It is commonly known among amateur photographers that the average learning curve is drastically different from the perceived one. Long before you make any significant progress, you deem yourself a pro. And even while I was fully aware of this, I fell for it like any other idiot, possibly even more than the next guy.
The realization came when my friend’s photography teacher took a quick look over my work and, in just a few words, explained perfectly how worthless he thought it was. It was a painful blow and while I won’t let it stop me, did put my feet back on the ground.
Of course I wasn’t the only one there asking feedback, and while my presence was tolerated, paid close attention to the tips given. Their shots were pulled up on a screen the size of a door, criticized, and improved. One thing I noticed about all of them is that they were taken in situations I wouldn’t even have considered taking out my camera because everyone with or without talent, already would have. When creating something, I insist on originality and go out of my way to find angles no one else will.
The photographs I saw fall under a category I call “Facebook Photography”. You know the kind: where some indie chick with an iPhone and Polaroid app takes a picture of a park bench, and puts it up on Facebook where all her friends find it “oh so artsy”. Basically, photography for photography’s sake. Taking pictures of nothing, just to take pictures.
It’s a style I personally don’t like, but I now learned that this makes the difference between a pro and an amateur. It’s like an athlete doesn’t just run to get from point A to point B, he runs just to run. Learning photography, in the same way, is about finding any mundane subject and getting it framed right, using the histogram to get the exposure perfect, and knowing your aperture effects. What I’ve been doing is spend too much time on my subject and my self, putting technique on second place. Once I make that switch and learn to get the details right, I will not only learn the rules before I break them, but also get them right when the crucial moment happens.
The quality of a photo is very subjective, but there is much less discussion about technical rules and guidelines. And I don’t know them well enough, shame on me. I might find my photos the greatest thing since flushing toilets, but that doesn’t make them good. Subject and technique are two sides of the same coin, and a good photographer has a firm grasp on both.
Light stenciling. With my fascination for both stencil art and street photography, one would wonder why on earth I haven’t thought of it before. It was a colleague who pointed me to a tutorial of someone who has done it long before me, but while the examples were fascinating, they perpetually remained inside the artist’s bedroom.
To make a long story short: Basically you make a black box with a stencil cut out on one side, and let a flash go off inside. The only thing that gets printed on the picture you take, is the stencil, brought out by the light behind it. The rest of the box keeps the flash from lighting up the surroundings.
Do this with a long exposure, with which you can walk in and out of the frame without making a noticeable difference on the shot, and you’ve got your stencil, in light, hanging in mid-air. It’s a surprisingly easy process and when you get it right, you can make amazing pictures in mere seconds.
Now let’s try and think further on this: This technique makes it possible to make any shape or figure, and put it anywhere in the world, with the only condition that you can get there to make the flash go off, and that the surroundings are dark enough.
Anything, anywhere. The artist’s wet dream. Text, inside jokes, labels, anything. As soon as the sun goes under, the world is your canvas.
So far I’ve been experimenting with small stencils and reflections, and the results are promising. It’s funny though, how hard it is to think outside the metaphorical box when there is none. With the endless possibilities, it’s getting hard to come up with actual implementations. You can imagine these little experiments are only the tip of the iceberg- I haven’t even begun using color filters, yet.