The freedom of artistic photographery

Blue Skies.

I feel sorry for professional photographers. Back when we had an accounting business we had several photographers as clients, and even in those days of still mostly film media their ability to eke out a living by catering to the tastes of others was continually tried. Today it could only be worse, as not only is there a dwindling market due to the proliferation of amateur shooting to fulfil the needs of people who still can’t tell the difference between a low-quality snapshot and a top-notch professional image but also because techno-snobbery saturates the minds of client and competitor alike.

Whale Out Of Water.

So on the one hand they make a major investment in equipment and learning only to have their work deemed comparable to shots taken with a smart phone, and on the other they get looked down upon if they don’t have the latest cameras and lenses because everyone knows you can only get the best results with the newest equipment release. Quite the perplexing paradox, no? Even your fellow professionals will deride you if you don’t keep your kit up to date. That over and above the usual ‘brand snobbery’.

Christmas Cracker.

The artistic photographer does not have to fall victim to this charade (which doesn’t mean that they don’t). For them all that matters is the end result which, since it is a work of art and not a visual documentation, is subject only to evaluation on its own merits. Or at least that’s how it should be, and admittedly this does not mean a great work will automatically be seen as such by all (more often quite the opposite). But the artist can take some solace in knowing the art only has to please its creator. Whether or not it has commercial value is a different issue (and to be honest it often doesn’t; no matter how many people praise it they still won’t pay for it). If they leave off the camera description they will not be subjected to ‘brand snobbery’ either. In fact only in the field of artistic photography can one use low-quality equipment to positive results: a Holga lens is acceptable as a tool for artistry, but no one wants their wedding photographed through one.

Some Sunny Day.

Given my deteriorating eyesight I have found extra solace in artistic photography. Since I can’t really see what I’m doing until the finished image is on my computer (if even then), there inevitably is a random component to the outcome. Perhaps a magical one as well. I certainly can no longer claim the ability to make professional-grade images, but I can still create acceptable-level artistic ones (I think so anyway). It certainly is easier not having to remember and make use of all the technical aspects, instead relying on a ‘feel’ for what is being done. It is also cheaper not having to buy ‘bargain’ new lenses, any one of which may cost more on its own than my entire arsenal of “out-of-date” equipment is worth.

Smoke Rising.

For those who are professional photographers I suggest they take the occasional moment to experiment with artistic photography. Not because they should switch, as that inevitably would result in their becoming very poor very rapidly, but because it can provide a respite from the stress of always having to ‘measure up’ to other people’s standards. Which is particularly frustrating when those other people aren’t really qualified to judge your efforts anyway.

Ice and Light.

Infrared roses

A little tweaking of the Canon 1Ds set-up for infrared. First, I swapped the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar for the 35mm f2 because it has no IR ‘hot spot’. Second, I adjusted the exposure a bit which allowed me to get a more accurate white balance shot and thus better final results. Third, I increased the resolution setting to maximum for JPEG as the shots tend to be fuzzy anyhow. Fourth, I experimented with post-processing techniques to get a consistent plan for realizing the results I wanted.

When it comes down to it, you can produce a huge range of unusual colouration from infrared filtering. It’s mainly a matter of what sort of crazy results you want. Knowing when to stop adjusting is at least as much of an issue as knowing what to adjust.

Ranch house
Shed shot
Dramatic view
I don’t usually take pictures of people, but this old guy is interesting.

The last two images are the least processed and the most processed ones. Camera settings: ISO 400, f11, 8 second exposure. Really it could stand another 1/2 stop in initial exposure (using a 720nm filter). Also, the long exposure times mean the balance between aperture and shutter speed (also ISO) are not as even a trade-off as they are with normal photography. There is a lot of experimentation and guesswork involved, no matter how much you shoot.

Frankly a display of many IR shots gets boring quickly; I can’t see the point in doing a whole portfolio of them or limiting yourself to just the one style of photography. But putting one in every once-in-a-while will really liven up a showing and make people stop and wonder.