What’s the Story?

 It is said that the camera never lies.

In fact it can tell a cruel version of the truth all too clearly – think of all those images you will have seen of politicians, celebrities or other prominent people papped at their worst: asleep inappropriately, yawning, having a bad hair day, eating a bacon sandwich very badly, or worse.

The camera may not lie, but the processing can and often does. Faces are re-touched, body shape adjusted to improve a profile. And we do it too: removing a TV aerial, an errant telegraph pole and sometimes much more. We clone and crop things out.

A single image may possess more than one meaning, or may have inherent ambiguity, depending on a number of factors – the processing, the pre-conceptions of our viewers, their mood, that image’s association with other images taken on the same shoot, and the personal vision of the individual photographer. The meanings we attach to an image may be very different to what the original photographer intended.

Two by Two. Margate Sea Front

Two by Two. Margate Sea Front

And, that brings me to the heart of today’s topic. What’s the Story?

You go somewhere new, you capture images there. What’s in your mind as you walk about? What is the thinking behind the images you are taking? Perhaps you are just open-minded, shooting whatever comes to mind, or ensuring you photograph the key features. Are you seeking balance, or taking images to a pre-determined agenda? In short – what is the story you will be telling through the images you capture?


Shoes in the window

We will all be very familiar with illustrated documentary articles about places, towns or cities, environmental or topical issues etc. Many of those will be commissioned. How does that process work? I’m assuming that an editorial team will have an article in mind: they determine its scope, the approach, the context, and finally the ‘angle’ or ‘agenda’ to be pursued. The article will tell a story, a particular story. A photographer will be appointed to work to that agenda. And he will shoot accordingly: seeking out images that conform to the agenda, ignoring those that don’t.


Beach walkers

The camera never lies, but the images it produces collectively can create a totally false, or one-sided impression of a place or an issue. Images can be employed purely to bolster, add substance to, or give credence to a chosen angle or agenda.


Station steps

I recently visited Margate, a seaside town in SE England. Margate is a place where it is so easy to shoot images that give a false impression of this town that is a little down at heel and undergoing a process of re-vitalization. The Turner Contemporary gallery is at the forefront of Margate’s regeneration (click the link to see my post about it). More importantly read a post published today over on LensScaper (click here to view) that endeavours to look at Margate in a balanced way while presenting two very distinct visual stories about this resort.

On the terrace of Turner Contemporary

On the terrace of Turner Contemporary

It occurs to me that we – who choose to place our images in the public domain – need to be conscious of the need sometimes to present balanced views of places we visit and photograph. We have no way of knowing who will find our images and what they may think of them.

All the images in this post were taken in Margate – but what stories are they telling?

The Expected and the Unexpected

Wherever we go – on holiday, and even when we are out for the day to a special place, we will find images that we ‘expect’ from that place, and if we look we will also find the un-expected.

The Expected includes the images that we know we will wish to capture – based on previous experience, or research or simply our expectation of that place. These are the images that are ‘of’ that place and that place alone. They are the defining images – the ones that any visitor will want to photograph. Of course, as photographers, we will try our best to capture images that are a little different from the ordinary versions that we see in their thousands on the Internet or in magazines and brochures.


A classic image of the Matterhorn that towers over Zermatt

Then there are the Unexpected. If our eyes are alert and if we are signed up to the idea that our images amount to visual story-telling then we will want to round out our experience and our documentation of wherever we are. We will endeavour to do that by seeking out the extra-ordinary image, or the un-expected. These are images that may not necessarily be associated directly with that place.

What do I mean by that? I’m talking about images that we take ‘at’ that place, but they are not intrinsically or identifiably ‘of’ that place. Although of course we could argue that by the very fact that we have taken them there, they are ‘of’ that place. These may be chance findings, but often they are the result of deliberately exploring the back alleys, searching out and capturing the detail, the textures, flowers, trees and other objects, and even perhaps the people at pavement cafes.

It is understandable that when we are visiting a place or holiday resort for the first time, our priority is to see the highlights. There may be a lot to fit in to a visit and time is precious. But what I try to do, usually towards the end of my stay, is to set aside enough time to simply wander, camera in hand, letting my eye lead me off the well-beaten tourist tracks. Sometimes I will have definite aims – there may be specific details I wish to capture, I may have spotted something earlier that I want to return to. Or, it may be simply that I allow my eye to direct my camera.

It’s these little un-expected images that enrich our memories of places that we visit. We will easily remember the primary attractions because we will have other visual evidence of them: from books or a resort guide perhaps. But the un-expected will be our unique and personal reminders of our visit and they will be just as important, if not more so. In the gallery below are six un-expected images from Zermatt.

One final point. When capturing images of your holiday, don’t forget the significance of, and the possibilities offered by, the journey to and from your destination – keep your camera accessible and keep your eyes open. Today’s post over on LensScaper (click here to view) features three images from a recent journey back to Geneva Airport.

All images in this post were taken during our recent one week stay in Zermatt.

A Maverick and a Butterfly

I have maverick tendencies. I have an independent streak, and that comes probably from being an only child. I don’t like being told what to do – I never have. I tend to trust my own judgement rather than heed the advice of others. I prefer to learn by doing rather than by reading. I’m inclined to be impulsive: applied to my photography, my approach is to shoot first and think second. And, when processing, I will often pursue the line of ‘what if?’, or ‘how will this look if I do that?’ Experimentation is at the heart of my creativity. I prefer to go my own way and make the most of my luck.

_DS79784Sid Pearce FRPS – a well-known and respected British photographer, writer and lecturer wrote: ‘I am a butterfly photographer, flitting from Landscape to candid to portrait to macro’. That sounds a little like me. Those of you who follow my other blog – LensScaper – may frequently wonder what genre of image will turn up in my next post. And it’s not just you, the reader, who is kept guessing. I never know from one day to the next what will catch my eye. And that’s the fun of my photography – I am happy to describe myself as a butterfly photographer. A butterfly and a maverick. Or should that be a maverick with a poor attention span? No, it’s not a poor attention span: it’s because I see too many images. My attention is always in overdrive.

IMG_6288Sometimes I get strange looks, or hear odd comments when I’m out with a camera lining up a shot. I don’t feel embarrassed or stupid when that happens. I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction that I’ve mastered the capability to see something that they are in total ignorance of.

_DS79583_crop_DS79606Some images I capture are good, but there are more that are distinctly mediocre and there are many failures. Occasionally, if I am really lucky, there is something that might just be very good. Here on iSighting the images are usually for illustration: it’s the writing that is more important. Over on LensScaper I post the images I see. Every image I capture is both a learning opportunity and a nudge to my ever-changing creativity and vision.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Eddie Bowman speak, and seeing some of his superb prints. Eddie is a highly esteemed Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS). Some of his work is lodged in permanent collections. Among many interesting insights, observations, and replies to questions from the audience, he made the comment that over the course of a year he didn’t expect to produce more than a handful of really good images. That is some comfort to the rest of us. But just because an image is not top drawer it doesn’t mean it is worthless. All those little ‘asides’ that come our way, the mediocre images that never see the light of day, the images that we cultivate the ability to see, they are still valuable commodities. Every time we employ our Eye to See a new image (something maybe outside our comfort zone), we add a little extra to our library of references that influences our subsequent creativity.

_DS79560And that is why I am pleased to be a maverick and a butterfly. My mind is permanently on notice to seek out images. I work with the belief that my next image will be just around the corner. I have no idea what genre it will fit into, nor do I care. I’m not afraid to court ridicule, or be regarded as an oddball. To plagiarize a well-known phrase: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only an inappropriately focused eye for an image’. We just have to See differently when the weather is bad.

IMG_6282My work doesn’t fall into a style nor do I present one to the outside world, (although I’m happy to admit that occasionally I am envious of those who do have a style). For me, the world I inhabit and view is too big, and there are too many opportunities, for me to concentrate my work into one area of interest. And indeed there is I think much to be said for pursuing a broad approach to the images we capture. The word cross-fertilization comes to mind. Whatever we choose to capture will help us refine skills that are transferable – technical camera skills, compositional skills, and most importantly the ability to ‘see’ images wherever we are. We learn skills in one area, but we can apply them in others.

_DS79656All of us could benefit from being slightly maverick, with a hint of butterfly. Be brave, be bold, experiment. You may be surprised by the benefits.

All the images in this post have been taken within the last 14 days. My Eye and my camera have been kept busy!

Click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.

How would you describe yourself?

A Statement of Intent

It’s time I started to give something back to Photography – a hobby, an interest and a passion – that over many years has given me so much, thanks to the contributions of countless people, numerous encounters, and an inquisitive mind and Eye.

I’m thinking of camera clubs that encouraged my development as a young photographer. Individuals who mentored me through the distinctions of the Royal Photographic Society. The exposure to the work of talented photographers at all levels over many years that has inspired me. The knowledge gained through reading books and magazines, and viewing galleries and exhibitions. And not forgetting the extraordinary power of the internet, and the capacity of the photographic blogging community to provide further inspiration through shared images, writing, knowledge, and support.

The wider and deeper our exposure to the Photography of others is, the more we learn, and the richer our grasp of the fundamentals of Photography becomes – both technically and artistically.

I’ve learnt, I continue to learn, and I know I will never stop learning. What I have learnt will eventually die with me unless I share it.  And it’s about time I started sharing some of what I have learnt, and my own thinking about the nature of the creative process that drives my Photography.

And that is why I’ve decided to start this blog.  I have no qualifications as a writer, nor could I call myself an authority or an expert. Expert I am not! What you will find here is simply what this blog’s sub-title states: ‘Observations from a visual journey’. Because that is exactly what life is like for a Photographer – it is a unique visual journey.


Travelling – from a moving train to London
Click to see a higher quality enlargement

I will write about the things I know, think and believe: what I call my Visual Philosophy; and my experiences, and sometimes my failures. I will explain my understanding of ‘A Seeing Eye’. How that Eye is shaped, focused and individual.  And particularly how we cultivate ‘A Seeing Eye’.

Occasionally I may even voice my concerns about the state of photography and where it is headed in this rapidly developing Digital world. And there will be plenty to write about that I haven’t even thought of writing about…yet.

These weekly observations will be, in essence, chapters in an on-line book – but chaotically collated, in no particular sequence.  If they were collated into a logical organized whole then like any book, the content would draw to an inevitable conclusion. And that would not seem right. Because my observations are from a journey that is on-going, whose destination will forever be unknown and un-reached. And that’s the fun of it. I have no idea what my photography will look like five years from now.


Travelling underground
Click image to see a higher
quality enlargement

Join me on this journey – sign up to subscribe, or bookmark the blog. Or just make sure you re-visit and join the debate. Add a comment – let’s have a discussion, because the topics I plan to write about will benefit from your input.

My other blog – LensScaper – will continue as an image-based blog with Posts twice a week.  What will be different about this blog is that it is the writing that will be the more important constituent and the images will be merely the illustrations.

My aim will be to Post every Friday. So, come back a week from now, for the next Post which will look at ‘FaCT’. And that’s an acronym – explanation next week!