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Finesse and misdirection


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Finesse and misdirection

24 Jun 2020 8:09AM   Views : 462 Unique : 308


Thanks to George for asking me a couple of very worthwhile questions about my picture of Rachelle in yesterday’s blog. He made me look hard at the image, and think equally hard about what I do when I’m taking pictures.

My first reaction was that his questions were much deeper than my picture-taking, and that he was attributing more intentionality to me than I have ever had. He asked how I’d processed the image to get a diffusion effect, because the picture appears to defy expectations about depth of field and focus. As I never introduce selective softness in processing (technically, I don’t know how to), there had to be something else to explain the appearance.

Looking hard, there was. One of the things I sometimes do when I’m photographing a person near glass or a mirror is ask them to breathe on the surface to mist it up a bit. I’d then shot a couple of frames, as the effect faded. I had not known exactly how the shots would turn out, but I had hoped that they would be interesting.


And that’s an important point: there may be a few photographers with supernatural levels of perception and reasoning who can say, with complete assurance, that by doing THIS, and THIS, and THAT they will achieve a very specific preplanned effect. There are many more who will claim that they’ve done this after the event – and I don’t believe them.

Part of what I love is childlike (sometimes childish) playfulness. Children ask the most difficult and fundamental questions because they haven’t yet learnt that some answers are off limits, like the reason time never goes backwards. As they grow up, they stop asking, unless they have the intellect and curiosity of a Stephen Hawking. Children also attempt the impossible because they don’t know they can’t succeed. And they poke wasp nests to see what happens.

Serious grown-ups don’t like the unpredictable, and they stop playing. When someone asks them how they do something, their dignity demands that they explain in a rational series of steps. It’s generally considered bad form to say ‘I guessed’ or ‘I don’t really know’ – the honest answers.


That’s why great practitioners are often poor teachers: they explain what they know they do, and they explain the process they follow – I suspect that’s why Ansel Adams’ books on technique are so impenetrable. They explain how he exposed, processed and printed in great detail, but they never go beyond the surface and dare to say that he loved the American landscape, and his pictures depict that love.

In other words, teachers are often guilty of unconscious misdirection. They explain what they know, the technical nuts and bolts, and do not realise that what they feel about the subject matters…But it does. Think back to school and academic learning: the teacher who ignited your interest was the one who was passionate about her subject, was visibly excited and animated by telling you about it.

So, often, a successful image, one that has life and excitement and excellence will have started with a formula. (Be at the top of the ridge at sunrise. Compose using the rule of thirds. Keep going back until there’s an inversion in the valley.) But that only makes the result possible – a necessary but not sufficient condition. What happens next is in the realm of mysticism, paradox and love.

And playing.


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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
24 Jun 2020 8:19AM
I forgot: models. From top to bottom, Emily Cartwright, Klashnekoff, Pippa Doll and Emi1. As far as I'm aware, Emily retired several years ago.
bluesandtwos Avatar
bluesandtwos 14 544 1 England
24 Jun 2020 8:36AM
'and playing' A good life rule, never, ever ever grow up, kids have so much more fun!Grin
GGAB Avatar
GGAB 7 31 1 United States
24 Jun 2020 1:19PM
Aren't we just "Big Kids"?
I know I am. I learn by playing,
I suspect you played a lot with image #2

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.2k 2064 England
24 Jun 2020 1:34PM
Actually, image 2 was the most SOOC (straight out of camera) of the lot: I took it with an Olympus OM-D EM-1, and one of the settings allows this as the JPG output. Saving RAW as well gives me a conventional look if I want it - and saving the RAW file in the original Olympus format, rather than allowing Lightroom to convert it to DNG means that you can use the Olympus software to pull out any of the other in-camera effects. There are some interesting ones...
Lovebe_eyes Avatar
26 Jun 2020 8:17AM
Absolutely truth.. I relate to this very very much and so eloquently written.

"Part of what I love is childlike (sometimes childish) playfulness"

The accepted idea by many (within education) that there can be mistakes and wrong and right (especially within creativity) needs Questioning.

What about as you say so well "Mysticism, paradox and love. And playing..."


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