It’s all in the delivery…..

With increasing internet access comes increasing availability of information. In fields such as photography, this has definitely increased the number of pictures available for viewing online as more people inform themselves on the basics of photography and set out to fulfil their visions. I am sure that this has increased the absolute number of images available but less certain about the relative increase in quality images available. Likewise, the amount of interaction with particular images has increased though quality interactions such as meaningful critiques would still be at a premium.  The delivery of images and subsequent interaction is constantly evolving and in many aspects, not necessarily for the better.

At around 30,000 views it is one our most viewed images yet not personally one of our most precious.

Increasingly, the online photographic world seems to be caught up  in lay-consumerism where popular images are not necessarily those most artistically valued by either the photographer or so-called expert critics. Popular methods of commenting with monosyllabic acronyms far outnumber well considered responses.  By stark contrast, many forums exist which encourage ‘proper’ opinion and discourage any ‘like’ or ‘fave’ type of comments.  In this setting the opposite may well occur as described by a previous post regarding the issue of the ‘armchair critic’ . The unfortunate result of such extreme variations of feedback is that the creator of the image may have to spend time fending of spam or taking on unnecessarily caustic and unhelpful remarks.

This image drew all manner of accusations of falsehood which were incredibly unfounded yet convincingly delivered!

 From the artist’s perspective, it is increasingly difficult to achieve recognition for producing something which stands out from the crowd. Some go to the extreme lengths of deception to do so, while others are so caught up with protecting ‘industry secrets’ such that precious little information is provided about the photograph with its initial presentation or  on polite request.  Let’s face it though, there are more ways than ever to generate appropriate complex masks and achieve high dynamic range and most of these methods are available in some form for free on youtube or vimeo. Who can blame photographers for this self promoting practice though. Everyone needs to make a living somehow and if landscape photography is your sole source of income, it’s going to take some originality of work or marketing to sustain your profession. I do however get despondent after viewing an inspirational image, only to read a caption that states ‘please buy my tutorial /attend my workshop’ with no other descriptors of the image.

Believe it or not, images of Kirkjufell were once relatively rare even as early as 5 years ago.

What is common then, with all of these varying , sometimes drastically opposing points of view? Communication. I feel that in this current day and age, communication has never been easier nor more accessible yet these factors have ironically been its downfall. How many times have you written an email or a tweet in the spur of the moment which has ended up with regret. How many times has it  been easier just to click a button (‘fave’) rather than to express why you like an image.  How many times have you seen critique that was assumed to be provoking in nature when it need not have been? How many times have you seen an artist spin a tale of wonder and intrigue regarding certain images in order to win an audience ? How many times have you wanted to find out more about an image only to find that there is no accompanying caption nor a reply when asked about details for an image. Finding the middle ground between these extreme examples is a difficult one but one that I feel is important.

I tried to make it clear that the swirling trails was done in post processing for this scene.

What’s my approach then?I like to keep things simple.  I ‘like’ or ‘fave’ an image when I truly like an image enough to view it again for inspiration ; either to one day visit that location or to study what makes it  a successful image in my eyes. I may like an image to support artists who I feel are underdone with exposure but I don’t do this in the hope of a return favour. What’s the personal point of having a favourites collection that spans 50000 images (as many users of 500px do)? When giving critique, I try to make sure that in some way there is something constructive to be gained and that it is clear that my critique is just opinion. I try to give an honest account of my experience with creating individual images (where it was taken, the conditions, if it is a multiple exposure blend or composite). I create links to our various sites and tutorials but as an adjunct to some actual useful information about the image itself. But remember this ; I do not rely on photography to make a living. I do not have to do the hard sell to keep my family off the streets. Would my delivery of images and interaction with the wider wold change if I did become a full time photographer? I could not hope to answer that until the pressures of this theoretical lifestyle erode at my current principles!

This image is our top selling post card to date but its earnings might support us for a week!

Your thoughts in the comments below are more than welcome!

The Great Ocean Reprieve

Exactly 30 months ago , Charlotte came into this world. Exactly 30 months and 1 day ago was the last morning that Marianne and I had without having to worry about being woken up or waking up Charlotte. While that sounds negative, I have to stress that parenthood itself has been filled with so much joy and life experience that there really are no room for regrets, just opportunity for reflection. With our second child due to enter the world in a few weeks, we decided to try something different : a holiday without Charlotte. We had all sorts of concerns ranging from how Charlotte would cope without us , to how glum we might feel without her boundless toddler energy (she’s past toddling now really) . I am delighted to say that Charlotte treated it as  a holiday to our grandparents’ house (whose assistance was greatly appreciated). Marianne and I almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves with the sudden degree of freedom to do as we pleased! I would have usually considered photographing most dawns, dusks, nights and travelling through the day tiring but compared to raising a young child, it is nothing! I think this is a hard concept for those without children to grasp but if you are a landscape photographer and plan on having children in the future, take full toll of your freedom now!!

As for the Great Ocean Road itself, we were visiting with two frames of mind. The first was that of a keen tourist. I had not been down here for many years and definitely not without the knowledge of how to take and create images so I was excited to see what ‘all the fuss’ was about. From this perspective I was not disappointed as there were just so many walks and places to visit and revisit. The second was that of a photographer. The worldwide portfolio of images from this location is outstanding and possibly even intimidating. However, there is a ‘sameness’ to such popularly shot icons and I wondered if it would be possible to come back from the trip with the personal satisfaction of creating a set of unique images. I’ll let you answer that question for yourselves at the end of this post but I’d say I was only partly satisfied :) And now for the pictures:

Our first evening at the 12 apostles , fresh off an 8 hour car ride took us to the twelve apostles, the most accessible of locations.

12 Apostles (minus a few)

During the next morning, there was little light on offer but we visited the Loch Ard Gorge area.

Just south of Loch Ard Gorge

After some wanderings around the Bay of Islands and  the Grotto, we had a great lunch at the ‘Fat Cow’ at Timboon.

The Grotto and a splash!

That evening, we witnessed some amazing light having split ourselves between the apostles themselves and Gibson’s Steps

Golden drama at the twelve apostles

The light from Gibson’s Steps

The following morning saw a return to the Bay of Islands before venturing out to the Otways. I had thought that the closed waterfalls meant no access but apparently photographers have still been getting to Hopetoun and Beauchamp falls! If only we had known!

Triplet Falls, and a wandering photographer

That evening, Marianne took a break from proceedings while I found my way down to wreck beach and the 366 steps down. (366 steps is not actually as many as it sounds). The anchor of the Marie Gabrielle stood waiting as the tide retreated.

Shelves and reflections at Wreck Beach

Resting place of the Marie Gabrielle

The following morning saw a return to Loch Ard Gorge with some golden light after sunrise.

Loch Ard Gorge by moonlight

The end of Loch Ard Gorge

The last evening was again spent at Loch Ard as Marianne had not been there thus far.

Loch Ard Gorge at sunset

Knowing the weekend of freedom was coming to an end, I took advantage of a seemingly clear night to photograph the stars. Unfortunately, the cloud blew in just as the moonrise was occurring which meant that I had to take a foreground exposed shot several hours after the star images.

Milky way over the apostles

Last golden light before leaving

And with that, concludes our last photographic trip for quite some time as we are expecting to be taken up with parental duties from after early April :)

When successes break the rules

I write this entry without necessarily coming from the greatest position of strength within the photographic world. Everlook photography is well known enough to have a voice in the photographic community without being one that is ‘revered’ or considered ‘big shot’. I feel that we still rely on rules to convey images in an aesthetically pleasing manner. I do however , write this piece from a position in my ‘real’ profession where the importance of being a good role model has far more at stake than in the photographic world. The questions I would like you to raise today regarding photography are these. What constitutes success  for you? What importance do you place on following rules? And lastly, how much do you care about what kind of role model you are?

First place in 2010 according to art of nature. Far from first place in my mind.

Success is such a vague and varied term in any field let alone an artistic one. For me success comes at many levels. Firstly, there is  success defined by a personal sense of satisfaction that one has created a work of art. It doesn’t have to be a one that others will necessarily appreciate but quite often is. This type of success tends to give one an internal feeling of pride but when not matched with popularity, can also be a source of angst for some. Particularly those with a fragile self esteem. Then, there is  success as defined by popular acclaim such on social media sharing sites. This type success is often claimed to be ‘meaningless’ and phrases such as ‘selling out’ and ‘caving to masses’ start to come into play. Predictably, these claims tend to be made from peer review and those within the industry rather than external consumers eg. novice photographers and general public viewing these ‘successful’ images.  Then there is success as judged by one’s own peers in a discipline. This level of success is prone to certain trends and also tends to push photographers into practices such as not publishing their best works or modifying images to suit certain competitions.

A modified image for 2011 Better Photography competition

At a photographic level, it is often the intimate detailed takes on a scene that one derives the most satisfaction from creating . The bold, dramatic , very polished and processed images tend to attract the most popular attention. While lastly, the peer reviewed success tend to be at the whim of the flavour of the month within judging circles. Do all three sources of success align? Most certainly at times. Do they need to be mutually exclusive? Certainly not! Over and above this, most people place varying degrees of emphasis on each type of success and some will ardently argue the point about one being more important than the other. For me, internal and popular successes are more important than critical acclaim. When critical acclaim comes, we naturally still lap it up! What balance you choose is entirely up to your own internal need for fulfilment. Unfortunately, I find that many of the more successful photographers tend to relate to successes as it applies to them rather than those who are following and reading their every word. Discussions are quite often  for the ‘already’ successful and often not as applicable to those seeking success or a role model to emulate.

An icon, as formulaic as it gets but I still like the image more than at other attempts to vary .

There are many rules in photography ranging from compositional aids, to using methods of focusing, using appropriate apertures, the ‘right’ way to blend exposures etc etc. Are these important? To a photographer learning the trade who may not have a natural eye to begin with, and with limited post processing experience – almost certainly. While this leads to rather ‘formulaic’ compositions of foreground object of interest with leading lines to a dramatic backdrop with wide angled compositions (as an example) there’s nothing wrong with this type of image depending on how one judges success. Currently, at the stage I am at, I am sentient enough to realise that this type of image will likely be popular if processed in the right way (with certain other popular techniques) but will be an image that I silently ‘ho hum’ at simply because I haven’t felt as though I have achieved anything personally. I may have not achieved one level of success internally but externally, popular success is still a driving factor to keep  me spending my free time exploring and shooting. There , I’ve admitted it and to phrase this alternatively,  “Hi there, my name is Dylan Toh and I have played the popularity game on flickr, what’s your story?”. So, should I be actively avoiding ‘rules’ in order to create something original and should that be my only aim? My answer is no for this one reason: formula and internal success are still not mutually exclusive. There are many scenes where I feel I can break from the usual wide angle composition and have been doing so with more confidence. But likewise there are many scenes where the tried and true formulas still result in the most pleasing result even to my own internal ‘success’ meter. It’s one thing to consider alternatives to the norm, another to exclude them from consideration entirely for the sake of excluding them.

Shooting at longer focal length gave me a great sense of satisfaction AND it happened to be a popular image too ;) Win win!

My last point of discussion relates to the inevitable transition to becoming a willing or unwilling mentor if success occurs. I don’t take any personal issue with those who feel confident enough in their work to be making bold statements along the lines of composition meaning nothing , or that formulas should not be followed. In fact these statements are made from a position of great strength and are usually backed up by incredible portfolios which speak true. But, remember that those reading the posts are usually far from that level of proficiency and the message may well be interpreted in a different manner. Many readers are the stage of ‘portfolio building’ and are trying to achieve a form of success through emulation. A degree of ‘idol worship’ mindset occurs whereby anything that one’s idol states is affirmed with comments of adulation and adoration. To this day, I feel that neither Marianne nor I have achieved a level of photographic success which leaves us satisfied but we do realise that we have a fan base of sorts. To that degree, I feel there is some responsibility on our part to speak to those following us at all levels of proficiency.

A personal favourite but not an image I expect to be popular.

My final messages of advice are these: Firstly, in order to arrive at the point of breaking rules successfully, one needs to first be familiar with the basic rules from which the successes were built in the first place.  Secondly, for those who are already proficient and do not require a conscious application of photographic rules, there’s no reason why a formula might not ‘still’ be the most effective way to capture a scene.

I look forward to some discussion ! If you have any thoughts , please share below in the comments.



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