29 May 2012

How Google+ community helps me to advance as a photographer

When Google+ started last year, I joined the fast growing G+ community as soon as I could. And discovered almost immediately how nice Google+ deals with the photos - to view them, to share, to comment, etc. No wonder it has become a vibrant ecosystem full of passionate professional and amateur photographers. With so many people publishing amazing photography stuff and the ease of shaping the message stream it was very easy to create a "Photographers" circle and get inspired every day by their amazing pictures.
But it was just the beginning. After adding people to my circles I discovered that they are part of others, created specially for exploring different aspects of photography. One of such circles is associated with the 10000 Photographers around the world G+ page, curated by +Robert Skreiner. Robert does a nice thing: he manages a list of photographers (hobbyists and professionals) and allows everyone join his list under some conditions that can be summarized as: be active photographer and participant of the G+ photographers community.
I asked Robert for a membership of the group. I am not on his list yet, maybe will not ever be. But it doesn't actually matter. By applying to become part of the community I have made a commitment: to publish my photos regularly. And to watch and communicate with others about their work. Commitment to publish the photos helps me a lot in the moments when my enthusiasm for photography fades a bit and I need some extra push to grab my camera and take some shots. Another aspect is the quality of the photos I publish. Since I am part of a group that produces fantastic pictures, I need to improve my photos, trying new things, exploring new techniques or, simply put, produce good photos.
Every now and then I get the feedback about my photos. This helps as well of course.
And by commenting on the pictures I get to know new people and can share my thoughts on their photos which helps me to understand the photography better.
Does it all make Google+ unique? I think, yes and no. No, because the at the end there are people that create the community. And there are great people everywhere in the world and on Internet. And yes, because Google+ delivers tools to shape the communities easier than other platforms. And  it attracts great photographers from all over the world.

26 May 2012

Self-assignment - ups, downs but dont' give up

Every now and then I try to give myself a small photography assignment. Mostly because I want to learn something new, improve the technique or just to have some fun. It is not always planned. Lately I have created an assignment spontaneously while taking a shot meant for the Nightscapes Google+ page. After setting up the tripod I started shooting. The results were, well - not great:

But then I have noticed quite spectacular light emerging right after the street lighting was switched on. During warming up the lamps get nice, red color (for about 1 minute). And the idea was born: take an interesting shot of this light. Why does it deserve to be called a photo-assignment? For two reasons:
- The scene needs to be composed to let the light be visible and  attract the attention. On the photo above the lanterns are hardly visible. The ability of seeing good compositions with the objects I want to photograph is in my opinion something requiring continuous practice.
- It requires quite some preparations and leaves little time for shooting: the red light is produced by the lamp during warm-up time only and it lasts about 1 minute. Nice exercise to learn how to operate with your equipment efficiently.

So the preparations started. First the decision: how to expose the light. First attempt was to play safe: show the red line of lamps above another (white) line. Simple, but with some potential. The tripod has been setup, camera prepared, some pre-shots taken to check the composition and the ambient light. Then waiting  to for the dusk and the lamps to lit. And then... bummer, the lamps started to glow white immediately! I should have known better, but for this day I was done. It was no time to move to the place where the 'right' lanterns were located.

Next try, new chances. In the meantime I have abandoned the original idea of the light lines and started to look for something different. Remember the first photo? At the left side you can probably notice the industrial constructions. Anyway, such constructions are nice objects to shoot:

The rough idea has been born. To look for the right location I rode along both sides of the channel. Finally I have found it: nice combination of the objects, the silos still enlighten with the day light. And from the position I have noticed that just couple meters ahead of me another possible shooting location. Good - there would be my fallback. And the shot was exactly as I wanted:

Sure, not the greatest photo in the world. But it is controlled and prepared by me and is a result of a design process.

To summarize, the assignment took me 2 evenings, a number of iterations, one failure moment. That's why it is worth practice and continuous improvement: in real life very often there will be no time for 2nd try...

12 May 2012

How working with a publishing designer can enrich your view on your photography workshop

Recently I have been cooperating on the project aimed to publish a book. We are almost done and he book is to be published somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2012. I have been asked to participate in the project because of the photos I took over the years in the school of my wife. Since the book is a summary and kind a commemoration of 15 years existence of the school, the photos taken last couple of years are nice contribution to the textual content.
The book composition and layout has been done by a professional graphical designer and I cooperated with the guy from the very beginning. It was interesting (and still is) to watch his creative process. One one side he got all the materials prepared by others (text and the photos). Even the initial concept of the book layout (text sequence, chapters, etc.) was given. Yet the designer went through 3 iterations each time turning the project practically upside down. Not because of the significant drawbacks of each version, far from that: from the first time the book looked nice, was appealing and interesting to read and look into. But he wanted more. He reworked composition several times until it fit his vision. Or maybe the vision has evolved over time, I don't know.
Looking from the perspective of the project constraints (budget and time) it is not the most straightforward way. As an engineer I would try to build up adding stuff piece by piece to the final solution. But: it is not engineering, it is graphical design. And comparing the first and third version of the book it was worth doing so.
Back to the photography. I think this approach applies in many shooting situations: rebuilding the scene completely, redesign of the composition from scratch leads to the totally new insights, different scenes, and maybe even better photos. The only thing is to be opened for such 180 degree turns. Definitiely something worth trying during next photo session.