Apr 6, 2012

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On why I take a long time to edit my photos

I’ve blogged about photography before – it’s one of my passions, both doing it and just seeing the impact of photography around the world. My passion has led me to buy good camera gear and learn how to use it. I love to capture holidays, parties and events for my own memory and I like to share my photos with others, because sharing is awesome.

Take this shot for instance, editing took it from being too dark with bad shadows to be my favourite shot of those two, who have just celebrated one year together :) Who knows if this photo will be used in their future?

I’m not skilled enough as a photographer to have every photo I take turn out as I’d like, but since I shoot digital this is not the biggest worry in the world, because I can tidy up my shots later. Another other big joy of digital is the ability to shoot rapidly, even wastefully and delete the excess later. Every time I take photographs I delete more than half later, I also take photos in the hundreds, so this is no small task. For me, photography is a craft. You wouldn’t ask a craftsman to do an apprentices job, that would be an insult to the hours of learning and practice a craftsman has.

That’s not to say that if a photo isn’t taken with a big camera that it’s bad. Polaroid did instant photos back in the film days and we still love them. The next day you can check Facebook and see pictures from your party already there with you tagged in them. That’s where Point and Shoot cameras (and to a greater extent phones with cameras) excel – they don’t cost a lot and they’re easy to use. The truth is that you may not care how sharp the photos are or that people look ghostly or that some are a bit blurry and I’m not going to ask you to start caring, but you need to know that I care about stuff like that.

I have thought about just taking photos and not doing any editing or deleting but the reason I take photos in the first place is because I’m passionate about photography. I want to capture emotions, tell stories or preserve a moment, all through the lens I’m carrying. I want to take clear shots that are accurate and show what’s happening, without distracting imperfections that capture your attention. I want people looking at my photos to go “wow” at what they see, not because I’m great at taking photos, but because the scene is great and I’ve managed to capture it.

Sometimes I take shots because I’m asked to. I try to show that I care by putting effort into the finished product, but too often I’m perceived as not caring and taking too long to give people their finished photos. In truth I do care and because of that I come, take photos, leave, review, delete, edit, edit again, probably edit a third time, colour balance if needed and pick the final shots for the collection. That takes hours, but I still do it.

I even do it for free, because I enjoy it, but even if you paid me you’d still be waiting, because that’s the nature of this type of photography. Couples wait 2-3 months for their wedding photos because pro photographers also take time to practice their craft. I work full time, so I have to balance my life, my job, my other commitments and my photography work into each week – sometimes weeks get busy and some things don’t get done, that’s life and my photos have to wait too.

I have also been known to forget to edit photos at times. I wrote this post to try and shed some light on what happens when I take photos and explain why it’s not instant like other cameras. If I’m taking a while ask me how things are going, but please don’t ask me “are you done yet?”.

So I hope that explains it a bit more, because until now I don’t think I’ve properly explained that editing takes hours to do, or that if you ask me to take photos you’re also asking me to edit photos. I enjoy taking photos and I enjoy editing photos, so I’m not going to stop doing either, but both take time and effort, which I give freely. In return I ask for your patience.

Feb 28, 2012

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2011 redux

It may almost be March 2012, but I’m overdue for a post about 2011, so I’m going to try and capture my year.

Coming down off the high of 2010 was difficult, but looking back it was quite a ride. I returned to work with a great team, client and new project manager. I made plans to return to Hawaii and got my ass kicked by 40 hour weeks. I reunited with my friends and told them what I’d been up to as best I could. I had too much time on my hands so I started this blog, then I got busy. I moved house. I made new friends including a lifelong one (or two). I started to examine my world view and think about why I act certain ways. I found it easier to sin but I also realised just how crazy Jesus love for us is. I kept the paper I wrote on during DTS in my wallet. I realised that it’s okay to reach out, say hi to someone and try new things. I bought a new camera body, then a new lens. I cried a bit and laughed a lot. I reflected on what makes me happy. I got back into yoga. I turned 25, had to say goodbye to friends who flew to Sydney, started doing theology study with friends, worked on http://eq.org.nz/, joined the Standby Task Force Tech Team, climbed Mount Holdsworth and spent the New Year in Shanghai.

To everyone who supported me last year, your kind words, encouragement, advice and hugs (in person and digitally) really made all the difference. Thank You!

Dec 29, 2011

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Ni hao from China

So I’ve been in China for just over a week playing tourist/photographer all around Changshu and the surrounding towns. Changshu is about two hours drive from Shanghai and has a small (by Chinese standards) population of about 1 million. It’s quite a prosperous city because it’s close enough to such an economic hub as Shanghai but far enough that it’s not part of the city, so it’s cleaner and less populated.

 

Coming back to China has been an experience, as you’d expect. Chinese culture is very different from Western – the country is vast, old and is a huge player in the world economy. Coming from New Zealand, a very young nation, it’s humbling to see how old some of the buildings here are. It makes me wish I’d paid more attention to history when I lived in the UK too.

The biggest challenge has been language again. I’m very glad that the phrases I learned last time are still there, so I didn’t have to relearn them, I just need to build up new ones. So far the most useful has been “I don’t want that, thank you” and “How much is that?” I need to learn the numbers, but pulling out my phone and typing the numbers in (or them pulling out a calculator) works well too. I’ve downloaded Pleco and a paid add-on that has how to pronounce each word, which is helping a bit too.

 

I haven’t had a big culture shock this time (yet). My time on the photogenX DTS in 2010 covered lots of things including how diverse cultures are and how our world view is shaped by our own culture. I got to put this knowledge to work in Philippines and again in the USA before I came back to the safety of New Zealand. With all this in mind it’s been easier to accept that things around me will seem weird to me (like the food, the protocol, the huge level of hospitality we’ve had here, the fact people want to carry my breakfast plate for me, etc.), but not to others and to be willing to give it a try. This may have got me in a bit of trouble at one point, but we learn from our mistakes.

Our group has been getting along well. We’ve had the usual adjustments any random group of people has traveling, but I must say it’s much nicer to travel with a larger group than a smaller one. There are about 16 kiwis here who came for Neil & Rose’s Chinese wedding yesterday (us + his family) – eventually we’ll be down to 6 traveling around. About 600 people came to the wedding,  which is the first overseas wedding I’ve been to. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect, but in the end the ceremony was quite short, but full of entertainment. We went around each table and the couple and their families toasted each table (10 people per table = 60 tables).  The ceremony was short (5pm welcoming, 5:45pm start, 8pm finish), but well received. Eddie and Neil made speeches in Chinese and we all cleaned up rather nicely in suits and dresses. Of course, after all that I can’t not show you a couple of photos can I? I haven’t even started editing these ones yet – wait there a second…

That’s all I have time for now, thanks for reading. If you’re keen for more – I update Facebook when I can and I’m uploading more photos to my photo page on flickr after they’re edited. I’ll be making up a photo show when I get back to NZ with more fun shots and stories too. Until then :)

Oct 8, 2011

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Saturday morning encouragements

This week was a bit of a rough one for me. One evening I grabbed out my laptop and started looking online for encouraging images. Here are some of my favourites.

You're amazing just the way you are

You can't please everyone(that includes yourself at times)

People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long

We all have secrets

Sometimes courage is the little voice that says I'll try again tomorrow

Things will get better

If you’re struggling I want you to know that you are not alone. If you have a secret, you’re not the only one. I know I may not have met you and I may not know what you’re struggling through, but if I could I’d give you a big hug!

Sep 11, 2011

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Photography storytelling

Last year I had the privilege of being able to visit a tribal group in the Philippines, the Eatis tribe. We took food and drink with us and gave it away, we also shared the gospel message and took lots of photos. The tribe has very little and the people from the local town don’t interact much with them. They live a simple lifestyle and have basic housing and clothes. The term tribe doesn’t mean they wear traditional dress or do traditional dances – we saw neither when we were there.

I have 53 photos on my computer from the day, but I’ve only shared a handful of them. This isn’t unique, photographers all around the world take photos, edit and release them. We make decisions about what we release, what we delete (or throw away) and what we edit and our choices can have a big impact.

Photographers have power

Photographs were a media revolution when they were first available. The ability to capture images and add them to newspapers changed how we learn about world events. “Pictures don’t lie” became a known phrase – reporters could fabricate text but not photographs. In truth this was always a dream. When we look at photographs, our perception of an event, place or people is shaped by what a photographer sees and captures. Images stick in our minds and come to define an event for us.

VJ Day

Afghan Girl

Iwo Jima

Each one of these photographs tells a story but leaves a part out. War photos like these don’t show the number of men who died and the photograph of the Afghan girl (Sharbat Gula) doesn’t tell us much at all. I couldn’t have told you what her name was before I looked it up for this post. I can only assume that at the time people were aware of the conflict she was running from.

Photographers are limited

There have been times when I haven’t taken photos out of respect or common sense. I don’t try to take photos of airport security guards at work or of government buildings in some countries unless I want to answer lots of questions. That’s a bit of a no brainer in certain parts of the world.

I also don’t take portraits of people who do not give me permission. Getting formal, written permission in a country where you don’t speak the language is very tricky, but if you mime taking a photo with your hands and ask in English you can usually convey your intention and that you’re asking with your tone. We also had translators most of the time. I don’t have photos of some people I’ve met because they shook their heads or (in the case of children) hid, but many were happy for me to take their picture and liked seeing it on the screen.

I’m also limited by my own conscience and humanity. It’s difficult to strike a balance between capturing the suffering and respecting the dignity of a person. Also, as a male, there is more risk that I’ll be accused of taking inappropriate photos, so that makes me more cautious when taking photos of women. As such I don’t have photos of people passed out or of women breast feeding their children.

Photographers change where they are

People change their behaviour when they see there’s a camera pointing at them. This means that if you get permission to take a picture they’ve seen you, seen the camera and won’t be acting like they would have been if you weren’t there.

Of course unless you want to hide your camera and take photos sneakily this is unavoidable.

Photographers are story tellers

Photographers are not necessarily Photojournalists. A journalist should have integrity and report factually. A photographer tells stories through their images. Some stories are blatant lies, backed up by Photoshop to make you buy the latest magazine or product. Every once in a while someone doesn’t do a clean edit and you get an arm floating in the air or a hand missing a finger.

Sometimes the image you have doesn’t properly represent what you saw. Ever see a photo where it looks like you’re pulling a stupid face but really you were just talking and at that moment your lips happened to curl or you were part way through blinking? That’s an accurate capture, but it’s not what everyone saw so it gets deleted.

The decisions that we make on which images we keep and which we share paint a picture that others see.

Two images, two stories

I want to share two photos with you. They are both of the same girl and were taken within two minutes of each other. The first one I haven’t shared until today. These photos tell two very different stories.

The first image tells us about poverty in the tribes and shows us a nervous child looking at newcomers nervously.

The second tells us about a beautiful girl who is happy. We don’t see that her clothes don’t fit and we don’t see her nervousness, it’s gone. When put together with the first and kept in chronological order it tells us a story about how she same to trust us enough to let us take photos.

So why have I held this first photograph back until now? For better or worse I didn’t want to add more photographs to the Internet of malnourished children. Google can provide you with all you need in that regard. We’ve heard stories and we agree the situation overseas is bad, we’re already aware there are problems. Instead, I wanted to capture the beauty of the tribe, but more than that, I wanted to show the beauty of the Filipino people.

Nowhere in the world have I seen people who are so happy with so little. The lasting impression I left Philippines with was one of a people who appreciate what they have, even though everything they own is worth less than the iPod we have or the TV we watch. This is the Philippines I wanted to show you.

In retrospect

In the process of writing this post and thinking about how I release my photographs I have decided that I would have been better to release both images together in a single, composite image so that they painted a more rounded picture. This video of Chimamanda Adichie talking about the danger of the single story nails it by saying that the single story isn’t inaccurate, but it is incomplete.

My goal was to balance out a single story of poverty with a different story, however, in isolation that story can become a single story too. I also lost sight of the fact that I’d been in the country for two months and I’d become attuned used to things that my friends overseas just wouldn’t realise were part of the picture.

I also confess that I was proud of the second photograph – I still think it’s the best portrait photo I’ve taken – and that pride meant I wanted to have it stand as a portrait on it’s own. In this I wasn’t telling a story, but showing the progress I’d made in taking photographs. I needed to remember why I went overseas and why I took the photos I did.

The best thing I did with this photograph was include it in the Powerpoint presentation I have of my time in the Philippines. I’ve seen people react to the different photos I have in the slides and I’m right there to tell the stories, gauge reactions, pick up on when I think I’ve miscommunicated and answer questions.

Telling the story

In all this, I really do consider myself a storyteller, not a photojournalist. Despite this The photograph of the Afghan Girl caught the attention of the world – I hoped to catch the attention of the people I show my photographs too.

An image by itself may not tell an entire story, but it does capture a moment. Those moments can impact people and get their attention. Images can’t explain the politics of a situation, the smell of a place or the feeling the photographer had when they took the shot but they can show a situation, good or bad.

Can we ever tell the whole story? No. There will always be something we miss, someone overlooked, some factor not explored because of time or because we don’t know it’s even a factor. What we can do is tell the most accurate story we can. This will require words – spoken or written – to go with the images of importance that we share.

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.  ~Lewis Hine

I don’t think stories can be told just with text. How often do you pull out your phone and take a photo because you want to take a picture, not just write about it? Anyone who has seen my camera gear knows it’s bulky and it’s not that much fun to carry it around every day, but I want to be able to take photos, so I pack it when I travel.

As with everything I post, I’m learning as I go and I’m keen to hear your feedback. I haven’t covered everything I wanted to, but this post is already huge so I’m going to cover the rest in a later post.