noticed.
  12. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    Rather than blame being an engineer, think of it in reverse, your mental structure and processes make you a good engineer but don't help you succeed in terms of creative photography.

    There are some people that no matter how hard they train in a gym, their muscles are lean and efficient and built for long distance and they'll never look like Arnold, but they'll win marathons every day of the week.

    I think you can practice and exercise a creative muscle, but there's no sure-fire way of developing it and inevitably, some people are going to be more creative than others. Some people can play instruments, some people can write music, fewer people can do both (and I would argue very many more can do the former, which you might consider the technical side of music production).

    I am not a very creative photographer, I can't picture a scene I want to capture and go and do it. I find that gets in the way of me being any good at landscape which is very much about capturing emotion, feelings, and fleeting moments as much as it is about capturing a mountain. Part of that too is not having access to the right landscape, but when I do, I'm not good, I'm not inspired enough and I'm not creative enough, I don't know which feeds which.

    I can capture geometrically interesting shots, because I like the interplay of lines and space and some colours. I was extraordinarily pleased with this shot,


    Because I knew when I saw it, that it would look great in black and white and the triangles would be pleased (triangles are always pleasing). But if you looked at the image straight out of camera, it would not look like that.

    It looked like this, and I took 30 shots.


    I took portrait shots, I used exposure compensation, I tried different angles, I stood in different places. I took a lot of shots, and then I processed them carefully. I ignored what my memory told me it had looked like, and I processed them until they looked how I wanted them to look.

    I don't look at my photographs by photographers outside of the press, I can name maybe 3 professional photographers and one of those is my cousin, and I'm as surprised as anyone sometimes about what I enjoy photographing and how it looks. But I've learned a couple of things, you're both the only voice that matters and your worst critic and you need to find the balance (other people can help here but they aren't an authority) and don't limit yourself to photographing things you 'should' or 'must' or 'that you know you'll like' because if you're anything like me you might find you enjoy stuff you never expected.

    I know Pete struggled with the idea of themes, but for other people they can help. I set out with a rigid premise - photograph numbers, starting at 1, only in the right order. So find 1, photograph it, then find a 2, photograph that, then 3, then 4, etc. I couldn't cheat and photograph an interesting 20 and keep hold of it. I had to go looking. It made me look. The photographs aren't individually very good, but collectively it's a slightly more interesting story and in the end, one or two of the shots are decent.

    Lastly, I have 80,000 photographs, I think about 10 of them are 'excellent', maybe a couple of hundred are 'good'. When I started, I thought every one of them was great, then terrible then great, then terrible, then okay, then rubbish. Keep shooting, as long as you enjoy pressing the shutter button everything else will come and if it doesn't you had fun anyway.
    Zou likes this.
  13. cliveva

    cliveva Well-Known Member

    Hi first thing would be to look for a composition in the scene before you. You can learn the rules from learn to paint or draw books. Once one understands the rules of composition, you can apply it to photography , and then learn how to use the light.. If it is were easy we would all be great photographers!
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
  14. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    This indeed is a “trap” and I’ve been through this. Now I mostly delete only where there is technical error (e.g. focus, over-exposure, shake) or duplication.
  15. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    An obvious question would be what do you find interesting in photographs? Like @EightBitTony I'm a sucker for lines and geometry, so when I'm out and about I keep my eyes open for that. As a result I often see things that many others would walk right by. You can't really wait for stuff to fall into your lap, you have to be willing to look for it. Architectural details are another interest of mine, so guess what, I'm always looking up at interesting buildings. How does the light reflect from the walls and windows, where do lines intersect, is there interesting juxtaposition?
    Catriona and EightBitTony like this.
  16. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    Visualisation is another kettle of fish. Having looked at the buildings I'll maybe know that the mirrored finish would look good in the right conditions, or perhaps know that a row of columns would look that much better with hard side lighting and deep shadows. It may not be like that when I first see these features, so it's a case of remembering and making a point of checking when conditions are better. This is really useful for fixed things like buildings, structures and landscapes, as it means you don't need to waste countless journeys trying to shoot when conditions don't favour what you had in mind.

    I see this visualisation as a skill separate from creativity, in that it requires more recognition of known variables than creativity does. Creativity comes more into play as a tool of abstraction. As you move away from realism/record shots and start to feel comfortable with hints rather than a full story you may find different ways to drop those hints, maybe in terms of composition, colour/tone, texture etc. But this isn't easy, and you shouldn't feel bad if you don't find it easy.
    EightBitTony likes this.
  17. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    We had a thread on visualisation last year. Compared to the general population more people exchanging views on here were unable to visualise, “see with the mind’s eye” is how it was put.
  18. Zou

    Zou Well-Known Member

    I argue that visualisation is closer to logic than creativity. If you know x and you know y you can (in photographic terms) fairly accurately calculate their sum. Perhaps the problem is that many photographers don't know either x or y, because they haven't experienced it? Tools like the Photographer's Ephemeris* exist to help predict when light/conditions will be right but you need to know something before that's useful.

    If you like dramatic light, pay attention when it happens. What caused it (low cloud? storms?) and how did it affect the scene. Then you have the x and y for a shot of a scene you know in light you know, ergo you can visualise it.

    *Never used it myself though
    Geren and Catriona like this.
  19. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    I admit that I concentrate on being 'technically competent', and keep only 10-20% of the shots I take that are both technically 'acceptable' to me and also (I believe) have that something extra. And of these, there are only a very few that I want to get printed for framing or for use in a calendar at home. But even after the cull, there is still never enough wall space.

    Perhaps merely taking a lot more pictures and learning from mistakes, is the way to go. My wife tells me that my best images have improved in quality over the last 30 years, but she never sees the ones I delete. At least with digital the number of deleted images costs me nothing apart from time and patience: when I last used Kodachrome each slide cost about 30p, so the chance to take lots of shots and experiment more wasn't possible. I have always found that some places have inspired my photography and produced my favourite images (Tuscany in early in the morning in May, Venice early in the morning in November, the Lake District early in the morning in June, etc.). Have you found any places that inspire you to experiment?

    Re. your wife's phone: next time one of your 'technically competent' shots from your DSLR meets your artistic expectations, get a large (40x60 or 50x75 cm) print done, frame it and put in on the wall. Then get a print the same size from one of your wife's shots, and see if she can appreciate the benefits of using a decent camera and being 'technically competent'. Sadly, many people do not...
  20. Catriona

    Catriona Well-Known Member


    I just had a thought.
    In another place, I've just put seven pictures into a themed thread challenge of RealUnreal images.

    It did strike me to ask. Do you enjoy post processing - or did you actually enjoy darkroom work in the old days? I know I did and probably spent far more time there than actually taking pictures.

    I enjoy doing some post processing work using more than one image in various combinations and blends. I only use Elements 10 as my post processing program so I'm using my skill as much as what can result as a blend mode.
    Sometimes I take pictures with the deliberate aim of using them later. One of my most used is a shot of the rough side of brown paper. Sometimes a portrait or picture of trees or street can lend themselves to further imagination being used.

    I don't know how you feel about this but it can bring a bit of fun back into your photographic journey and I recommend it as a bit of light relief.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2020

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