Building visual muscle

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BitDepth#974 originally published on February 03, 2015

Woodbrook park swing. Day 20 of the 2015365 photography project. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
Woodbrook park swing. Day 20 of the 2015365 photography project. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The biggest challenge for anyone involved in creating work is not coming up with ideas; it’s thinking inventively about the process.

Commercial considerations, daily routines and most lethally, success, all contrive to kill adventuring by encouraging replication.

Iteration is often confused with innovation as the whole i2i grant funding initiative so amply demonstrates, and the joy of discovery, so tightly bound into the prospect of dismal failure is often the first casualty of that error.

Thinking creatively without embracing the potential for humiliating disaster is not thinking creatively at all.

Of late, I’ve been reconsidering my approach to my work, the commercial assignments, the editorial work, even my personal projects.

The one thing that they all have in common, regardless of how I rethink and reengineer the techniques I use, is that they are a driven by purpose.

They are images with a destination, a final use and an intended audience that I hope to please, or at the least, interest.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Pointless photographs are pervasive these days, with an overabundance available on social media channels, so getting someone’s attention with an image really should begin with an idea that’s suitably limned by robust technique and attention to craft.

But is that all a photograph should be? What if an image is unharnessed from specific purpose and examined on its own, a picture for photography’s own sake, an image that justifies itself with the details of its content.

By mid-December last year, those were the questions I wanted to answer when I began putting pedal to the metal for the 2015365 project, which began quietly on January 01 with an image captured in the first hour of the new year.

From the start, I’d set myself some specific guidelines for the images. Each day, I’d take five photographs specifically for the project, selecting one for posting.

At first, I imagined that I would shoot with any camera I happened to be using, but as it turned out, I’ve shot all the photographs with my phone, a Samsung S4 and that too has become a part of the experience.

The S4 is never far away when a picture possibility presents itself and the restrictions of the medium itself present their own opportunities and liabilities.

I normally shoot in manual mode; a habit formed in the first 20 years of my career when I didn’t own a camera with any other option.

Now I’m learning what camera phones do in full auto and how to photograph with that in mind.

I normally shoot with a zoom or a very wide prime lens, so a fixed focal length lens gives me a very specific window for my images, the equivalent of 31mm on a full-frame digital camera. It’s close to my preferred focal lengths of either 20mm or 40mm, but not quite the way I tend to see things normally.

In full sunlight, I can only see the rough outlines of what I’m photographing, so getting a feel of how the camera sees the world when I’m guessing at framing is also something that I’m getting used to.

Even posting the images called for their own strategy. I was yea close to making a debut on Instagram with the project, but I don’t like the idea of having a format for an image thrust on me. I may have shot square format film for years, but the idea of doing that digitally just felt wrong.

The work is being posted to a subsite of my main domain on a WordPress gallery and pushed out to social media from there.

It’s not the best or even the smartest way to court public opinion on a project, more like throwing a dart than discharging a shotgun, but the measured approach suits the slow evolution of the imagery and the growth of the collection.

Daily photography exercises aren’t new by any means, and the web is littered with other photo 365 projects. Most are efforts by new photographers who are keen to get into a rhythm with their hobby.

Like many of the resources available to everyone with a camera today, there are ideas among them that experienced photographers can explore to their benefit.

It just demands a willingness to set aside regular rhythms and key into a new beat.

  • Mark,
    Instagram is a wonderful way to share your pictures no matter what the format. There are many apps which allow you to fill in the space in the space to make your image a square. Example of a tall image hacked into instagram:

    You can either use a bleed, tile, or fill in with a solid color. Don’t overlook instagram just because of its forced format. Being a mobile app makes it that much easier to post from. Remember, Hashtags actually make sense on Instagram and it is a unique vibrant community, not just a static place to post photos and definitely more photo-focused than Facebook.

    I too rely on my phone photography even when I have a full DSLR (or TLR) slung on my shoulder. One word- Workflow.

    Do I really want to get back home, download files from an SD card, edit and archive, then try to get creative with a description, THEN upload to my phone so I can post from instagram, THEN search for hashtags, THEN post?

    I will spare you the tedium of the film workflow.

    I can shoot (With either the phone app or full manual with an app) edit (With a variety of apps), compose a post with relevant hashtags within a minute (As I still am in “the moment” of the picture and don’t have to try to remember what I was feeling and doing), while Instagram simultaneously posts to Facebook, twitter, Flickr and Tumblr, with only one hand to boot (iPhone 5 users only 🙂 ). Posting “In the moment” is it’s own zen.

    As for courting public opinion, that is wishful thinking no matter the medium you use. I have never gotten public negative feedback on a single image I have ever posted… constructive or otherwise. I doubt that anyone would want to criticize a photographer with the many years of experience and body of work you possess…. publicly at least.

    Your phone is not a telephone with a camera attached. It is a computer with an integrated media workflow ecosystem, from capture to online posting, which is occasionally interrupted by low quality telephone calls. For best results:

    1) Buy the appropriate apps to unchain your phone from its basic camera to a more (D)SLR like experience.
    2) Unleash the processing power of the pocket computer with the appropriate editing apps and archiving services.
    3) Use the communities which support and understand mobile photography so you can connect to other mobile photography enthusiasts.

    See you on Instagram soon 🙂

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